Anytime anyone ever tweets/writes/thinks about a rookie’s performance during summer league the phrase “It’s only Summer League, but….” is somehow involved. Historically there are just too many examples of bad NBA players playing phenomenally well or future mainstays in the league dramatically disappointing in Summer League to take the results from Summer League with much more than a grain of salt. Logically, it is easy to debunk both good and bad performance in SL. If someone plays poorly it just means they haven’t yet adjusted to the speed and length of the athletes they’re playing against or they’re being forced to play a role that doesn’t suit them, but in the NBA they eventually adjust and/or are able to find a role that maximizes their skill set. On the other side, someone playing great might be scoring in ways that won’t translate against NBA defenses which are both more athletic, and much smarter about game planning to stop opponents.
So, figuring out what matters and what doesn’t in SL is really hard. Generally, as Kevin Ferrigan outlined in this string of tweets…
To quickly rehash a conversation I just had with @jzmazlish re: summer league and what can be gleaned.
— Kevin Ferrigan (@NBAcouchside) July 14, 2015
…if a rookie plays really well and does it in ways that can translate to the NBA level that is probably a good sign about their future. Otherwise, there might be something to be gleaned, but there is probably nothing of great value to learn from their SL performance.
From a statistical perspective, Kevin Pelton did some research on SL and found that for rookies SL stats do have some predictive value, specifically “shot-blocking and rebounding translate particularly well” but 3-point percentage, 2-point percentage, offensive rebounding, steals and usage rate all failed to translate.
Combining knowledge of what stats matter, and what should matter from an overall perspective, hopefully, something can be learned from how the rookies did in Summer League. I didn’t watch quite as much SL as I wanted to so I don’t have opinions on all the rookies, but for the ones I did get the chance to watch somewhat closely here are my thoughts. Without further ado, it’s only summer league, but……
Cliff Alexander (BKN) didn’t do much to stand out when he was on the court though he wasn’t helped by the Nets poor spacing and shot-happy guards. His physical profile and decent college production still make him a good bet to outperform his undrafted status, and he’ll probably find some time as a 4th or 5th big somewhere in the next couple years.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (BKN) doesn’t have a game suited to excel in SL’s unorganized environment, but his athleticism on the defensive end still popped off the screen against the high-level athletes he was facing. Like at Arizona, he didn’t play with great spacing on offense, and his off the dribble game continued to look unrefined, but with the ball in his hands more he got to show off his impressive vision quite a bit. Unfortunately, his outside shot didn’t really show any improvement so the overall calculus on him remains the same.
Aaron Harrison (CHA) was tested as a point guard for Charlotte and was surprisingly impressive at creating even if his ability to run an offense seemed a bit behind. He really needs to work on his shot, but he showed enough handling the ball that he might have a chance to succeed as a third point guard if he can become a more consistent outside shooter.
Alan Williams (CHA/HOU) put up amazing numbers in Vegas for Houston, but I unfortunately barely watched the Houston team play and don’t really have an opinion on his performance. For Charlotte’s team in Orlando, he was given a much smaller role, and I did watch him more closely, but he didn’t really do anything to stand out one way or the other.
Joe Young (IND) scored the ball really well, and actually fairly efficiently, for Indiana, but his game still centered around scoring and creating for himself without doing much distributing or helping his team on the defensive end. Additionally, at only 6’2 it’s hard to see him being able to create efficiently for himself in the NBA as he lacks the slipperiness of Jamal Crawford, the ability to draw fouls of Lou Williams, or the incredible quickness and array of moves that Isaiah Thomas has.
Branden Dawson (LAC) athleticism was really impressive and he did a great job both hitting the glass and getting out in transition. He’s really undersized for a 4, but if a team is willing to sacrifice spacing he’s got the athleticism, feel, and sheer energy to succeed as a defender, rebounder, and pick and roll finisher. Montrezl Harrell’s length gives him the chance to play the 5 and makes him the better prospect, but strictly as a 4 Dawson is better due to his energy and superior awareness on the defensive end.
Andrew Harrison (MEM) was pretty disappointing, and, hugely contrary to my prior beliefs, was much worse than Aaron, particularly at creating space for himself to score. He still has a shot at being a 3-and-D type point guard, but his D wasn’t great at SL either. He took a while to adjust to NCAA competition also though, so maybe he just takes longer to adjust to better athletes than most.
Josh Richardson (MIA) played really impressive tight up on his man defense consistently and flashed the quickness to really pressure guys on the perimeter. On offense, he did a pretty good job handling the ball and creating for himself in addition to the spot up shooting that will consist of most of his NBA offense. He was one of the more impressive second rounders in SL, and I probably had him too low on my board.
Tyler Harvey (ORL) was incredibly shot happy, and like Joe Young actually scored relatively efficiently. Still, he doesn’t bring anything to the table other than scoring and probably doesn’t have the outlier abilities needed to succeed as a pure scorer off the bench in the NBA.
R.J. Hunter (BOS) had a mixed bag of a time in both Utah and Las Vegas Summer League. His shot was up and down, but he did a pretty good job creating for himself off screens, and his advanced ability as a passer really stood out. He’s a pretty smart team defender, but I continue to be really pessimistic about his defensive outlook in the NBA as he generally played on his heels in isolation and just doesn’t look like he has the quickness to guard in the NBA. Offensively he’s got the ability to do things other than shoot if you run things through him, but his lack of burst limits his effectiveness attacking closeouts so he probably won’t be much more than a stand-still shooter. I might be suffering from confirmation bias since a lot of people were impressed by him, but his lack of quickness or burst stood out to me, and I don’t think he’s an outlier enough shooter to make up for his athletic deficiencies.
Terry Rozier (BOS) did nothing to change his status as possibly the most puzzling pick of the first round. He’s quick off the bounce, but he doesn’t have the footwork and ability to get all the way to the hoop so even if he beats his man initially he really struggles with help defenders. The combination of below average shooting, below average vision, and inability to get all the way to the rim makes him a really poor offensive point guard, and his defense isn’t impressive enough to make up for it.
Jordan Mickey (BOS) was the one reason Boston fans might not hate me after my thoughts on Rozier and Hunter. Simply put, Mickey was one the most impressive non-lottery picks in Summer League. He didn’t score all that efficiently because he shot a fair amount of mid-rangers and tried to create for himself some, but he absolutely has the touch and feel to finish well in pick and roll, and having a mid-range jump shot isn’t a bad thing as long as he doesn’t rely on it too much. On defense his mobility was impressive, and despite not being the biggest guy his shot blocking translated well to the SL level. I probably severely underrated him pre-draft, and relied too much on his poor statisictal translations rather than his impressive versatility on defense, and relatively skilled offensive game.
J.P. Tokoto (PHI) still has a pretty broken jumper, wasn’t able to create as well for his teammates as hoped, and flashed some pretty bad decision making on the offensive end. His defense was still good, but a big part of his appeal is his ability as a ball handler and a passer, and he really struggled with that in SL. It’s entirely possible that with more time to adjust he can flash more of his skill, but for now SL was a bit discouraging for Tokoto’s outlook.
T.J. McConnell (PHI) was fantastic and really the only guy capable of making the Sixers offense look like anything other than a tire fire. His handle and quickness allowed him to get into the lane pretty consistently, and though he needs to look for his own shot inside more, he still was able to find his teammates frequently. On the other end, his quickness was equally impressive and he did a great job staying in front of and pressuring his man. Unfortunately, his jump shot continues to somehow get worse with time as he shot 2-10 from three on an admittedly very small sample. His quickness on both ends was really impressive, and he might be a more consistent outside shot away from real value in the NBA.
Richaun Holmes (PHI) suffered an injury that cut his SL short, but was impressive in his time on the floor. The Sixers forward-looking organization gave him the green light to bomb from outside, and he’s not a true threat yet, but he’s got a confident and solid looking stroke. Around the basket on both ends, Holmes athleticism and length were evident, and he even flashed some ability attacking closeouts with some real fluidity. Ranking both him and Mickey behind Cliff Alexander pre-draft looks really silly, at least based on SL.
Cady Lalanne (SAS) was almost a poor man’s Richaun Holmes with his ability to both step outside and shoot and use his length and leaping ability at the rim. His feel for the game, fluidity, and shooting range aren’t at Holmes level, but he’s got the length of a true 5 and on his tools alone looked like a good get for the Spurs.
Bobby Portis (CHI) put up very good box score numbers and seemed to become a favorite of a lot of the twitter community. He shot the ball well and confidently from three, rebounded the hell out of it, and did a good job showing off his nice lateral mobility and awesome energy with which he plays. The hype has gone a little too far with him because he’s not athletic enough to finish well inside, and his energy masks that his feel and awareness on both ends isn’t all that great. Still, his outside shot looks legit, and guys with the size to play the 4/5 who can rebound the ball, shoot the three, and stay with guys on the perimeter have a place in the league. He wouldn’t jump up as high as twitter hype might suggest, but Portis was another guy who might’ve been too low on my pre-draft board.
Justin Anderson (DAL) was one of the stars of SL, and much like Portis proved that he probably slipped too far in the draft. Most importantly, Anderson shot 38.5% from three on what is actually a decent sample of 39 attempts. Questions about his shot will linger until he proves it over a much larger sample, but it’s great to see him shooting well. He’s a good decision-maker, smart player, and high-level athlete so if he can shoot the ball well from deep he’s going to last in the league. His quickness on the defensive end still isn’t as good as the rest of his athletic tools so he doesn’t look like a great wing defender, but he’s athletic and smart enough to at least be a good one.
Kevon Looney (GSW) adds to the list of late first rounders who did really well in SL, and continued to look like a steal for Golden State. Looney’s athletic pop is definitely subpar, but he managed to make an impact inside with his length and instincts, both rebounding and protecting the rim well for a 4. It would’ve been nice to see him shoot even more from outside, but his outside shot looked smooth, and he continued to be a stud on the offensive glass due to his quick feet and awareness. From a purely eye test perspective Looney was more impressive to me here than he was at UCLA; he looked really fluid on both ends and his skill level handling the ball stood out. Looney isn’t great in any one area, but he’s long and smooth with a great feel for the game. People don’t love him like they do Lyles and Portis, but he’s got the length to play inside like Portis, the skill to play on the perimeter like Lyles, and awareness on both ends superior to either of them. He was ranked 13th on my board before the draft, and summer league did nothing to change that.
Montrezl Harrell/Christian Wood (HOU) both played for Houston and Harrell had really good stats while Wood’s were a mixed bag. Unfortunately, like I said in the Alan Williams section, I just never really watched Houston play for more than a couple minutes. If Houston commits to using Harrell as a small ball 5 he could have some real value in the NBA, but his limited awareness might hold him back from anchoring the defense as much as is needed from the center spot.
Robert Upshaw (LAL) was pretty unimpressive and failed to make much of an impact on either end, but LA’s coaches used just about everyone suboptimally by playing their Princeton offense and extended stretches of zone defense. I still believe in Upshaw’s talent, but with his mentality issues he probably needs a great coach to get something out of him in the NBA, and Byron Scott’s current regime in LA is not a place where he is likely to succeed.
Anthony Brown (LAL) mostly stood on the side and took open threes or attacked closeouts, and the Princeton offense definitely wasn’t suited for his skill set. Even taking into account contextual factors, Brown’s SL performance was still a little underwhelming. He didn’t create for himself on offense whatsoever, his athleticism and instincts on the defensive end were clearly below NBA standards, and he’s not a true bomber who shoots the three with the type of volume to make him dangerous. He’s got a nice frame for a wing, but he struggled to involve himself with the action on both ends of the court in SL much like he did at Stanford, speaking to his poor athleticism and feel for the game.
Larry Nance (LAL) is the opposite of Brown in that his effort level and activity constantly involves himself in the game. Unfortunately, despite involving himself in the play a lot Nance didn’t do much that was very impressive. His athleticism is best suited playing in side pick and roll like Blake Griffin, and he doesn’t have the passing vision or off the bounce creativity to succeed in what the Lakers were running. His defensive positioning was good, but he’s not much of an interior force and is going to need to improve his outside shot to live up to his first round pick status. Nance is a solid prospect, but looking at Harrell, Looney, and Mickey’s SL performances it is fair to question the Lakers decision.
Rashad Vaughn (MIL) really shot the ball poorly from all over the court, but otherwise looked good. As the second youngest player in this draft Vaughn’s ability to create relatively good looks for himself off the dribble and in pick and roll was impressive, and since he created so many of his looks for himself his efficiency isn’t worrying. In general, Vaughn’s athleticism looked good as he had the step on his man on offense and he did a pretty good job on defense. The offense was about expected and the defense slightly exceeded expectations, but he did not look as good as some of the guys Milwaukee passed on such as Portis or Anderson.
Tyus Jones (MIN) had one of the most disappointing SL performances from a first rounder. He struggled with turnovers, didn’t create for himself or others very well, and had a difficult time staying with guys on the defensive end. However, given his youth and his athletic question marks it makes sense that Jones would take longer than most to adjust to superior size/speed. It would’ve been nice to see more from him, but his poor performance doesn’t really change my thoughts on him at all.
Jerian Grant (NYK) did exactly what would be hoped of someone his age and more, doing a fantastic job passing the ball and making more plays on the defensive end than he typically did in college. Grant’s passing in pick and roll and transition was fantastic, and he did a pretty good job of getting into the lane consistently. His reaction time on defense when guarding the ball still leaves a fair amount to be desired, but Grant definitely outperformed my expectations of him.
Pat Connaughton (POR) had a pretty solid SL, not really outperforming or underwhelming expectations. He shot the ball well from three, attacked well in straight lines, and did a great job rebounding the ball like he always does. His flaws from college persisted though; he can’t create if it’s not straight line attacks, and his direction changing on defense prevents him from being the type of defender his hops and straight-line quickness would suggest. His inability to change direction and react well when guarding probably prevents him from being the 3-and-D guy his tools would suggest.
Norman Powell (TOR) scored the ball as well as any rookie and managed to do it efficiently while providing his usual help on the defensive end. Powell is really fast with the ball and does a great job finishing at the rim, but he’s a great example of someone who might’ve been scoring in ways that can’t be relied on at the next level. Most of his buckets came in transition and on straight line attacks in the half court, not a sustainable way of scoring at the next level. He shot the ball well from three in SL but also had some of his typical poor decision making on the offensive end. A lot of smart people really love his game, but to me he’s still a 3-and-D two guard without a consistent outside shot and poor decision making on the offensive end. I’d have him higher on my board after his SL play, but he’s still a long shot to find a lasting role in the league.
Delon Wright (TOR) only played two games before suffering an injury and was up and down in those two games. Delon excelled at his strengths, passing the ball really well and playing his usual disruptive and rangy defense. However, he struggled to create good looks around the hoop for himself and didn’t make a three over the two games. I’m still all in on his NBA future, but the three needs to be at least somewhat there for him to succeed.
Aaron White (WAS) was one of the worst rookies in SL. He didn’t do anything other than the occasional dunk or finish on the offensive end, and his ability to change directions on defense is really lacking. Maybe he’s just someone who takes longer to adjust, but considering his age his SL performance did not indicate that he is an NBA caliber guy.
Kelly Oubre (WAS) didn’t shoot the ball well at all but was nonetheless one of the most impressive performers in SL. Despite a reputation as a unrefined ball handler Oubre did a great job attacking in isolation and playing in pick and roll, and showed off the creation ability that made him a top-10 recruit in addition to his physical tools. Oubre dribbled himself into trouble frequently and has lacking vision, but his creation ability is really good for someone who the Wizards only need to be a 3-and-D guy. Defensively his awareness wasn’t perfect, but his reputation as an idiot on that end is hugely overblown and he was still the largely positive force that he was at Kansas due to his quickness guarding the ball and his length making plays. Assuming he finds his outside shot, Oubre has everything necessary to be a very good 3-and-D wing who also profiles as a ~3rd scoring option.
Part 2 on the lottery picks is now live, if I didn’t write about a particular second rounder it’s because I didn’t pay them enough attention to have an opinion on their SL play.