The NBA’s version of the Sweet Sixteen was played out today and some interesting performances were had by a number of players. Second-round draft choice Russ Smith of the Pelicans showed once again that he can be a NBA player in the not-too-distant future.
Day Seven — Thursday July 17th
Russ Smith — Smith, in addition to scoring 19 points, proved adept at handing out the helpers as well, tallying another six assists, to go with the 23 he’d handed out over his previous three games. With the Pelicans losing Brian Roberts to the Hornets and whispers growing louder that Austin Rivers may be waived, Smith has a chance at being the backup point guard behind Jrue Holiday.
Shabazz Muhammad — Muhammad had a rookie season to forget, but despite battling an ankle injury, has looked very comfortable in Las Vegas. In the loss to the Kings Muhammad scored 24 points including 9-of-11 at the line and registered two steals. He’s averaging 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds and that includes the game where he injured his ankle and played only 15 minutes. The wings in Minnesota aren’t exactly a strength, so Muhammad can definitely force his way into minutes this season.
Gorgui Dieng — Dieng killed it yesterday and did the same today, scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds and three blocks. He seems too good to be riding the bench and it will be no surprise if he starts before too long.
Ben McLemore — After two poor outings, McLemore has looked a lot better in his last two games and had his best performance to date Thursday. He scored 22 points with six rebounds and four assists and thoroughly outplayed Nik Stauskas.
Adreian Payne — The rookie showed off his ability to play as a stretch four, hitting three triples in his 19 points, also registering a steal and a block. He’s scored in double digits in all five games and today was the only time he’s dipped under seven rebounds, picking up only three. He looks like a superb backup for Paul Millsap.
Andrew Wiggins — Wiggins scored 21 points on just five shots, going to the line 20 times and converting 15 of those attempts. It was also a day when news filtered out that the Cavaliers are now open to including Wiggins in a deal for Kevin Love, so these impressive performances could be warming the hearts of Timberwolves’ fans rather than Cavs.
Glen Rice Jr. — Rice notched a double double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, as well as a steal and block as he and Otto Porter battle to be Paul Pierce‘s primary backup. Rice has actually scored over 20 points in all four games so far and looks much improved over last season.
Jordan McRae — McRae was almost perfect, hitting his first seven field goal attempts and all 10 of his free throws, with his only miss being an air-balled three-pointer in the game’s final quarter. It was the only shot he missed as he finished with 25 points and has scored at least 18 points in his four Vegas outings.
Shane Larkin — A part of the Jose Calderon/Tyson Chandler deal, Larkin showed the sort of defensive tenacity that had NBA scouts drooling last season. He notched five steals to go with his 14 points and five assists and will be vital as Calderon’s primary backup in New York.
Dante Exum — One of the man knocks on Exum entering the draft was his suspect shot and that showed up in the loss to the Spurs. Exum hit only one of eight shots and two of his four free throws to finish with five points and only two assists. There’ll be plenty of better games than this for Dante.
Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard — The Blazers starting big men combined to go 2-of-11 from the field, which is hard to do as big men taking shots near the cup. They also totalled 11 fouls and it’s unlikely they’ll be challenging Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge any time soon.