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 4 in Vegas.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors: On first glance, Ross may bear a troubling similarity to those of the classic volume shooter archetype; in a Summer League setting, the No. 8 pick in this summer's draft hasn't been shy about getting shots up, no matter the fact that better looks were almost certainly available.
But discretion can be learned and grown. What's much more difficult to instill are the raw defensive materials that Ross has at his disposal. Regardless of what becomes of his game on the offensive end, Ross already plays some particularly strong on-ball defense, and when working with the benefit of a practiced scheme, he should come to be one of the better up-and-coming defenders in the league. The length, footwork and instincts are all there, and with Dwane Casey's Raptors in the midst of a defensive rebirth, Ross should prove to be an invaluable part of Toronto's game-planning and defensive structure.
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: Ideally, Zeller would be playing out his Summer League run alongside Kyrie Irving, but a moment of frustration on Irving's part robbed the Cavs' recently drafted big man of the opportunity to develop chemistry with his playmaking counterpart. Disappointing though that may be, it hasn't stopped Zeller from making an immediate splash in Las Vegas.
The bits of offense are nice, but it's Zeller's activity level that sets him apart. He moves very well on the defensive end in this particular setting, and while the NBA regular season will make a different caliber of athletic opponent the new norm, Zeller seems more than capable of rotating, contesting and filling space. We're obviously not looking at a franchise center, but Zeller looks to be a longtime pro with consistent offensive and defensive utility.
Justin Dentmon, Dallas Mavericks: The reigning D-League MVP has looked solid while suiting up for the Dallas Mavericks' Summer League team, and with Aaron Brooks snatched off the free-agent market by the Sacramento Kings, Dentmon could function in a very similar capacity on a significantly smaller salary.
That comparison may not sound like much of a selling point, but realize that there is a place in the NBA for guards with certain scoring and ball-handling abilities. No one should ask Dentmon to usher in the next era of their organization, but he has real value as a reserve and change-of-pace rotation option. He's imperfect, sure, but all that he brings to the table shouldn't be overlooked because he stands a few inches shorter than some of his contemporaries and doesn't stylistically fit with a pure point guard expectation.
Daniel Orton, Toronto Raptors: After having played sparingly in the regular season and a bit in this year's Summer League, Orton has honestly shown little to suggest that he's capable of being of any value on an NBA stage—much less prove that he was worthy of a first-round selection in 2010. The Orlando Magic's need for center depth behind Dwight Howard and the nature of picking late in the first round may have at one point made Orton an acceptable gamble, but at this point, the 21-year-old isn't even a particularly convincing project.
Orton is tall, and by nature of that alone, he'll get plenty of chances to make an NBA roster. But there's a lot of work to be done in terms of his body, positioning and fundamental skill work before he should be regarded with any defined optimism.
Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks: Crowder is a positionally interesting case as a college big turned NBA wing, but it's that transition that in part allows Crowder to be a particularly excellent help defender. His rotations are as quick and effective as any player in Vegas, and while Crowder may be a work in progress on the offensive end, it's the defensive value, energy and complementary abilities that make him an immediate boon of a second-round pick. The Mavs may have drafted out of the chance to draft Zeller, but they appear to have found themselves a keeper.