Biggest Surprises from the First Week of Las Vegas NBA Summer League

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 20, 2013

Biggest Surprises from the First Week of Las Vegas NBA Summer League

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    The 22-team field at the Las Vegas Summer League will be whittled to just eight by Friday night's end. Come Monday, only two teams will be left to battle it out for the right to be crowned kings of Sin City.

    It feels like the hoops world has barely had a glimpse of the 2013 talent influx and the hordes of roster hopefuls who make up these rosters. Yet the NBA's (diminishing) hibernation period is just around the corner.

    It's tough to attach any true meaning to these stat sheets, and harder to still to accurately predict how they'll translate to the big stage with such a small sample size.

    But this whirlwind tournament has already spun a number of yarns for basketball junkies to digest.

    A lot of these outcomes were predictable.

    Dion Waiters, Jonas Valanciunas and John Henson each had productive rookie seasons, so it's no surprise that they don't look like they belong in these games. Malcolm Thomas performed like an NBA player last summer, so it's no wonder that he appears deserving of a roster spot once again. And with C.J. McCollum being tabbed as the Damian Lillard of this round of rookies, who's shocked to see him pacing all of Sin City's scorers?

    Not all of what we've witnessed was foreshadowed, though. Not without the aid of a magnifying glass, at least.

    Read on to find out all of the biggest surprises from the first week of Las Vegas Summer League action.

Charlotte's Alpha Male

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    The rebuilding Charlotte Bobcats needed a guy like Jeffery Taylor.

    The 6'7" swingman from Vanderbilt does just about everything well. He is a hustler and a glue guy, the type of player who does all of the little things that don't always show up in the box score.

    Since kicking off his 2013 summer-league season on July 12, though, not only is he filling the stat sheet, but he's doing it in a way that might erase of all of his previous projections.

    Taylor, who averaged a predictably quiet 6.1 points per game in his rookie season, has poured in an eye-opening 20.3 a night this summer.

    That number's not impacted by variances, either. It's been just the opposite—he's the model of consistency right now.

    There's only a six-point swing between his highest-scoring game (24) and his lowest (18). He's yet to fire off more than 17 field-goal attempts, nor has he attempted fewer than 13.

    The 3-1 Bobcats boast one of the most talented rosters in Las Vegas, and Taylor has resoundingly emerged as the group's unquestioned leader.

    So much for that unassuming, jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none talk.

Dwight Buycks' Transformation

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    Dwight Buycks' basketball story is hardly unique on the summer-league circuit. Well, the first chapter of his tale at least.

    Undrafted out of Marquette, his professional career started with the D-League's Tulsa 66ers. He's since suited up for teams in Belgium and France, all the while working toward his ultimate goal of securing a spot on an NBA roster.

    Thanks to a prolific summer showing that started with the Oklahoma City Thunder in Orlando and shifted to the Toronto Raptors in Las Vegas, his hard work has officially been rewarded.

    The Raptors announced on Tuesday that they have signed the versatile point guard.

    Fully grasping the fact that this isn't the end of his journey, but only the beginning, Buycks responded with 18 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in Toronto's 95-78 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

    He might have entered the summer as an NBA afterthought, but he's leaving Las Vegas with the chance to serve as Kyle Lowry's primary backup.

Jack Cooley's First-Team Threat

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    Jack Cooley seemed like a player best suited for the college ranks.

    Standing 6'9" and tipping the scales at 246 pounds, he didn't have the size of a traditional post player nor the athleticism of the league's trendy stretch forwards. The prospect of Cooley joining the NBA ranks appeared to be a long shot at best, and life in the D-League or overseas looked like his best chance to continue his basketball career.

    While he hasn't been fortunate enough to ink his own guaranteed contract, he's certainly forced his way into scouts' conversations.

    Through his first five games, he's averaging 15.4 points (on 54.8-percent shooting) and 9.6 rebounds. He may never find his way onto the real Memphis Grizzlies roster, but his bruising style and relentless motor would blend perfectly with the team's grit-and-grind mentality.

    For all of the analytical tools at our disposal nowadays, there's still no great way to quantify a player's heart. Cooley's polished, physical play should be a reminder to everyone that what he may lack in athletic ability, Cooley makes up for in toughness and mental aptitude.

Tony Wroten's Atrocious Shooting, Even by Tony Wroten's Standards

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    Tony Wroten isn't the first point guard without a jump shot. Rajon Rondo hasn't needed one to build his All-Star career.

    But a big part of enjoying a prolonged stay in the league is identifying your weaknesses as a player and finding ways to keep those flaws from hurting the team.

    I'm not convinced Wroten has learned that lesson just yet.

    Despite his woeful .260/.172/.605 summer shooting slash, he's jacked fewer than 14 shots just once in five games. When you've never been mistaken as a knockdown shooter, you're probably best avoiding the shoot-yourself-out-of-a-slump strategy.

    Not only has Wroten been doing his best (or worst) spark-plug impersonation—all while serving as the team's starting point guard, mind you—but he's somehow convinced himself that he has three-point range. I guess he must have been oblivious to the 25.0-percent success rate (or 75.0-percent failure rate, depending on your perspective) from downtown that he posted as a rookie last season.

    If he's trying to show off the fruits of his gym work since the real season ended, he's only signed himself up for even more practice time. I'm not sure which way of displaying his three-point "shooting" looks worse, so I'll give you both—5-of-29, 17.2 percent.

    I'd like to give him some credit for staying aggressive, but even that's no longer the case. After making at least 11 trips to the free-throw line in his first three games, he's made just six return visits in his last two games combined.

    Ever heard of staying in your lane, Mr. Wroten?

Kent Bazemore Getting Offensive

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    You might have read this title and immediately conjured up thoughts of the most offensive sideline celebration Kent Bazemore could've dreamed up.

    Because after his first season in the league, most people knew Bazemore only as the best hype man in the business.

    The Golden State Warriors knew better than that.

    They studied his hoops resume and saw all of the defensive accolades (which included the 2011 Lefty Dreisell Award, given to the nation's top defender) he'd accumulated during four seasons at Old Dominion. When Bazemore, a 6'5" combo guard, redirected seven blocks during the team's fourth summer-league game last season, the Warriors knew they had something worth holding on to.

    But even Golden State may have to rewrite its book on Bazemore.

    No longer just a defensive presence, he's leading the undefeated Warriors in scoring (18.0 points per game) and assists (3.0) while sharing the top spot in rebounds (6.0) with 6'10" center Michael Eric.

    For fans anxious to see Bazemore back at his towel-waving best, let me be the first to warn you that you may be utterly disappointed next season. Well, unless the NBA decides to liven up its on-court entertainment.

Tournament Format Actually Makes a Difference

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    With so many of summer league's greatest contributions revolving around individual success, I'll admit I was more than a little skeptical about this new tournament format.

    When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets squared off in the Orlando Summer League championship game on July 12 with healthy heavy-hitters from both sides sitting out the contest, that skepticism only increased. 

    While I could understand the league wanting to generate interest and scouts' desires to see how these players performed with something on the line, I wasn't ready to buy into the idea of players putting their team's best interests ahead of their own.

    Like a poker player smelling that royal flush on the next deal, I'm ready to put my house up on this concept.

    Through two rounds of playoff games, we've already seen 11 of the 15 games decided by single digits. The Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks needed overtime to settle the score on Wednesday night. The top-seeded Golden State Warriors salvaged their mini season with a 17-2 run over the final 3:20 of their 79-76 win over the No. 16-seed Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

    These games mean something, and not only on paper. This format has brought out the competitive juices in all of these players, as they realize they're playing for more than just a roster spot.