The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League is often viewed as a platform for rookies and players from overseas to showcase their abilities and thus earn either additional playing time or a contract. The aspect of Summer League play that we seem to ignore, however, is that it presents second-year players with an opportunity to improve.
The question is, which second-year players set high expectations for their sophomore season after standout Summer League performances?
Certain players underwhelmed during their rookie season, performing at a level significantly lower than their draft position suggested. Others were strong but hadn't received the playing time to constitute the label of a future star.
One way or another, the following second-year players have elevated their level of expectations.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Pelicans
Summer League Averages: 33.0 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG
2012-13 Season Averages: 5.95 PER, 23.2 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG
Per an evaluation of the advanced metrics, New Orleans Pelicans scoring guard Austin Rivers experienced one of the worst rookie seasons in the history of professional basketball. He posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 5.95 and shot 37.2 percent from the field.
During the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League, Rivers went off for 18.2 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting.
With Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans holding down the starting spots, Rivers' job becomes easier in New Orleans. With that being said, he'll likely be tasked with backing up both Gordon and Holiday, continuing to build chemistry with Summer League teammate Brian Roberts.
Serving as the Pelicans' sixth man, Rivers will need to score at an efficient rate if he's to salvage his reputation.
Rivers certainly has the ability to be a high-quality NBA player, handling the ball and scoring as well as any second-year player. With that being said, Rivers has a tendency to dribble himself into double-teams, becoming too ball-dominant for his own good.
The Pelicans expect Rivers to round out their rotation as a third guard, specifically after this breakout performance, but if he's unable to serve that purpose, his immediate future in the NBA doesn't look bright.
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
Position: Power Forward
Summer League Averages: 28.6 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.97 PER, 15.1 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG
Thomas Robinson's rookie season re-defines the word "tumultuous," as he struggled to carve out playing time for both the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. It didn't take much time for the No. 5 overall draft choice in the 2012 NBA draft to find his third home in one calendar year when he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
In his first taste of action with the organization, Robinson averaged 10.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steal in 28.6 minutes of Summer League action.
The Trail Blazers are thin in the frontcourt, which suggests that Robinson will receive consistent playing time. With his ability to crash the boards established, it will now come down to the former Kansas star's ability to hone his low-post game and improve his defensive fundamentals.
Who better to help him achieve such than LaMarcus Aldridge?
Aldridge is the veteran presence that Robinson was unable to find in Houston or Sacramento. Not only is he an All-Star, but Aldridge has one of the most polished interior games in the NBA, which suggests Robinson will get a first-hand look at what it takes to dominate with his back to the basket during Portland practices.
Running the pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard and backing up Aldridge will be helpful, but if Robinson can't at least become a productive rebounder, his wild NBA ride will continue in a less-than-ideal manner.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Summer League Averages: 29.3 MPG, 18.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, .561 FG%
2012-13 Season Averages: 15.62 PER, 23.9 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG
After drafting him No. 5 overall in the 2011 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors had to wait a full season before seeing Jonas Valanciunas come over from Lithuania. Once he made it to the NBA, Valanciunas was strong on both ends, eventually being named to the All-Rookie second team.
Valanciunas has raised the bar by winning the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League MVP award.
Valanciunas finished the Summer League with averages of 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, shooting 56.1 percent from the field. He dominated the interior, working out of the post, running the pick-and-roll and aggressively attacking the offensive glass.
Known for his energy, Valanciunas finally channeled that non-stop motor and turned it into unstoppable production.
Valanciunas doesn't need to flirt with 20 and 10 in Toronto, but the Raptors made a significant commitment to him by trading Andrea Bargnani. Now, Valanciunas is the heart and soul of Toronto's interior, which puts him under a magnifying lens as the Raptors look to make the playoffs in 2013-14.
Expect Valanciunas to pass this upcoming test with flying colors.
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