NBA Summer League 2012: Sorting Through Rookie Performances from Las Vegas

Zach HarperContributor IIIJuly 23, 2012

Damian Lillard dunks on Keith Benson during Summer League in Las Vegas
Damian Lillard dunks on Keith Benson during Summer League in Las VegasJayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

How do you judge the summer league season?

We’re often so thirsty for young players (rookies, second-year pros) to set the league on fire with their talent and athleticism that we’ll instantly latch onto the simplest of highlights, good games or good weeks during a stretch of basic basketball games.

This isn’t me trying to discount the importance of summer league. Summer league is a time in which players are trying to get noticed, coaches are trying to get seasoned, executives are trying to get familiar and veterans are trying to work on improvements in their games.

The thing that makes this a cloudy endeavor is that the talent level, speed and athleticism of these games aren’t anywhere close to the degree we’ll see during the regular season.

The sets on offense and the schemes on defense (outside of Charlotte’s press) are pretty basic. Unless they’re facing Vinny Del Negro’s teams on a night Chris Paul takes a rest, when are they ever going to face NBA basketball this elementary again?

Personally, I try to enjoy the spectacular play for the brief moment it takes place, attempt to mentally log the movements and reactions for how plays happen with each player and hope to use it when the games get more complicated to see just how much their summer league success/failure translates to actual NBA play.

Based on this process, here are some reactions to guys we saw during the past 10 days.


Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers

While people seem to be trying to compare Lillard to Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or even Stephen Curry, the Blazers’ rookie point guard kept making me think of Kyrie Irving whenever he was in the game.

He’s not quite as smooth and effortless as what Irving showed in his rookie campaign, but he seemed to wiggle his way into the paint at will just like the 2012 Rookie of the Year did.

Lillard’s balance around the basket was the most impressive thing I saw from him all week. No matter what angle he attacked from, he was always in control when he released his shots around the rim. I’m interested to see if he can do that when the bright lights are on. 

Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets

I really want to like Jeremy Lamb’s game, but something about the way he attacked left me feeling uneasy about his future.

When he’s moving off the ball and spotting up to shoot, he looks like a potential All-Star. But when he was attacking off the dribble, his ball-handling looked a bit sloppy.

There’s a lot of unnecessary noise in his movements when he’s trying to shake a defender, and I don’t see how that wasted movement works against better defenders.

His 3:1 turnover-to-assist ratio was also disheartening. Isn’t that supposed to be the other way around?  


John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks

Every year, we get one guy where everybody asks how he slipped so far down the draft. Even though John Henson was taken in the lottery at 14, I get the feeling we’ll be wondering why he wasn’t taken much higher.

Seeing him on defense is like watching a human chain protest group defend the halfcourt. He’s simply everywhere. His absurd wingspan allows him to contest on the perimeter, recover perfectly on pick-and-rolls and challenge shots inside.

He’s also fantastic on the offensive boards and showed good passing and shooting skills that should translate well.  


Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies

I don’t know if this is a compliment or a criticism, but I think we just found the next J.R. Smith. He’s capable of suffocating offense, both for and against his team. 


Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

MKG is simply a Ginsu knife. He cuts up your offensive sets on defense with his intense pressure and slices through your defense with his ability to get to the basket. It was only one game, but seeing how relentless he was made him look like some kind of human buzzsaw.  


Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

I know the Warriors drafted Barnes to help out with scoring from the wing position, but they may have found a defensive gem in the process. He has a fantastic base defensively and showed good fundamentals with help defense, contesting shots with his strength against players of all sizes.

Who made impressions on you from the Las Vegas summer league?