Some around the NBA may have found themselves caught a little off guard the past couple of weeks by the summer success of Los Angels Lakers second-round pick Svi Mykhailiuk.
L.A. assistant coach Miles Simon is not one of those people.
After Mykhailiuk scored 15 points and the Lakers improved to 4-0 at the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night, Simon, the team’s summer head coach, said “nothing” the rookie out of Kansas does falls within the realm of unexpected for him.
“I worked in TV nine or 10 years. The last four or five I worked in the Big 12 Conference. I’ve seen Svi since he was a freshman — seen him in practice, seen him in games,” Simon said of the 21-year-old Mykhailiuk, while speaking with reporters. “It’s not a surprise that he puts the ball on the floor. He’s a smooth athlete. He moves up and down really fluidly on the offensive end. He has a good handle, he can create his own shot. I’ve been seeing those things before he got to the pros and now he’s just going to show everybody else what he can do.”
The Ukrainian guard’s offensive versatility became a popular topic following the Lakers’ win over the Clippers, which included a third-quarter step-back jumper he drained after twice crossing over his defender, Thomas Wimbush.
A video of the smooth highlight posted on the Lakers’ Instagram account garnered a like from Mykhailiuk’s most influential teammate, LeBron James, and the following assessment from a Laker who witnessed it in person, Josh Hart.
“Oh it was nasty,” said Hart, a second-year guard with L.A. “He had a lot of sauce on that one. I was out there on the wing, like, ‘What the hell? OK!’”
As those who followed Mykhailiuk closely at KU might have guessed, he didn’t sound even a smidge braggadocious while describing his highlight.
“I handled the ball and the guy just started pushing me, so I had to put on a couple moves and just score,” Mykhailiuk plainly stated, a couple days after signing his rookie contract, reportedly for three years and $4.6 million.
Hart (22.5 points per game) and Mykhailiuk (14.0 points) have carried the Lakers’ offense in Las Vegas. The rookie from Kansas, again predictably, downplayed his recent showings and any personal expectations he had for the summer league stage.
“Just play basketball and whatever happens happens. I never thought about anything,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just come on the court and play.”
The No. 47 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mykhailiuk hasn’t been flawless in Las Vegas, but he is making people notice his potential to stick in the NBA. Thus far he has scored at least 15 points in three of his team’s four games:
• July 7 vs. Philadelphia: 17 points, 6 of 11 FGs, 4 of 8 3-pointers, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 0 turnovers in 23 minutes
• July 8 vs. Chicago: 15 points, 6 of 12 FGs, 2 of 6 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover in 22 minutes
• July 10 vs. New York: 9 points, 3 of 12 FGs, 3 of 9 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 turnover in 25 minutes
• July 12 vs. L.A. Clippers: 15 points, 5 of 7 FGs, 1 of 3 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers in 24 minutes
Simon said he doesn’t even know why Mykhailiuk was still available so late in the second round, especially after what the four-year Jayhawk showed the Lakers during the pre-draft process.
“Svi just came out and impressed in the draft workouts and he positioned himself,” Simon said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
It’s difficult to foresee at this point just how significant a role Mykhailiuk will play for the Lakers when the regular season arrives. The team loaded up on veterans upon winning the NBA summer with its signing of James, and L.A. already had talented young guards in place. More roster moves could come, but right now Mykhailiuk would likely play behind shooting guards Kyle Kuzma and Hart, and perhaps Lance Stephenson, too.
Asked what type of impact he envisions for his first year, Mykhailiuk didn’t seem particularly worried about his status.
“It’s far from now. I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “I’m just thinking bout summer league right now.”
By the time the actual season opens in October, Mykhailiuk said he wants to improve at “literally everything” as a basketball player.
“Just try to become a better all-around player, improve my handles, shot, creating,” he shared. “Just everything.”
The Lakers and Mykhailiuk will play in the Vegas quarterfinals Sunday.
Since joining the Charlotte Hornets as a second-round draft pick, former Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham has encountered, and been accountable for processing, loads of information.
Learning how to best complement his new summer roster teammates and playing within new offensive and defensive systems is just the beginning for the rookie, who signed his contract with the Hornets on Friday.
Still, Graham told reporters earlier this week that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by it all. He credited the man who spent the previous four seasons coaching him, Bill Self, for setting the stage for a smooth transition.
“I mean, I feel like coming from Kansas, with Coach Self, I feel like in the pre-season we put in so many plays early on that it kind of helped me get adjusted to this,” Graham said during the Hornets’ mini-camp, before the team left to play in the Las Vegas Summer League. “Coach Self putting the pressure on me to know what all five guys got to do in each play really helped me as a player with my IQ and stuff like that, which has really helped me pick up stuff here pretty well.”
Though still a rookie with a lot to prove at the NBA level, Graham explained why he can embark on this high-pressure journey feeling more comfortable than many of his fellow 2018 draftees might.
Calling him one of the nation’s best coaches, Graham said Self’s demanding style and the way the hall-of-famer trained the Jayhawks to “play together and fight every night” allowed the point guard to take on a professional approach before he ever joined the NBA’s ranks.
“We would do stuff that you would do at this level. I feel like a lot of our guys leave there and come here to the league and adjust pretty well to it just because of the way he coaches and his coaching style,” Graham said.
The 23-year-old’s basketball upbringing hasn’t gone unnoticed by Charlotte’s first-year coach, James Borrego.
“Devonte’s come in, I see the maturity in him. I see why he’s played four years at Kansas,” Borrego told reporters in Charlotte. “This kid has played at a very high level, well coached, good head on his shoulders and I expect him to run the group at a very high level this week.”
As Borrego referenced, Graham will serve as the Hornets’ primary point guard during summer competition, as he teams up with fellow rookie Miles Bridges, second-year guard Malik Monk and various other prospects, many of whom went un-drafted and/or don’t have NBA contracts lined up.
His responsibilities likely will diminish considerably once the regular season begins months from now, as the Hornets already have an all-star point guard in his prime, Kemba Walker. Plus, reports surfaced Friday afternoon of Charlotte agreeing to terms with longtime San Antonio floor general Tony Parker.
But during Las Vegas exhibitions Graham will be trusted to make the same types of decisions he did at KU. The rookie doesn’t anticipate his obligations becoming burdensome.
“It’s just different plays. We didn’t do like delay action and stuff like that (at KU),” Graham shared. “But pick and roll, coming off ball screens, coming off the 4-man or the 5-man, double-picks and stuff like that, we always did that. That was our main thing. I probably did 40, 50 ball screens every game, so it’s just about reading the defense and making plays based off that, which I’m pretty used to.”
Further adaptations await him on the defensive end of the floor, where the presence of more talented, versatile players than existed at the college level and a longer 3-point arc will inevitably ask more of him, just as it does every newcomer in the league.
“Defensively it’s just the spacing. Everybody’s so spaced out and it’s not all clogged up,” Graham noted of the differences he already has experienced at the next level. “You can’t just sit in the paint — defensive three seconds and stuff like that — so you’ve got to close out a little bit further than you would normally have at the collegiate level. But it’s something that I’ve gotta get adjusted to — getting in and out of the lane and jumping over to the nail and having to close out, just different things like that. But for the most part it’s the same.”
Borrego already has stated publicly he wouldn’t hesitate to insert Graham, the No. 34 overall pick in the draft, into the Hornets’ rotation.
According to Graham, the franchise’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, said from the get-go he envisioned Graham, who now projects as the third point guard, doing a lot of the same things that made Graham successful at KU.
“Just play my game and when I’m in there, making the right reads. If I’m playing off the ball you’ve gotta be able to knock down shots — if I’m playing with Kemba or somebody off the ball — because those guys get a lot of attention, so they might leave me open and stuff like that,” Graham said of possible scenarios outlined by Kupchak. “But if I’m running the point just make the simple plays and get us in the offense. Don’t turn the ball over, just little things like that, which I’m definitely capable of doing.”
Graham makes his Hornets debut against Oklahoma City at 4:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU).
Svi Mykhailiuk arrived at the NBA Summer League ready to score.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ second-round draft pick from Kansas put up 15 points and knocked down three of his 6 3-point attempts in his exhibition debut Monday night at the California Classic, in Sacramento, Calif.
The smooth shots from beyond the arc couldn’t have surprised anyone, but the flashes of athleticism from the 6-foot-8 guard likely opened the eyes of those who didn’t follow him closely with the Jayhawks.
Mykhailiuk finished strong above the rim on a couple of occasions during L.A.’s 98-93 loss to Sacramento at Golden 1 Center. One of his dunks came in transition, but another materialized in the half court.
The Kings’ Justin Jackson flew at Mykhailiuk when the Lakers rookie caught a pass on the wing, and the 21-year-old Ukrainian blew past his defender and rose up for a powerful two-handed jam before No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III could think about contesting it.
“That I can shoot real well gives me more opportunities to go to the rim,” Mykhailiuk told reporters afterward, “because people are going to close out on me hard, and I think I have good enough handles to go to the rim.”
It seemed the early-summer scouting report on Mykhailiuk might not have accounted for his agility and bounce — even though Sacramento guard and former KU teammate Frank Mason III (16 points, nine assists) could’ve warned the Kings.
“I think they might change later,” a grinning Mykhailiuk said of opponents’ expectations for defending him. “But it is what it is.”
Like fellow rookie Moe Wagner, Mykhailiuk, according to Lakers summer coach Miles Simon, showed some positive signs and played relaxed.
“Svi knocks down those 3s. In the fourth quarter he looked really good,” Simon added. “Defensively, moving his feet really well.”
His comfort level wasn’t inhibited by the NBA 3-point line extending a little more than a foot farther back than the college arc.
“Yeah, it’s not that far,” Mykhailiuk said. “But it’s just a little bit of an adjustment, and I think I’ll be fine.”
Wagner, who has known his new Laker teammate since their days of matching up in Europe, expected Mykhailiuk’s shooting display.
“That dude doesn’t miss,” Wagner said. “I’m not surprised. It’s fun to be on the court with him.”
A Mason 3-pointer (he made two of three in the win) ended the Lakers’ chances in the final minute.
“We lost — that’s not a good thing — but I think we competed hard,” Mykhailiuk said. “They made tough shots in the end and I think we’re gonna be better tomorrow.”
L.A. takes on Miami Tuesday night at 9, on ESPN2.
The Lakers’ other KU rookie, Malik Newman, missed the opener due to a left foot sprain.
Considering the 2018 draft concluded just a week ago, it’s still difficult to picture second-round picks Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk playing in their respective new NBA uniforms instead of the University of Kansas jerseys and shorts they sported every time they hit the court the past four years.
So perhaps now is as good a time as any to start preparing yourself for the idea of incoming freshman Quentin Grimes swapping his KU gear for an NBA fit next summer.
A 6-foot-5 combo guard from The Woodlands, Texas, Grimes, of course, hasn’t declared himself a one-and-done talent yet.
But all early indications point toward him becoming a lottery pick in 2019.
Twelve months out form the next NBA Draft, mock projections from multiple outlets list Grimes, coming off an MVP performance at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, as a top-10 prospect.
According to six different mock drafts, Grimes’ current value ranks somewhere between the fourth- and 19th-best player to potentially be available, and most have him coming off the board before the 10th pick:
• ESPN - No. 6
• Sports Illustrated - No. 7
• CBS Sports - No. 4
• NBC Sports - No. 5
• Bleacher Report - No. 19
• SB Nation - No. 10
According to SI’s Jeremy Woo, Grimes checks “all the boxes” for a combo guard.
“Grimes has a nice mix of positional size, ball-handling ability and passing feel and is ready for the college level,” Woo wrote. “He has impressive coordination for his size and finishes pretty well around the rim. He stands to be more aggressive defending and imposing his will on the game in all facets, and appears to need the ball in his hands to thrive right now. His 3-point shot is also a little shaky at times. As long as Grimes rises to the occasion at Kansas, the lottery should be within reach.”
That breakdown falls in line with what KU coach Bill Self said about the freshman guard, upon returning to Lawrence from their gold-medal trip to Canada, in June. The 18-year-old Grimes hasn’t yet played a game for the Jayhawks and Self already called him “probably as complete a guard as we’ve ever had.”
At this point, though, no other Jayhawks project as first-round prospects for 2019.
While not every mock draft includes a second-round forecast, ESPN classified junior-to-be Udoka Azubuike, who dipped his large toes into the NBA waters this past spring, as the No. 48 potential draftee.
SI doesn’t include KU’s 7-foot center on its list, but does give 6-9 forward Dedric Lawson a spot near the middle of the second round, at No. 42.
“While not an exceptional athlete, Lawson has been highly productive on both ends of the glass and around the basket,” Woo wrote of the transfer from Memphis, who will make his KU debut this coming season, “and has shown inconsistent but functional set shooting touch from outside. He could be in position for a big year as part of what’s essentially a brand new Jayhawks rotation, and should be able to rejuvenate his draft stock in the process.”
Grimes, Azubuike and Lawson all will have plenty of opportunities to improve — or hurt — their stock in the months ahead, and it shouldn’t surprise anybody if all three ultimately decide to enter the drat next year.
KU’s 2018-19 roster might not have any seniors on it, but, as usual, you should count on the best Jayhawks exploring their NBA options and possibly deciding to leave early.
Early one morning this past March, Rob Pelinka’s phone rang. The Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager knew whose voice to expect when he accepted the call.
As usual, it was Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. His thoughts on a player the organization had monitored closely since the previous year’s NBA Draft Combine couldn’t wait.
Both Johnson and Pelinka knew of University of Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk’s 3-point stroke. But Johnson needed to revisit the 2018 draft prospect with his colleague again, upon seeing the job Mykhailiuk did defending ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Duke.
“At five in the morning, he called me and said, ‘That showed me a lot about him — his toughness, his mentality,’” Pelinka recalled Tuesday, as Johnson fist-bumped Mykhailiuk during the Lakers’ introductory press conference for the Ukrainian guard and Moe Wagner, first-round pick out of Michigan.
Bagley went on to become the No. 2 overall pick in last week’s draft. And although the Lakers were able to wait until the 47th pick to snag Mykhailiuk, it became clear the four-year guard from KU solidified himself as a draftee in the Lakers’ eyes with his overall efforts against Duke — a game in which Mykhailiuk also hit a 3 that sent it to overtime.
“We have some core principles of how we want to build this team,” Pelinka said. “And it’s guys that are tough, guys that have a high basketball IQ, love the game, love to compete, that can shoot, that are skilled. (Johnson) saw that in that game with Svi, and our scouting department saw that, as well.”
Now a 21-year-old rookie with the Lakers, Mykhailiuk sat in between Johnson and Wagner wearing a gray suit and black tie as one of the most famous and successful basketball players in history described his potential.
Johnson revealed that L.A. interviewed both Mykhailiuk and Wagner (the 25th overall pick) at the 2017 combine, before both players decided to return to college for another year.
“We felt both of them got better, got stronger,” Johnson said, adding selecting each was a “no-brainer.”
The Lakers finished next-to-last in the NBA in 3-point shooting (34.5 percent) and worst in free-throw shooting (71.4 percent) during this past season, stats referenced by Johnson while lauding the value of the organization’s newest players.
“But today is a big upgrade. We set out to get shooters in this draft and guys that could stretch the floor, guys who have high basketball IQ, guys that were competitors and tough-minded. Both of them come from extremely successful programs in college,” Johnson added, crediting KU’s Bill Self and Michigan’s John Beilein for molding the incoming rookies. “We felt when we looked at both of them, they could add to our team what was missing.”
As his parents, Inna and Iurri watched, Mykhailiuk told reporters in L.A. why he decided to leave Ukraine as a 16-year-old. He remembered watching a college basketball game on TV and thinking it looked “fun.”
“Also, I was trying to go to the NBA, and for me it was going to be better to go through college,” he explained, adding he picked KU because it’s “one of the greatest schools, and I think it was a good choice for me.”
Plenty of obstacles await the 6-foot-8 rookie guard now that he has achieved his childhood goal. Mykhailiuk said, though, playing within L.A.’s switching defensive scheme should not be as challenging, because he spent his final season at KU defending spots one through four on the floor.
“We had a lot of good guards and kind of short on bigs, so I had to switch a lot,” Mykhailuk said, with his new, gold No. 19 Lakers jersey sitting on the table in front of him. “So for me, I think it’s going to be pretty easy, because I used to play it a lot.”
A new Laker and L.A. resident, Mykhailiuk still is learning the ins and outs of his first job as a college graduate. Before concluding the press conference by posing for photos, including one with his parents, Mykhailiuk said he knows the coming days, weeks and months will be filled with adjustments.
“I would say just figuring out my routine,” he predicted of his adaptation process. “How to be a pro. Just figure out our lifestyle.”
The truest and most effective 3-point shooters don’t allow recent misses to turn into second-guesses.
It’s a quality sharpened over time and one Svi Mykhailiuk brings with him into every pre-draft workout.
During his four seasons playing at the University of Kansas, Mykhailiuk drained 237 shots from beyond the arc. But none of the other makes will be remembered as fondly or clearly as the 3 the 6-foot-7 guard hit in the 2018 Elite Eight, tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and paving the way for KU to defeat Duke in overtime en route to the Final Four.
Mykhailiuk delivered that crucial basket on a day when many of his 3-pointers weren’t falling. But the NBA prospect from Ukraine displayed no hesitation — only confidence — on his game-tying release.
Appearing on “Off The Bench,” a podcast for the Wizards’ website, following his workout with Washington this past week, Mykhailiuk, who shot 3-for-9 against Duke this past March, explained what enabled him to connect on the biggest shot of his college career.
“I know I’m a pretty good shooter and I know my teammates believe in me. That’s why they wanted me to shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “At that time, I didn’t really know what time was on the clock and (Devonte’ Graham) passed me the ball and I felt confident in my shot. I just stepped to it and just shot it. I got lucky it went in,” he added, with a self-deprecating laugh.
A 44.4% 3-point shooter as a 20-year-old senior at KU, Mykhailiuk possesses a defining, if not elite-level, skill — a claim many draft hopefuls can’t make. He’s attempting to model his game after one of the NBA’s greatest shooters, Klay Thompson, as he embarks on his professional career. But he also aims to prove to coaches and executives in the coming weeks he has more to offer.
“I’m a very versatile guy, can guard from 1 to 4 and I just know my role and know how to do the little things,” Mykhailiuk said of what he tries to display during workouts.
In Washington, he shared court time with, among others, Michigan’s Mo Wagner, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. But Mykhailiuk was far more pleased to see good friend and fellow Jayhawk Graham at the workout. It marked the second time the KU duo ended up at the same evaluation session for a team (Chicago being the other).
“It’s definitely cool coming to the same workout with a guy who was with you for four years, best friends,” Mykhailiuk said. “Just kind of makes you relaxed and do better during the workout. We help each other, which is great.”
At times during their trip to D.C., the prospects from Kansas had to square off. Mykhailiuk said neither minded, though, because it wasn’t their first time battling.
“We like to have fun and go one-on-one and it usually gets competitive. We know each other, we know our strong and weak sides and each other’s moves,” he shared, “so it’s kind of hard for us to score against each other.”
Mykhailiuk worked out for Phoenix on Monday.
ESPN’s current mock draft projects the Ukrainian shooting guard as the No. 51 choice in the 60-pick draft. Sports Illustrated’s predictions have Mykhailiuk going 60th, while The Ringer currently expects him to go undrafted.
The NBA Draft is June 21, in Brooklyn.
In what is typically the most dormant time of year in the NBA, the league remains abuzz in late July thanks to some off-the-court drama coming from the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. News came out this past week that Cleveland All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who helped the Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA championship, asked the organization to trade him.
From there, rumors and speculation exploded — via social media and legitimate news outlets — on a perceived strained relationship between Iriving and four-time league MVP LeBron James.
While there are layers to the story that might not be revealed for months, or even years, many are left asking themselves why someone wouldn’t want to play with James, the greatest player of his generation.
What is James like as a teammate? Someone who knows the answer to that question, former Kansas guard Mario Chalmers, shed some light on the subject during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio.
Chalmers, of course, won two NBA titles while playing alongside James in Miami for four seasons. Now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, the eight-year veteran complimented The King on SiriusXM, but admitted it can be “tough sometimes” to play on the same team as LeBron, due to his dominant presence.
“He’s the best player in the NBA, so it boils down to the coach. Is the coach going to get everybody else involved, or is he gonna let ’Bron decide when he wants to get everybody else involved? So that’s one of the things we were going back-and-forth with in Miami,” Chalmers began. “But as a teammate — he’s a great teammate. I’ve never had any problems. Even when we had that one argument on the court. At the end of the day, we’re still brothers. We were over that after it had already happened, and the media made it more than what it was.”
Although Chalmers and James had their differences, the role-playing guard wasn’t about to call James a bad teammate. If Chalmers had to guess, Irving’s desire to abandon a lineup that’s the favorite to reach The Finals for a fourth straight year stems from something other than it being difficult to play with James.
“He’s a great teammate, a great dude,” Chalmers said. “And when you’re a guy like Kyrie, and you’re young and you’re the man, I can see him wanting to be traded to be on his own team. But I don’t think it’s as personal as what everybody is trying to make it seem.”
For all the points he has put up and all the wicked dunks he has thrown down since entering the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins still has ample room to grow in terms of the impact he can make for Minnesota.
In his three professional seasons since leaving Kansas, Wiggins’ scoring average has climbed each year, and he produced 23.6 points per game (16th in the league) in 2016-17. However, his 6-foot-8 frame, 7-foot wingspan and elite athletic ability haven’t helped the young wing become the defensive stopper many envisioned.
Wiggins’ new teammate, Jimmy Butler, plans to change that.
During Butler’s appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Wiggins’ reputation came up as Simmons and Butler discussed Minnesota’s roster. The host referenced Wiggins’ below-average defense, as recently detailed at FiveThirtyEight.com.
In a feature titled “The NBA Haters’ Ball,” FiveThirtyEight identified Wiggins as the league’s “Least Defensive Player.” That unwanted label got thrust upon Wiggins after some player-tracking data examined shots defended by individuals during the 2016-17 season and the results of said attempts.
“Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins,” Kyle Wagner wrote. “When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents have a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they have a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot.”
According to the evaluation, Wiggins’ liabilities included a lack of full effort and ball-watching.
“He defended the 10th-most shots in the league, by far the most by a below-average defender,” Wagner added at FiveThirtyEight. “Most teams do their best to hide their weak defenders, but opponents seek Wiggins out like no other defender in the league.”
A three-time second-team All-Defensive team selection, Butler expects he can mold Wiggins into a far more competitive and potent player on the defensive end of the court.
“He has all the tools to be a terrific defender, by the way,” Butler said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “But it’s different when somebody’s just telling you something all the time and somebody’s showing you: This is what playing both sides of the floor can get you.”
When Wiggins joined Minnesota three years ago, he had no savvy multi-time all-star to show him the NBA ropes. The Timberwolves have been somewhere between mediocre and awful throughout their current 13-year playoff drought, but finally appear to have a postseason-worthy roster thanks to the summer additions of Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague, to go with Wiggins and star big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota acquired Wiggins with the idea that he would one day become an all-star wing such as Butler. Now the 22-year-old Canadian prodigy has a chance to learn every day from one of the league’s best all-around perimeter players long before entering the prime of his career.
“He is extremely talented on the offensive end,” Butler said of Wiggins. “And I think he’s going to be just that talented on the defensive end, as well, as long as you lock into it. I think he has that will and he wants to be great, so he’s going to want to do it. And I’m excited to get with him, just because I know how passionate he is about the game — his drive and his work ethic and how he wants to win. When you have that as a young guy, you have it. You can’t really teach that; you just have it.”
With his team in the midst of a potentially embarrassing drubbing versus an undermanned Los Angeles Lakers squad late Monday night at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, former Kansas All-American Frank Mason III got a chance to outshine some of the event’s stars — the more highly regarded first-round picks who went before him in the June draft.
Sacramento’s No. 5 overall pick, De’Aaron Fox tweaked an ankle in the first half, enabling Mason, the 34th pick, to put on a second-half show. Mason nearly helped the Kings rally from a 28-point deficit against L.A. with a game-high 24 points — scoring 20 in the second half. The backup floor general shot 9-for-13 (2-for-3 on 3-pointers) and contributed six assists, five rebounds and two steals in a 95-92 loss.
Predictably humble, Mason downplayed his big night and the comeback that fell short versus a Lakers lineup which did not include Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma.
“The goal is always to win,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m happy that my team fought pretty hard to make it interesting, but we didn’t come out with the win, so I’m not really happy.”
While Mason’s assertive approach in the second half resembled his senior season at KU, the point guard credited his coaches’ strategy and teammates for getting him open with screens.
“I was pretty much just driving the ball downhill, creating for my teammates and myself,” said Mason, who went 2-for-9 in his first summer exhibition and 2-for-10 in his second outing, leading up to a breakout performance.
The 23-year-old lead guard said his four years of Kansas experience kicked in at some point, and he was able to make a positive impact for his team and get the Kings back in the game. Not that he ever was overly concerned with his slow start in Las Vegas.
“I just made shots in this game,” said Mason, who is now averaging 11.3 points, 3.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds, while shooting .406 from the floor. “The last two games I had pretty good looks; they just didn’t fall.”
Fox’s minor injury set up Mason with more playing time (24 minutes). Instead of subbing in and out, he got to experience a prolonged stay on the court. While Mason admitted that helped him feel comfortable, he also said, “it’s the NBA. No matter when your number is called you’ve got to be ready.”
Even the summer league is a step up for the former Kansas star, which means a new reality: coming off the bench.
“I think I do a pretty good job of accepting my role and giving whatever the team needs from me,” Mason said of entering the league as a backup. “It’s a different feeling, obviously, from the past three years — starting and playing for a lot of minutes throughout the game — to coming here and just getting limited minutes. But I accept my role, whatever it is, and just give my best effort.”
He didn’t enter his latest summer league game expecting a chance to take over, but Mason did just that given the opportunity. The more looks he gets with the Kings, the more the second-rounder will force others around the NBA to take notice.
For every promising young rookie who enters the NBA, there’s always some inevitable player comparison slapped on him — fairly or unfairly — by those who have analyzed his skills, style, strengths and weaknesses.
Months before Josh Jackson became the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, the 20-year-old small forward’s defensive intensity and offensive potential had some observers equating Jackson’s longterm career path with that of All-Star San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard.
As it turns out, Jackson welcomes that demanding player analogy.
Appearing on NBA TV’s “The Starters” following a Phoenix Suns win at the the Las Vegas Summer League, Jackson said he, too, would compare his game to Leonard’s, and he hopes to model his career after the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
“The way he just plays both ends of the floor, defense and offense,” Jackson said of how he wants to emulate Leonard. “He’s just a really good player, and in today’s NBA league it’s kind of hard to find a guy who plays so hard on both ends just all the time.”
Leonard, the 15th overall pick in 2011, wasn’t as touted then as Jackson is now. But the Spurs’ latest franchise player, a two-time member of the All-NBA team, currently finds himself in the running for MVP honors every season after entering the league as a supposed defensive specialist.
“Defense creates offense,” Jackson said.
A 6-foot-8 small forward, Jackson would like to establish himself as someone who can do that for Phoenix, in Las Vegas. Teaming up with other key members of the Suns’ very young core — such as bigs Dragan Bender (19) and Marquese Chriss (20) — has Jackson locked in months before the real season starts.
“I’m really excited. Especially playing in summer league with a few guys who are actually going to be asked to play major minutes this year,” Jackson said. “That’s why I think it’s just really important for us to come out and take this serious. It’s actually a lot more important (for us) than some other teams here, because, like I said, we are so young and we’ve got so many guys who are going to play major minutes for us this year on the team.”
That means it’s more likely than not Jackson’s fiery side will come out on the court before he leaves Vegas. He told “The Starters” he’s the best trash-talker in this year’s rookie class, but he only utilizes that strategy “here and there, when I want to.”
While he admitted he has taken trash talk a step too far in the heat of battle before, Jackson said the approach can be harnessed to his benefit, too.
“It gets me going. I try to get under other players’ skin,” he said. “But mostly it gets me going.”
Among the many topics Jackson dove into, he also touched on why he is wearing a No. 99 jersey for the Suns this summer. When he was a ninth-grader and coming up on the AAU circuit he wore that same unique basketball number on his chest and back.
“That was actually the last number I wore before I wore 11,” Jackson said, adding he can’t have the same digits that donned his Kansas jersey for Phoenix (guard Brandon Knight currently wears No. 11).
Through two exhibitions in Vegas, Jackson is averaging a summer league-high 36 minutes a game, while putting up 16.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks, and shooting .343 from the floor.