We've seen plenty of players shine in the NBA Summer League throughout the years only to get exposed in the regular season.
So, instead of focusing on numbers, which can be had against lower-level competition, it's important to evaluate players on the strides they have made. It can make for a better projection of a player.
Several players have posted big numbers this summer in Las Vegas, but a few of them appear to be on the brink of taking that next step.
Whether it's a center from Lithuania or a swingman known for his celebrations off the bench, here are the top performers in the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League that I expect to pick up where they left off when the regular season comes around.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors
Jonas Valanciunas averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor in four games this summer.
But it wasn't just this summer. After the All-Star break last season, Valanciunas shot 59 percent from the floor and 83 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 1.4 blocks per game.
Perhaps more importantly, Valanciunas looked bigger, stronger and more physically imposing this summer, as Zach Harper of CBSSports.com noted. He slammed home some rim-rattling dunks, showing some toughness to his game in the process.
Zach Lowe of Grantland.com tweeted during the Raptors' convincing 95-78 victory over the Denver Nuggets:
It was widely noted that the 21-year-old center needed to add strength when he was selected No. 5 overall in the 2011 draft by the Raptors. It appears Valanciunas has taken that to heart.
Expect a big 2013-14 campaign from the Lithuanian.
John Henson, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
John Henson, the No. 14 pick in the 2012 draft, averaged 14.7 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in three games this summer. Considering he registered a PER of 18.3 in his rookie campaign last season, those numbers could be pointing to a breakout year for the North Carolina product.
Henson—valued in the draft given his length, athleticism and blocking ability—has transitioned rather nicely to the NBA so far. He still has work to do, but he's already shown that he can be an impact player on both sides of the floor.
The Bucks may have lucked out landing Henson in the middle of the first round in 2012.
Kent Bazemore, G/F, Golden State Warriors
Kent Bazemore showed that he could defend last season with the Warriors.
Now, he's showing he can score too.
Headed into Monday's Summer League championship game against the Phoenix Suns, Bazemore has averaged 18.5 points, 4.7 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals in six games this summer. In the process, he's shown off an improved jumper while posterizing several players at the rim.
Bazemore talked about his jump shot, per Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:
Biggest hole is my jump shot. I can run and jump and rebound with the best of them, but I was a liability on the offensive end. We reconstructed my entire jumper. I got a shorter, quicker release. I mean, I got a 6-11-and-a-half wingspan. So, instead of bringing the ball down and all the way up to extend those long arms, I catch it up already and it’s like a shorter stroke, which has improved my jump shot vastly.
Bazemore is shooting 44 percent this summer. He certainly has exhibited the confidence to shoot in the face of a defender. If he can continue to improve his shot, he figures to have a long career in the NBA.
Because Golden State's roster is so stacked right now, Bazemore may not get much more playing time in 2013-14, but he showed last season that he could be a valuable bench contributor and the fact that the Warriors have been playing him at point guard in Vegas may open up more floor time for him.
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