LAS VEGAS – The Bucks wrapped up their five summer league games on Sunday with a resounding 113-68 win over the Bulls, establishing themselves as one of the better teams in Las Vegas this July.
So what does that mean, really? Probably very little. Summer league success doesn’t translate on a team level to NBA success, but that’s not to say that Milwaukee’s four wins are meaningless. With four key players to watch in Las Vegas – Tobias Harris, John Henson, Doron Lamb and Larry Sanders – the Bucks had plenty to evaluate this week and shouldn’t be discouraged.
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Here are five key observations about the Bucks at summer league, five points to consider in the months before the NBA season begins in October:
Don’t write off Tobias Harris. Not yet.
Harris was the Bucks’ first-round pick in 2011, and he never lived up to expectations his rookie year. The forward averaged just 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds in 42 games, seeing limited minutes throughout. For whatever the reason, Harris looked far from deserving of his 19th overall selection for much of the year.
Then, in June, the Bucks chose another forward, North Carolina’s John Henson, as their first-round pick. Henson was already more of a household name than Harris, and as does any untested player, he offered a new slew of expectations and promise. It might have been tempting to write off Harris after last season, especially with this new alternative, but summer league should have earned the second-year forward another chance to meet the high standard that greeted him in the league.
Harris averaged 20.8 points per game at summer league, among the best scoring averages during the 10 days. In addition, he shot well from the field and was consistent throughout. His point totals ranged from 18 to 24 in the five games; there was no outlier performance, and Harris seemed to be in control every time he took the court.
Even if defense will be John Henson’s strong suit, he can score.
Scott Skiles has always been known for his defense-first approach to basketball, and Henson should fit well into that system. While at North Carolina, the forward won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award twice, in 2011 and 2012. After last season, when the Bucks gave up 98.7 points per game – ninth worst in the league – Skiles will likely be looking for a renewed focus on defense, and Henson could figure largely in that outlook.
“We pride ourselves on defense at UNC, and (Skiles) does the same thing,” Henson said. “Its nothing new, and it’s something I keep learning from.”
However, summer league had nothing to do with that. Henson has been billed as a lockdown defender since he was drafted – and rightfully so – but in Las Vegas, the rookie stood out by averaging 18.3 points per game. Like Harris, he was consistent, ranging from 15 points in his worst outing to 22 in his best, and he shot 53.4 percent from the field, a great percentage for summer league.
Henson said that he hasn’t yet discussed his precise role with the Bucks’ coaching staff, and those conversations will come after summer league. He knows his focus will be on defense, his offensive consistency in Las Vegas won’t be forgotten.
John Henson should bulk up.
This is probably the least nuanced argument to come out of summer league. Henson is a long, lanky player, subject to so many “if he turns sideways, you can’t see him” jokes that it stopped being funny a long time ago.
The 6′ 11″ Henson weighed 216 pounds at the Chicago draft combine. Before summer league, he was up to about 224, and he still looks like a baby giraffe. Henson has a long way to go before his body matures into NBA form, and if he features as prominently in Milwaukee’s defense as has been suggested, next season will be a struggle in terms of size. That said, Henson has enough else going for him that he should be able to cope – as long as he continues to put on weight.
Doron Lamb is still an unknown.
Lamb, who fell to 42nd in June’s draft, was almost an afterthought at summer league due to the performances of Henson and Harris. He quietly averaged 14.0 points in Las Vegas, but was inconsistent, finishing with 20 in his first game and as few as eight on Saturday.
Lamb was a second-round pick for a reason. He’s more of a gamble, less of a specimen. But in summer league, it’s easy for two players to take over a game; in fact, that’s almost the norm. Harris and Henson filled that role for the Bucks and likely took away some of Lamb’s opportunities. That’s not wrong. It’s just a reality. However, the one game that Henson missed was Lamb’s 20-point performance, which might be proof that given a chance, Lamb too can excel.
Larry Sanders, though playing well, may have taken aggressive too far.
It was a big statement for Sanders, a third-year player, to even agree to attend summer league, and he found himself in a situation similar to Harris’: redeem yourself. Prove that there’s something there that you haven’t shown us yet, that you’ve put in the extra work.
Sanders didn’t quite do that. In three games, he averaged 6.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, establishing himself as one of the best rebounders at summer league. But the problems didn’t come with his production. They came at the other end of the court, where Sanders averaged 7.3 fouls per game (including 10 in one game). To foul out in summer league is a rarity, and it doesn’t look good after Sanders’ temper problems at the end of last season.