NBA Summer League: Report Card for Every Standout Performer in Las Vegas

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

NBA Summer League: Report Card for Every Standout Performer in Las Vegas

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    The NBA summer league—much like every other aspect of the 2012 offseason—has given us plenty to digest.

    From rookies who exceeded expectations to NBA incumbents finally proving their worth to successful comebacks, this round of summer league basketball has had it all.

    And while the summer league is hardly a crystal ball that accurately predicts how its participants will fare next season, it is a tell-tale measuring stick that effectively gauges a player's potential. 

    So, which budding young athletes turned the most heads in the Las Vegas league, and what can we expect to see from them moving forward?

    I'm glad you asked.

John Henson, F Milwaukee Bucks

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 1.7 assists, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steals, 2.3 turnovers, 46.9 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Ball protection, face-up jumper and explosiveness. 

    Overall Grade: B+ 

    This summer, John Henson has shown time and time again that he has the potential to become a truly elite big man capable of making a prolific two-way impact.

    Henson's anticipation on the defensive end has been superb. He has been winning the battle for position under the basket on a consistent basis, and he demonstrated the ability to score from all areas of the floor.

    If the North Carolina graduate can limit his costly turnovers and become even more confident in his versatile offensive abilities, his transition into the regular season and Milwaukee's rotation will be as seamless as his transition into the summer league was. 

Damian Lillard, PG Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 0.5 steals, 3.8 turnovers, 43.8 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Perimeter defense, ball protection and decision making.

    Overall Grade: A- 

    There were plenty of people who wanted the Blazers to go big before they drafted a point guard, but Damian Lillard has already proven them wrong.

    The summer league's co-MVP has truly shined, putting up gaudy point totals and showing a willingness to run a structured offense and involve his teammates on a consistent basis. His defense up top—in terms of lateral quickness and coordination—has also been a bright spot for the rookie.

    However, while Lillard's summer league accolades have been impressive, he must continue to focus on protecting the ball and making smarter decisions, specifically on defense. Despite his improved defensive sets, he must learn to fight over screens and keep his blown assignments to a minimum.

    That said, after a productive summer, it's clear Lillard is on his way to stardom at the professional level.

Adam Morrison, SF Los Angeles Clippers

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 1.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 0.2 blocks, 0.0 steals, 1.5 turnovers, 53.7 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Defense, consistency and playmaking. 

    Overall Grade: B

    Adam Morrison would stand out for his unfortunate hair alone.

    Morrison's attempt to revive his career—or rather, actually begin a relevant career—is off to a fairly good start. The small forward drained shot after shot during his time in Las Vegas, turning heads with his point totals and improved efforts on the glass.

    That said, Morrison is doing exactly what he was brought into the league to do in the first place—score. At 28, he needs to show a willingness to defend and be more of a playmaker, which he has yet to do.

    Is there a place for Morrison in the NBA? This year, perhaps, but he's got plenty of work to do if he wishes to remain beyond this season. 

Klay Thompson, G Golden State Warriors

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 4.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, 4.5 turnovers, 51.9 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Ball protection and consistency 

    Overall Grade: A-

    In limited appearances, Klay Thompson shot the lights out.

    While we've always known Thompson could shoot, though, the multi-faceted impact he has made is nothing short of immaculate.

    The guard has shown a willingness to defend, rebound and distribute, in addition to an improved shot selection.

    Though Thompson has dominated during his time on the court, the small sample size leaves him with much to prove. He still has to limit his turnovers and manage to make this kind of impact on a consistent basis.

    And if he can do just that, the Warriors may have a superstar on their hands.

Jae Crowder, F Dallas Mavericks

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 1.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 2.0 steals, 1.6 turnovers, 41.7 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Shot selection, playmaking abilities and ball-handling.

    Overall Grade: B

    Jae Crowder has shown the Mavericks and the rest of the league that he belongs in the NBA.

    The essential tweener may be void of a true position, but his tenacity on defense and sharp shooting on offense should earn him an eventual spot in Dallas' reconstructed rotation.

    To ensure this further, though, it's all about mechanics for Crowder. He has to improve his ball-handling, ability to create for himself as well as others and shot selection, which negatively impacted his field-goal percentage.

    However, after he was plagued by a bounty of lukewarm sentiments coming in, Crowder's summer league display can be described as nothing less than a success. 

Jimmy Butler, G Chicago Bulls

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 2.0 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 0.8 steals, 1.8 turnovers, 43.1 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Dribble penetration and confidence. 

    Overall Grade: A-

    Not much has gone right for the Bulls as of late, but the team has to be impressed by what Jimmy Butler did in Las Vegas.

    Butler took his offensive game to the next level, creating for himself as opposed to predominantly being an off-ball threat. His rebounding and defensive anticipation also remained as strong as ever.

    Though Butler rarely misses a beat defensively—he's a great on-ball defender and also adept at clogging the passing lanes—offense has been a bit of an issue. He must continue to attack the rim and develop the confidence necessary to do so on a consistent basis.

    Chicago's rotation is wide open until Derrick Rose returns, rendering this the most opportune time to prove himself. And while he's off to a great start, complacency is his enemy from here on out. 

Markieff Morris, F Phoenix Suns

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 2.0 assists, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 0.8 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 41.5 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Post game, shot selection and passing. 

    Overall Grade: B+

    Markieff Morris has made great strides toward refining his offensive game this summer.

    Though Morris has already established himself as a fundamentally sound defender, his potential on the offensive end is only just beginning to be fully realized.

    Not only can the forward stretch the floor by hitting the outside shot, but he's showed the ability to face up his defender and finish strong at the rim.

    That said, Morris must ensure he is quicker to pass out of double-teams, take higher-percentage shots—his field-goal percentage says it all—and continue to develop a low-post game.

    Once he can do all that on a consistent basis, he will be able to establish himself as one of the most versatile scorers in the NBA.

Will Barton, G Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 2.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 1.0 steals, 1.2 turnovers, 44.4 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Distribution, strength and dribble penetration 

    Overall Grade: B

    Will Barton was a steal for the Blazers in the second round.

    Barton has not only showcased his incredibly pure, mechanically sound jump shot, but he's also shown the ability to get to the rim—despite his size—and protect the rock in doing so.

    Like it or not though, Barton cannot bank on receiving minutes as an undersized 2-guard. He must improve court awareness and begin to create for his teammates, not just himself.

    He's already begun to work on attacking the basket consistently, and he now must parlay those sets into drive-and-kicks for his teammates.

    And if he does, he and Damian Lillard could eventually form one of the best one-two point guard punches in the league.

Terrence Jones, F Houston Rockets

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 1.4 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 0.2 steals, 1.0 turnovers, 50.0 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Motor, consistency and interior defense 

    Overall Grade: B+

    The Rockets may be fools for decimating their roster in hopes of renting Dwight Howard, but drafting Terrence Jones was anything but foolish.

    Jones was a stud during his summer league appearances, showcasing both his scoring and rebounding abilities to their fullest extent. 

    At 6'9", however, Jones will be asked to man both forward spots. While his ball-handing, jump-shooting and facilitating abilities rival that of any small forward in his rookie class, he must refine his low-post skills—both offensively and defensively—so he can be effective at the 4 as well.

    Consistency and will are also an issue. Jones still needs to prove he can play at a high level on a nightly basis or risk seeing the minutes he's guaranteed significantly diminish.

    So, while the potential is there, it's unclear if Jones is prepared to meet it.

Josh Akognon, G Sacramento Kings

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 0.7 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, 1.0 turnovers, 55.5 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Court vision and selflessness. 

    Overall Grade: B+

    Josh Akognon can score. Like, really score.

    Despite standing at just 5'11", Akognon has taken the summer league by storm by putting up gaudy point totals in a modest amount of playing time.

    However, when you're severely undersized, you have to do more than score. While Akognon has quick hands on the defensive side of the ball, he takes far too many risks, and he's not nearly the distributor he must be on the offensive end.

    Akognon is an NBA-caliber scorer, but for the sake of his career, he has to develop into a deft passer, or he's liable to spend an ample amount of time watching from the sidelines.

Tobias Harris, F Milwaukee Bucks

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 21.5 points, 1.8 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 0.5 steals, 3.8 turnovers, 52.9 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Ball protection, explosiveness and weak-side offense

    Overall Grade: B+

    Tobias Harris lit it up in Las Vegas.

    The Bucks forward boasted a newly refined mid- and long-range offensive game while managing to establish strong position on both ends of the floor despite his lanky frame.

    For Harris to make a difference in Milwaukee, though, he has to channel his killer instinct. That entails finishing stronger at the rim and being more aggressive when attempting to block shots, among other things. He also tends to favor his right side on offense, so he must figure out how to create for himself and score on the weak side as well.

    That said, Harris' lackluster rookie year appears to be completely behind him. He's poised to assume a more prominent role for the Bucks this upcoming season.

Josh Selby, PG Memphis Grizzlies

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    2012 Summer League Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 2.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 2.5 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 59.3 percent shooting

    Keys to Success Moving Forward: Ball-protection, playmaking abilities and confidence.

    Overall Grade: A-

    Pretty soon, the Grizzlies may have no need for Jerryd Bayless.

    Josh Selby earned himself co-MVP honors of the summer league with his dominant two-way performances throughout every game.

    The point guard not only led the league in scoring while shooting an eye-popping 59.3 percent from the field, but he also converted 70.3 percent of his three-point attempts and demonstrated Tony Allen-like toughness on the defensive end.

    For Selby to ensure he earns some serious burn this season in Memphis, though, he must find a way to create for his teammates and protect the ball. He also needs to have faith in himself—the kind that he exuded in Las Vegas.

    The competition only gets tougher for Selby moving forward, but his most recent string of performances has showed there's hope for him yet.