NBA Summer League has come a long way! In the mid 1980's, Summer League was made up of pros and amateurs. It was slightly organized; basically pick up games with little, to no, defense. Referees were local guys you would see calling high school games. The exposure level was minimal. Local public access television stations taped a game or two for viewing weeks later, and if an intern was on it, the old-school boxscore would make it's way into the local newspaper.
Now, 26 of the 30 NBA teams show up in Las Vegas to play highly organized games with deep coaching staffs, refs who are being trained by the likes of Joey Crawford, and ALL the games are broadcast worldwide. An international array of scouts combine in the desert to evaluate players.
True, Summer League is still largely made up of athletes who will not be on NBA rosters when late October rolls around. Nevertheless, our love for basketball, and curiosity for how players we've followed will fare in this organized setting, is compelling enough for us to invest a significant amount of time in scouting the games.
Each year of the Las Vegas Summer League - we do a "stat audit" after the dust has settled to see if what we thought we were observing with the naked eye matches what the numbers say. I justify the time and effort spent by simply wanting to be as informed as possible about all prospects. I continue to be a strong believer in being "data informed". When you can combine, serious observation (with note-taking), data, and a dash of common-sense - you become an educated scout. And sometimes the educated scout disagrees with the "herd". The "herd" in this instance is whatever was said, and repeated on "mass-media" websites such as NBA-TV, NBA.com, ESPN.com, etc...,
All you really need to know about what you are about to read is that we are not paid by any team, agent, or media outlet. We watched and took notes on games, and then followed up each day with a report on the most efficient players at each position. The final step of this evaluation was to review notes, and manually punch in all the numbers for the 239 players who played at least 40 minutes. (See that spreadsheet here)
The player that best combined efficiency with overall production: Donatas Motiejunas - Houston. ...Motiejunas showed that he CAN play center and provide enough offense to impact a game. He has court-sense and vision, and more importantly, he has size. Motiejunas is listed at 7'0" 221. He looks heavier than that to me now that he is carrying what I call "man-weight" ...He averaged 16.8 points (59% FG), and 8.1 rebounds per game.
|Moreland looked like an NBA BIG.|
The most efficient player on the team that won the championship (Sacramento) was Eric Moreland. The undrafted rookie free agent from Oregon State was lively, coming off of the Kings bench to provide instant energy and a defensive presence. Moreland blocked 16 shots in 115 minutes of play to easily lead the Las Vegas Summer League in blocked shots per minute.
Hoop Obsession All NBA Las Vegas Summer League
First team: Ray McCallum - Kings, Glen Rice Jr. - Wizards, Otto Porter Jr. - Wizards, Josh Davis - Hornets, Donatas Motiejunas - Rockets
Second team: Isaiah Canaan - Rockets, Tony Snell - Bulls, Austin Daye - Spurs, Quincy Acy - Kings, Gorgui Dieng - Wolves
Third team: Tyler Johnson - Heat, Tim Hardaway Jr. - Knicks, Tyler Honeycutt - Heat, Mike Muscala - Hawks, Bernard James - Mavs.
While Summer League allows us another look at players, it should always be kept in perspective. The sample size is small. Players are not going through the grind of an 82-game season. The entire Las Vegas competitive period lasts just eleven days. For most teams it was over in eight days. That said, ANY chance to further your "feel" for a player should be welcomed. It is hard to ignore the the shifts in opinion that a scout may have based on intently watching a player play for even as little as 150 minutes.
So how did OUR opinion shift? Below are thoughts on players and how we changed our mind a bit on certain aspects of their game.
Ray McCallum certainly gained an "uptick" in my brain. The Sacramento Kings backup point guard had his foot on the throttle and showed that he can be just dynamic enough as a scorer to give himself a chance in the NBA. He will HAVE TO bring that aggressive mentality to the NBA seasons ahead of him to properly complement the rest of his overall game. I never had a question about his ability to be a point guard and run a team.
DeAndre Liggins was on the verge of being a NBA rotation player I thought (entering Vegas play). Now, I'm not so sure. Liggins is a terrific defender but every player of the floor has to show me enough ability to contribute offensively too. Liggins shot 38% FG in Vegas, and he had more turnovers than assists. ...Perhaps he was fatigued from having just played in Orlando. He did play ten games in 14 days in two cities. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't downgrade him.
|Porter looked good in Vegas.|
Otto Porter Jr. regained the promise he showed as a star at Georgetown. Porter is healthy and he was in shape for the Vegas tournament. It showed in his play. I am back to bullish on Porter.
Josh Davis of San Diego State is better than I realized. Davis stood out for being active and making plays without having any plays run for him. He should absolutely be in the development plans of an NBA team.
Tony Snell is bigger, stronger and better than he was as a rookie or as a college player. His growth impressed me. He showed that he can be more than just a stand-still jump shooter. Snell had a 2.33-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Vegas and more importantly - he put the ball on the deck and earned free throw attempts.
Tyler Johnson of Fresno State really impressed me. He is more athletic than I realized and his decision making and ability to score looked natural. Johnson is 6'4" 177 lbs. He outplayed Shabazz Napier badly on the Miami team.
Three more guys who certainly gained traction in my mind: Shane Edwards, Justin Holiday, and Bryce Cotton. ...Edwards seemed to be in the right place at the right time all the time. He played within himself and feasted in transition. Last season, Edwards had a "cup of coffee" with the Cavs. He was waived after one ten-day contract. I think Edwards, at age 27, is a guy who is better than most of the 22 year-old "kids" who are being employed due to their potential. Edwards could probably have a positive impact on an NBA game due to his ability to contribute without having any plays run for him. ...Holiday was brilliant at times, showing that he now possesses enough consistency in his jump shot to warrant a further look. He has always been a high-level defender. He too is a guy that would complement any team that is filled with scorers. ...Cotton displayed the speed and quickness that good NBA guards have. He seemingly could get to any spot he wanted to.
|Aaron Craft was all over the floor!|
We are always looking for players who can play defense effectively. Here are the players with the best defensive ratings at each position...
Best DEFRTG Centers: Ognjen Kuzmic 74.7, Rob Loe 82.2, Miles Plumlee 87, Rudy Gobert 87.8, Jordan Henriquez 89.7
Best DEFRTG Power Forwards: Thomas Robinson 80.8, Mitchell Watt 81.6, Anthony Bennett 82.2, Javon McCrea 85.6, Ivan Johnson 86.4
Best DEFRTG Small Forwards: Rodney Carney 84, Eric Griffin 84.5, Christian Watford 84.9, Andrew Wiggins 86.8, C.J. Fair 88.7
Best DEFRTG Shooting Guards: Orlando Johnson 82.7, Rodney McGruder 85.4, Elijah Millsap 87, Justin Holiday 87.7, Ricky Ledo 89.2
Best DEFRTG Point Guards: Dee Bost - 83.5, Shane Larkin 87.4, Maalik Wayns 87.6, Matthew Dellavedova 88.3, Tim Frazier 89.4
The top five players in blocked shots per minute: Moreland, Travis Hyman - D League Select, Jerome Jordan - Lakers, Justin Hamilton - Miami, and Eric Griffin - Dallas.
Aaron Craft was such a pest and is so relentless on defense that we truly believe he should be in the NBA specifically for special situations. If the opposing point guard is going off, sick Craft on him. He made the game virtually impossible for Dennis Shroder, one of the quickest young guards in the NBA. Craft's "plus/minus" was +34 in five games. His spirit, spunk, and energy would be welcome at practice every day too.
The nitty gritty
The most efficient player overall was Justin Hamilton. However he only played 85 minutes. Nevertheless, Hamilton has improved tremendously since his LSU days. I don't see why he couldn't get some minutes in the NBA.
The top five players in efficiency per-minute (80 mins. minimum): Hamilton, Rudy Gobert - Utah, Bernard James - Dallas, Glen Rice Jr. - Washington, and Keith Benson - Clippers.
|Whiteside has unteachable aspects to his game.|
The best scorer per minute was Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Knicks. Hardaway is ultra-aggressive offensively. He scored 114 points (43 %FG, 38% 3-pt. FG, and 82% FT) in 133 minutes in Vegas play.
The players with the top-five "points per minute" rates: Hardaway Jr., Glen Rice Jr. - Wizards, Jordan McRae - Sixers, T.J. Warren - Suns, Marshon Brooks - Kings.
The player with the highest "rebounds per minute" rate: Hassan Whiteside - Toronto. ...Whiteside had 30 rebounds in 51 minutes. Yikers! Whiteside played well in China last season. Perhaps he will find his way back into the NBA. He's always been efficient.
The top five players in rebounds per minute: Whiteside, Eric Moreland - Sac, Jerelle Benimon - Denver, Rudy Gobert - Utah, and JaMychal Green - San Antonio.
The player with the highest "assist per minute" rate: Langston Hall - Miami. ...Hall dished eleven assists in 44 minutes.
The top-five players in assists per-minute: Hall, Russ Smith - Pelicans, Chris Wright (Georgetown) - Nuggets, Lazeric Jones - Bulls, Roberto Nelson - Hornets.
The player that attempted the most free throws per minute was DeQuan Jones of the Pelicans. ...The top-five in FTA per minute: Jones, Rice Jr., McRae, Andrew Wiggins - Cleveland, and Thomas Robinson of Portland.
The player with the best assist-to-turnover ratio (over 80 minutes played): Stephen Holt - Atlanta. Holt, from Saint Mary's, posted a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 119 minutes. ...The top-five in assist-to-turnover ratio: Holt, Bryce Cotton - San Antonio, Marcus Denmon - San Antonio, Lazeric Jones - Chicago, and Tyler Johnson - Miami.
They did well with the minutes they were given... Here are the top seven players in efficiency per-minute who played between 40 to 79 minutes total: Hassan Whiteside .725, Shane Edwards .689, Trey Thompkins .653, James Ennis .578, Ronald Roberts Jr. .536, Jackie Carmichael .514, Josh Howard .510.
What about the lottery picks?
Nine of the 14, 2014 NBA Draft, lottery picks were on display in Las Vegas. Here is a brief synopsis of their respective efficiency and what we saw...
|Warren gets buckets|
T.J. Warren - Phoenix. EFR .613 ...He can score, score, score. And that's all he wants to do. He had one assist in 124 minutes of playing time. Warren has a mid-range game ready for the NBA, and in transition he was brilliant.
Doug McDermott - Chicago. EFR .565 ...McDermott looked good. He played at NBA speed and knocked down free throws like Rick Berry or Mark Price. McDermott hit 22 of 23 foul shots (95% FT!).
Jabari Parker - Milwaukee. EFR .427 ...Parker has fantastic ability with the ball in his hands. He will likely improve his efficiency if he gets into NBA shape. He is going to be a tough matchup for any defender.
Zach LaVine - Minnesota. EFR .366 ...LaVine's ceiling is so high it is incredible to ponder how good he can become. He is not there yet. But he left no doubt about his special athletic gifts. It says here that LaVine, in hindsight, should have been selected much higher than 13th.
Noah Vonleh - Charlotte. EFR .342 ...Vonleh displayed his good footwork in the low post and his outstanding reach that allows him to be effective around the hoop. While he was not efficient, it is nothing to worry about.
Andrew Wiggins - Cleveland. EFR .342 ...Wiggins ceiling is unlimited. His step-back jumper is unguardable. We would expect him to find a way very soon to be efficient overall even if he was not in Las Vegas. His defense in Vegas was better than I expected it to be.
Julius Randle - Lakers. EFR .330 ...Randle had some good moments. He also looked out of shape (by NBA standards). His decision making was suspect (six assists, 13 turnovers), and he only shot 41% FG.
Nik Stauskas - Kings. EFR .272 ...Stauskas shot the three-ball very well (47%) but was not particularly productive for the over 200 minutes he played.
Dante Exum - Jazz. EFR .180. ...Exum really struggled in Las Vegas. He was nowhere near the athlete that some had billed him to be. I was open-minded on Exum because the last time I saw him actually play in a game was the 2013 Hoop Summit. He was very good in that ONE game. In Las Vegas, Exum shot 30% FG, 18% 3-pt FG, and 64% FT in 133 minutes played. It is safe to say his shot is broken.
It was not their week
They did not play well... A list of the 12 lowest (worst) efficiency ratings for players who played over 80 mins: Deonte Burton .030, Shabazz Napier .120, Scottie Wilbeken .126, Gilbert Brown .145, Matt Janning .153, Brandon Davies .156, Dante Exum .180, Lamar Patterson .191, James Michael McAdoo .200, Scott Suggs .202, Marcus Denmon .222, DeAndre Liggins .224.
The All-Ole' Team. These players posted poor to downright worrisome defensive ratings: Abdul Gaddy 120.9, Josh Carter 119.7, Dwight Buycks 119.5, Malcolm Lee 119.3, Jordan Morgan 117.8, Darington Hobson 116, Quincy Miller 115.8, Carlon Brown 115.4, Brady Heslip 114.9, Patric Young 114, Cameron Ayers 113.8, Courtney Fells 113.5.