New Orleans Hornets: 5 Players Who Will Translate Summer League Success to NBA

Dave LeonardisContributor IIIJuly 24, 2012

New Orleans Hornets: 5 Players Who Will Translate Summer League Success to NBA

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    The NBA's summer league has always been a good opportunity for both highly touted draft picks and lesser-known youngsters to show off their skills.

    This summer, we've seen lottery picks like Portland's Damian Lillard and Sacramento's Thomas Robinson light it up in Las Vegas. Even former draft bust Adam Morrison had an impressive summer, averaging 20 points per game.

    The New Orleans Hornets are one of the youngest teams in the league and they are going to make noise in the future once the building blocks they have in place develop into proven stars. The first crop of young cornerstones are this year's rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers.

    Rivers used his time in the summer league to help make the transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard. The results were less than spectacular. In two games, Rivers averaged 10 points per game while the former Duke sharpshooter shot a paltry 12 percent from behind the arc.

    Davis, meanwhile, has been making his mark in a different summer league. The No. 1 overall pick was a late substitution for the Olympic basketball team and he's making the most of his limited playing time. In two games, Davis is averaging 10 points in a little over 11 minutes a game. He's also blocked four shots thus far.

    Davis and Rivers weren't the only Hornets players generating buzz this summer. Guard Brian Roberts had an impressive summer, averaging 13.8 points per game in five games. Forward Lance Thomas was excellent as well.

    Summer league success doesn't always translate to pro success. Former Nuggets lottery pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili was named the MVP of the summer league back in 2004 but never amounted to much in the NBA.

    However, there are a few New Orleans players who will fare better than Skita did when they get their chance in NBA games that matter.

    Here are five Hornets who will translate their summer league success into success in the NBA.

5. SF Darius Miller

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    Technically, Darius Miller didn't find his time in Las Vegas to be very successful.

    In five games, where he averaged a little over 18 minutes played, the former Kentucky forward averaged just 4.4 points per game. That's not exactly encouraging for the No. 46 overall pick.

    Still, I am not throwing in the towel on him yet.

    I think Miller has the skills to be a sufficient backup small forward in the NBA. While the scoring hasn't been there for Miller as of yet, he did make a defensive impact in his debut with three steals against Portland.

    Miller has good size at 6'7", 238 lbs and good athleticism. He could develop into a solid defender off the bench and eventually find his niche offensively. The Hornets don't have many natural small forwards on the roster beyond Miller and starter Al-Farouq Aminu, so the opportunity is there for Miller to get quality minutes as Aminu's backup.

    Miller will have to work on his shot from behind the arc. He's 0-of-6 this summer from three-point land and he shot just 33 percent from the field. He'll also need to use his size more to improve on the 2.4 rebounds per game he generated in Vegas.

    Miller's a work in progress, but that's typical of a mid-second-round pick. He's in a good position to develop on a young team without a lot of proven talent in New Orleans. He also has the experience of being a solid role player for three years on a very good Kentucky team, including last year's national champion.

    He has the tools to be a contributor for this team. It's just taken him some time to show the world what he's got.

4. F Denzel Bowles

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    Denzel Bowles slowed down a little after an impressive debut in Las Vegas, but he still showed flashes of being a decent NBA big man.

    In his first game this summer, Bowles dropped 18 points and 12 rebounds on Portland. He didn't score in double digits again or notch more than seven rebounds in a game. He still averaged 7.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while adding a little over a block a game.

    Bowles will have a tough time finding minutes on a Hornets team that already has Anthony Davis, Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson on the roster. It also doesn't help Bowles' cause that he's been outshone this summer by fellow young forward Lance Thomas.

    Still, Thomas is only 23 and, at the very least, he's proven that he's a good rebounder with the ability to put up some points in the paint. If he can't make it with New Orleans, he'd be a good addition for a team willing to take a flier on a young big man with potential to put up numbers on both ends of the court.

    The former James Madison forward has some steep competition in the Big Easy, but his debut against the Blazers showed he has some game. With the right opportunity, he could be a sleeper for a team that has the minutes to spare him.

3. SG Xavier Henry

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    I'm not ready to give up on Xavier Henry. With the departure of Jarrett Jack elevating either Greivis Vasquez or Austin Rivers into a starter's role, that opens up more playing time for the former lottery pick from Kansas.

    Henry made the most of his opportunity in Las Vegas. He scored in double digits in four of five games, including a 21-point performance in the finale against Golden State. For the summer, he averaged 12.2 points per game while also chipping in an average of 4.4 rebounds.

    The former Jayhawk has also found his shooting touch again. Henry nailed two of his three attempts from behind the arc and shot nearly 40 percent from the field. He had a couple good games on the boards, which is a nice bonus for a shooting guard.

    Henry is still only 21 and, with one less guard to take away his minutes now, this could be the year he finally breaks out and shows the potential that made him a lottery pick with the Grizzles a couple years ago.

    The three-point numbers might be a small sample but they are promising. If he can continue to show a consistent touch from deep, he can fill the role vacated by Marco Belinelli as the team's best shooter off the bench.

    Henry's still young and the Vegas numbers are promising. Memphis could end up regretting cutting the cord too soon, while the Hornets may have stumbled upon a steal by taking a chance on a kid finally ready to break out.

2. F Lance Thomas

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    Lance Thomas was the best player this summer for New Orleans. He averaged 14 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while playing more minutes than anyone on the team.

    His best game came on July 16th against Milwaukee, when he scored 22 points including going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. With former backup center Gustavo Ayon now in Orlando as a result of the Ryan Anderson trade, Thomas could slip into a spot as one of the primary big men off the bench.

    The former Duke forward played well in spurts last season for the Hornets, scoring in double digits three times down the stretch, including scoring 18 against Denver in February.

    At 6'8", Thomas is a little undersized for a power forward but that hasn't stopped him from being a factor on the boards. He doesn't block a lot of shots, but he could be a poor man's version of Anderson Varejao, providing energy and athleticism off the bench.

    If the coaching staff can help Thomas use his long arms and athleticism to be more of a factor on defense, he could end up being a solid upgrade over Ayon and end up as another nice find for a young Hornets team.

1. Austin Rivers

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    When Anthony Davis was chosen to play for Team USA in London, the Hornets' summer league team was supposed to be "The Austin Rivers Show."

    It never happened.

    Instead, Rivers struggled to find the shooting touch that made him a dynamic scorer at Duke. In his debut against Portland, Doc's son shot 3-for-13, including hitting 1-of-8 from behind the arc. He also turned the ball over four times in 32 minutes.

    In his next game, Rivers shot just 1-for-6 from the field but did manage to notch five assists to just two turnovers. The team shut him down for the rest of the summer due to lower leg soreness.

    The transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard has been just as rocky as the skeptics projected. In Rivers' defense, he's played just two games. However, the poor shooting numbers are a bit disappointing, especially with his fellow rookie guards filling it up elsewhere.

    Rivers still has a ways to go before the team can feel comfortable turning the keys to the offense over to him as the starting point guard. He did manage to improve on his assist-to-turnover ratio in his second game but he has to shoot better.

    It will be interesting to see how the former Blue Devil performs once he's reunited with fellow rookie Anthony Davis and the overall supporting cast improves around him. He might not have had the breakout performance many had hoped but he's still only 19.

    With some more experience running the point and some improvement in his shooting numbers, Rivers will be the star and franchise building block the team envisioned he'd be when they took him with the No. 10 overall pick.

    The future is still bright for Austin Rivers. The present just happened to be unexpectedly cloudy.