Biggest Lessons We Learned from 2013 NBA Summer League
Summer league was filled with plenty of dunks, game-winning shots, turnovers, fast-paced action and takeaways that we can apply to the 2013-14 season.
Out of the many players competing in both Orlando and Las Vegas, there were a number who stood out, both in positive and negative fashion. For every player who completely dominated and looked like he was too good for this level of competition, there was another who failed to show up.
These are the 10 biggest lessons that we learned from the action, but there were plenty more. With only 10, we obviously can't focus on each of the teams that competed, nor can we hit all the standouts.
Feel free to leave your own takeaways in the comments section.
The "NBA-Ready" Tag Doesn't Apply
Each and every year, the "NBA-ready" tag is handed down to a couple of players whose games seem more conducive to an easy college-to-NBA transition.
This year, players like Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore and Trey Burke were given the designation and expected to be competitive from the first day of their professional careers. It worked for Oladipo, as he dominated the Orlando landscape with his suffocating defense and surprisingly efficient shot.
However, the same can't be said for the other three players.
McLemore and Burke just never found their outside strokes, and the rest of their games struggled in an unfortunate trickle-down effect. Porter also couldn't shoot, and he didn't get a chance for redemption because a hamstring injury knocked him out for the remainder of his stint on the Strip after just two games.
Quite simply, you can't expect even the NBA-ready prospects to dominate the lower level of competition at summer league. There's still an adjustment period, and the sample size is small enough that anything can happen.
Guards Are Going to Struggle
Summer league is not a good set of games for most guards.
Players, especially rookies, inevitably struggle with their shooting strokes, especially as they're typically playing with a longer three-point arc than they're accustomed to. Turnovers run rampant, and the fast-paced action doesn't leave much in the way of player development.
This leads to struggles like the ones experienced by Ben McLemore. Not only did he fail to hit jumpers with any semblance of consistency, but he also managed to have an undefined assist-to-turnover ratio. The Kansas product recorded 18 turnovers and a zero assists.
Is this to say that McLemore will be a terrible player? No, of course not.
That's really the point of this summer league lesson, as struggles from guards should be expected and taken with a grain of salt. The style of play and early adjustments simply aren't set up for the smaller players on the court to thrive.
Experienced Big Men Have It Easy
When a player knows how to put his back to the basket and go to work in the post, he can typically dominate the summer league competition. The same is true for big men who are just physically superior.
This year, three players stood out above the rest: Jonas Valanciunas, Andre Drummond and John Henson.
North Carolina product John Henson put up one heck of a stat line, averaging 14.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field. He completely controlled the paint on both ends of the court and left no doubt that he'd be earning a bigger role alongside Larry Sanders in the Milwaukee Bucks frontcourt.
Drummond's 15.5 points and 14.8 rebounds were even more impressive, and it was clear from the first game of the summer that he in no way belonged in this setting.
As for Valanciunas, he turned 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game into an MVP trophy in Las Vegas. No big deal.
This trio proved that the experienced post players have it easier than the rest of the guys trying to impress their teams. Expect big things from all three during the actual 2013-14 campaign.
Danny Ferry Has Changed the Culture in Atlanta
The Atlanta Hawks actually have a long-term plan.
That's a sentence that hasn't applied to the mid-level franchise for a long time now, but Danny Ferry has ensured that there's direction for this organization. The young players are starting to look good, and that bodes well for the future.
Lucas Nogueira needs to add some weight to his skinny frame, but he ran the court extremely well and protected the rim like his life depended on it. The Brazilian big man was clearly raw, but he also looked like he could be a poor man's version of Brandan Wright during his rookie season, assuming he doesn't go overseas.
Fellow first-round pick Dennis Schroeder (or Schröder) was even more impressive.
The German floor general quickly became a favorite of announcers, who seemed to rave about him each time the Hawks took the court. He was in complete control of the game, showing off remarkable defensive instincts and a court vision/passing combination that justified the Rajon Rondo comparisons.
Add in John Jenkins, who was much more assertive and versatile on offense, and Mike Scott, who thrived thanks to his athleticism and new three-point stroke, and it's clear why the Hawks suddenly have a bright future.
The Charlotte Bobcats Are Moving out of the Basement
Enjoy laughing at the Charlotte Bobcats while you still can. You know, if that was your thing before this summer.
No one will be doing that for much longer, as the Bobcats are finally taking steps in the right direction and working to move out of the NBA basement.
Drafting Cody Zeller seemed like a strange move at the time, especially with players like Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel and Alex Len still on the board. However, the former Hoosier is already starting to make his new bosses look good.
The big man averaged 16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 52 percent from the field. Perhaps even more importantly, he truly looked like he belonged and would thrive in the Association.
Turnovers were a bit problematic for Zeller, but you could replace his name with almost any other player's and the sentence would still be true. That's just the nature of Las Vegas.
Jeffery Taylor also appeared much more aggressive than before, and he showcased his athleticism and deep shooting stroke over and over.
After signing Al Jefferson in free agency, the contributions of these two young guys could very well help push the Bobcats to a more lofty position than their typical one at the bottom of the NBA totem pole.
Having Twins on the Same Team Is Fun
Archie Goodwin, the rookie out of Kentucky, was the most impressive player on the Phoenix Suns roster, averaging 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game on a scorching 50 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent from behind the three-point arc.
However, the main takeaway from Phoenix's stay in Las Vegas has to be the play of Marcus and Markieff Morris. Take a look at the per-game numbers they put up in seven games:
The following suggestion comes from a conversation I had with B/R's Ben Leibowitz, but can we just combine their lines and call them the Morris Twins? For example, we'd just have to say that the Morris Twins averaged 27.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per game during summer league.
You could draft them as a single forward in your fantasy basketball league.
That said, the most impressive part of the Morris Twins' experience was their performance at the end of games.
Marcus drilled a buzzer-beater to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. A few days later, Markieff Morris broke a tie with the Miami Heat on a strong drive to rim.
Both twins managed to hit game-winning shots that gave the Suns a 91-89 victory. If you aren't feeling something magical here, you're doing it wrong.
Reggie Bullock Could Push the Los Angeles Clippers over the Top
The Los Angeles Clippers had one of the best offseasons possible.
It all started with the re-signing of Chris Paul. From there, the Clippers made one savvy move after another, highlighted by the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Suns and brought back J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.
Apparently drafting Reggie Bullock would classify as "savvy" too.
The wing player out of North Carolina averaged 18.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 42.3 percent from the field. He was a dynamic scoring threat, capable of doing much more than just spotting up and waiting for a teammate to find him.
However, the most promising sign is a weird one.
Bullock shot only 28.2 percent from behind the three-point arc, a rather low number for a sharpshooting specialist. And yet he still managed to average 18 points per game without playing too inefficiently.
That shooting stroke will come around, and when it does, Bullock will look even better.
He's an early favorite for the unofficial "steal of the draft" title.
It's Possible to Earn a Contract out of Nowhere
Raise your hand if you had any clue who Dwight Buycks was before summer league.
This was a guy who averaged only 8.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during his final season at Marquette before going undrafted in 2011. He's played in the D-League, Belgium and France since then.
If you haven't heard of him, I don't blame you. But that better change now.
In Orlando, Buycks played for the Oklahoma City Thunder and averaged 9.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. He was even better for the Toronto Raptors in Las Vegas, putting up 5.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and a summer league-high 23.0 points per contest.
It was enough for him to earn a two-year deal with the Raptors, where he'll compete with D.J. Augustin and Julyan Stone for the right to serve as Kyle Lowry's primary backup.
Allen Iverson Buycks proved that anyone can make his dream come true during summer league if he plays well enough.
Dunks Are Still Really Fun
What happens when you put a bunch of young, athletic players in the same building and allow them to play recklessly with a ridiculously fast pace?
You get a lot of highlight dunks. Here's the list of plays that appear in the above video:
10. Eric Griffin springing to the rim for a two-handed jam.
9. Chris Johnson proving that he can do more than run the football. Oh...that's a different Chris Johnson?
8. Marquis Teague finding Malcolm Thomas for a huge slam, even if Teague's part of the play was more impressive.
7. Glen Rice Jr. proving he can do more than shoot from the outside. This one was a bit overrated.
6. Jared Cunningham believing he can fly. Which apparently he can.
5. Toure' Murry going five hole then behind the back to find Jeremy Tyler for a wrap-under slam. I have no idea how this was only No. 5.
4. Chris Daniels deciding that he wanted to see how Darius Miller looked on a poster.
3. Did you know Jeffery Taylor can jump really high and dunk? He wants you to know that he can.
2. Ben McLemore "lights up the day in Vegas!"
1. Kent Bazemore proves that he can do way more than just celebrate from the bench.
If you're looking for lots of exciting dunks, then you probably love the summer league.
It's Summer League
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson you can learn from summer league is that it's important to temper your expectations.
The competition is weak, and the playing style isn't all that similar to actual NBA action. There's also a finite number of games, so the warnings of small sample size have to apply as well.
Some players struggle tremendously and then dominate during the regular season. Other breakout players don't keep it up once the games actually count.
This year, take a look at Malcolm Thomas.
He was completely dominant for the Chicago Bulls over a three-game stretch, averaging 11.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. He even produced one of the 10 dunks you can see on the previous slide.
Ultimately, it didn't matter, as he was waived by Chicago after action wrapped up in Vegas.
It's a cautionary tale for anyone looking to take too much away from the action. You can start to form opinions and base your analysis around the proceedings, but everything must be taken with a massive grain of salt.