The Early Leader in the Summer League MVP Race is...Marco BelinelliThe best individual single game performance in summer league play so far has come from Marco Belinelli, the 21 year old Euroleague veteran who lit up the Hornets for 37 points in a 110-102 Warriors win on Saturday. The difference between Belinelli and highly touted draft picks Greg Oden and Kevin Durant is that Belinelli is older and has been playing professional basketball for several seasons. Belinelli scored 25 points for the Italian national team in a game against Team USA in the 2006 FIBA World Championships; summer league play is a step down from the level of competition that he is used to but it is a big step up for Oden and Durant.
Oden had 13 points on 6-11 shooting plus five rebounds and four blocked shots in his second summer league game, a marked improvement from how he performed in the previous game--but he still had problems with both fouls (nine) and turnovers (four) as his Trail Blazers lost 72-68 to the Dallas Mavericks. It should be noted that these are not the Dirk Nowitzki-Josh Howard-Jason Terry Mavericks but rather a Dallas team that Jose Barea led in scoring (17 points) and Pops Mensah-Bonsu paced in rebounding (a game-high 13).
The 24-hour a day, seven day a week media monster that fed us so much hype about Oden and Durant may very well turn on them if they don't start playing better in the summer league. Philadelphia 76ers Coach Maurice Cheeks recently offered cautionary words of wisdom about Oden to the Oregonian's Jason Quick: "I remember Tim Duncan's first summer league game, and Greg Ostertag killed him. Just killed him. Now, who do you think the better player is? The kid is going to be fine." The correct thing to emphasize now is not that Oden and Durant are struggling a bit but rather how their early play dramatically demonstrates the gap between major college basketball players and fringe NBA players (let alone NBA regulars and NBA All-Stars).
It is important to emphasize that I don't expect Oden or Durant to be busts, nor am I surprised or disappointed by their summer league numbers. The NBA is tough--even in its watered down summer league iteration. This is yet another indication of why the rule prohibiting high school players from jumping straight to the NBA is a good one. Oden and Durant, even after highly successful freshman seasons, clearly face a bit of a growth curve to overcome before they become dominant NBA players; imagine how much more raw they would be mentally, physically and emotionally if they had come into the league a year ago.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:08 AM