Summer League is often entertaining, but the results mean nothing. Fans can’t take much from what happens in Vegas.
But players can take plenty, especially rookies. They can take experience.
In the case of teenage Nets forward Noah Clowney, it was much-needed.
A player so young — one of the youngest in team history — is bound to have plenty more lessons. And some of them are going to be tough.
But when the Nets open training camp in a little more than a month, Clowney will be better off for having seen the speed of the pro game first-hand.
“Obviously the game is faster,” Clowney said. “It’s really all a bunch of small details, really — like screening angles, getting into screens faster, then getting out faster and things like that. What shots are good shots, if you don’t (have) a shot, get right into the next action. …
“You learn from it, and I think the only way you can learn from it is by going through the experience of that Summer League. So I’m glad I played in it. It was fun. I didn’t play my best, obviously. [My shooting] percentages were horrible. But it was a learning experience. I feel like that’s what it was supposed to be. So I’m happy with it.”
Clowney’s first shot
The Nets had three picks in the June draft. First-rounder Dariq Whitehead didn’t compete in Las Vegas following a second foot surgery. Second-rounder Jalen Wilson is 22 — older than teammates Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe and Trendon Watford, who each have two seasons of NBA service under their belts. Age might be mitigating the benefits of Summer League.
Clowney was the highest-drafted of that trio at No. 21 overall. His length and potential switchability on defense have drawn instant comparisons with Nets starting center Nic Claxton, a fellow South Carolinian and potential mentor considering their (at least somewhat) similar games.
At just 18 years, 342 days old on draft night, Clowney became the second-youngest pick in franchise history, two days younger than previous record holder Derrick Favors (2010) and behind Whitehead.
But Clowney, who turned 19 while in Las Vegas, had some predictable struggles in Summer League.
The raw big man was acceptable on defense, but averaged just 4.8 points in five games on 22.6 percent shooting, including 23.5 percent from 3-point range.
After shooting just 28.3 percent from behind the arc in college at Alabama — while putting up 3.3 3-pointers per game — it begs the question of whether Clowney can develop into a floor-spacing big in the NBA.
Clowney logged just 14 seconds in the second half and overtime of the Nets’ semifinal loss to the Cavaliers.
It bears repeating that it’s impossible to judge much from Summer League, and unwise to try, especially for a teenager who played just 99 minutes.
But the eye test suggested he’ll have more of a learning curve on the offensive end of the floor, and this week Clowney confirmed that the feedback from coaches said the same.
“The guarding was a little different, but it’s like the same principle,” Clowney said. “If somebody makes a spin and contested fade-in two on you, that’s a good shot. Get back on D, get it next time. As long as it’s not open 3s necessarily, no layups, no dunks … guarding is easy. It’s not always easy, but the concept is easier than offense.
“Offense is a lot different. You’ve got to play offense based on your defense, but that’s all we work on. We’ve been working on it, so we’re going to get better at it.”
‘Keep your head up’
The 6-foot-11, 210-pound Clowney has room for growth, both literally and figuratively.
It’s why the Nets and general manager Sean Marks were so eager to pick him — but also why he may well see a lot of time in Long Island this coming season, honing his game in the G League.
“I love the intangibles. I love how hard he competes. I love the length that he has,” said Marks, who is 6-foot-10 himself. “When you have a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan, I can’t teach that. Our coaches can teach a lot of things, but they can’t teach that.”
“I love the fact that he doesn’t shy away from shooting from the outside. He’s very versatile, can play a couple of different positions out there.”
Clowney averaged a solid 1.4 blocks in Las Vegas, though he committed four fouls per game.
Despite initial fears of his willowy frame getting pushed around, he actually held up well to contact.
But while his vertical leap — which was not officially measured at the NBA Draft Combine — looked more than adequate, he was slow getting off the ground and lacked Claxton’s jaw-dropping explosion.
“Dariq was telling me [in Summer League] to close out and keep my head up most of the time,” Clowney said. “Same game at different levels, keep your head up.”
That Clowney was often in the right position speaks to his defensive acumen, and he moved well enough to be counted on to switch — at least eventually, if improvements on offense can make him a playable rotation piece.
Until then, Clowney will keep fine-tuning, learning to get into and out of his screens faster, adjusting the amped-up speed of the pro game. He’ll keep piecing together the aspects of his game like solving a Rubik’s Cube — something the teen can do in a minute flat. Getting the NBA game to slow down for him will take far longer. But once it does, his natural gifts — especially on defense — will take over.
“Noah, he’s a sponge, right?” said Marks, pondering how much Clowney could develop in three or four seasons. “Where they’re going to be at 21, 22, 23, that to me is really exciting when they’re a sponge like Noah, soaking everything up.
“He’s a highly competitive guy. We saw that when he played at Alabama. We’re seeing that again. I’m excited to see where he goes.”
The world’s a stage
The Nets will be represented well in the FIBA World Cup in Manila.
Wings Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are playing for Team USA, which opens Saturday morning against New Zealand, Marks’ home country.
Patrick Gardner — who agreed to a training camp deal with the Nets — is with Egypt, which opened Friday with a 93-67 loss to Lithuania. Gardner recorded two points and two rebounds in 13 minutes.
The former Marist center is expected to put pen to paper and sign his training camp deal after the conclusion of the tournament.
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