During a heat wave, and with a lot of pending things on hold, not to mention the major league baseball season, I do a lot of thinking, sometimes actually for the good, More often than not, I drift down rabbit holes of happier times when I had ready access to people who actually were open to human contact, and when I had a little cash in my pocket and a commitment. Like my college days.
I still recall to this day the ironic choice for the soundtrack to one of my lonelier classic, my biology lab, where lessons were recorded on audio tape by the ever-busy professor who also served as the town’s chief resource for weather forecasting and was actively trying to keep a nuclear power plant from operating. Seals and Crofts’ lilting soft rock hit SUMMER BREEZE was the bridge between sections of each lesson, often the cue for us to go to a common table to look at a frog leg under a microscope or something equally as boring. But at least it got people actually talking as opposed to staring blankly into space with oversized headphones, listening to a gentle soliloquy about tranquil weather while a blizzard raged just outside the classroom.
That song ultimately became an earworm for me, and these days I’m ever in search of newer ones. Having NBA Summer League games as white noise while I send out resumes and stave off collection agencies has produced this week given me a few, in the form of new names that have stood out with outsized performances in the daily marathons across two college arenas on the UNLV campus where college basketball proliferated before most of these current players were born.
Mind you, while the league is named for the NBA and its participants wear the colors and carry the names of the actual teams, Summer League is at best a smell test. Players either recently drafted or coming into their second year are the only ones that are actually on teams’ regular rosters, its games are generally coached by assistants, all of this augmented by free agents seeking to play their way into a fall training audition or perhaps a slot in an overseas league. And unless you’re a 7 foor 5 inch French phenomenon, you’re generally playing in front of a few hundred diehards, mostly friends, family and tourists looking to escape triple-digit hear without having immediate worry of losing money to a keno machine.
Among the ones that NBA.com’s staff identfied from recent games that caught my ear, and eventually my eyes, included:
Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons
Thompson’s breakout came in the Pistons’ last game, and he applied the findings to help power a late 22-8 run as they won again, this time 79-73 against the Spurs. Friday’s 18-point, 14-rebound double-double came efficiently (6-for-12 FGs, 2-for-5 on 3-pointers) and sets up a Sunday close against the Pacers. The No. 5 pick is looking like another fine chip for Detroit’s developing core.
Kobe Brown, LA Clippers
Brown has been putting together one of the more complete lines in Las Vegas, and Friday’s 35-point, eight-rebound, three-assist, four-steal, two-block showing powered a 102-91 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers. Through four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, looking every bit the part of a rotation contributor the Clippers managed to snag with the final pick of the first round. He’ll close out the summer slate against the Lakers (10 ET, ESPN2) in Sunday’s finale.
Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
The Wizards made sure to get their man on draft day, trading up a pick to snag Coulibaly at No. 7 in an exchange with the Indiana Pacers. And Victor Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 teammate has begun to claim his space in the NBA atmosphere, with 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and four blocks in Friday’s 105-89 victory against the Thunder. The contributions are likely to start on defense, where his 7-foot wingspan can create problems sizing up and sizing down from his 6-foot-6 frame.
Hunter Tyson, Denver Nuggets
Tyson caught fire from the jump on Friday, and the Nuggets cooked the Heat wire-to-wire in a 112-81 rout. The fifth-year senior out of Clemson nailed seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-13 overall, and showing capability as a stretch four. Traded to the Nuggets after being drafted in the second round (No. 37 overall), recent seasons have proven there are few better organizations in which to develop.
Charlie Brown Jr., New York Knicks
Bouncing back-and-forth between the NBA G League and the NBA since latching on with a two-way contract in Atlanta, Brown Jr. has continued to grind. He even added a G League championship to his resume this season with the Delaware Blue Coats. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 19.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.8 bpg while shooting an impressive 54.7% overall (and 37.5% on 3-pointers) in Summer League. Friday night, his 27-point showing powered a 97-89 victory against the Celtics, and he added seven boards, five assists, two steals and a block against only two turnovers. It’s the kind of rounded performance that will continue to earn NBA looks.
Earlier in the week, the channel’s Steve Smith also noted strong performances by Cam Whitmore and Michael Devoe.
The more prominent names like Thompson (and his twin brother) and Coulibaly delivered on at least minimal expectations; they’ll be part of their teams for sure. The odds against a journeyman competing for a slot in Madison Square Garden with a name associated with having footballs pulled out from under him are a bit longer. But should he succeed, I’ll definitely remember his summer showing, and probably shock the hell out of anyone who I might have an in-person conversation with about basketball down the road.
You have no idea how much I wish for that.