Webster Bros in the NBA: Corey Stakes His Claim

You know, Corey Webster was at long odds just to hang around at all after his international mini-camp with the Dallas Mavericks. A 28 year old international player with no NBA experience, just getting that invite was a victory. But over the course of his stint in Vegas he constantly impressed and you could see it in how he was rewarded with more and more opportunities as Summer League went on.

16 minutes against the Bulls, followed by 19 minutes against the Suns. Then a step back (and not his usual sort) as he only played 13 in the Heat game but come the three knockout matches he played 21, 20 and 24 minutes (vs Kings, Celtics and Lakers). The most he played was in that semi-final defeat to Lonzo Ball/LAL. The longer he stayed around, the more he impressed.

Hey and this was not a weak Summer League team either. Dennis Smith Jr. was the Mavs first round pick, the highest first round pick they’ve had in two decades, and he was one of the stars of Las Vegas. Yogi Ferrell was a breakout player last season and made the All-Rookie second team despite only playing half a season. You’ve got Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Brussino who were both on that Mavs roster last season and Jonathan Motley had already earned a two-way contract before hitting the overtime winner at the Orlando SL tourney. And that’s before we even come to mention the legend that is Ding Yanyuhang, aka The People’s MVP.

Okay, the Dingsanity was a bit much. The dude can pay, no doubt about it, but he was kinda sloppy and inconsistent and the hype around him from the Vegas crowds definitely had a bit of tokenism about it if we’re being totally honest. Super fun player to watch but perhaps not NBA ready quite yet.

We’re a little keener on the kiwi guard that was out there balling amongst it anyway. At one point in their quarterfinal against Boston, with the result long since sewn up, the Mavericks sent out a line-up that had Corey Webster and Steven Spieth at the guards, a forward pairing of Ding Yanyuhang and Nic Brussino with big fella Satnam Singh playing centre. That’s New Zealand, China, Argentina and India all represented in an NBA line-up (albeit in Summer League) and Spieth may be American but he’s also the brother of golfing champion Jordan Spieth so tack that one on too.

However it’d be painting the wrong picture to suggest that Corey was playing garbage time minutes with the bench depth. Mate, he checked in during the first quarter of every contest. Initially late on in the first but pretty soon he was one of the first blokes the coach turned to off the bench. That didn’t always allow for too many shots as he played beside Smith or Ferrell but he brought a disciplined approach to things that can be rare to find in Summer League, where everybody’s usually out to impress. He got open in the corner and played solid, intense defence. Exactly what a coach can rely upon.

And when the coach is relying upon you, that’s when those extra responsibilities arrive. Like shooting technical free throws, as he did three times during the comp. Notably after having zero assists in his first two games he then had multiple dimes in the next four. Same with rebounds, one in each of the first two then two in #3 and at least three in the next trio. You did see him turn the ball over a couple times as he got it in his hands more often, sometimes trying to push a pass, but he more than made up for that by winning the ball back – Corey had a steal in every single game.

The one frustration was that his shooting touch wasn’t always there. Having shot 3 outta 4 in the opener, he ended up at exactly 40% from the field and 33% from deep, not bad number by any stretch but certainly not good ones either. A 1/5 game against Miami (the game he played the least mins in) saw him shank a couple and he was a combined 3/12 from deep in the quarter- and semi-finals.

Shots can do that though. Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re not. The Mavs already know he’s a scoring gun from their workouts with him – there was a rumour that he won every scrimmage game he played on in the mini-camp and barely missed a shot in the process (probably connected, those two things). The things that kiwi basketball fans can take the most pride in were all on show in that defeat to the Lakers.

Going into the game, Dallas had championship aspirations. Vegas MVP Lonzo Ball stood in their way but this Mavs team was undefeated having already won the Orlando tournament (granted with an almost completely different team). Unfortunately you can’t really prepare for the barrage that the Lakers hurled upon them. Lonzo was great and his supporting cast… they just couldn’t miss. Other than a 10-10 scoreline early on Dallas were never again level. It was only 21-18 when Webster and Ding checked in with 3:08 to play in the first but that lead was out to seven points by the end of the quarter and all the way up to 22 points by half-time. It got as high as 26, in fact.

So… not ideal. Corey was 0/3 for the first half. Luckily Ball was feeling a little tightness in his leg at HT and would only play a handful of the third quarter before resting up – he’d miss the final the next day too as the Lakers took home the title. Corey Webster returned to a 68-55 deficit and proceeded to play almost the entire rest of the game.

The comeback began, like most of them do, on defence. Webster was perfectly willing to guard the dude bringing the ball into the half-court and he did a great job of it. Constantly hassling and always hustling. A couple steals helped Dallas claw back into things although he still couldn’t get a shot to sink through. Instead he acted the playmaker, dishing assists to Brussino and Ferrell for triples. With a shade over four minutes left he grabbed a rebound and drilled one from 22-feet. Finally, some points on the board. He’d grab an offensive rebound a bit later and draw a foul from it. Later that same possession, this:

Which made it a one-point game. The stink thing is that’s as close as they got, however coming from as far behind as they almost did they damn sure made the Lakers sweat for it. Considering they shot an impossible 17 of 22 from 3pt range, Los Angeles shouldn’t have had to worry. Seriously, they missed more free throws than they did threes. Kyle Kuzma made five of them and Matt Thomas hit six. These are flippin’ Summer Leaguers we’re talking about. Rookies and free agents doing stuff that’d make Steph Curry blush.

Dallas couldn’t quite overcome that. Still, that relentless refusal to give in was crazy to watch. And Corey Webster was a huge part of it, you’d better believe the scouts were taking notice, especially after he was granted a release from his Perth Wildcats contract earlier in the week.

Can he be an immediate contributor on an NBA roster? Well, if he can’t then he’s not gonna make it. The Mavericks are the kind of team that would consider a player like him but they might not have the room on their roster and have already dished out one of their two two-way contracts – a new initiative this season meant to strengthen the G-League where you’re part of the development side but can spend up to 45 days on the NBA roster too. Corey might be a candidate for something like that but NBA preseason doesn’t start until the end of September (with training camps before that, obvs) so we’ll wait and see how things go. There are teams that could probably use him but even if he can’t find something in America, it’s blatantly clear that there are options in Europe awaiting him as a backup.

Fingers crossed, right, but if nothing else this was one helluva journey to witness.

Gotta shoot your shot, which is why TNC’s also gotta ask ya to click an ad (if you’d be so kind). Supports the website and it only takes a second… like them CW three-pointers.