Will Cody Zeller raise eyebrows in Las Vegas?
The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League will feature a bevy of names that could one day be crucial NBA difference-makers.
What bold predictions can we make as these figures hit the hardwood? The venue provides teams with the ideal setting to gauge the status of rookies and potential newcomers.
Occasionally, a gem is found and he winds up cracking an NBA roster. Frequently, a rookie underperforms and his role in his first campaign takes an early blow. These developments and more will surely transpire as the NBA bus heads to Las Vegas.
What will the storylines be in the next couple of weeks? Who will spark buzz amongst general managers, coaches, scouts and fans? Who will leave their respective teams second-guessing their recent draft?
The following predictions highlight some likely answers to such questions.
Note: Only teams and players active in Las Vegas were considered for the purposes of this slideshow.
Somewhat surprisingly, Iman Shumpert will be suiting up for the New York Knicks' summer league squad.
Shumpert has already proven himself as a quality contributor, so the need for a summer league showing is a bit startling.
However, he only played 45 games in 2012-13 after returning from a torn ACL which he suffered in the 2012 playoffs. The extra repetitions that Shumpert will gain in Las Vegas should serve him greatly as he anticipates a breakout upcoming season.
Shumpert will be one of the top veterans in Las Vegas. He will likely be near the top of the charts in scoring, and he should fill up other areas of the stat sheet as well. It has been noted that he intends to work on his point guard skills over the summer, so expect an eye-opening assist tally.
Shumpert's smooth all-around play in the next week or so could land him a more featured role with the Knickerbockers come the regular season. If his long-range ball continues its ascent (40.2 percent last campaign) and he showcases improved ball-handling, then he could be carving a niche in the Knicks rotation that nets him 30-plus minutes per game in 2013-14.
No matter how much Shumpert furthers his involvement in New York's attack come the fall, you can certainly expect him to be one the best players in Vegas. Look for some rather impressive stat lines.
For the second straight year, the Portland Trail Blazers drafted a small-school guard with high hopes.
Last summer, they nabbed Damian Lillard, and he surely didn't disappoint. In his rookie venture, he tallied 19.0 points and 6.5 assists per game en route to the Rookie of the Year award.
Can C.J. McCollum follow in his teammate's footsteps?
The summer league will likely give us indication that he can. McCollum is a high-volume scorer who can pour it in off the dribble or from long distance. He averaged 21.3 points per game for his career with Lehigh, which included 37.7 percent from deep. (He also hit an astonishing 51.6 percent from three in a 12-game 2012-13 season shortened by injury.)
College basketball fans certainly remember when Lehigh shocked Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament. In that game, McCollum torched the Blue Devils for 30 points.
McCollum proved his worth at the collegiate level, and like Lillard, he'll continue to declare his value as a professional. This will begin in the next couple weeks, as McCollum figures to log hefty minutes in Vegas and have ample opportunities offensively.
It will come as no surprise if McCollum instantly becomes one of the hot topics in Vegas, perhaps even becoming a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Despite averaging a near-double-double (and racking up loads of blocks) on Louisville's national championship team, Gorgui Dieng slipped to the No. 21 slot in the 2013 NBA draft. He is already 23 years old, so some potential suitors may have viewed him as an old rookie.
The summer league should reveal that Dieng is as NBA-ready as any big man selected. His age and physical maturity should enable him to produce effectively from the outset.
It won't be shocking to see him to compile double-digit averages in both points and rebounds while also collecting blocks at an eye-popping rate. This should secure him regular minutes in the Minnesota Timberwolves' game plan come 2013-14.
The Timberwolves hope he can become an ideal complement to superstar Kevin Love. Love is an offensive-minded power forward who is also aggressive on the boards, but he plays average defense and his shot-blocking is subpar. Dieng, while limited offensively, is a stellar rim protector and defender.
Quite frankly, Dieng's summer league play will likely leave some general managers wondering why they passed on him. Yes, he may be an aged rookie, but his potential is already evident.
His versatility will be on display in Vegas, and it could leave many speculating if Dieng is the 2013 draft's biggest steal.
Shabazz Muhammad has been a hyped NBA prospect for years now, but questions concerning both off-the-court issues and on-the-court mentality hurt his stock. This is why he slid to the No. 14 selection.
Muhammad's potential is through the roof. There's no doubt about that. He has "the next James Harden" written all over him.
Unfortunately, it's more likely that he'll follow players who haven't reached their ceiling, such as Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo. Muhammad doesn't appear to have the mental drive of a future stud; it's more likely that he'll become a decent scorer who lacks efficiency.
This should be apparent in Vegas, where Muhammad will likely be trigger happy and rather inaccurate. He could still notch 15 or so points per outing, but his shooting percentage will likely hover at or below 35 percent.
Muhammad has many skeptics to prove wrong, but if that's going to happen, it starts with an attitude adjustment. It's doubtful this mental tweak is made in the confines of the summer league, where ill-advised shots are at a premium. Expect Muhammad to be right in the thick of this inefficiency.
Ben McLemore's athleticism and sky-high potential established him as a possible No. 1 overall selection. It was likely that he'd at least fall in the top five. He ended up slipping to the seventh pick, where the Sacramento Kings gladly snagged him.
At times, McLemore didn't appear to assert himself at the college level, and that raised doubts of him really developing into a bona fide NBA superstar. However, these are rather invalid worries when considering McLemore's college situation.
He was playing for a top-ranked Kansas squad that featured several experienced seniors. Frankly, he would've been foolish if he attempted to run the show and neglect such proven players. He actually revealed maturity by establishing his niche as their lethal freshman.
What's more, his statistics emphasize that he must not have been overly passive: 15.9 points (49.5 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free-throw line) and 5.2 rebounds per outing.
A stat line like that magnifies why McLemore could very easily become the most potent player in this draft.
Expect some compelling performances from him in the next couple weeks. By the time the NBA train leaves Vegas, he could have every general manager convinced that he should've been a top-three pick (and maybe even the No. 1 overall selection).
Ricky Ledo is the mystery pick of the 2013 draft. He's ripe with intrigue, and the Dallas Mavericks are surely hopeful that he could be a rare second-round steal.
Ledo carries a host of character concerns, but his talent has never been questioned. His troubled past is what scared teams away, heightened by the fact that he didn't play a game for Providence because he failed to meet academic standards.
On the court, he is a smooth playmaker with a nice jump shot and ball-handling abilities (evidenced by the attached video). His offensive prowess is downright scary. He once dominated the high school scene and was near the top of Rivals.com's Prospect Rankings.
Ledo could end up being the ultimate steal of the draft, considering that he fell to the 43rd overall selection.
He faces an uphill climb, but the summer league is the perfect stage for him to begin making a statement. The play is often undisciplined, and offensive-minded guards typically rule the court.
Ledo should fit right in and leave the NBA spectrum firmly aware of who he is.
Austin Rivers labored through his rookie season with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). He averaged just 6.2 points per game and shot a measly 37.2 percent from the field.
His future outlook just took a major hit, too. With the Pelicans welcoming Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans (and still possessing Eric Gordon), it doesn't appear that many backcourt minutes will be available. Rivers will have his work cut out for him if he wants steady playing time.
This means he must compile an exceptional jumble of games in Vegas. He must be the Pelicans' primary threat and scoring option. Assuming he embraces this role, he should find himself launching 20-plus shots an outing and netting 20-plus points in these contests.
It's likely that he'll attain this level of production as he approaches his second season. Furthermore, he'll surely recognize what's at stake. If he doesn't exhibit some riveting displays of talent, then he'll find himself riding the pine in New Orleans and perhaps soon requesting a change of scenery.
This should serve as motivation as he takes the floor in Vegas. He should view himself as the best player on the court each game. If he plays like this, then the Pelicans will have a logjam of young talent in their backcourt and Rivers' progression could eventually lead to Gordon's farewell via trade.
When it comes to Cody Zeller's NBA outlook, there is significant upside. He understands the game incredibly well for a man of his size, and he can be used as either a power forward or center.
However, while Zeller did much right in his two collegiate seasons, he often struggled when pitted against elite athletes. This was on display in Indiana's NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse, when the athleticism of Cuse's big men frustrated Zeller mightily (he finished 3-of-10 from the field).
Because of this, it will be a major challenge for him to adapt to the NBA's playing style. It could at least take time, and he may have to enhance his finesse game before he becomes a competent contributor.
The summer league should pinpoint these weaknesses in Zeller's arsenal, such as his needs for strength and the ability to absorb contact and still finish.
What's more, since the Bobcats are apparently seeking to utilize him to stretch defenses, his lack of a consistent mid-range jumper could also become an issue. Rarely did he hoist such looks for the Hoosiers.
Zeller will probably face some irritation in the coming days, as well as a few "welcome to the NBA" moments.
With all this said, this won't mean that he is on the road to being a bust. His mental framework should make him an adequate big man in the league for years, but he'll need time to develop. Zeller is more of a project at this point than some realize, and his performance in Vegas will make that clear.
Otto Porter will be the highest draft pick playing in Las Vegas (Anthony Bennett is injured; Victor Oladipo is playing in Orlando). As the heralded rookie, Porter should seize the moment.
Porter's versatility should not only stir the summer league crowd; it should also garner him respect on ESPN's top plays. Porter figures to record a few thunderous slams in Vegas, so stay tuned for the highlight reel.
Porter's athletic abilities create images of him running the break with ultra-quick point guard John Wall once next season hits. Furthermore, Porter's jump shot has progressed and expanded (42.2 percent from three-point range last season with Georgetown), so Wall can soon find Porter in an assortment of ways.
These two top-notch athletes, along with emerging shooter Bradley Beal, could soon become one of the league's top backcourts. If these three stay together, they will be dynamic when they hit their mid-20s.
Porter's game certainly requires some refinement, but his repertoire already features the kind of playmaking that will regularly appear in the highlights.
Get to know Porter's name. You'll be seeing it on SportsCenter soon, and in a few years you'll likely see him sporting an Eastern Conference All-Star jersey.
The Miami Heat are the only team choosing to participate in both locations (Orlando, Las Vegas) of the summer league.
They clearly have an agenda for the summer league. They're strategically analyzing their talent and hoping for a surprise who can soon become a fixture in their second unit.
Don't count on this happening.
While they have received some decent performances in Orlando from James Ennis and Jarvis Varnado, it's unlikely that these individuals soon find themselves cracking coach Erik Spoelstra's regular-season rotation.
Ennis, in particular, is a wing, and the Heat really don't need his efforts amid their talented backcourt. Therefore, Ennis should hope for a roster spot at best.
What the Heat dream of finding is a serviceable frontcourt weapon. Varnado could be a piece worth keeping, as his blocked-shot tally has been noteworthy in Orlando. If he continues this in Vegas, he could be stashed as an insurance big man.
Ultimately, summer league success isn't indicative of NBA production. These players have played adequately, but the regular-season level of play contains a completely different learning curve. Such youngsters have a long way to go before taking their impressions to the regular season.
In the end, the Heat will scrutinize their summer league members much, but they'll likely come up empty in their quest for a summer league prize.