Summer league was simply amazing this year. Its popularity really blossomed and it’s become a major event for hardcore fans. If you’re looking to have a Vegas trip, I’d suggest doing it in mid-July to catch a couple days of the action. OK, let's just get into it here.
Each team uses their summer league team for different reasons. Some teams have mostly veterans and won’t be relying on their teams to contribute much in the regular season. On the other hand, a good portion of teams have a few key rotational players in the Las Vegas lineups. We’re going to go through each team and talk about which players are the most likely to have an impact this season. Some will be guys who still have no shot while others like Jabari Parker are going to be hot commodities.
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Hawks - Three guys really stood out for the Hawks. Dennis Schroder was as fast as ever and ran the offense for the Hawks. Shelvin Mack is a restricted free agent right now, so Schroder may get some extra playing time now that Lou Williams is gone. He would need Jeff Teague to go down to an injury in order to be a major factor, though.
Mike Muscala and Adreian Payne were also able to put up numbers. Payne played much further away from the basket than he did at Michigan State and it led to some inefficient shooting. He will need to learn some moves in order to score against NBA big men. Muscala was also very impressive on the low block and may actually be further along than Payne. Neither is projected to be top 180 picks in fantasy drafts.
Celtics - All eyes were on Marcus Smart and he was as advertised. The 6’4” guard couldn’t get many of his shots from 15 feet and beyond to go down. He made just 25.7 percent from downtown and 29.4 percent overall due to taking a whopping 8.3 triples per game in his last three games. Smart was able to share the ball with his teammates and had 2.0 steals per game, but he’s really going to struggle at shooting guard in the NBA. As long as Rajon Rondo is on the Celtics, Smart is not going to be worth owning in most leagues.
Kelly Olynyk put up some of the best numbers of any players last summer and that carried over into this year. He averaged 17.5 points, 7.3 boards and 2.0 triples this time around in four games. Olynyk put the ball on the floor a lot and didn’t really show any new tricks compared to the regular season. I wouldn’t be too aggressive about drafting him in fantasy leagues.
Nets - Mason Plumlee was almost unstoppable on the low block in Orlando. He shot 75 percent from the field for averages of 18.0 points, 4.7 boards, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.7 turnovers in just 23.3 minutes per game. Plumlee was able to get great position in his rookie season and he improved as the year went along. Still, it’s going to be tough for him to get run with a healthy Brook Lopez.
Rookies Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson each showed some flashes, but are almost certainly D-League bound.
Hornets - Their two rookies were the stars of the show. Everyone who saw Noah Vonleh’s first box score probably did a double-take. The Indiana product missed all 13 shots from the field and both of his free throws to post one of the worst shooting lines in the history of summer-league basketball. Obviously, he got things turned around and really looked great as the week went along. He showed some quickness and his lefty hook seemed like it’s a move he’s developed nicely. Vonleh shot 46 percent on his jumpers in Indy, so getting a low-post presence could go a long way on offense. He has a much higher offensive ceiling than Cody Zeller, but it might just take him a year or two. Plus, adding a guy like Lance Stephenson makes Vonleh a better fit than Zeller.
The other player of interest was P.J. Hairston. He showed he could score in the D-League last year with 21.8 points per game and it’s carried over into summer league. The UNC product did most of his work on the perimeter for his 17 points per game before Sunday’s semifinal. He probably can score at the NBA level, but he’s obviously way behind Lance Stephenson. He can be ignored in fantasy leagues because he's a bit one dimensional.
Bulls - It was all about Doug McDermott. Just listening to his post-game conferences were a real treat and he has such a great understanding of the game. His dad would have been proud of him for talking about play calls, defensive sets and assisted percentages. McDermott shot the lights out in his final three games and really showed he’ll be able to get clean looks at the next level.
The sad part is that there just isn’t going to be much of a chance for McBuckets off the bat. The Bulls have an absolutely loaded front line and coach Tom Thibodeau is unlikely to take minutes away from Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Nikola Mirotic is also expected to get in the rotation. He’d have to really learn how to play small forward in order to get more than 15 minutes per game.
Tony Snell was also amazing, but he’s going to be hard-pressed for playing time as well. He’d need Jimmy Butler or Mike Dunleavy to miss time.
Cavs - Well, it’s too bad we’re hearing about No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins for the wrong reasons. The Kevin Love trade rumor alert is at DEFCON3 with the Cavs talking about dealing Wiggins for the All-Star. The Kansas product didn’t put up eye-popping numbers while with the Cavs in summer league, averaging 15.5 points, 3.5 boards, 0.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks and 2.8 turnovers on 40.5 percent from the field, but it’s how he did it that was the story. He showed off some ridiculous athleticism and elevation in his four games, which makes it clear he can play the two or the three.
If he stays with the Cavs, he won’t be putting up big numbers as the third option. Obviously a trade to any other team would act as a catalyst to putting up fatter stat lines.
The other massive story came from the 2013 top pick. Anthony Bennett showed much better conditioning in his time in Vegas this past week. He went from being a basketball shape to being in basketball shape and really hustled down on the block. His quickness from away from the basket was a big story and he was even getting up and down in transition. It’s obviously not party time yet, but he’ll have a chance to shed the bust label. His ceiling isn’t going be high enough to warrant a pick in most fantasy formats. That said, it's really easy to root for him and he's certainly on the right track.
Mavericks - I love Ricky Ledo. He has an affinity to be in the center of the action and it’s led to countless high- and low-lights. Maybe the Mavs coaching staff can help him grow and have him in their rotation next season. He still wouldn't have a very high upside because he's not efficient and doesn't pass very well.
It was also cool to see a guy like Eric Griffin tear it up and get a contract. He had some big plays and will get a chance to show what he can do in the D-League. C.J. Fair also showed some potential.
Nuggets - Gary Harris was able to get around guys with ease and did a wonderful job of creating space for his shots. He finished with averages of 18.6 points, 4.2 boards, 2.0 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.8 turnovers. The problem is he’s a bit small at 6’4” to be a shooting guard and his ball-handling isn’t quite where it needs to be in order to run an NBA offense. Not to mention the addition of Arron Afflalo as well as Danilo Gallinari coming back really hurts his chances. He's basically off the radar in standard leagues.
Quincy Miller also did his thing for the second-consecutive summer league. He’s also buried on the depth chart after a disappointing 2013-14 regular season.
Pistons - Last summer, Andre Drummond was all the rage in Orlando and this time around it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP led the Orlando Pro Summer League with 24.0 points per game and really showed he can score from all over the court. He ended his regular season on a high note with a 30-point game in the finale, but only cracked double figures twice in his previous games from the last three months of the season.
The Pistons need a bit of an overhaul to their roster, so coach Stan Van Gundy could give KCP a whirl with an extended opportunity. I still wouldn’t think about drafting him unless it’s in the last round or so.
Warriors - They won the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League title thanks to Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore and Ian Clark, but they didn’t have much talent this time around. Justin Holiday led the team in scoring thanks to a couple games of at least 26 points, but he did have two games of just two points. He’s not going to make the team. Rookie James Michael McAdoo still has a lot of work to do, too.
Rockets - Houston had a chance to play in both summer leagues, but Donatas Motiejunas played in just the Vegas league and looked great there. He’s still a little too slow and not a strong enough shooter to fit in with Houston’s game plan. Maybe if general manager Daryl Morey deals D-Mo, it could help his fantasy value.
Nick Johnson was also impressive for the Rockets, posting a triple-double on July 11 to go with scoring in double figures in all but one of his 12 summer games. The Rockets could throw him in the rotation in a small role, but he’ll likely need another injury.
Clippers - Wow, they are horrible. In two different games, they had 27 fouls in the first half and in another 35 turnovers and eight assists. Welp. Obviously there’s nobody on this squad who will make an impact any time soon. It's too bad we could see C.J. Wilcox or Reggie Bullock due to injury.
Pacers - Donald Sloan and Kevin Jones both looked pretty good in Orlando. Despite the Cavs having a lack of quality big men in 2013, they waived Jones, so he’s a longshot to get minutes. Sloan was a third-string point guard and also doesn’t have much of a ceiling.
Lakers - The Carlos Boozer signing was a complete buzz kill. Julius Randle was arguably the most offensively talented big man from a ceiling standpoint at Vegas. He didn’t shoot the ball phenomenally well at 41.9 percent from the field, but his shot selection was magnificent. In the last game, he was almost exclusively getting to the rim for all of his shots. The Kentucky rookie was exceptional at putting the ball on the floor and easily beat men of his size off the dribble. He also had a great set of post moves and used both hands with his back to the basket. His passing skills were also much better than expected. Again, the Boozer signing is really going to stagnate how soon we see Randle bust out. He’s not really worth a pick in standard leagues anymore.
Jordan Clarkson was also a shining star in summer league. Coach Mark Madsen was raving about him for multiple press conferences and he hinted that he’s going to be a point guard. That may explain why they Lakers risked dangling Kendall Marshall on the waiver wire, and now they could look to Clarkson as a point guard.
He really liked to slash to the basket and run an up-tempo game. The MIZZOU product didn’t have too bad of a turnover problem at 3.4 per game, but it had a lot to do with him just losing the ball in traffic around the rim. He handled the ball really well and he’s going to have to play point guard in most cases because of his thin frame. There are a lot of bigger shooting guards who will be able to back him down and overpower him around the rim. He’d obviously need Jeremy Lin to miss time, but he’s a guy who could make it on the team as a combo guard. Although, the Lakers need a shooting guard a bit more than a point guard right now.
Grizzlies - Jordan Adams put on a show in three of his five games on his way to 14.8 points per game. He didn’t really take too many bad shots and was able to show off the whole arsenal on the offensive side. However, the Grizzlies aren’t really going to need a guy like that unless their team has a lot of injuries.
Jarnell Stokes was a beast down low in his five games, averaging 12.2 points, 9.4 boards and 0.8 steals. He averaged a whopping 3.6 offensive rebounds per game in his 26.6 minutes of action and just pushed guys around with his 263-pound frame. That’s probably not going to be the case in the big leagues, but he did show a nice, unique skill set.
Alright, that’s it for today. We’ll be back later this week with the second part.