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Mavericks Summer League team leaves coach ‘pleasantly surprised’ after first practice

Greg St. Jean likes the competitive nature of his summer squad.

Texas Legends v Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The most exciting 11 days of basketball are almost upon us. All NBA 30 teams will pack their bags and fly to Las Vegas in the next few days for the 2022 NBA Summer League, which tips off on July 7 and runs through July 17.

Like all teams, the Dallas Mavericks’ contingent is a hodgepodge of young talent that’s looking to make its mark and earn the chance to play at the highest level of professional competition in the world. From what he’s seen after the first day of practice, Mavericks Summer League head coach Greg St. Jean likes the way his team is competing.

“I was pleasantly surprised with our group overall,” St. Jean told reporters Tuesday. “[We] had a couple guys get dinged up, but that’s kind of to be expected. Guys were playing hard. In general, though, a really competitive group. A good amount of guys who have played professionally before, so a lot of this was review for them. It was competitive. It was a fun first day.”

This is St. Jean’s second year coaching Dallas’ summer team. He is tasked with navigating the desert tournament with 14 players of varying skill levels and experience. The roster has some familiar names on it, namely Jaden Hardy, who the Mavericks traded into the 2022 NBA Draft to select last month, and Moses Wright, who was on a two-way with Dallas at the end of the 2021-22 regular season.

Both players had expensive experience in the G League last season. Hardy played for Ignite while Wright bounced around with the Agua Caliente Clippers and the Texas Legends before earning a First Team All-G League selection. St. Jean understands that their time in Vegas will be a valuable learning experience for both.

“Jaden was dynamic, as expected,” St. Jean said. “Obviously, [he’s] a very good athlete. He makes the game faster, naturally. He did a good job. A lot of this is going to be intro for him. We talk about guys playing professionally or playing in the G League or playing overseas—although he did play that year with the Ignite—this is a very important time for us to make sure we teach and work with Jaden individually and within our collective scheme about what we’re trying to do on both ends of the floor.”

Last season with the Ignite, Hardy averaged 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 25 games. He shot 37.6 percent overall and 30.9 percent on 7.5 three-point attempts per game. Brown got to see Hardy play up close when their two teams played.

“I was with Agua Caliente,” Wright said. “He gave us close to 30 [points]. Something like that. 26? I was just watching; I wasn’t on the court. I was like, ‘Dang, this young dude nice.’”

Wright averaged 19.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.5 blocks in 28 games with both Agua Caliente and Texas. He shot 56.2 percent from the floor and 39.5 percent from deep. As with Hardy, St. Jean views Summer League as a chance for Wright to acclimate to the level of gameplay and focus on honing his skills.

“Moses obviously had a phenomenal year in the G League—was with Agua Caliente and then with us,” St. Jean said. “First Team All G League, right? So, that’s pretty darn good in your first year. I think the biggest thing for him is getting adjusted to the NBA speed and the NBA size. He’s a versatile defender, obviously a versatile offensive player. I think similar to Jaden, and any young player, is making sure we simplify his game and figure out what is his NBA skill and continue to work on that. He’s done a good job this summer. I know he’s been working hard. We’re excited to have him here for the next couple of days.”

St. Jean has two keys that he wants his players to abide by this summer: hard work and unselfishness. Wright knows that if he sticks to those to things, he’ll be able to achieve his goal of being the most dominant player on the court and possibly snag the Mavericks’ last open roster spot.

“For me, since I’m not going to be no Luka or anything or Dirk, I got to come in here and whatever role they got for me,” Wright said. “Whatever role they tell me to do, I have to do it at the highest level to maintain. To maintain [being] here. Whatever I do, do it at the highest level. They tell me to jump over a building, I jump over a building. I find a way to do it.”

Hardy and Wright aren’t the only recognizable names heading out to Las Vegas this week. Josh Green will be there too. Green will travel with the team to practice and train, but he isn’t a member of the roster. St. Jean said he wasn’t involved in the decision to keep Green off the roster, but he is happy to have Green around during the team’s stint in the desert.

“I wasn’t totally involved, necessarily, in Josh’s summer plan, but what I do know is that Josh has been working very hard already this summer,” St. Jean said. “He was one of the guys who had a very big chip on his shoulder after our playoff run and has had a phenomenal summer thus far. He’s going to be out in Las Vegas with us, which is going to be great. We’re looking forward to seeing him and being around him as well as a few of our other roster players.”

Having Green around could provide valuable insight and guidance for the players fighting to make an impact and secure a roster spot at the next level. Summer League is an opportunity to get a taste of what the NBA has to offer, albeit in trimmed down, simplified way. St. Jean knows that the players with professional experience and those who came from top-tier college programs will prove to be an advantage for the team.

“You can also tell who’s come from a college program that runs some sort of NBA-level system or NBA-level coaching,” St. Jean said. “We have Marcus Bingham. He’s coming from Tom Izzo’s system at Michigan State. Coach Izzo does a phenomenal job preparing his guys to play in the NBA. So, when he comes in Day 1, he’s prepared. That’s just an example.

“Justin Gorham obviously has played before, but he came from [the University of] Houston previously and played for Kelvin Sampson. So, the guys who are playing with little to no pro experience but come from those type of programs obviously come in understanding the competition level, which I think is great. It’s nice to have guys that have played professionally. It gives them an opportunity to almost be a veteran within what we’re doing.”

With everything on the line for the players, Summer League is easily one of the most exciting and entertaining events during the NBA’s calendar year. It’s not only fun, but also high stakes. For 11 straight days, hundreds of players will leave everything on the line in Las Vegas.

“Everybody is out here fighting for something,” Wright said. “Everybody has this motor coming into Summer League with what they want, what they want to achieve.”