We’re just a few days away from the beginning of the Las Vegas Summer League. The Mavs will play in the tournament opener against the New York Knicks on Friday, July 11, at 1 p.m. PT. The game will be aired on NBA TV.
Summer League games are anything but meaningless exhibitions. Teams are made up of rising talents and hungry veterans desperate to prove they have what it takes to earn a training camp invite or, better yet, an NBA roster spot.
The Mavs’ roster epitomizes the typical Summer League squad. From players with just a year of NBA experience, like Gal Mekel and Ricky Ledo, to players wanting to get back into the league, like former Atlanta Hawk Ivan Johnson, the Mavs’ ninth trip to the LVSL is sure to feature some good basketball under first-time Mavs Summer League coach Kaleb Canales. Here’s what to watch for from some of the biggest names on the squad.
Mekel played just 31 games for the Mavs last season after a knee injury sidelined him for the second half of the season. However, unless Dallas makes a move to add another point guard to the roster, the second-year Israeli figures to see plenty of the floor during the 2014-15 season. Mekel’s 5.0 assists per game was good for fourth among all LVSL players in 2013, and that’s surely what Canales and the rest of the coaching staff hopes to see from him this summer. Mekel is a natural pick-and-roll point guard — in open space, his court vision allows him to find the right pass to make. Last season with the Mavs he created 24.9 points per 48 minutes off of his assists, second-best on the team behind only Devin Harris (25.0). He’s a facilitator in the making, and there’s always room on the roster for players who can create for others, especially in the Mavs’ pick-and-roll-heavy offense.
Ledo spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Texas Legends, Dallas’s D-League affiliate, so many Mavs fans might not be familiar with his game. During last year’s LVSL, Ledo averaged 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. But Travis Wimberly, an assistant coach for the Summer League team and director of player personnel with the Legends, told me he expects Ledo to have some big games later this week in Las Vegas. The second-year wing spent an entire year away from the game before playing for the Mavs last summer and still put up solid numbers at his first Summer League. Expect bigger and better things from Ledo this year — depending on how he performs in Las Vegas and during camp and the preseason, Ledo might earn himself a steady rotation spot for the NBA club this fall. (Note: Be on the lookout for a Mavs.com exclusive interview with Ledo later this week.)
James, better known as “Sarge,” is not currently under contract with Dallas, and the big man is treating this year’s Summer League as a chance to earn himself a new deal with the club. James appeared in only one Summer League game last season, swatting three shots and grabbing nine rebounds in 25 minutes. During the 2012-13 season with Dallas, James blocked 6.5 percent of opponents’ shot attempts while he was on the floor — that’s one out of every 16 shots. Only three qualifying players finished with a higher block percentage than Sarge that season. Defense is what he does. After struggling to find consistent playing time last season with the Mavs, James spent one game with the Legends and scored 38 points on 18-of-20 shooting, adding 18 rebounds and four blocks. It might be unfair to expect Chamberlain-esque numbers from James in Vegas, but you better believe he’ll be playing harder than ever.
The 30-year-old Johnson most recently played with the Atlanta Hawks in 2012-13, scoring 6.6 points and grabbing 3.9 boards in just 15 minutes per game. He’s an energy big who’s not afraid to do the dirty work, and apparently he and Sarge have had some serious, competitive battles during practices leading up to the Summer League. After spending a season away from the NBA, Johnson will definitely be looking to prove to Dallas, and every other franchise, that he belongs back in the league.
The sweet-shooting Nunnally was traded to the Legends during the 2013-14 season, when he was named to the D-League Second Team. He averaged better than 18 points per game and better than 40 percent from 3 in the D-League last season, and earned a total of four 10-day contracts from the Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers. Shooters belong in the NBA, and the 6′ 7″ Nunnally will look to show that he has what it takes to make a roster.
The rookie from Syracuse said after one of this week’s practices that he was expecting Dallas to draft him before the Mavs included pick No. 51 in the trade that brought back Tyson Chandler. But Fair made it through the draft untouched and now he’ll have his chance with the Mavs, after all. He scored 14.3 points and grabbed seven rebounds during his junior season with the Orange. He’s the type of prospect that tends to fit smoothly with Dallas — he’s a heady player with college experience at a big program. And because he played for Jim Boeheim, a coach who almost exclusively uses the 2-3 zone defense, should he receive an invite to Mavs’ training camp, he should already be well-accustomed to the scheme that Chandler and the Mavs rode all the way to the title in 2011.
Griffin played with the Miami Heat during last year’s Summer League, and he also received a training camp invite from the team. If there was one word to describe the Campbell University prospect, it would be explosive. Just watch these videos. Those highlights alone make him worth watching in Vegas.
As a reminder, the Mavs’ first Summer League game tips off at 1 p.m. PT on Friday, July 11, on NBA TV. The network will also televise the Mavs’ July 14 date with the Toronto Raptors, which begins at 3 p.m. PT.
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