Vegas Summer League | Bucks 69, Pelicans 61: Without Henson, guards pick up slack

Kevin C. Cox

John Henson was a late scratch with a tweaked groin muscle, but the Bucks still overcame the Pelicans thanks to an 11-0 run to close the game.

If you managed to watch the Bucks-Pelicans Sunday night game in Vegas in its entirety, then congratulations are in order: you are truly as hardcore as they come. A commemorative plaque is in the mail, probably.

In a game that was short on talent and execution, the Bucks rode the modest talents of Ish Smith (11 points, 4 ast) and free agent Dominique Jones (16 pts, 3/7 fg, 10/12 ft) past the New Orleans Pelicans 69-61 on Sunday night, improving Milwaukee to 2-0 in its first weekend of Vegas action. Pellies point guard Brian Roberts (20 points on 15 shots) helped keep things competitive for New Orleans, which used a 10-1 margin on the offensive boards to keep things close despite Milwaukee's 50% to 34% edge in shooting. Austin Rivers added 15 points and actually looked like an NBA player on a number of occasions, but his final line (15 points on 7/16 shooting, 4 to, 0 ast) was still rather Austin Rivers-y (hint: not a good thing).

The Bucks' squad lost a fair bit of intrigue on draft night when it was Giannis Antetokounmpo would miss out due to commitments to the U-20 Greek nation team, and it lost most of its remaining intrigue around tip time on Sunday night when John Henson was scratched with a slight groin injury. No word on whether Henson will be back for Tuesday night's matchup with Golden State.

Since no one generally cares much about the game narratives to summer league contests (the Bucks won! Yay!), let's just focus on some individual takeaways:

  • Ish Smith once again showed that he has NBA athleticism and could yet carve out a niche in this league because of it. He's quick, strong and used it on a couple occasions to cross up defenders and finish in the lane, including one moonshot over Pellies' rookie shot-blocker Jeff Withey. The game's highlight also came on a P&R play that saw Smith deliver a nice bounce pass that Chris Daniels hammered down for an impressive dunk. He even hit a buzzer-beating three at one point, which probably won't happen too often but underscores an important point: if he ever figured out how to consistently make jump shots he'd be a very useful NBA player.
  • Nate Wolters saw limited action for the second straight game and didn't leave a big impression either way (2/5 fg, 4 pts, 2 ast). He got caught for cheap fouls a number of times defensively but also didn't stand out too badly on that end, while offensively he looked comfortable facilitating mostly out of P&R sets. That said: if I didn't know Nate Wolters was the 38th overall pick and a guy who was going to make the Bucks roster, would I have been able to guess he was a legit NBA prospect and not just another fringe guy likely to make a living in Europe? No.

    This isn't meant to say Wolters stinks or doesn't have a chance in the league--it just underscores the difficulty of using Vegas as a barometer for judging a rookie's potential as an NBA player (and my abilities as a scout, too). On a number of occasions I thought that Wolters seemed like a guy who needed to be around other decent players to really stand out, but then it occurred to me that he was a one-man wrecking crew the last four years at South Dakota St.
  • Gustavo Ayon pretty much plays in summer league the way he plays in the NBA--he's just kind of there, taking good angles when he rolls to the hoop and putting himself in positions to do stuff. If you're looking for Ayon to score 20 points in this setting just because he's an NBA player, you're going to be disappointed. But I also don't think a couple summer league games should or will be the basis for the Bucks' decision of whether or not to waive him before his deal becomes fully guaranteed on July 25. He's been a solid NBA big man for two seasons now, which seems like something worth $1.5 million to an NBA team.
  • Dominique Jones wore down the Pelican guards with his driving game, using his superior size (6'5") and strength (216 pounds) to bully his way to 12 free throw attempts and a couple of short floaters. He knows how to play, and he was typically the Bucks' number one option most of the time that he was in the game. But while I don't doubt that Jones is capable of making an NBA roster, I wouldn't guess the Bucks are that team. Assuming Milwaukee adds Brandon Jennings or another guy capable of starting at the point, it would seem like Milwaukee's last roster spot would be best used on a swingman rather than a combo guard, and Jones' lack of outside range are another major hurdle to finding regular rotation minutes.
  • I like to think former Northwestern star John Shurna patterned his shot after former Bulls big man Bill Cartwright, only he shoots about 50 times faster. Which is good, because Shurna just sort of floats around until he gets a glimmer of breathing room on the perimeter, at which point he's capable of cranking up his awkward, squeeze-the-ball-out-of-his-hands jumper rather quickly. On Sunday he only took three shots: all threes, all went in, and none of them got even a hint of the rim. Kid can shoot.
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