Grading Every NBA Team's Summer League Talent

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2012

Grading Every NBA Team's Summer League Talent

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    With the NBA's Summer League competition finally over, it's time for teams to assess how their young talent did in Las Vegas and Orlando.

    While summer league rosters are mostly filled with guys just hoping for a training camp invite, some teams choose July to get a first look at their top picks.

    Others use the league as an opportunity to work out former NBA players whose career has hit a wayward path in hopes of striking gold.

    And some teams simply fold up Summer League before it even begins.

    Regardless, here's a look at how each team's talent fared over the past few weeks in the NBA's Summer League.

Golden State Warriors (Summer League Record: 5-0)

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    Best Players: Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Charles Jenkins

    Talent Grade: B

    While Golden State's Summer League squad played together expertly, second-year guard Klay Thompson was the only player to excel in Las Vegas.

    And, let's be frank, second-year lottery picks should be cut if they struggle to compete against that level of competition.

    No. 7 pick Harrison Barnes showed flashes of brilliance, showing he belonged on an NBA court. But he shot just 39.5 percent and did little to dispel his inconsistency rap.

Charlotte Bobcats (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens

    Talent Grade: C

    Kidd-Gilchrist burst out for a 18-point, eight-rebound, five-assist, four-steal virtuoso performance in his only game in Vegas, but Walker's and Mullens' struggles are troubling.

    Entering his fourth year of NBA experience, it's laughable that Mullens shot just 38.5 percent from the floor while pulling down just 5.8 rebounds a game. Walker also showed no signs of improving his broken jump shot, shooting at just a 35.2 percent clip.

    We all know that Charlotte is going to be bad next season. But if the summer session was any indication...sheesh.

Dallas Mavericks (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Jae Crowder, Dominique Jones, Bernard James

    Talent Grade: A- 

    After being among the NBA's biggest losers in free agency, the Mavs could be among the Summer League's biggest winners.

    Forwards Crowder and James look like instant defensive sparks off the bench while 2010 first-round pick Dominique Jones may finally be rounding into form. Or he could be on the extensive list of Summer League anomalies. 

    But for right now, at least there's hope in Dallas.

Houston Rockets (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas

    Talent Grade: A

    With the abundance of young talent on Houston's roster, it should come as no shock that the Rockets sported unarguably the most talented team in Vegas.

    Lamb shelled out 20 a night on the offensive end and Jones flashed his all-around game, but it was Motiejunas who really shined.

    The Lithuanian forward, who was the No. 21 pick in the 2011 draft, scored 16.3 points per game on 62.2 percent shooting while not looming as a defensive liability.

    The level of competition will rise for Motijunas, but he's at least showed he's up to the NBA task thus far. 

Milwaukee Bucks (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Tobias Harris, John Henson, Doron Lamb

    Talent Grade: A-

    We all knew that Henson and (to an extent) Lamb would instantly dominate the lesser competition in Las Vegas.

    However, it's Harris who was Milwaukee's true revelation. Still just 20 years old, Harris has been a victim of poor circumstance since his days at Tennessee, and settling into one spot could be the elixir to his problems.

    The small forward tied for the fourth-best points-per-game average at 20.8 and shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the field. If Harris can build on his performance, he may carve a niche out in Scott Skiles' rotation next year.

Minnesota Timberwolves (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, Coby Karl

    Talent Grade: C

    Johnson showed flashes of what made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2010 in Vegas, scoring almost 20.5 points per night while throwing down some beautiful jams. The problem is...Johnson is 25 years old. He should dominate this competition.

    Williams, on the other hand, continued to struggle mightily. Last year's No. 2 pick shot just 35.1 percent from the field and looked lost at times.

    Not many good signs for Minnesota this summer.

Portland Trail Blazers (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Damian Lillard, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard

    Talent Grade: A

    Listen, you're not supposed to get hyped about summer league performances...but Lillard looked like a superstar in Las Vegas.

    The No. 6 pick led all players with 26.5 points to go along with 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds in Vegas. But what was more impressive than the points is that he got them by weaving in and out of defenders—some of which were even passable NBA defenders.

    Barton and Leonard playing at an above-average level was just icing on the cake.

Detroit Pistons (Summer League Record: 4-1)

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    Best Players: Austin Daye, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond

    Talent Grade: C

    Playing in the Orlando Summer League is essentially playing in the minor league of the minor league, so nearly every stat from there comes with a grain of salt.

    As such, the Pistons' grade is probably at least a step low because of the uninspiring brand of basketball their youngsters played.

Boston Celtics (Summer League Record: 6-4)

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    Best Players: E'Twaun Moore (traded to Rockets), Jared Sullinger, Dionte Christmas

    Talent Grade: F

    The Celtics shipped Moore, the team's best player in both leagues, to Houston as part of the Courtney Lee deal, so the team's performance looks even worse in retrospect.

    After a promising start in Orlando, Sullinger's game looked broken in Las Vegas. The former Buckeye shot just 30.2 percent, making him only valuable as a rebounder.

    And Christmas has very little shot at sticking with any NBA team, so his decent play is negligible. It's a good thing Boston's veterans are great because the youngsters certainly aren't.

Cleveland Cavaliers (Summer League Record: 3-2)

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    Best Players: Tyler Zeller, Samardo Samuels, Dion Waiters

    Talent Grade: C-

    While Zeller played every bit the part of his future self, fellow first-rounder Waiters had probably the worst performance of any lottery pick in Vegas.

    His 30.0 percent shooting performance was atrocious and he seemed willing to recklessly fire up shots, even when the weren't falling. 

    On the bright side, Samuels continued to show he belongs on an NBA bench. So there's that.

Miami Heat (Summer League Record: 3-2)

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    Best Players: Terrell Harris, Norris Cole, Drew Viney

    Talent Grade: D

    Summer league means less to the champions than any other NBA franchise, so the fact Norris Cole got some extended minutes is all bonus for Miami.

    For his part, Cole was thoroughly mediocre in those minutes. His 13.0 points, 4.8 assists and 40.0 shooting percentage are the very definition of "meh."

Washington Wizards (Summer League Record: 3-2)

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    Best Players: Bradley Beal, Chris Singleton, Shavlik Randolph

    Talent Grade: B

    If the Wizards' only goal was to see what they have in No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal, then the shooting guard answered most of their questions. His shooting percentage (41.8) still left something to be desired, but his overall scoring ability was there throughout his time in Vegas.

    Washington didn't have too much secondary talent in Vegas, but Singleton showed a marked improvement with his shot this summer after an abhorrent 37.1 percent performance last season.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Summer League Record: 3-2)

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    Best Players: Reggie Jackson, Lazar Haywood, Perry Jones III

    Talent Grade: C+

    Oklahoma City didn't get many answers from their first-round pick, Perry Jones III, who averaged the same pedestrian 12 points and six rebounds in Orlando that he did at Baylor. But it was the 1.5 blocks per game that Jones gave the Thunder Summer League squad that could raise some eyebrows.

    After always being a negligent collegiate defender, could Jones finally be committing to the other end of the floor? It's something to watch when Oklahoma City enters camp.

Utah Jazz (Summer League Record: 3-2)

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    Best Players: Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans

    Talent Grade: A-

    Utah's second-year center, Enes Kanter, led all Orlando summer leaguers with 8.8 rebounds and added an impressive 10.4 points per game as well.

    Regardless, it was show-stopper Alec Burks who stole the show. Not only was Burks Utah's best player, but he was almost always the best player on the floor, period. Only Indiana's Lance Stephenson scored more points in Orlando than Burks' 17.2 per game.

Atlanta Hawks (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: John Jenkins, Keith Benson, Mike Scott

    Talent Grade: B

    While neither Hawks' draft pick lit the world on fire during the Summer League session, both were brilliantly efficient in Vegas.

    Jenkins, a renowned shooter, dropped in at 50.3 percent, while Benson gave the Hawks 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds a night while draining more shots than he missed as well.

    Both should plug in nicely as Atlanta fills its roster with stopgaps in preparation for a strong free-agency push next summer.

Los Angeles Clippers (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Adam Morrison, Eric Bledsoe, Hilton Armstrong

    Talent Grade: B

    Say it with me three times, "Adam Morrison, Adam Morrison, ADAM MORRISON!"

    The former No. 3 overall pick isn't even technically back in the NBA yet, but it's already so much fun to have him in our lives again. The former Gonzaga star lit up the Vegas Summer League for 20 points per game on 55.1 percent shooting.

    If that's not good enough to secure a spot at the end of an NBA bench, nothing will be.

Memphis Grizzlies (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Josh Selby, Tony Wroten, Deon Thompson

    Talent Grade: A

    Selby's co-MVP brilliance alone makes Memphis one of the biggest winners of the Vegas Summer League.

    The former Kansas Jayhawk dropped 24.7 points per night on 55.7 percent shooting and played stellar defense, swiping the ball 2.4 times a game as well. The 2011 second-round pick could be starting to show flashes of what once made Selby the No. 1 recruit in the entire nation.

    Additionally, Wroten's 40.0 percent field-goal percentage won't make anyone write home, but it will help alleviate concerns that his jumper is completely broken.

Phoenix Suns (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker

    Talent Grade: B+

    The Suns' past two first-round picks excelled in the Summer League.

    Morris finished with nearly 20 points per night and his 9.8 rebounds a game were the second best of any player in Las Vegas.

    Marshall led all players in assists with 6.4 per game, but his 31.4 shooting percentage did little to alleviate concerns about his jumper. We all know Marshall is an elite passer, but the shot will need a marked improvement if he hopes to make a significant contribution as a rookie.

Sacramento Kings (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette, Josh Akognon

    Talent Grade: B-

    Jimmer filled up the buckets and Robinson beasted the boards, but both left a ton to be desired from the shooting accuracy department.

    Fredette's 18.0 points per night came on 35.8 percent shooting, and Robinson's 13.0 points came at a 34.4 percent clip.

    Obviously, this is more excusable for Robinson, a rookie who has a ton of other skills, than Fredette, a second-year guy whose only obvious skill is his outside shot.

    Amid rumors the team may want to shop Jimmer, the former BYU star did little to convince anyone why he should stick around.

San Antonio Spurs (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph, Eric Dawson

    Talent Grade: B

    This just in—Kawhi Leonard is really, really good. Leonard's two-game Summer League stint, where he dropped 25 points a night, did little other than prove he's bounds ahead of the Vegas competition.

    On the other hand, Joseph could carve out a niche in San Antonio's rotation if his Summer League performance is an indication of improvement. The 20-year-old point guard filled his Vegas stat sheet with a 17-5-5 nightly performance, all while showing a strong defensive commitment.

Toronto Raptors (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Ed Davis, Terrence Ross, Bobby Brown

    Talent Grade: B-

    Davis showed flashes of the potential that made Toronto take him No. 13 in 2010 in Vegas this summer, averaging 16.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per night.

    At just 23 years old, Davis could be finally coming into his own for the Raptors. The former North Carolina power forward has struggled to crack the starting lineup, a process that will be made more difficult by the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas.

    But if Davis keeps putting up those types of numbers, it could be difficult to keep him out for long.

Indiana Pacers (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Lance Stephenson, Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson

    Talent Grade: B+

    Stephenson was the star of the Orlando Summer League, scoring 19.8 points per game while shooting 52.6 percent from the field. The third-year star even showed a knack for distribution, doling out 4.6 assists a night as well.

    Plumlee, whose selection was derided by almost everyone, certainly didn't embarrass himself in Orlando. The former Duke Blue Devil was second on the team with 13.0 points, and he added 6.6 rebounds a night for good measure. It also doesn't hurt that he threw down a ferocious dunk or two as well.

Orlando Magic (Summer League Record: 2-3)

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    Best Players: Andrew Nicholson, Justin Harper, Maalik Wayns

    Talent Grade: C+

    There were no worlds lit on fire by anyone on the Magic's Summer League squad, but it wasn't an abject failure, either.

    The No. 19 overall pick, Andrew Nicholson, adapted to his first Summer League pretty well, averaging 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a night while showing off his elite mid-range jumper. Harper, a second-round draft choice in 2011, struggled mightily with his shot, but he still gave the team a stellar 12.2 points per game as well.

Chicago Bulls (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: Jimmy Butler, Malcolm Thomas, Marquis Teague

    Talent Grade: B-

    The Bulls' Summer League squad was a classic case of two players being absolutely brilliant but the rest of the teammates being abject failures.

    2011 first-round pick Jimmy Butler dropped 20.8 points per game and added a stellar 6.5 rebounds in his four contests, but he still struggled to find consistency from the outside.

    Speaking of struggling from the outside, point guard Marquis Teague shot an abysmal 29.4 percent from the field in Vegas and didn't look much better handling the rock.

    But it was Malcolm Thomas who could shine a light on the Bulls' Summer League woes. The former Arizona Wildcat led all players with 12.3 rebounds a game and was a defensive menace in all five games. After losing Omer Asik to free agency, the Bulls need to lock up Thomas long term before some other team swoops in.

Denver Nuggets (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: Jordan Hamilton, Kenneth Faried, Evan Fournier

    Talent Grade: B+

    With so many talented young players on their roster, a team like Denver should sweep in Vegas every year.

    But despite solid performances from all their top-tier young guns, the Nuggets could never find consistency on the scoreboard.

    Regardless, Summer League records are meaningless. What matters is that Hamilton, Faried and Fournier showed their prowess.

Los Angeles Lakers (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: Darius Morris, Christian Eyenga, Robert Sacre

    Talent Grade: F

    Summer League matters just as little to the Lakers as it does to the Miami Heat. All of the players L.A. sent to Vegas will be lucky to make a D-League squad, let alone the Lakers' roster. 

New Orleans Hornets (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: Austin Rivers, Lance Thomas, Bryan Roberts

    Talent Grade: D+

    With No. 1 pick Anthony Davis playing with Team USA this summer and No. 10 pick Austin Rivers only participating in two contests, the Hornets' Summer League felt incomplete at best.

    And since Lance Thomas was the team's best talent on the floor for most of its Vegas run, New Orleans is Exhibit A as to why you never take Summer League play too seriously.

Brooklyn Nets (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: MarShon Brooks, Tyshawn Taylor, Al Thornton

    Talent Grade: B+

    We already knew Brooks could ball at the NBA level, and Thornton is coming up on his 29th birthday, so the real focus here is on Taylor.

    And the second-round choice looked like nothing less than a steal for the Nets. The former Jayhawk displayed his renowned quickness and athleticism while dropping over 15 points per night in Orlando.

    Taylor should fit perfectly as a backup behind Deron Williams for the foreseeable future. Or at least until they use him as a trade chip for a star.

Philadelphia 76ers (Summer League Record: 1-4)

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    Best Players: Justin Holiday, Jacob Pullen, Clay Tucker

    Talent Grade: C-

    The Sixers sent a ragtag bunch of players over to Vegas, and it showed in the results. Former Kansas State point guard Jacob Pullen showed enough flashes to likely be invited to an NBA training camp, but little else can be taken from Orlando for Philly.

New York Knicks (Summer League Record: 0-5)

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    Best Players: Chris Copeland, Artsiom Parakhouski, James White

    Talent Grade: F

    There is quite literally nothing you can take from the Knicks' Summer League roster because New York will likely discard every member of its squad.

    Again, proof that while you can grade the Summer League, we'll never know how well teams are stocked until the games count.