When Vander Blue announced on multiple platforms his decision to try out for NBA teams as a point guard, it came as a mild shock. The 6-foot-4 Blue had played almost exclusively as a shooting guard during his three seasons at Marquette, seeing only a handful of minutes at the point as a sophomore.
Sixty names were called two weeks ago during the NBA draft, and not one was the point guard Blue. So when he signed on with the Houston Rockets to play in Orlando’s Summer League, the team’s intention was to play him off the ball. And after three games in three days — he’s headed to Las Vegas to compete with the Grizzlies now — it seems that was the right call.
Even with point guard Isaiah Canaan resting an injured knee, the Rockets used Blue at shooting guard all 47 minutes. With Patrick Beverly and rookie Casper Ware running the point, Houston wanted to see its undrafted free agent off the ball, driving to the lane and running the break from the wing. And for the most part, he performed well.
His professional debut was stalled one game when he received a DNP-CD in the opener, but Blue quickly turned things around with a seven-point, five-rebound performance. Blue shot just 2-of-7 from the field on a pair of drives, the second of which came after he grabbed his own blocked shot and banked a 10-footer home. But more than that, Blue flashed some of his point-guard tendencies, handing out an assist on his first possession and constantly beating his man off the dribble. It didn’t always result in makes for him or his teammates — he finished with just the one helper — but in an unorganized setting such as the Summer League, results weren’t everything. Blue’s aggressiveness was apparent, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
That meant a start one day later (Wednesday) when Blue was dubbed the starting shooting guard. James Harden has nothing to worry about, but the Madison native saved his best for last. In 31 minutes he scored 16 points and added six rebounds in the Rockets’ win over the Celtics. Blue again was aggressive going to the basket, finishing once with a stellar left-handed layup coming from the right wing. He didn’t finish well in the paint, at time being overpowered by taller interior defenders, but the telling statistic from that win was his outside shooting. Blue made 2-of-5 shots from beyond the arc and made all four of his free throws.
For a player who likely made the decision to move to point guard to mask his lack of an outside shot, this was a great sign. The four offensive rebounds were also a nice touch.
Blue finished his three-game stint 20th in the Summer League in scoring (11.5) and was 16th in rebounding (5.5), the latter of which led all guards. Again, if you watched even a quarter of any Summer League game, you’ll notice the best players were the ones who stayed aggressive throughout. Shooting 32 percent from the field won’t turn any heads (you’re safe, Harden) but Blue’s mentality, on the wing, was exactly what he needed to do.
— Dwight Buycks made headlines on Days 1 and 2 of the Summer League, handing out 13 assists in the opener and following it up with another efficient performance of 11 points and five helpers. In Game 3 he grabbed four steals to go with a personal-best 13 points before a Game 4 clunker (two points, three assists in 14 minutes).
We’ll give him a pass for a weak performance in his fourth game in four days, for what it’s worth. Buycks will continue playing with the Thunder throughout this week, but for now his six assists per game rank third in the league. Considering he did his damage in just 21 minutes per game, it’s an excellent mark. He also shot a solid 48 percent from the field and made 4-of-6 3-pointers. Oklahoma City is set at the point with Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, and there seems to be an outside shot of Buycks sticking as another reserve.
— Blue and Buycks had the best Summer League weeks of any Marquette alums, but it was Darius Johnson-Odom who did his best single-game work. The 6-foot-2 combo guard poured in a game-high 22 points against the Pistons on Monday, showing what he can do when he gets going. He made 2-of-3 3-pointers and blasted through the Detroit defense. He scored nine points combined in his other two games, and now he’s off to Las Vegas to play for the Nuggets.
— A knee injury limited McNeal to just one game to this point, and he finished with five points, three assists, four stels and a +14 rating in the Jazz’s win over the Nets. He’ll need to show more and hope he can play through his knee.