Another NBA Summer League is in the book. As usual there were questionable overreactions, mystifying under appreciations, and a handful of evaluations that hit right in the middle. As we do annually, we take an extensive look at what REALLY happened in Summer League. Our goal is to cut through the noise and hype of the mass media.

It is vitally important to realize that the player that played the MOST minutes in Summer League did not play 300 minutes total. In general, we have found that “numbers” begin to “stabilize” at around 300 minutes played. Suffice it to say that any Summer League statistics represent a small sample size.

The biggest problem with how most summarize Summer League is that they only pay attention to per game averages in the standard statistical categories. You will hear points, rebounds, assists, and blocked shots referenced. Very rarely will any mass media outlet talk about turnovers, defensive ratings, and shooting percentages. That mass media view creates an unbalanced vision. Some teams “showcase” their draft picks, playing them heavy minutes, and in some cases, running their entire offense through the high draft pick. This “showcasing” can create per-game averages that look impressive on the surface (per-minute numbers are more accurate). We prefer to look deeper. We are going behind the façade.

fa·cade

fəˈsäd/ – definition: an outward appearance that is maintained to conceal a less pleasant or creditable reality.

The Hoop Obsession All Las Vegas Summer League Teams:

First Team: Wade Baldwin IV (Portland), Josh Hart (Lakers), Svi Mykhailiuk (Lakers), Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago), Christian Wood (Milwaukee).

Second Team: Pierria Henry (Boston), Collin Sexton (Cleveland), Jake Layman (Portland), Caleb Swanigan (Portland), Mitchell Robinson (New York).

Third Team: Shaquille Harrison (Phoenix), DeAnthony Melton (Houston), Georges Niang (Utah), Willy Hernangomez (Charlotte), Devin Robinson (Washington).

MVP: Josh Hart – Lakers.

Josh Hart was a standout!  

How did the lottery picks perform?

Most media outlets focus on the most recent draft’s lottery picks. Since they are likely to have misrepresented what actually happened, we provide “truth capsules”.

DeAndre Ayton – Phoenix. …Ayton was very good overall. He scored near the hoop and he rebounded as advertised. He had moments of dominance and some moments of looking way older than someone who will turn 20 years-old next week. He shot 59% FG, and he showed again that he is a rare BIG with touch, as he only missed three free throws in 17 attempts (84% FT). On the downside, Ayton played 107 minutes and did not have a single assist. He coughed up 13 turnovers.

Marvin Bagley – Sacramento. …Despite one ferocious dunk and a couple of eye-opening blocked shots, Bagley was not very good at all in Summer League. He struggled with his overall shooting (14 of 42, 33% FG), and he turned the ball over three times more than he assisted it. Bagley made just one of ten three-point attempts. …The one bright spot for Bagley was his defensive play. He moved his feet very well, and his quick jumping ability served him well in defending near the rim.

Luka Doncic – Dallas. …Doncic did not participate in any Summer League action due to his extended season internationally. He was in Las Vegas cheering for his teammates.

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Memphis. …Jackson Jr. had moments of greatness between the two Summer Leagues in Utah, and Las Vegas. Overall, we would say he was very good. “JJJ” stood out defensively. He blocked 26 shots in less than 200 minutes!  Jackson shot the three-ball very well too. He made 50% (14 of 28) of his three-point attempts. …Jackson Jr. struggled with his decision making (six assists, 12 turnovers).

Trae Young – Atlanta. …Young was on the struggle bus in Utah but he rebounded to play well in Las Vegas. Overall, his performance was pedestrian by NBA standards. He managed to jack 55 three-point attempts in seven games! We thought his shot selection was terrible (30 of 99 FG, 30.3%). He showed that he has good vision, and he played his best ball when he was passing up contested shots. Unfortunately, he did not do much of that. He shot 27% (15 of 55) across both Summer Leagues. Young was also guilty of over-penetrating, often getting his shot blocked at the rim. The superior athletes in Summer League (vs. NCAA) negated many of the plays Young could complete in college.

Mo Bamba – Orlando. …Bamba only played 59 minutes. He was sufficiently efficient and performed as we expected. He blocked seven shots in three games and converted 60% FG. He is learning how to fit in on offense. He did not earn a free throw attempt in 59 minutes.

Wendell Carter Jr. – Chicago. …Carter Jr. was excellent! His shot-blocking ability is a sight to behold. Older veterans tried to rough him up and he gave it right back. Carter Jr. shot 55% FG, 42% 3-pt., and 69% FT in five games. He averaged three offensive rebounds per game. He had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. I came away from Vegas firmly believing, Carter should have been picked among the top-four in the 2018 NBA Draft. He was selected seventh.

Carter Jr. was good on both ends.  

Collin Sexton – Cleveland.Sexton showed his trademark willingness to compete. He was good overall. We continue to believe that Sexton is not a point guard. He had 24 assists, and 23 turnovers in Las Vegas. A team can certainly PLAY him at point guard but that is not going to give that team the best chance to win. Sexton struggled with his deep shooting, making just three of 13 three-point attempts (23%). What we continue to love about Sexton is his desire. He was diving on the floor for loose balls and putting himself in harms way with his hard drives to the basket.

Kevin Knox – New York. No player’s Summer League was misrepresented as much as Kevin Knox’s. If you just watched NBA-TV, and ESPN or used Twitter, you would think Knox was somewhere between great and God-like in Las Vegas. The truth is, he was solid. Nothing more. Yes, he had highlight dunks. But his overall play was nothing special at all. He shot 35% FG. He had nine assists with 16 turnovers. He was soft on defense. His ORTG-to-DEFRTG differential was minus 18.7 (that is a super stat geek rating that takes the offensive rating, points per 100 possessions, and subtracts the defensive rating, points allowed per 100 possessions). The Knicks showcased Knox, playing him a whopping 32.2 minutes per game! (Summer League games are only 40 minutes). …We are not saying Knox was terrible. He wasn’t. Knox did show an ability to create his own scoring opportunities. We are simply using a great example of the New York hype machine really overselling the impact Knox may actually have on WINNING.

Mikal Bridges – Phoenix. …Bridges was nothing special on offense. He hit his three point shot opportunities (7 of 16, 43%) but didn’t do much of anything as a playmaker (three assists with eight turnovers). Defensively, Bridges showed good anticipation and knack for disrupting the passing lanes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Clippers. …Gilgeous-Alexander was good. He played a high efficiency game throughout the week in Las Vegas. More than anything, he showed that he can be a positive factor on defense. He had the best DEFRTG on the Clippers (which is saying something when Sindarius Thornwell is a teammate). …He struggled with his deep shooting (3-12, 25% 3-pt. fg), but his shot selection was smart enough that he shot 45% FG overall. He had a 1.78-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Gilgeous-Alexander was a marvel at the NBA Draft Combine when body fat tests showed he had only 3% body-fat!

Miles Bridges – Charlotte. …Miles Bridges was good in Las Vegas. He reportedly shed nearly 20 lbs. since the end of the college season, and it showed in his explosiveness. He was flying all over the court, making spectacular plays that only a few would even dream to attempt. He struggled from three-point range, making just six of 30 attempts (20% 3-pt. FG). 

Miles Bridges is explosive!

Jerome Robinson – Clippers. …Robinson was solid in the three games he played. He only logged 71 minutes, so the sample size was small. He hit seven of 19 three-point attempts (36% 3-pt. fg.). Robinson only turned it over twice in 71 minutes, which was also a positive. …On defense, it was clear that Robinson has a way to go.

Michael Porter Jr. – Did not play in any Summer League games.

Reaffirmations

Shaquille Harrison is a guard we really enjoyed watching. He showed that his late-season success in Phoenix was no fluke. He plays both ends of the floor, and he shows the desire to improve. His stock in our eyes has never been higher. …Cheick Diallo (New Orleans) showed us again that he is ready to be playing full rotation minutes in the NBA. We would go as far as to say he could be a lower-tier starting Center this season. In our opinion, it would be worth a call to New Orleans to see how much they like Diallo. He is ready.

We have our theories about how to win in Summer League. It was great to see Portland capture the Las Vegas Summer League championship doing what we think should be standard operating procedure for each team. The Blazers had depth that was unmatched by any of the other 29 teams. If you want to win Summer League, or at least give your team a chance to, you must surround your rookie draft picks with a roster of second or third year NBA players (Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Jake Layman), G-League veterans that have tasted the NBA (Wade Baldwin, Archie Goodwin, K.J. McDaniels), and or international/NBA veterans (John Jenkins).  Portland limited the amount of rookie free agents that almost always doom a team’s chance for consistent Summer W’s.

Archie Goodwin reminded us that he is nearly impossible to keep out of the paint. He still can’t shoot well enough but his overall ability on both ends is worthy of an NBA roster spot. He is just 23 years-old. He is better than many guards currently in the NBA.

Revelations

We love to have our eyes opened to players that we were not hip enough to. …Markel Crawford (undrafted 2018, from Ole Miss) was a player I knew little about. He impressed me with his shooting ability and feel for the game. He made the Grizzlies better when he was on the floor. …Troy Caupain is a known commodity. He showed me that he really can get smart buckets for his team (Orlando). If he gets to the elbow, forget about it. …Alpha Kaba of the Hawks played well each opportunity he received. He might be an interesting player to target in a trade since Atlanta has John Collins and Omari Spellman as young BIGs.

Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks was in contention for “best Center” playing in Las Vegas. He runs the floor effortlessly, and he was dominant at times defensively. Robinson rebounded and blocked shots at a high rate, and he only had ONE turnover in 123 minutes (which speaks to his level of coordination).

Mitchell Robinson is the real deal.  

Joe Chealey was a player I knew nothing about prior to Summer League. He showed a feel for the game and the ability to run a team. The College of Charleston, four-year player, kept his foot on the gas pedal. …Johnny Hamilton only was allowed 38 minutes of playing time in Las Vegas, but the seven-footer made the Pistons better each time he played. I want to see more. …Zach Lofton (undrafted 2018 from New Mexico St.) showed NBA athleticism and the important ability to create his own shot. He wasn’t efficient, but he showed the potential to be efficient.

It DOES rain in Las Vegas. During one nigtht of our stay a monsoon swept over the city, producing winds up to 70 mph!

Struggle bussers

Considering where he was selected (fourth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft), Dragan Bender was awful. Despite his good-looking shot and excellent frame for a BIG, he simply was not efficient at all. We think it is beyond time for Phoenix to face the music on Bender. He was a bad miss. Move on.  

We wouldn’t suggest anything so drastic regarding Bender’s Phoenix teammate, Josh Jackson, but Jackson too was terrible in Las Vegas. He shot 24% FG, and he made just one of eleven three-point attempts. He turned it over more than twice for every, one assist. Yikes!

Semaj Christon was the driver and undisputed Captain of the All-Struggle Team. Christon, playing for Brooklyn, made only five of his 27 field goal attempts in 78 minutes (18% FG), and he only scored 13 points. ...Melvin Frazier (Orlando) shot 28% FG and had three times as many turnovers as assists. …Jalen Brunson (Dallas) made just ten of his 44 field goal attempts (22% FG). …Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (Detroit) did not make a field goal in 81 minutes! …Terrence Ferguson (OKC) made just four of his 20 three-point attempts (20% 3-pt. FG).

The 15 worst Hoop Obsession efficiency (per-minute) ratings. 80 mins. minimum: Speedy Smith .025, Trae Young (in Utah) .092, Melvin Frazier Jr. .132, Brady Heslip .150, Terrance Ferguson .174, Jarell Eddie .177, Olivier Hanlan .188, Alfonzo McKinnie .196, Markel Brown .208, Brian Angola-Rodas .229, Malachi Richardson .235, Kendrick Ray .236, Jalen Brunson .237, Justin Bibbs .244, Johnathan Williams .256.

View changers

If a scout is doing it right, the scout should have an altered, more advanced, view of a player each time the player is scouted. Some players that scouts did not buy into in the past will make improvements. It is important for the scout to be honest and acknowledge that a 2017 outlook on a player can be irrelevant in 2018. 

For us, Kobi Simmons is a good example. I previously thought very little of Simmons as a prospect. He was inefficient last Summer trying to play point guard. He never impressed me in his lone season at Arizona either. Fast forward to this summer, and Simmons is playing off the ball as a TWO. He looks more comfortable and seems to have an easier time scoring. While his overall game still has a way to go, we at least now can see the potential.

Kobi is better playing free!  

Cedi Osman of Cleveland only played 63 minutes the entire Summer League. However, in the two games he played, he was the Cavs best offensive wing and their overall best defensive player. I’m looking at him with a new level of respect. Likewise, Jabari Bird (Boston) gained some traction in our eyes with his emerging skills. …Omari Johnson (Golden St.) is a better player than I realized. He could stand to turn down some of his quick three-point jacks, but his overall ability is noticeable. …I was ready to write off Danuel House after last year’s Summer League performance. I was wrong. House played well at the end of the NBA season for Phoenix, and he carried that success into 2018 Summer League for Houston.

Just as some opinions move from negative to positive, it makes sense that just as many go the opposite direction. We were previously high on Jawun Evans (Clippers), but it is baffling how unproductive he was in the NBA last season. He was poor again this Summer (28% FG). What happened to the aggressive Evans that used to run past defenders and really put pressure on the defense?

Top fives
80 minutes minimum

Assist-to-turnover ratio: Anthony Brown – Sacramento, 9-to-1, Ben Moore – Indiana, 6-to-1, Pierria Henry – Boston, 5.4-to-1, Monte Morris – Denver, 5-to-1, Derrick Walton Jr. – Miami, 4.5-to-1.

Points per minute: Josh Hart – Lakers, .8294, Derrick White – San Antonio, .7692, Christian Wood – Milwaukee, .7440, Derrick Jones Jr. – Miami, .7240, Trevon Bluiett – New Orleans .7101.

Rebounds per minute: Alpha Kaba – Atlanta .4875, Amile Jefferson – Minnesota, .4402, Willy Hernangomez - Charlotte, .4293, Mitchell Robinson – New York, .4126, Calab Swanigan - Portland, .40695.

Blocked shots per minute: Mitchell Robinson – New York, .1618, Jaren Jackson Jr. – Memphis, .1563, Chris Boucher – Toronto .1559, Zhou Qi – Houston, .1405, Zach Collins – Portland, .1128

Three-point percentage: Wayne Selden – Memphis (8-13, 61.5%), John Jenkins – Portland (12-20, 60%), Duncan Robinson - Miami (10-17, 58%), C.J. Wilcox – Indiana (10-17, 58%), Trey Lewis – Utah (9-16, 56%).

Free throw attempts per minute: Derrick Jones Jr. – Miami, .3281, Trevon Duval – Houston, .3070, Archie Goodwin – Portland .3030, Jonathan Isaac – Orlando, .2680, Tyler Dorsey – Atlanta .2577

Derrick Jones Jr. keep expanding his game.

Trends

The easiest way to stick out in a negative way at Summer League is to be in questionable physical condition. Clearly, the generation of players aged 19-24 are in tremendous shape. At the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, more than a dozen players tested with body fat percentages at 5% or less.

It’s anecdotal, but we feel like the fitness of the present generation is in direct correlation to the advancements in communication (internet) that have made being educated about proper nutrition commonplace.  Players are training smarter and eating healthy foods. No less than LeBron James, modeled his training habits and diet that allowed him to play in all 82 regular season NBA games (not to mention the Playoffs) in 2017-18. Younger players are following the lead of James, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and even Tom Brady of the NFL. All of those elite athletes are serious about preparation, rest, and what they put into their bodies. If you are staying out late, drinking, and eating fast food in 2018, it is much harder to hide it.

It is not our place to body shame. There are good NBA players with bodies on the relative soft side. However, those players are the exceptions. And the exceptions are becoming fewer and fewer. The players who showed up tubby to Summer League know who they are. Good coaches were undoubtedly honest with players too.

Play the freaking game!

Building chemistry, even in Summer League, has real value in our opinion. Likewise, winning is good for any fanbase, front office, and locker room. The most disturbing trend is that some second-year players either didn’t play or played in a limited capacity. Players that were recovering from legitimate injuries obviously get a pass. Every other second year player not named Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, or Jayson Tatum should have been out there. Gaining televised game experience is not something that can be duplicated at the practice facility with your teammates as the opposition.

And another thing… Please, NBA teams, stop being so overly protective of your 19-22 year-olds. These guys can play back-to-back games without any issues. They are world class athletes. Once they arrive in Las Vegas there are no airplane flights to tire them out. When they are not playing, they are chilling in an air-conditioned five-star resort. Put them out there! Let their strengths and weaknesses be exposed. It is much smarter to do that in the Summer than when games count in the Fall.

They played well in limited minutes

There are many reasons why a player may or may not have played significant minutes during Summer League. Some players simply were not high on a depth chart. Some were injured during play and had their Summer League come to an unexpected premature end. Others were being babied by their parent team. Whatever the reason, there were players that played less than 80 minutes total that deserve some love for how well they played when given the opportunity.

Here are the top 15 efficiency (per minute) ratings of players that played at least 40 minutes but less than 80 minutes: Ante Zizic – Cleveland .971, Jack Cooley – Phoenix .909, Vince Hunter – Clippers .855, Naz Mitrou-Long – Utah .829, Bam Adebayo - Miami .824, Trevor Thompson – Brooklyn .822, Wayne Selden – Memphis .812, Tony Bradley – Utah .811, Chimezie Metu – San Antonio .807, Daniel Ochefu – New York .754, Amida Brimah – San Antonio .754, Henry Sims – New Orleans .733, Jarrett Allen – Brooklyn .730, Dakari Johnson – Oklahoma City .704, Mohamed Bamba – Orlando .726.

Zizic was really efficient.  

The Kings angle

The Kings roster simply was not deep enough to contend for the Summer League championship. They won three games and lost five in action between Sacramento and Las Vegas. We were very disappointed by Sacramento’s decision to shut down DeAaron Fox after he played one good game in Sacramento. Fox is far from an established NBA player. He should have been playing as many minutes as he could handle, gaining valuable experience while learning how to play with Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley. (We outlined Bagley’s play above).

Giles saw his first meaningful minutes on a basketball court since April 2017. He had moments of promise, especially when you consider how far he has come from TWO ACL surgeries. Defensively, we thought he showed the potential to be good. He has quick reactions and good instincts. It was a positive first step for Giles. Due to his circumstance, we are not concerned with the reality of his numbers through seven Summer League contests. He shot 44% FG, 25% 3-pt. FG, and a woeful 42% FT. Giles settled for jump shots too often. He only earned seven trips to the free throw line in 172 minutes. He had seven assists and 23 turnovers.

As much as we are rooting for Giles, we did not see enough in Summer League to believe he can be an EFFECTIVE NBA rotation player THIS season. Giles is only 20 years old. The majority of players contributing on winning NBA teams are over the age of 25. While Sacramento's fan base wants to see as much of Giles as possible, we think it would be best for the Kings and for Harry to be used conservatively in his rookie season with an eye toward what he may become in two or three seasons.

Frank Mason was good in his games in Sacramento, but he did not perform as well in Las Vegas. To be fair, Mason was carrying a huge load without any true third point guard (behind Fox, and Mason). ... Justin Jackson had moderate success as the primary scorer. But in that role, the rest of his game suffered. He too did not succeed at a rate that projects him to be a rotation player on a winning NBA team. He shot 31% 3-pt. FG (15 of 47). He had only four assists in 221 minutes.

We thought Wenyen Gabriel, an undrafted rookie from Kentucky, showed enough promise to warrant a training camp invite. He needs to turn down some of his three-point attempts, but his overall play was good. …Zach Auguste also played well enough to earn further consideration. …Anthony Brown was solid at taking care of the ball, but he is still not very dynamic.

Wenyen Gabriel can do some things other can't.  

NOTES

We attended the NBA Summer League in Sacramento and Las Vegas. We would wholeheartedly advise all basketball fans to make plans for 2019! The atmosphere is amped up with real fans. At $19 (Sacramento) and $35 (Las Vegas) some who cannot afford regular season NBA games get a chance to enjoy the competition. The spirit and enthusiasm of these fans is a fun element that never fails in Summer League. Once again, the Las Vegas Summer League set an attendance record. …Las Vegas was crawling with basketball people. At almost every turn, one could see somebody associated with an NBA team, or media outlet. There are activities for kids too.

The NBA seemed to be experimenting with referees a bit too much for our taste in Las Vegas. We learned that the pool of referees was coming from the NBA, the G-League, and the WNBA. That seems unfair to the WNBA refs who officiate a whole separate level of athleticism, speed, size and power. It wasn’t a HUGE deal to us, but we did watch several games where the officiating was sketchy regarding what was a foul and what was not a foul. ...The scoreboard in the Cox Pavilion is due to be upgraded. It seems to fail as often as it worked. Also, the NBA should consider having a true "music supervisor" for the timeouts and breaks. The audio quality of many of the songs played sounded like bad bootlegs played straight off of a phone.

We continue to patronize Firefly, a tapas restaurant on Paradise. The empanadas there are exceptional! …For the second year in a row, we used Lyft rather than rent a car. And for the second year in a row, we saved a good amount of money. ...The hotel that was called the Monte Carlo hasbeen re-branded as the Park MGM. ...The latest construction activity in Vegas is the stadium that will house the NFL's Raiders.

The Cosmopolitan was our resort lodging place in Las Vegas. We could not recommend it more highly. Fantastic customer service was the norm, and the rooms (most of which feature a terrace) are well appointed and meticulously clean. The hotel is located at the center of the Strip, featuring several outstanding dining choices. We found the Cosmo pool area to be just right. They played chill music (no obnoxious DJ) and finding a lounger near the pool was never a problem. A frozen Dole Whip from the pool bar should be mandatory.

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Cool thoughts until next Summer League! 

 

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