LAS VEGAS — The Wizards kicked off their Summer League run in Las Vegas with a 91-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. Without the presence of draft picks on the roster, the Wizards are grooming several young players under contract, including rookie Michael Young, who signed a ‘two-way’ contract with the team as an undrafted free agent. Here are five takeaways from the day.
1. Sheldon Mac doing more than scoring
Out of all the players on this roster, Sheldon Mac logged the most NBA game experience last year. Mac mostly spent his rookie season on the bench but stepped in as a replacement starter for two games when the team rested Bradley Beal. During those times Mac showed flashes of competitiveness and scoring, but it was somewhat surprising that he did not lead the team in shot attempts Saturday. In the first quarter Mac connected on two field goal attempts as the Wizards fell into a 12-4 hole, but he did not make another shot for the rest of the game (2 of 9, 9 points).
Instead, Mac tried to balance his 19 minutes on the court and his highlight came with less than a minute to play in regulation. The Wizards led by one when Mac intercepted a lazy midcourt pass, then stretched out to tap the loose ball to Chris McCullough for a dunk and 86-83 lead.
Chad Iske, who is coaching the Wizards’ roster in Vegas, noted that kind of effort as something the team has tried to drill into Mac.
“When you’re sitting on the end of the bench and not playing, you know in a lot of ways that’s what you’ve got to do to try to get on the board,” Iske said. “You come to Summer League, you’ve moved up the rung to a better spot and I think some of that is just continuing to tell those guys that’s the way you got to play all the time, no matter what. Whether you’re at Summer League, on the practice court or in game in the regular season.”
2. Jared Cunningham stars but Wizards rationing out minutes
Jared Cunningham last appeared in an NBA game on March 26, 2015, however, on Saturday, he stood out as the best player on the court. Cunningham came off the bench and scored a team-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Cunningham played fewer than 20 minutes while splitting time with Mac at shooting guard. The Wizards started their four players who are currently under contract (Mac, McCullough, Young and Daniel Ochefu) along with point guard Kevin Pangos.
“Just trying to show what I can do in a limited time,” Cunningham said.
Iske said the team will likely keep the same lineup for the remaining games so the contract players can get much-needed court time. That’s why Cunningham was not on the floor for the team’s final shot. With 2.3 seconds remaining, the Wizards were in position to tie the game, and the last shot went to Mac. While seemingly trying to draw contact, Mac missed the rim entirely.
3. Cram sessions continue for Young
Young has had to adapt not only to the NBA game but also to learning two forward positions.
The starting frontcourt of Ochefu and McCullough has moved the 6-foot-9 Young to the three-spot. By moving him to the perimeter, the Wizards are working with Young on his jump shot. In this opening game, he struggled and started the game 1 for 8 through three quarters.
“He’s doing a great job. The tough thing is he played so much on the inside I think through college and we had him experiencing out on the wing some because we have Chris and D.O. already,” Iske said. “The game’s different enough as it is already, and then to learn two different spots, he’s done a good job with it. He didn’t get the payoff on the stat sheet today but I think he’s been solid.”
Young scored 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting and pulled down three rebounds.
4. An active McCullough is the best McCullough
The Wizards consider McCullough to be their 2017 first-round draft pick. He came over from Brooklyn in a trade deadline deal, and though he has technically been in the league since 2015, he’s still a bit of a mystery. Last season, McCullough spent more time in the formerly known NBA Development League than he did on the big stage — just 16 game appearances split between his time with the Nets and the Wizards.
Even Washington’s coaching staff has a limited scouting report on McCullough, because by the time he came over, the team was not practicing much. There’s only so much to glean from 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 runs on the practice court. Inside the Cox Pavilion against Memphis, McCullough, like most of the other regulars, did not have a strong shooting day (4 for 12). But he scored his points from the interior, throwing down an alley-oop pass from Pangos in the first quarter and later in the half cleaning up a miss with an offensive rebound and putback. Also, his final two field goals came at the rim — a good sign, considering the team wants to take advantage of his athleticism and length.
“He’s as much as a rookie experience-wise as a lot of these guys, even though he’s been in the league,” Iske said. “So I think just getting him out there and getting him playing is the best thing for him.”
5. Veterans show support
As the Wizards made their comeback from a deficit that had grown to 16 points, two veteran players stood and applauded from their courtside seats.
Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. attended the game, showing up early and coming over to the team’s locker room area to greet front-office personnel and coaches. The players stayed into the action, even Kelly Oubre Sr. showed up wearing a No. 12 Wizards practice jersey (his son’s number).