NBA stars have largely disappeared from the Rucker Park, Barry Farms and Drew League runs of the past they used to regularly lace up for. LeBron James’ 42-point show at The Drew League a week ago was a clarion call for his NBA peers. After two years of being disrupted by the pandemic, the Drew League is back on the radar for NBA stars of the present and future ones too.
The Drew League isn’t some run-of-the-mill pro am. Most of the comp comprises former Division I collegiate hoopers or uber-athletes who had cups of coffee in The Association or overseas. When NBAers walk through the door, they’re the hunted. Best case scenario is that an NBAer parachutes in, drops 40 like he’s supposed to do and gets swarmed by approving fans, who likely can’t afford to see them play courtside in regular season competition. Kobe did this in 2011 and made everyone forget James Harden was even on the floor. You can’t come in scared to get humiliated, but the worst case scenario is that your reputation leaves on a stretcher.
Tari Eason, who has become every scout’s most underrated 2022 rookie, stopped by to stack up 37 points and 13 boards, including the game-winning free throws, then suggested he may just keep padding his stats there for the rest of the summer. Sacramento Kings reserve Chimezie Metu, a Drew League regular, had 25 points alongside nine rebounds.
As great as they were, everyone packed the gym to watch Trae Young and John Collins on the Black Pearl Elite vs Talen Horton-Tucker’s Citi Team Blazers. Young was solid. He showcased his range, finished with some nifty switcharoos under the rim and avoided getting crossed into a pretzel by any guards with sick handles looking to make a name for themselves. He ultimately logged 22 points, but their opposition, the Citi Team Blazers, proved that they weren’t there to be walked over.
Young got his shot swatted, Collins got yammed on, became the first NBA player to foul out in the Drew League, got clowned on by the courtside announcer for it, and the Pearl Elite lost by two. It was a mixed bag for Young. For John Collins, it was a night he’ll probably push to the dark corners of his memory bank, lock the vault and pretend it never happened. It wasn’t a completely dubious affair, but for an NBA player, it was substandard.
In the end, it felt like Collins was doing a solid for his point guard by showing up to an exhibition game, catching a few lobs, running a few laps up and down the court, breaking a sweat, and experiencing the Drew League atmosphere. He’s not the type of player who excels in this format anyway. It’s indoors, but the Drew League is your typical streetball hoops tourney where ball handlers and perimeter sharpshooters reign supreme.
That’s what made Horton-Tucker’s struggles even harder to comprehend. His basketball rep has taken a bigger hit than anyone in the league over the last 12 months. A year ago, Horton-Tucker was every Laker fan’s underground candidate for the next breakout star. In the minds of some, he was supposed to be to the Lakers, what Jordan Poole was to the Warriors. However, in his third year, the 21-year-old proved to be more myth than man. He signed a three-year, $30 million extension in the 2012 offseason and then, in 25 minutes per game, Horton-Tucker shot just 41.6 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from distance in 60 games.
He carried that to The Drew League and finished with just 14 points, six rebounds, and two steals. He’s getting killed on NBA Twitter for his 38 percent shooting from the field, but shooting percentages in streetball tournaments are worthless. Everyone in these tournaments are taking ill-advised high degree of difficulty shots in an effort to give the fans a show, so it shouldn’t be harped on.
His 1-of-8 shooting and inability to drive with his left was par for the course though, which has overanxious Lakers fans dreading another season of Horton-Tucker’s stalled development. Hansel Emmanuel, who also played in the Drew League Saturday, goes left as often as Horton-Tucker. But in a city where fans want to embrace him, sliding through and having a mid-performance in a pro-am was a reminder of how underwhelming he was on a disappointing team.