This highly-anticipated match had been eagerly awaited since the release of the Las Vegas Summer League schedule. The spotlight was on No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama, hailed by many as the most promising prospect since LeBron James, as he made his debut with the Spurs. His opponent was the Hornets’ Brandon Miller, chosen just one pick later.
The ESPN-televised game on Friday night was a complete sell-out, and the atmosphere was electric throughout, despite the Spurs emerging victorious with a 76-68 scoreline in a low-scoring affair. Both top picks faced their fair share of challenges, but they also showcased glimpses of their exceptional talent, reaffirming why they were the first two names called last month. Nevertheless, it was in this particular instance that the Hornets’ rising star outshone the rest.
Following his underwhelming performance in the Summer League game against the Warriors in Sacramento, where he struggled to find his rhythm and attempted only four shots, Miller bounced back impressively.
In the matchup against the Spurs, he immediately made an impact by sinking a 3-pointer at the start of the game, followed by another attempt on the next possession. He ended the game with 16 points, shooting 5-for-15 from the field and 3-for-10 from beyond the arc. Notably, he electrified the crowd with a powerful one-handed slam during a fast break.
But Miller’s increased aggressiveness wasn’t a matter of a new game plan. Rather, it was what this game called for.
“I think in that Golden State game, I was getting him the ball quite a bit,” said Marlon Garnett, an assistant coach with the Hornets who is the team’s head coach for Summer League. “Golden State had a couple little scheme things that they tried to do. And Brandon is just a smart player, good IQ, that he just makes the right read. He just makes the right play. He’s not going to overdo it, and he’s not going to force anything, which sometimes I think he unfairly gets knocked for not being more aggressive.”
“I think as I let the game come to me, I think just more shots came,” Miller said. “So I just think the ball kind of found my hands to take shots like that.”
In addition, Miller showcased his versatility by contributing 11 rebounds, three steals, an assist, and a block. However, he did accumulate five fouls, which has been a recurring concern for him throughout the Summer League. Nonetheless, it was an overall commendable performance from Miller, demonstrating noticeable progress that surely caught the attention of his coach.
“I like what Brandon is doing,” Garnett said. “I just want to see his motor a little bit more like he did today. Again, he had a little bit more pop than the first two games, and hopefully that’s an indication of what we’re gonna see going forward.”
On Friday, the Hornets encountered shooting difficulties as a collective unit. They converted only 29.9% of their field goals, struggled from beyond the arc with a 5-for-32 performance, and went 17-for-26 from the free-throw line. However, their defensive prowess shone throughout the game, limiting Wembanyama to just nine points on 2-for-13 shooting and restraining the Spurs to a 33.3% field goal percentage.
“We didn’t shoot the ball all that great, so that hurt us a little bit,” Garnett said. “But typically, when you don’t shoot the ball well, it affects your defense, and I thought that tonight, it was a little bit reverse. So we felt like we had a pillar that we can stand on. Okay, we’re not shooting well, but we didn’t give up our effort on the defensive end, which is gonna help us win games going forward.”
In their Sacramento outings, the Hornets struggled, suffering consecutive losses by double-digit margins, leaving them with an 0-2 record. They yielded close to 100 points in each game and faced significant challenges in rebounding. Consequently, before their trip to Las Vegas, Garnett took the initiative to address the entire team, voicing his concerns and delivering a message to rally their spirits.
“We had a really good heart-to-heart film before we got on the plane to fly from Sacramento to here,” Garnett said. “I’m not much of a screamer or a yeller, but it was a stern kind of, you got to be better. You got to be better in these situations.
“This morning, solid shoot around, and it carried over. Obviously, it didn’t carry over to a ‘W,’ but it’s a lot of positives that we can take from tonight.”