Reviewing the Summer League Performance of the Top 10 NBA Draft Picks
The Las Vegas Summer League slate has finally come to an end, meaning that the NBA's dog days are officially upon us. But before we embark on a month-long venture of twiddling our thumbs in anticipation of training camp and the start of the preseason, it's worth a glance back to see how this year's top picks performed in their first semi-official NBA action:
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
When Team USA comes a-calling, Summer League commitments understandably tend to fly out the window.
Davis was activated from his status as an Olympic team alternate when Blake Griffin went down with injury, and while that's fantastic news for Davis' long-term prospects (the USA Basketball program has proven to reap considerable dividends for the players involved), it denied us an initial attempt to gauge how Davis might perform against NBA competition. Oh, bother.
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
MKG was the top pick to actually play in the Las Vegas Summer League, though he didn't make it through the Bobcats' full five-game run due to a sore left knee.
That said, Kidd-Gilchrist was incredibly effective when he did make it onto the court for Charlotte. If the Bobcats play their cards right, their No. 2 overall pick should be a valuable member of their team for a long time. There was a lot of debate about who Charlotte should/should not have selected in this slot, but after the initial returns, there are few nits to pick with Rich Cho's decision to take the Kentucky product.
Kidd-Gilchrist's instincts are sharp, he doesn't need the ball to be effective and he has a chance to be a part of every one of Charlotte's play actions—whether as a defender, a cutter, a spot ball-handler or, potentially, a shooter.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Summer League did wonders to dispel some of the myths about the limitations of Beal's game. He definitely has room for growth in terms of the precision of his execution, but Beal will begin his NBA career as a fairly versatile guard with the capacity to work both off the dribble and in the preferred Rip Hamilton/Reggie Miller mold of a streaking spot-up shooter. That's a tremendous package of skills in any context, but particularly so in that Beal's all-around game will allow him to work beautifully in tandem with John Wall.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Waiters may be in for a steeper learning curve than any of the other top-five picks, if only because his greatest asset as a player—his ability to bulldoze his way to the rim—can be so easily turned against him.
Speed and body control allowed Waiters to outmaneuver defenders on the college level, but with entire defenses reacting so much faster in the NBA, it seems safe to say that Waiters will be a bit of a turnover machine based solely on offensive fouls in the coming season.
Plus, Summer League may have left us with more questions than answers. The stint in Vegas was supposed to grant some insight as to how Waiters and Kyrie Irving might play off of one another, but that opportunity was derailed by Irving's brief moment of frustration and two months of repercussion. Considering how Waiters floated listlessly on the perimeter in Vegas when he didn't have the ball in his hands, his integration alongside Irving may not be totally seamless, and it should provide one of the more interesting subplots in Cleveland this season.
5. Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings
Robinson has the potential to be one of the best players in this draft class, but the Summer League setting allowed him to succumb to his vices too easily. On a team with more talent and more structure, it's likely that Robinson would fall in line and play a style that better suits his strengths. Yet on a Kings Summer League squad that featured Robinson as its hands-down best player, he was too often tempted into doing too much.
We know that Robinson is a big man with some perimeter tendencies, but his inner guard got the best of him with some flashy almost-assists and sloppily executed dribble moves. There's not much to be worried about with Robinson over the long term, but the nature of Summer League play didn't exactly bring out the best in him.
6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The newest Blazer proved to be the indisputable MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Lillard had eluded much of the basketball-loving world in playing his college ball at Weber State, but the versatile playmaker rocketed up draft boards and ultimately landed in Portland at No. 6 overall in the 2012 draft. His Summer League showing offered an immediate—if insubstantial—validation of that selection, as Lillard did work on and off the ball to fill up the box score and run the JV Blazers' offense.
Lillard's shooting made him an attractive prospect to begin with, but his passing is better than advertised, his ability to absorb contact is immediately impressive and the faultless transition from his left hand to right hand (and vice versa) make him quite a catch. It's risky to read too much into Summer League greatness, but at worst, Lillard begins his rookie season as a player to watch.
7. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Even after a run in Vegas, I'm not sure we know any more about Barnes now than we did a few weeks ago. Scoring remains his most easily accessible NBA skill, while everything else is a bit of a mystery.
He's unlikely to ever develop the kind of all-around game that tends to define wing players in the current era, but as a smooth shooter, a decent decision-maker and a potentially solid wing defender, he'll likely pan out as a solid value selection for the Warriors.
8. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Summer League settings can make it difficult to assess a player's individual defense, but Ross performed about as well on that end as a player could. He's active with his hands, but he doesn't rely on them to corral dribble penetration. His footwork is productive and efficient, as he slides laterally without wasting steps or space. He hedges well when need be, covers ground quickly and doesn't over-help.
Ross should kill in Dwane Casey's defensive system if given the opportunity, but considering Ross' offensive tendencies, playing time is hardly a given.
Ross isn't at all a destructive offensive player, but in Las Vegas, he was certainly a high-usage one. That could very well change once he falls into the pecking order of an NBA roster, but it could also be a basketball habit he—and the Raptors' coaching staff—have to work to break. Once he learns what kinds of routes to run off the ball and how to best accentuate what Toronto hopes to do offensively, Ross should fall in line as a skilled, useful player.
Until then, expect a bit of usage trial and error, as Ross feels his way into an optimal offensive role.
9. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
The term "project" has been applied frequently to Drummond, and it's not hard to see why. The Pistons' prospect center plays like a player still trying to understand his own body, untangling his limbs and feeling his way into best placement.
Committed instruction will do him a ton of good, and though it's tough to more fully evaluate Drummond given that the Pistons opted to participate in the more limited (and less talented) Orlando Summer League rather than make the trip out to Las Vegas, there's still plenty to be excited about.
We've practically been conditioned to expect all athletic center prospects to fail, but that doesn't make Drummond's potential any less tantalizing, or the idea of pairing him with Greg Monroe in a dream frontcourt any less intoxicating.
10. Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets
Rivers got his first trial run as the Hornets' "point guard of the future," out in Vegas, and the results were understandably mixed.
Given only what we've seen so far, it's hard to imagine Rivers ever widening his game enough to be a strong full-time playmaker; his good-for-an-off-guard passing may be overburdened in the role he's reportedly been asked to play for the Hornets, given that he hardly seems likely to be as efficient as some of the other players (Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy) who have thrived in that capacity. There's nothing definitive to offer about Rivers just yet, but his positional shift is tricky due to his skill set, and his performance at Summer League only confirmed that notion.
That shouldn't prevent him from becoming a solid pro, but he needs to work on widening his court vision on his drives to the rim and figuring out how to dribble penetrate without using his body as forfeit. The NBA season is long and relentless, and if Rivers isn't careful, he could wind up hurling himself into a major injury out of his well-intentioned desire to create off the dribble.
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