Wednesday, July 20, 2016

THE Summer League blog. Stat Audit and Notes.

Another NBA Summer League has come and gone. The annual competitive gatherings of young players, mostly guys in the age range of 19-23, was typical of summers we have witnessed in the past. There were rookies that immediately raised yellow flags with their clueless play, and there were players 'three years in' that started to show that they are figuring out how to be a professional. 

We attended the Las Vegas portion of the 2016 NBA Summer League from July 8 through July 13. The rest of the time we watched and took notes on the televised games as we did with the competitions in Orlando and Utah. 

Among the undeniable trends were the continued demise of the traditional Power-Forward. That player is almost universally now called a Center. NBA teams, to a fault, are employing the "one in, four out" method of offense. That method means that four players, ideally, have the ability to hit deep perimeter shots, leaving just one player to play with his back to the basket. As such, the pool of free agent BIG's (traditional PF's and C's) is overflowing with capable athletes. 

Another aspect we could not help but notice was the lack of pure Point Guard play this summer. (Here comes some real stat geek, nerd, stuff...) Usually if you sample the assist-to-turnover ratio of the entire population of NBA players, or NCAA, or D-League, you will find that the top 20% (one fifth) of the total number of players will have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.9-to-1 or better. This summer, across Orlando, Utah, and Las Vegas where the three NBA Summer Leagues were contested, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.45-to-1 would get you into the top 20 percent. (Most likely, it is a case of a small sample size but it supported my argument.)

Portis was excellent!
Bobby Portis was the most outstanding player on a championship winning team this summer. Portis was able to score inside and outside for the Chicago Bulls. He shot 49% FG, 41% 3-pt., and 90% FT. The ability to compete is never an issue for Portis. He plays with a tremendous amount of energy that seems to have a positive effect on his teammates. 

Our / Hoop Obsession All-Summer League Teams (includes Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas)

First Team:
  • Tyus Jones - Minnesota. 
  • Jordan McRae - Cleveland.
  • Kyle Anderson - San Antonio.
  • Bobby Portis - Chicago.
  • Cristiano Felicio - Chicago. 
Second Team: 
  • Kay Felder - Cleveland.
  • Jonathan Gibson - Dallas.
  • Denzel Valentine - Chicago.
  • Alan Williams - Phoenix.
  • Adreian Payne - Minnesota.
Third Team: 
  • Tyler Ulis - Phoenix.
  • Norman Powell - Toronto.
  • Treveon Graham - Orlando/Utah
  • Joel Bolomboy - Utah
  • Edy Tavares - Atlanta
Some players played really well but they didn't play a high volume of minutes. Standouts in that category included: Devin Booker - Phoenix, Kris Dunn - Minnesota, Christian Wood - Philadelphia, Shawn Long - Philadelphia, D'Angelo Russell - Lakers, and Jarnell Stokes - San Antonio. 

How did the lottery picks play? (My critical thoughts on ALL of these players are nit-picks in the grand scheme of things.) 

Simmons can really pass!
Ben Simmons - Philadelphia's number one pick, Simmons, was mostly as advertised. His vision and decision making with the ball is truly exceptional. I would really like to see him look to score more. He deferred way too much. Even in close games when he needed to take over, he mostly just looked to pass. Defensively, his closeouts were lazy. ...I am not worried about Ben Simmons. His skills are advanced. I came away from Las Vegas feeling reaffirmed that Simmons was a worthy first pick. 

Brandon Ingram - The Lakers coveted rookie was just okay. He showed some flashes but his deep shooting was inconsistent (4-16 3-pt.). He had a terrible game (07/09/16 vs. Sixers).

Jaylen Brown - The Celtics third pick showed his ability to draw fouls off the dribble. He went to the free throw line an amazing 61 times in 174 minutes (across the Utah & Las Vegas Summer Leagues). His perimeter shooting was sketchy. He hit just 5 of 22 three-point attempts. 

Dragan Bender - Bender has a LONG way to go. He was awful at Las Vegas. He shot 27% FG, and his EFR was .150. His defensive fundamentals need work too. Bender was not even in a proper stance when guarding on the perimeter. ...We believed he was overrated from the start and he did nothing to change our opinion. (He was badly outplayed by Nuggets' rookie Juan Hernangomez.)

Kris Dunn - Dunn only played in two games. He suffered a concussion after getting hit in the jaw Sunday (07/10/16) by Jakob Poeltl. Dunn was forced to sit out the rest of Minnesota's games. When in competition he looked fantastic. He was able to get anywhere he wanted on the floor. I was impressed. He ball-handling ability is special. 

Buddy Hield - Hield was just okay. He had moments of greatness, hitting some key three-point shots late in games, but his overall play was nothing special at all. He shot just 32% FG. I think Hield will be fine. The Pelicans summer team was sketchy as a whole and Buddy was carrying a big load. 

Jamal Murray - Murray was good. He showed that he can score as well or better than many current NBA shooting guards. The Nuggets made a nice selection. He did have more turnovers than assists, something that also worked against him at Kentucky. That said, his deep range and knack for scoring was impressive. 

Marquese Chriss - Chriss struggled. It was revealed he was fighting an illness that required antibiotics and he returned home early. While in action his athletic ability was on full display. I think the Suns have a good player in Chriss but it is going to take time for him to develop. 

Poeltl played well for Toronto
Jakob Poeltl - Poeltl was very good. He shot 67% FG and displayed the quick reactions that make him a prospect as a BIG. I could see him getting minutes off the Toronto bench. 

Thon Maker - Milwaukee's big swing at pick number ten was solid. He can really rebound. His shooting touch combined with his size gives him a chance to be special. 

Taurean Prince - Prince didn't play huge minutes. He participated in just three Hawks games but he was good when he was on the floor. Prince was able to get to the free throw line, and he showed more scoring ability than I previously believed he had. 

Georgios Papagiannis - The Kings selection with the 13th pick was terrible in Las Vegas. He was a step behind most of the plays. He looked more lost than found. His per minute efficiency rating was a putrid .147. He shot 35% FG and only went to the free throw line twice in 82 minutes of playing time. He had ZERO assists and eleven turnovers. Sacramento will hopefully bring him along very slowly because he is clearly not ready. 

Denzel Valentine - Valentine hit the game winning jump shot for the Chicago Bulls as they won the the 2016 NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship. 

Our All-Summer League Defensive Teams
  • First Team: Briante Weber - Miami, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Brooklyn, Taurean Prince - Atlanta, Larry Nance Jr. - Lakers, Edy Tavares - Atlanta. 
  • Second Team: Fred Van Vleet Toronto, Axel Toupane - Denver, Atlanta, Stanley Johnson - Detroit, Kyle Anderson - Spurs, Mitch McGary - Oklahoma City.
Weber is a bandit!
Briante Weber was a joy to watch play defense for Miami. His anticipation is uncanny. Weber had 35 steals in 254 minutes (nine games) this summer. That is 3.8 steals per game in just 28.2 minutes per contest. And he is not just out there gambling for steals. His defensive rating was the best among guards at Las Vegas, and was second to Lorenzo Brown's DEFRTG at Orlando. 

One of our favorite aspects of having another chance to observe prospects in a live setting is to be honest with ourselves about players we see improving. Just because we previously rated a player a certain way does not mean that they cannot gain traction in our mind. The biggest revelation for us individually was seeing Juan Hernangomez LIVE for the first time. I previously doubted his overall athleticism. But after watching how his tremendous instincts give him a head-start on the correct positioning, I realized that I had previously missed badly on my evaluation of his play. I now believe in Hernangomez as a prospect. (My apologies for missing so badly on him prior to the Draft). 

Christian Wood gained a big uptick with his play. The UNLV product was dominant at times. He scored with three point shooting and power dunks. He was so good the Charlotte Hornets signed him to a contract.

Stefan Jankovic, undrafted out of Hawaii (2016), played well enough to earn a training camp contract with the Miami Heat. Likewise, Okaro White and Rodney McGruder were rewarded with contracts from the Heat. White was smooth in Vegas. He made play after play within the offense of the Heat. He also made his free throws (84%).

Our first chance to see Shawn Long live made us a believer in him as well. The self described "fat kid" who is now in good shape showed that he can play with his back to the basket, rebound, and hit threes. The Sixers were a better team each time he was on the floor. 

Chasson Randle showed me he could score with more efficiency than I previously believed he was capable of. He virtually won a game this summer for the Knicks by himself. 

Jabril Trawick was the best player on the D-League Select team (in our opinion). He should certainly be invited to an NBA team's training camp. He is tough as nails.

Every time I see Ra'Shad James play he gets better. He too is worthy of a real shot to make an NBA roster. He can create his own shot and he is elite in transition. He was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks in Las Vegas. 

Harris looked lean.
Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris played in a couple games. He looked really good. His body was noticeably more lean, a sure sign he has been putting in the work. 

Keifer Sykes was playing for the Warriors. He gained favor in my mind with his ability to create (mostly for himself). 

Rondae Hollis- Jefferson remains as one our favorite young two-way players. His defense is still ahead of his offense. He lacks confidence in his jump shot. But his defense more than makes up for any offensive shortcomings. 

Jarell Eddie knocked down the three-ball with tremendous proficiency (13-28 3-pt. 46%). Eddie made contested shots and played well enough overall to make me think he could certainly be a rotation player in the NBA. 

To be credible as a critic you cannot simply like everything. We in no way want to discourage players from chasing their hoop dreams. But as someone looking to find a job consulting in professional basketball personnel, we feel obligated to comment on a dozen players we would be "moving on" from at this point. 

Isaia Cordinier - Hawks. He simply is not ready for this level of play. Atlanta, at times would have been better playing four on five than having Cordinier on the floor. He was that bad. He shot 25% FG, and had two assists and eleven turnovers in 80 minutes. In our opinion, Cordinier was the single worst player we saw that played at least 80 minutes. 

I like guys with multiple dimensions to their game. A one dimensional player is the kind of guy who might look good in a workout setting, especially if he can shoot it a little. But the NBA game requires much more than shooting ability. In my opinion, the quest for shooters is the single biggest reason so many evaluators go down the wrong path. 

The next few prospects we list that we are doubtful about may raise some eyebrows. That said, the NBA game moves quickly, and wasted time on a prospect is just that. Wasted time. 

I would strongly consider moving on from Jabari Brown (Missouri, undrafted in 2014). I just don't see him as dynamic enough for success in the NBA. It pains me to say that because he is an Oakland, California guy that I want to see succeed. ...Tyler Harvey (pick 51 in 2015 NBA Draft) was also not very good this summer. 

Others that we would be done with: Giovan Oniangue, Davion Berry, David Michineau, Damion Lee, Chavaughn Lewis, Nic Moore, Reggie Redding, Marcus Thornton (William and Mary) and Kameron Woods. 

The Sacramento Kings did not win a game this summer. And we saw it coming. Wagering is allowed on the NBA Summer League games at casino's "off the Strip." The beautifully reimagined Westgate Super Book was taking daily action. The easiest money of the week was the Kings opening game against Toronto. The Raptors crushed the Kings by 41 points. The Kings were without Isaiah Cousins which left them void at the Point. The 88-47 loss was so bad that Sacramento called in, free agent PG, David Stockton to play from game two through their finale. The 47 points scored by the Kings tied a Las Vegas Summer League record for fewest points scored in a game. It previously happened in 2008 to Team China. 

Sacramento immediately looked better with Stockton running the show by game two. The Kings' four rookies looked like rookies in each of the five games. Malachi Richardson had some decent moments but they were too far removed from each other. Richardson shot 36% FG and coughed up four turnovers for every one assist. If the Kings are thinking correctly they will be very cautious with Richardson. He needs D-League repetitions not time in real NBA games, contributing to losses with his inconsistent play. (All Kings fans have seen Sacramento lose, in part, due to young players playing too much. Ben McLemore, and Ray McCallum come to mind.) 

Skal Labissiere was ok in some aspects. He showed a nice touch on his deep shots, hitting three of the four three-point shots he took. He was poor in decision making (12 turnovers and three assists.) In our opinion, Labissiere is also not ready to play meaningful NBA minutes at this stage of his career. 

Isaiah Cousins was injured and he missed the first three Kings Summer League games. We are giving him a pass due to the circumstances. For the record, he did not play well in the two games he did participate in. He shot 28% FG, and had more turnovers than assists. 

Two players I would love to see the Kings develop in Reno, Jarrod Uthoff and Elgin Cook, had limited opportunities at Las Vegas. Uthoff is more skilled than he realizes he is. The freedom to be the man in Reno could do wonders for his confidence. ...Cook is a hard nosed defender that we liked too much at Oregon to just dismiss him based on 61 minutes of playing time for the hapless Kings summer squad. 

Notes: The entertainment during timeouts, and halftimes has stepped up in Las Vegas. So did the price of admission. A daily pass which allows hard-core hoop fans to see parts of as many as eight games (or four full games) now exceeds $33. ...The public address announcing in Las Vegas continues to need improvement. Too many mispronounced names. And I'm still trying to figure out what a "foul, outside" is. ...The National Anthem singers were mostly good. Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley fame (that was a 70's sitcom) even was part of a group that did one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner that we have heard this year.  ...We saw plenty of kids having a great time at the Summer League. The NBA crew in Vegas has stations set up on the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center that allow kids to shoot, jump, and pose for pictures. Free posters were given away too. ...We were pleased to see a big portable awning that was adjacent to the box office. It offered refuge from the sun while waiting for Uber or Lyft. ...Warren LaGarie is the man in charge of everything at the Las Vegas NBA Summer League. It is fun to watch him work. From making sure the V.I.P.'s have good seats, to handing out water, to dealing with sketchy fans, LaGarie does it all. (The video below shows LaGarie in action)
...Watching a Lakers game at Summer League is pretty darn close to being at an NBA home game. Las Vegas is a decidedly pro-Lakers city. The Saturday July 9th game between Philadelphia and the Lakers was an "instant classic", with Ben Simmons dropping passes with a high degree of difficulty, and Larry Nance Jr. dunking everything in site. The first half of that game was poor but the second half was unbelievably entertaining. T.J. McConnell looked to have won the game for the Sixers but there was just enough time for D'Angelo Russell hitting a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer. Lakers fans went crazy! 

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