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Blair another Spur steal?
by Dave McMenamin / July 13, 2009

Marcus Williams - Steve KylerHe fell and he fell and he fell on Draft night, all the way to No. 37 to the Spurs.

On Sunday at the third day of the Las Vegas Summer League, DeJuan Blair rose to the occasion. Playing in San Antonio’s first game of the summer session and his first since he plummeted from a first-round talent to a second-round gamble after a pre-Draft medical checkup revealed that he was missing both ACLs from high school surgeries, Blair barreled his way to a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“I’m here to show I can play and show everybody what they missed out on,” Blair said after the game, with a big smile on his face.

Weighing in at 265 pounds, the former Pitt Panther showed cat-like reflexes on the glass. It wasn’t just the rebounds that were impressive, but what he did with them afterwards. By either looking up immediately and finding a guard to outlet to on the defensive end, or taking it right to the rim for offensive putbacks, Blair made plays.

He showed polish with his power, hitting 5-for-6 from the free throw line. He even looked down right nimble finishing a reverse layup. He’s not very tall – his 6-foot-7 listing reeks of Charles Barkley-like inflation – but he knows how to make the most of his frame. He flat out erased the defender guarding George Hill on a couple of possessions to free him up on the pick and roll, when he rebounded (10 boards in 22 minutes) he pursued the ball hard, using his trunk of a lower body to bounce bodies out of the way and then corralling loose balls with his long arms and big mitts.

GAME 1: San Antonio Spurs (1-0) 92, New Orleans Hornets (0-1) 86

STUDS: Marcus Thornton, drafted by Miami with the No. 43 pick and traded to New Orleans, was always looking to score. Sometimes that’s considered chucking, sometimes ballhogging, but with Thornton it was simply getting buckets. He made the game easier on himself by running the floor and finishing uncontested gimmes on the break. Thornton finished with a team-high 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting.

New Orleans’ other rookie, No. 21 pick Darren Collison, was steady with the ball and really managed the team at the point, finishing with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. He showed off different aspects of his offensive game, hitting a buzzer-beating jumper, mixing in a couple of floaters and hitting a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line.

The most complete players on the court were Hill for San Antonio (25 points, four rebounds, three assists) and Julian Wright for New Orleans (15 points, seven rebounds, three blocks). Hornets coach Byron Scott, who was in attendance, said he is toying with the idea of starting Wright and bringing Peja Stojakovic off the bench next year.

DUDS: A couple people got dunked on, and that’s always fun. Malik Hairston of San Antonio threw one down on Anthony Tolliver and Brian Cusworth out of Harvard put one on James Gist’s head.

Gist had a rough day, going 1-for-6 from the field and 2-for-4 from the line, while the rest of his team shot 31-for-32 on free throws. He got into it a bit with Marc Salyers (Samford grad who has been playing in Europe) of the Hornets at one point, causing the referee to warn both players to knock it off and prompting Salyers to quip, “I thought the UFC fight was yesterday.”

GAME 2: Houston Rockets (3-0) 79, Minnesota Timberwolves (0-1) 65

STUDS: Houston won again thanks to a monster effort on the boards by Joey Dorsey, who pulled down 16 rebounds (a day after collecting 15 on Saturday), to go with four blocks. Second-round pick Chase Budinger kept up his hot shooting with 11 points on 5-for-9 from the field. He also did a pretty good job of impersonating another crisp-passing forward out of Arizona, Luke Walton, as he moved the ball and picked up three assists.

DUDS: Teammates in high school, rivals in college, temporary teammates in Summer League and hopefully only temporary disappointments in the NBA – Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson both struggled mightily on Sunday. Ellington shot 2-for-12 from the field and Henderson was 0-for-3. To Ellington’s credit, he did manage to swipe eight rebounds which isn’t bad for a No. 28 pick who only topped eight boards five times in 38 games as a junior at UNC. Henderson was the No. 12 pick by Charlotte out of Duke, but since the Bobcats are one of the three NBA teams that aren’t fielding a summer league team (along with Miami and Atlanta) he played with the Wolves. Ironically, even though Henderson was the transplant, he actually had a coach to go over the game with as he iced his knees, as Bobcats assistant Jeff Capel huddled with him in the corner of the dressing room. The rest of the Timberwolves players, meanwhile, were on their own as new general manager David Kahn has yet to hire a head coach after parting ways with Kevin McHale.

The Corey Brewer Reclamation Project continues. Brewer, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee, finished with a team-high 14 points and a respectable five boards but the former No. 7 pick in the ’07 Draft played out of control on offense, shooting 4-for-11, and didn’t have the control to his game that most established NBA veterans display when matched up against a game full of rookies during Summer League.

The crowd might have oohed and ahhed at Jonny Flynn’s 11-point, seven-assist performance that included a couple of smooth threes and some look-away entry passes into his bigs for dunks, but Flynn wasn’t having any of it.

“I didn’t play up to my standards,” Minnesota’s No. 6 pick in the first round said. Flynn, who wouldn’t blame his performance – 3-for-10 from the field, seven turnovers – on the adjustment of playing off-guard at times with Bobby Brown manning the point, was more upset with his team’s output than his own. “I’m definitely, first and foremost, looking to win. That’s how a point guard gets judged. You can have the best game in the world, but if you’re not winning or you’re not on a winning team, you don’t get looked at … we didn’t win the game. That’s the big thing to me.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no sign of Ricky Rubio.

GAME 3: Memphis Grizzlies (1-0) 86 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (0-1) 57

STUDS: Everybody in the gym came to this one to see the No. 2 pick, Hasheem Thabeet, play on the same court as the No. 3 pick, James Harden, but a guy who was cut from the Warriors last year in his third season in the league ended up stealing the spotlight.

Marcus Williams set a Summer League record with 17 assists, picking apart the Thunder’s porous defense with shovel, bounce, no-look, swing and lob passes. Williams shattered the old record of 11 (shared by J.J. Barea, Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo) as he picked up his 11th dime by the end of the third quarter.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace congratulated Williams after the game and introduced him to owner Michael Heisley. Wallace said Williams was invited to fill a Summer League roster spot because he likes getting another look at former NBA players rather than undrafted rookie free agents if available.

“Marcus was drafted up in a spot in the same area as Kyle Lowry and Rondo, they were all clumped together there in the early 20s,” Wallace said. “For whatever reason it hadn’t happened there for him in New Jersey or Golden State. We want to look at those guys [like him].”

Williams, who was last playing in Puerto Rico in the spring, had the performance with Golden State coach Don Nelson in the stands and appeared to be glaring in Nellie’s direction after the game. According to a team source, Williams outperformed DeMarcus Nelson last year during training camp, but Nellie awarded DeMarcus the starting point guard position because he never was on board with the Williams acquisition in the first place. It was one of the many things that ousted general manager Chris Mullin and Nelson didn’t see eye to eye on.

“He can pass the ball,” Wallace said. “Everybody’s known that dating back to his days at UConn. He can run a team. Defense and some other things have probably kept him from establishing himself and earning a real spot in the league so he doesn’t have to play in the summer.”

Wallace said that he would continue to judge Williams’ play on a game-by-game basis, but admitted that the Grizzlies are actively looking to add another guard sometime over the course of this summer.

Russell Westbrook, playing in what is scheduled to be his only game in Las Vegas, led Oklahoma City with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Fellow rising second-year Thunder guard Kyle Weaver scored 11 points and shot 3-for-5 from deep.

Following in Budinger’s, Blair’s, DaJuan Summers’ and Danny Green’s footsteps, Memphis’ Sam Young continued the string of stellar debuts by second-round steals. Young, picked No. 36 out of Pittsburgh, scored 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, scoring mostly on jumpers. He added two steals and did it all in just 21 minutes of playing time.

DUDS: If you scanned about seven feet and four inches up from the center circle before the opening tip you would see a ridiculous tuft of Mohawk hair atop Thabeet’s head. The center out of Congo said he sat down with the team barber before the game and asked for a trim and ended up with a coif of the cruelest rookie hazing degree.

His game was slightly better looking than his ‘do, but only slightly. He finished with nine points on 3-for-4 from the field and 3-for-4 from the line, but he only had two rebounds and one block when he had at least a four-inch height advantage on everyone on the Thunder’s frontline.

“I did OK,” Thabeet said. “[The coaching staff told me to] be more aggressive … I’m going to get better on that part. It’s pretty hard, a lot of people are expecting a lot from me. I’m young. I’ve played basketball for not a long time. I’m making good progress.”

The other first rounders playing were even less impressive. Harden had one nice hammer drunk following a strong drive, but finished with just four points on 1-for-5 shooting and one rebound. B.J. Mullens, a 7-footer selected No. 24 by Dallas and traded for Rodrigue Beaubois on Draft night, had five points, two turnovers and zero rebounds the night after Beaubois exploded for 34 points.

GAME 4: Milwaukee Bucks (2-0) 80 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (0-2) 69

STUDS: After starting off 0-for-7 in his first game, only amassing 10 points and admitting to being winded, Bucks No. 10 pick Brandon Jennings squeezed some extra work into his Vegas routine and it paid off with 23 points and eight assists on Sunday.

“I ran a couple extra sprints in shoot around today and got my wind up,” Jennings said.

Milwaukee trailed Cleveland by four at halftime before breaking open the game in the third thanks to the sharp shooting of No. 41 pick Jodie Meeks (16 points on 7-for-14 shooting) and Jennings. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard who played in Italy last season still has to improve his conditioning however, as he asked to be subbed out in the third after hitting three straight jumpers because he was tired.

“I just asked for a blow,” Jennings said. “We had a comfortable lead anyway.”

Second rounder Danny Green had another solid game for Cleveland, chipping in 11 points and three rebounds.

DUDS: Taken No. 8 in 2008 and then only averaging 4.7 points on 41.6 percent shooting as a rookie, Milwaukee’s Joe Alexander has already flirted with being affixed the dreaded “bust” label. You could just chalk the year up as a learning experience, but how can you not judge Alexander’s first two Summer League games as a tremendous disappointment? After shooting just 4-for-18 in his first game, the 6-foot-8 forward was just 1-for-7 on Sunday and didn’t exude any of the confidence you like to see from someone who has been through the Summer League process before.

Dave McMenamin is an NBA writer based out of Los Angeles covering the Lakers and Clippers and is a special correspondent for HOOPSWORLD.