All-Summer League Teams
A look at the top performances from Sin City.
by Joey Whelan
The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is the closest thing the League has to the 40-yard dash in football. While it’s often not worth it to get excited about impressive individual performances against a slew of players who will either be playing in the D-League or Europe come the start of the season, often times many still do get caught up in the false hope the ten days in Sin City can offer. In the past, the Summer League has proven to be a barometer of essentially nothing. After leading the Vegas League in scoring last season with 29.8 ppg, Portland’s Jerryd Bayless averaged just over 12 minutes per game as a rookie. Then there are players like the Spurs George Hill who had a horrendous showing out west and proved to be a very solid role player in his first season as a pro.
Still, it’s almost impossible to not break down tape and analyze the performances of the newcomers and youngsters that suit up every year for this event. This year’s Summer League provided at least some preliminary answers to some lingering questions (can Austin Daye play physically? Can Brandon Jennings run an offense? Will Anthony Randolph put it together one day?) and offered up some new questions going into the season (can Stephen Curry pass more than he shoots? Can Chase Budinger be the steal of the second round? Can Nick Young start in Washington?). After watching an exhaustive amount of tape, SLAM offers up it’s take on the top performers in Vegas this season, both from the rookie class and the returning veterans that laced up in the desert.
Pistons fans who were questioning Detroit’s decision to select the Gonzaga forward with their first round pick at 15 have to be feeling much better after the showing that Daye put on in Vegas. His numbers were solid (aside from a high number of fouls), he improved as the week went along, but above all else, the Gonzaga product showed a tremendous amount of potential to be a match up problem in the NBA. Daye spent the majority of his time on the perimeter where he looked very comfortable. His shot has improved significantly to the point where his most dangerous weapon during his five games was a catch and shoot mid-range jumper coming off of screens. Another major plus for Daye was a surprising amount of toughness he showed in the lane. While it wasn’t a big shock to see the 6-11 small forward taking slower big men off the dribble, it was a bit unexpected to see him finishing at the rate that he was. It was obvious he got more aggressive as the week went on and that resulted in 16 free throw attempts in his final two games. In all, Daye took a major step towards quieting his doubters during the week and showed the kind of potential that may make him one of the top steals in his draft class.
The knock against Tyreke Evans is that he will never be a true point guard; his performance in the Summer League didn’t do much to dispel that belief. Even still, Evans proved to be an absolute handful for opposing defenses thanks to his size, strength and explosiveness at the guard position. The fourth overall pick out of Memphis had a somewhat up and down week but went for 25 and 33 points in games against Golden State and Milwaukee. Evans was at his best when he was able to operate in transition or when given space to isolate defenders on the perimeter. His impressive slashing ability was on full display and resulted in an absurd 51 free throw attempts in just five games, something the Kings coaching staff has to be happy with. The 6-6 guard also showed a nice touch in shooting off the bounce from mid-range; at his size he will be able to shoot over plenty of other guards in this fashion. In situations where he was being covered by smaller backcourt players, Evans went right to the block where he used his strength to post up and muscle his way to the basket. While he did tend to shoot the ball a bit too much, there were flashes of playmaking ability on display by the combo guard who averaged just over 4 assists per contest during the week, finding the most success in drive and kick situations. Defensively, there continues to be a lot of promise thanks to the size and length that Evans possesses; if he really gets after it on this end of the floor he could be an impact guy. The newest addition to the Sacramento roster didn’t really show off anything that scouts didn’t already know about, but he did turn in a very strong week.
The number one overall pick scored the Clippers first seven points in his Summer League debut; the mini burst proved to be a microcosm of the rest of the week as Griffin took home MVP honors. What stood out the most about the former Sooner’s week was the increased versatility that he showed since leaving Oklahoma. The skill work that Griffin put in leading up to the draft has clearly started to pay dividends as the big man was able to handle the ball in transition, attack the basket off the bounce and knock down the occasional open jumper. Griffin is already a superb athlete, so the added ball handling ability made him a handful for some of the slower frontcourt players he was matched up with. In one particularly impressive sequence in his first game, Griffin took the ball around his own foul line, dribbled the length of the floor, stutter stepped, spun and banked home a soft fall away. It’s plays like this that have most pundits predicting annual trips to All-Star weekend for the youngster. While none of the subsequent four games after his 27-point debut lived up to the same level, Griffin was extremely consistent throughout the week, a rarity among the majority of the rookies in attendance. While many say that second-year Golden State Warrior Anthony Randolph should have earned MVP honors for the week, few will argue that Griffin was the man next in line.
While most eyes in Minnesota may continue to be on the Ricky Rubio situation, those that took time to watch their “other” point guard likely came away impressed with his Summer League performance. Flynn was dynamic if nothing else, attacking the basket relentlessly and at points seemingly scoring at will in the lane. The Syracuse product is quick and very strong for a player his size, able to take a lot of contact around the rim and still finish thanks to his acrobatic ability. Some may look at the point guards high turnover numbers for the week (5.2 per game) but this is a common occurrence since teams don’t have much time to get accustomed to playing with each other before the competition begins. What does need to be encouraging though are the 7.4 assists Flynn doled out, including 14 in a game against the D-League Select squad. He also shot the ball exceptionally well from beyond the perimeter, connecting on 7-of-12 three-point attempts. While it is always hard to draw any long term conclusions from such a small sampling of playing time, Flynn showed not only the ability to run an offense, but also an aggressive attack style that will make him a player who can come in a provide a scoring lift as well as set up teammates.
For a player as dynamic and flashy as Demar DeRozan, the rookie out of USC did the bulk of his scoring in a surprisingly subtle way during his five games, not that it was a bad thing. The 6-6 wing showed off his deft shooting touch that was a major part of his game in high school, but noticeably absent during his one season at the college level. While there were a handful of highlight reel plays mixed in, most noticeably a few thunderous transition dunks, DeRozan did the bulk of his scoring with his mid-range game. Toronto ran a lot of sets in which he would curl off a screen or simply look to catch and shoot on the wing or elbow, and his high arcing release made him a difficult defensive assignment. DeRozan struggled from beyond the arc, going just 1-for-5 from this range, but his mid-range game was superb. Again, the key in this pick for the first team was the consistency that the youngster showed throughout the week. The swingman scored between 15 and 20 points in four out of the five games that he played and also did an excellent job protecting the basketball, committing just six turnovers.
Already considered a steal after going in the second round to the Rockets, Budinger is making Houston look even smarter after emerging as one of the rising rookies in Las Vegas. The rookie out of Arizona showed that if nothing else he can be a viable scoring option off the bench for his new team this season. The small forward did little else aside from score, but he was about as efficient as a player can be, shooting 68.1 percent from the floor and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. Always known for his athleticism, Budinger did a great job of slashing to the basket, utilizing his quickness to take advantage of slower defenders. He could be an even better scorer off the bounce if he can improve his handles. Budinger really caught people’s attention with how good his shooting stroke looked during the course of the week. He can absolutely be a spot up threat in the NBA, particularly from three-point range, but he proved to be just as dangerous shooting off the dribble from mid-range. While there had been questions about how versatile of an offensive player he could be in the League, the former Wildcat showed flashes of being able to develop into a multi-faceted scorer.
The number ten overall pick can lay claim to having been the second best point guard - and that term has been applied loosely to several other players - in Las Vegas behind Jonny Flynn. Jennings did the three things that critics had questioned about his game after his sub par year overseas: he ran the Bucks offense well, limited his turnovers and for the most part showed good shot selection. As a point guard who is capable of scoring in bunches, Jennings did a great job of balancing between when to look for teammates and when to shoulder the offensive load a bit more himself. This was on full display in his second game of the week against Cleveland in which he netted 23 points and dished out 8 assists. While he was more content to set up his teammates in the first half, Jennings took the reins himself in the second half when he did the majority of his scoring. His shooting percentage wasn’t great mainly due to his lack of success around the rim (he will have to get stronger) but he did shoot the ball well from beyond the arc. Jennings can score from beyond the arc when given space at this point, but he still shoots from his hip, a fact that will make it harder for him to get his shot off against longer defenders. Still, this was a promising showing from the former McDonald’s All-American. Even though he still finds himself playing faster than he should be at times, Jennings proved he can run an offense effectively, even if it is only Summer League.
Like so many others, Johnson had an up and down week, but the highs outweighed the lows for the Bulls top draft choice. While the Wake Forest product is still quite a ways off from being labeled as a small forward, he is very much a versatile, face up power forward, capable of creating some mismatches in the upcoming season. Johnson showed good range on his jumper at times, there is definitely a smooth stroke there that gets overshadowed by inconsistency. Where he really looked the most impressive though was in situations where he opted to put the ball on the deck and attack the basket. Johnson does a good job of changing speeds and beating other frontcourt players off the dribble. He is a very strong, very tough player who is going to be able to deal with more than a little bit of contact in the lane and still be able to finish. Even when he wasn’t at his best offensively (8 points on 2-11 shooting versus Oklahoma City) Johnson still found ways to contribute by attacking the glass aggressively, and showing a surprisingly good court sense, picking up nearly four assists per game during the week.
As excited as the Pistons front office is about Austin Daye, they may be even more excited by the potential that DaJuan Summers showed during his five games in Las Vegas. The Georgetown product has an NBA-ready body at 6-8 240-pounds and has the skill set to play inside or outside. Summers did the majority of his scoring with a good looking mid-range jumper that he was able to hit from a standstill and on the move. He has deceptive quickness and crafty enough handles that he was able to create his own shot from time to time, but looks more like he will be a pick-and-pop kind of player. While his mid-range game flourished, perimeter shooting was a different story for Summers who went 3-for-11 from beyond the arc and never looked completely comfortable firing away from deep. He did show the ability to bull his way past smaller defenders to the basket when operating on the perimeter, a facet of his game that will allow him to be successful when matched up with small forwards.
Curry makes this team almost by default because of the strong scoring numbers he put up, but it’s hard not to come away with at least a little concern for his production early on at the next level. The numbers look good across the board, particularly the 4+ rebounds and 2+ steals per game, but the shooting percentages are ugly. The Davidson standout hit less than one-third of his shots and at times showed off the catch and chuck tendencies that frequented his college career. He attempted 80 shots in just five games and 29 of those shots came from beyond the arc; very high numbers for a guy the Warriors are hoping to run the offense. Still, Curry did a solid job of running the offense during stretches of play and he certainly has the court vision to be a successful facilitator one day in the future. There are absolutely going to be some growing pains for the newest member of the Golden State roster, but with the type of adoration that Curry has earned in the last year and a half, he will be given plenty of leeway by the fans early on.
No matter that he didn’t take the MVP trophy home, Anthony Randolph was the best player at the 2009 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, period. The second-year player out of LSU did everything: scored at a high rate, rebounded, ran the floor, passed well, blocked shots, put the ball on the floor exceptionally well, played great overall defense and left people wanting more. It was as if the light bulb suddenly turned on and all of the potential and upside that had been talked about all last season with Randolph suddenly crystallized into this beautiful four-game performance that culminated with a 42-point explosion against Chicago. The 6-10 forward was too much for every defender that tried to shut him down. He hit from mid-range with a smooth lefty stroke, he attacked the rim aggressively and showed a surprising amount of agility and grace on more than one occasion. In all, Randolph dominated nearly every facet of the game - did we mention he shot better than 60 percent - and gave Warriors fans plenty of reason to be excited about the upcoming season.
Like Chase Budinger who made the rookie list, Washington’s Nick Young didn’t do much besides score, but he was impressive enough in that aspect alone. The shooting guard connected on half his shot attempts and hit 40 percent from beyond the arc, in finishing third in the summer league in scoring. He hit shots from all over the floor in a wide variety of fashions, able to beat opponents off the dribble and pull up, spot up from the outside, and even post other guards up on the block. Young has always been an excellent shooter with a knack for putting up big scoring numbers, but things really seemed to click for him this week, particularly in a 36-point showing against Cleveland where he went 5-8 from beyond the arc. Young was the second most electric perimeter scorer of the week, upstaged only by Anthony Morrow.
It was a good week for the Wizards who saw a few of their younger players show plenty of promise in Vegas. McGee started the week off very slow, scoring just seven points in his first game, but improved each time out and finished with a 31-point, 8-rebound explosion against the Knicks. The Nevada product was very active in his later games, attacking the rim and finishing more than a handful of plays with ferocious dunks. While the increased aggressiveness with the basketball is a welcome sight, the most promising signs were the exceptional touch that McGee showed. The 7-footer was able to step away and connect on a few mid-range jumpers, but also showed a nicely developing running hook that he dropped a couple of times. The defensive end of the floor proved to be a good one for McGee, who after recording no blocks in his first game, swatted 16 shots in his final three games of the week.
The fourth-year player out of South Kent Prep has always been a tantalizingly intriguing player because of his size and versatility; that versatility was on display in his three games in Vegas. Blatche went for better than 20 and 10 in each of his first two games, and even though he struggled in his final contest, he still shot nearly 47 percent from the floor. The 6-11 forward showed very good touch on his mid-range jumper, extending out to 20-feet on many of his attempts and having consistent success. In the post, Blatche’s soft touch was again on display although he showed too much of a tendency to fade away. When he opted to face up, he proved to be a real handful for most of the other big men he was covered by. Blatche was very quick along the baseline and almost never shied away from contact, earning 18 trips to the line in three games. He also hit the glass very hard during the week, finishing second in the league in rebounding at 11 per contest.
This last pick was a tough one to make given that two of the three games Morrow appeared in were underwhelming, but it’s hard to pass on a Summer League-record 47-point explosion by the second year Golden State Warrior. The quick release that helped land him a roster spot last season as an undrafted free agent was on full display during the week as Morrow connected on 8 of the 16 shots he attempted from beyond the arc. The Georgia Tech product is never going to be a player who does a whole lot more than shoot, but with how successful he is at that particular skill, he likely won’t have to. There are many who feel that as a rookie last season he may have been the best overall shooter in the NBA; three games in Vegas and a 60.9 percent shooting percentage did little to change that opinion.