Bilal Coulibaly, Johnny Davis shine as Wizards beat Thunder

new balance


Bilal Coulibaly, Johnny Davis shine as Wizards beat Thunder originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Wizards beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-89 on Friday night in the Las Vegas Summer League. Here are five takeaways from what went down…

Coulibaly broke out

Bilal Coulibaly had been good enough through his first 3 1/2 games of the Summer League to consider his time in Las Vegas a success, but in the second half against the Thunder on Friday he took it to a completely different level.

The 2023 seventh overall pick erupted for 16 of his 19 points after halftime, shooting 5-for-10 from the field, 1-for-1 from three and 8-for-9 from the free throw line for the game. He also had four rebounds, three assists and four blocks.

The scoring outburst bolstered his case for having a high offensive ceiling in addition to his more NBA-ready defensive reportoire. If he can defend at a high level and with versatility while also playing like that on offense, the Wizards have themselves a real piece to build around.

Washington will close out their time in Las Vegas with a matchup against the Bulls on Saturday. That one will tip off at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

More Coulibaly at PG

It is becoming evident the Wizards’ plan to work Coulibaly in as their primary ball-handler was a gradual one, as his play-making role has continually increased game-by-game. That, of course, makes perfect sense in order to not throw too much at him too quickly. That is often a wise approach to developing young players and this is an 18-year-old trying to essentially learn the complexities of the point guard position, which is not easy to do.

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Coulibaly spent a good portion of this game initiating the offense. He has a quick first step and can get past the first line of defense fairly often, usually into the midrange. The more he sharpens his handle over time, the more he will cut down on some of the giveaways, as he had three against the Thunder. Many of his turnovers in the Summer League have been a result of him losing control of the ball rather than opponents forcing him into bad situations. Seemingly none of his turnovers have been because he was caught off guard by the speed or athleticism of an opponent, so that could be a good sign.

Coulibaly’s blocks

Coulibaly’s biggest standout skill throughout the Summer League continues to be his shot-blocking. After posting five blocks through the first three games, he nearly matched that with four blocks against the Thunder. That gives him a total of nine blocks in four games, which is a lot for a player his size (6-foot-8) and especially one who describes himself as a guard.

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Coulibaly had turned heads with his chasedown blocks in recent games, but against the Thunder he did a lot of his rim-protecting the old fashion way, just by being in position in front of the basket and sending shots elsewhere. It is really impressive what he’s done in Vegas as a shot-blocker because it has not only been often, but with a variety of types of blocks.

Now, obvously it will be significantly harder to block NBA veterans, many of which will be bigger, stronger and more crafty than the players Coulibaly is facing in the Summer League. However, he is at a minimum showing the potential to be an impact defender around the rim. He could be the type of wing defender who someday forces a lot of turnovers between both steals and blocks.

Davis better this time

As you see in that video, Coulibaly teamed up with 2022 first round pick Johnny Davis with a pair of blocks on the same play. Davis also had quite the game offensively, leading the Wizards 22 points and this time on an efficient shooting night of 9-for-17 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. Davis had previously put up decent scoring numbers through the first three games, but had been shooting a meager 36.7% from the field.

This was a notable step in the right direction. Davis has not enjoyed a perfect Summer League, but the trajectory has overall been positive. He’s clearly better and more comfortable than he was a year ago and Friday was his best game in Las Vegas so far. Saturday will be one more opportunity for him to build more confidence in a live game ahead of training camp in the fall. We’ll see if he can finish on a high note.

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Vasiljevic showed out

As much as Summer League is about showcasing recent top draft picks, it also offers an opportunity for less-heralded players to make a name for themselves. Back-up guard Dejan Vasiljevic was able to take advantage in this one, as he popped off for 14 points in only 11 minutes off the bench. He shot 5-for-6 from the field and 4-for-5 from three, also adding three rebounds and two assists.

In case you’re wondering who this guy is, Vasiljevic is a 6-foot-3, 26-year-old guard originally from Canada who grew up in Australia before going undrafted out of the University of Miami. He has played the last three years for the Sydney Kings where Wizards forward Xavier Cooks was before signing with Washington late last season. The two helped lead Sydney to the National Basketball League championship each of the last two years.

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