The NBA's Las Vegas Summer League is officially underway, giving a chance for recently drafted prospects to get their rookie seasons off on the right foot and borderline players to work their way into consideration for roster spots. Teams are constructed in relatively rudimentary form to play in sloppy exhibition games, and yet the summer showcase does grant an opportunity—however conditional—for talent scouting.
With that in mind, here's a closer examination of the performance of a few of the standout players from Day 3 in Vegas.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
The inevitable downside of drafting a wing player who is empowered by his strength and momentum is the fallout that comes from the charge. Dion Waiters witnessed the terrors of a set defender firsthand in his summer league debut, hopefully acting as a teaching moment to curb some of Waiters' overly aggressive driving instincts. He should be a tremendously difficult cover once he adds some ball-handling creativity and changes in pace to his drives, but for now his straight-line work makes him too vulnerable to committing offensive fouls.
Otherwise, Waiters' defining characteristic appears to be his desire—on this team, anyway—to operate with the ball in his hands. When Waiters wasn't lowering his shoulder and plowing down defenders, he was calling for the ball and trying to make plays.
Some of that is the nature of a summer league team very suddenly missing Kyrie Irving, but one gets the immediate and clear impression that Waiters, for better or worse, isn't content with conceding the initiation of the offense.
DeShawn Sims, Phoenix Suns
DeShawn Sims has bounced between the D-League, Greece, Korea and Puerto Rico, but has definite NBA game. He may be positionally ambiguous to some, but a forward capable of doing efficient work from the low block and spotting up on the perimeter should theoretically be employable on the highest level—even if that hasn't quite been the case. Something has held Sims back in the eyes of basketball talent evaluators over the last two seasons, though he's hardly a crippling defender or rebounder.
The one aspect of Sims' game that is noticeably lacking is capacity to create off the dribble from the perimeter. Although, considering how few teams are looking for off-the-dribble creation from their bargain-bin forwards, why would that possibly be enough to discount his otherwise solid potential?
Sims' most significant development may be behind him, but he's a respectable player with a valuable and easily accessible skill. Stretching his range to beyond the three-point line could bring a whole new world of NBA employability, but even in the meantime, Sims should be a viable candidate for the end of an NBA bench.
Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
There's no way to really predict how well the combination of LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard might pan out in the years to come, but if nothing else, Leonard appears to be a valuable find in a vacuum. Leonard began the Blazers' summer league by executing a beautiful pick-and-roll with fellow rookie Damian Lillard, and throughout the duration showcased a splendid ability to run the floor, work the baseline and move his feet defensively.
He's athletic and inescapably big. His vertical extension—if not always his defensive positioning—makes it very difficult for opponents to attempt quality shots around the rim. His size alone creates problems on the block. Plenty of refinement is in order (Have you seen the man throw an outlet pass? Yeesh.), but Leonard provided a tremendous counterpoint to the equally impressive Lillard.
Charles Garcia, Phoenix Suns
Charles Garcia is likely to be forever plagued by simply being a profoundly weird player. He's an athletic big man without the strength to really fight for position inside. He's a face-up threat that isn't an entirely reliable jump shooter. He's a bundle of unrealized potential that many would find frustrating, and yet he can take most opposing bigs off the dribble with convincing fakes and a vicious first step.
He still hasn't figured out how to best utilize his own skills, and as a result too often falls into a jumper-happy rhythm that just isn't his game. If Garcia ever stumbles into an epiphany (or even works on his jumper to bring his overall game a greater reliability), he could prove to be quite a player. For now, he's likely more of a headache than he's worth for an NBA employer, destined to drift between the minor and foreign leagues until he figures a few things out.
Walker Russell Jr., New York Knicks
The fringe NBA player who shouldn't be, Walker Russell Jr. is a fully formed and very sturdy reserve player. He is underqualified to have full rein of an offense on a regular basis, and yet far too good to again spend most of his season in the D-League.
The free-agent market for playmakers and ball-handlers is woefully thin at present, but Russell could be a useful alternative for a team looking to add a solid backup that's a bit off the beaten path.