Sequels are risky. There’s always a chance that the successor will fall flat on it’s face, failing to replicate the success of it’s predecessor.
“Capitol Punishment” — the original Drew-Goodman match-up in D.C. on Aug. 20th — put professional-amateur games on the map this summer, as fans had nothing else to look forward to during the lockout (and still don’t, quite frankly).
Sunday night’s game — “The Big Payback” — was meant to serve as a cap-off to a great summer of pro-am basketball. However, it didn’t live up to the hype or expectations, and couldn’t duplicate Capitol Punishment‘s excitement or intensity, leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths as we hopefully move towards the end of the lockout.
John Wall scored 55 points, Kevin Durant dropped 50, and James Harden had 48, as the three stars combined for over half of the points (163) scored during the 151-144 game Drew League victory. The game, though, wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes, featuring a ton of bricked jumpers, botched passes, and unforced turnovers. It was like the All-Star Game, only with worse players, and inside of a pyramid.
There was blatant referee bias towards the Drew League team, shot-clock difficulties, and chants and jeers from Clipper Darrell. The only things this game was missing were Kobe Bryant and Craig Smith. And, you know, some sort of competitiveness.
My highlight? Watching The Rej3ctz “Cat Daddy” at halftime. Yes, it was that kind of night.
• If there’s one thing to take away from tonight, it’s that John Wall is ready to take the next step into stardom. I don’t want to overreact and look into this game too much, but it’s clear that Wall has made the necessary improvements and adjustments to his game. Not only was he regularly hitting contested jumpers and 3-pointers, but he was also attacking the rim with authority and drawing contact, leading to either free throws or and-ones.
There was something Derrick Rose-esque about his performance (expect more efficient, of course). The way he glided in air, absorbing the contact from anyone from Javale McGee to Matt Barnes, and finishing with acrobatic lay-ups and dunks (including a jaw-dropping 360 spin into a lay-up). Whenever he wanted to, which was quite often, he’d blow by Brandon Jennings or Marcus Banks, finding his way to the rim with ease. Even though defenses will adjust accordingly throughout the season, Wall’s combination of length, speed, quickness and athleticism is matched by a select few. In my opinion, he’s the game’s most athletically-gifted point guard (yes, more so than Rose or Russell Westbrook).
Heck, he even busted out his infamous “Dougie” after an alley-oop.
• Maybe it’s become he loves basketball. Maybe it’s because he’s constantly practicing. Who knows, maybe it’s even because of Ethan Sherwood Strauss. Anyway, Kevin Durant’s offensive game looked much better. Sure, his 50 points pales in comparison to the 61 and 55 he dropped earlier in the summer, but something about his game seemed more mature, selective and … angry (Harden and Barnes pissed him off a few times, causing him to casually come down and knock down a 3-pointer or attack the rim with a royal flush).
He brought the ball up the court on numerous occasions, displaying his newfound ball-handling skills. Other times he took to the perimeter, hitting a flurry of step-backs over top-notch defenders (Barnes, Ariza and Harden all took turns on KD). The most impressive skill he displayed, though, was his ability to hit contested 3-pointers with very limited space to create his shot. Although his game has been mainly predicated on having his scoring opportunities created for him, it seems Durant is taking a step in the right direction of creating for himself.
• James Harden was a man among boys tonight (excluding Wall and Durant). His combination of patience and speed, strength and athleticism, and youth and maturity were truly a joy to watch. Oh yeah, seeing his beard in person was pretty cool too. While he’s clearly the Thunder’s ‘third wheel,’ the gap between himself and Westbrook and Durant is quickly shrinking, if only by a little bit.
• If there was one player that disappointed on Sunday night, it was Brandon Jennings. I’ve always been (relatively) high on him, but after his play over the course of this summer (and more importantly, last season), I doubt that he grasps the concept of playing point guard. Even in pick-up games – where selfish, one-on-one basketball reigns king – a point guard’s main priority is to set up his teammates. Pick up games would be boring if point guards just dribbled up the court and jacked up jumpers every possession.
Whenever Jennings had the ball, his thought process was:
1) Can I pull up and hit this jumper?
2) Can I attack the rim and try some flashy, fancy lay-up (that I’ll most likely miss)?
3) Can I try and cross up John Wall (or Marcus Banks) and/or embarrass him in some manner?
4) How can I make my teammates life harder? Bad pass? Turnover? What? Come on guys, I need to know!
5) Why is John Wall showing me up right now? I’m better than him… Let me prove it (clanks jumper).
There were several times Jennings didn’t pass to an open man down court, only to come down and brick a J. He missed at least 10-15 shots, many of which were terrible attempts (he had the least efficient 15 points … ever). People forget that the play that led to Wall’s 360 lay-up was Jennings missing an open 3-pointer that bounced long, leading to the fastbreak (Wall purposely backed off Jennings, challenging him and disrespecting his shooting range).
Jennings is a mix between Nick Van Exel, Jason Terry and Allen Iverson, but not in a good way. He’s an inefficient gunner, who’s stuck in a point guard’s body. Not only does he need to change his mindset offensively, but he also needs to change his shot selection (or at least practice, improve and then take ill-advised jumpers).
• I’m convinced that JaVale McGee is capable of making both the best and worst play in NBA history. He blocks as many shots as he goaltends, doesn’t have a post move, and lollygags up and down the court … while remaining a freakishly long, gifted and athletic 7-footer.
• Watching Nick Young try to play point guard was excruciatingly painful. Not as painful as looking at Young’s hair, though. I don’t know what he was going for … an afro-version of Hey Arnold? The Eric Von Detten look? What was it?
• Rudy Gay looked healthy, which only means good things for Memphis, and bad things for the rest of the League. Shockingly, he was kept out of the last 10 minutes or so of the game, despite looking like the game’s fourth best player (yes, Harden was that good). He may have over-dribbled quite a few times — leading to turnovers or inefficient step-back — but there seems to be no doubt that Gay will be ready whenever the season starts.
• Matt Barnes had a quiet and surprising 20 points off the bench, holding Durant to 17 points in the second half, while simultaneously looking a lot better than he did for the Lakers this past season.
• Oh Michael Beasley, you make me so sad. During warm-ups, Beasley was by far the most impressive player, finishing with a collection of aerial moves, including a 360 two-handed dunk and a through-the-legs jam. In the game, however, he played terrible. It seemed as if it was a bother for him to be there. As Brian Kamenetzky point out, Beasley had more fouls (6) and missed lay-ups (at least 3), than points (2). He clearly wasn’t there mentally, leading to jokes about his off-court issues.
• Besides Barnes and Harden, Trevor Ariza was likely the third-most effective Drew Leaguer. It was nice to see the ’09 Ariza back for a night.
• While tweeting out the starting line-ups and rosters for both squads, people unanimously forgot to mention one player … Denver Nuggets swingman Gary Forbes. Although his play on the court was forgettable, you could tell he was at least trying, which counts for something in these pick-up games.
• Dorrell Wright, Banks, DeMar DeRozan, Donte Greene and Derrick Williams did nothing of consequence.
Some masterpieces are left untouched.