Making it in the NBA takes more than a little luck. For unheralded players looking for a chance to succeed at basketball’s highest level, making an impression is no easy task.
That holds especially true for undrafted players competing against those who secured a contract following the NBA draft. Earning an NBA Summer League invite is the first step, but doing so doesn’t guarantee an NBA career will follow.
But the summer league is a tremendous opportunity for those players to prove that they belong. We’ll see many of those players in Las Vegas, and they'll all be hoping to do enough to keep their NBA dreams alive.
With the Las Vegas summer league schedule already under way, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of which players must excel to ensure they’ll be playing NBA basketball beyond July 22.
Let’s take a look at three players with a lot to prove in Las Vegas. Each of them hopes to earn an NBA roster spot and a chance to shine under the league’s bright lights.
Kenny Kadji, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
University of Miami power forward Kenny Kadji averaged 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in his two-year college career, but he’ll have to do a lot more than that in Las Vegas to earn a roster spot in a crowded Cleveland Cavaliers frontcourt.
The Cavs drafted UNLV forward Anthony Bennett—a player Kenny Roda of ESPN 850 WKNR reports will start at power forward this season—and already have a solid group of big men in place.
That group includes recently signed center Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and some young talent in Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller.
For Kadji to earn a roster spot, he’s going to have to prove he can provide something that group doesn’t already possess.
Kadji got an opportunity to do so in the team’s first summer league contest, but he didn’t make the most of his chance. The forward played 22 minutes and tallied just six points on 3-of-9 shooting, looking fairly unspectacular in every facet.
He’ll have more opportunities as the summer league progresses, but a few more performances like that and he’ll be looking for another chance to prove himself with a different team as the season approaches.
Brandon Davies, F, Los Angeles Clippers
BYU forward Brandon Davies does a lot of things well, but that versatility isn’t always a strong selling point for players fighting for an NBA roster spot.
It often takes a specialized skill set for a player to make an impact at the next level. Potential may play a role in an athlete being drafted, but undrafted prospects don’t have the luxury of having an NBA contract to fall back on.
At 6’10” and 240 pounds, Davies has good size for an NBA big man, but he doesn’t have the refined skill set to match. A bit of a tweener, he’ll have to prove to the Clippers that they can’t afford to let him go.
Unfortunately, Davies didn’t have much of an impact in his first NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas. Jarom Jordan of BYUTVSports.com tweeted his first stat line on Friday:
Davies has the defensive prowess to hold his own at the NBA level, but his offensive skills are far from refined. While Los Angeles doesn’t have a deep frontcourt rotation at the moment, it can afford to pass on the BYU product if he doesn’t do a little more to impress in the remainder of summer league play.
Eloy Vargas, F, New York Knicks
Perhaps the most likely player of these three to make an NBA roster this season, former Kentucky Wildcats forward Eloy Vargas has an opportunity to benefit from trying out for a team with a frontcourt devoid of much depth following some offseason moves.
The New York Knicks lost Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas to retirement, Chris Copeland to free agency and Marcus Camby to the Toronto Raptors in a trade. As quoted by Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com, Vargas feels they saw something in him other teams may have missed:
They saw something in me when I was there trying out that no other team saw. I’m just thankful to be part of this team in the summer league. This is why I work so hard to get to this level.
Vargas didn’t shine in his summer league debut, but he didn’t play poorly, either. With nine points and two rebounds in 19 minutes, he did enough to warrant a closer look.
Still, plenty of free-agent forwards are still on the market, many of whom have already proved themselves at the NBA level. If Vargas hopes to give the Knicks a reason to keep him on the roster going forward, he’ll have to show something extra that helps him stand out from the crowd.