7 NBA Summer League Stars Who Must Prove Their Worth in Training Camp
You don't have to look very hard to find budding stars who failed to carry their summertime shine into the regular season. Every year, young players appear to break out in Las Vegas or Orlando before breaking down during training camp.
Anthony Randolph, Quincy Douby and Von Wafer are just a few names who slipped into relative obscurity after fooling everyone into thinking they'd reached the next level in their development.
That's not a death sentence for the seven names on our list, though. Each of the following players will have a chance to prove during training camp that their stellar summers can translate into bigger roles and better production during the year.
Some are going to have to use their summer league work as a springboard to stardom, while others will be fighting it out for rotation minutes. Despite taking big steps in July, these guys are going to have to show they're ready to make giant leaps in October.
Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Summer League Statistics: 19.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, .538 FG%
Reggie Jackson provided the first hint that he was ready for a bigger role when Russell Westbrook went down during last year's playoffs. His postseason averages of 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 48 percent shooting seemed to come out of nowhere.
But given a chance over the summer to prove that his numbers weren't a mirage, Jackson put together a pair of remarkable games in Orlando. Notably, Jackson's stellar summer averages came in just 23.5 minutes per game, the lowest amount of playing time out of any player on our list.
The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Kevin Martin as a free agent this past summer, so Jackson and Jeremy Lamb will be expected to replace the departed sixth man in the rotation.
Jackson showed a ton of confidence and an aggressive mindset that almost seemed like a nod to teammate Russell Westbrook's famed intensity. Hopefully, he'll bring that attitude to camp.
If the combo guard continues the run he started during the playoffs—and carried through summer league—OKC could wind up with a real gem.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Summer League Statistics: 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, .370 FG%
The 6'4" guard got every opportunity to prove his worth over the summer, logging a whopping 34.6 minutes per game in Las Vegas.
The Blazers have to be happy about the polish and solid all-around production McCollum generated. The four-year college player delivered on his promise as a fully-formed prospect. His ugly field-goal percentage probably isn't cause for concern, as he drilled an absurd 51.6 percent of his threes as a senior.
Portland made a concerted effort to rebuild its bench during the offseason, and with McCollum slated to be a key piece of the new cast of reserves, he'll have to show that his game holds up against legitimate NBA competition.
He'll get the first chance to prove his summertime performance was no mirage at training camp.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Pelicans
Summer League Statistics: 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, .490 FG%
There aren't many players with more to prove than second-year guard Austin Rivers.
Doc's kid put up one of the single most catastrophic rookie campaigns in NBA history last year, so the fact that he managed to get through summer league play without setting the gym on fire or causing a 10-car pileup in the parking lot was a minor miracle in itself.
And as the New Orleans Pelicans added Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to their guard rotation, it sent a pretty clear signal that they weren't counting on Rivers to be much of a factor this season.
But Rivers went out and played well in Las Vegas, flashing vastly improved perimeter accuracy and a much less frantic style.
Fundamentally, the form on his jumper is still a mess, and it's unclear whether he'll ever develop as a more instinctive point guard. Nonetheless, he showed some signs of life.
Training camp will go a long way toward showing his NBA career deserves to live on.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Summer League Statistics: 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, .580 FG%
Having posted the highest true-shooting percentage and points-per-40-minutes average of any NCAA player last season, per DraftExpress.com, Kelly Olynyk's sterling performance this past summer shouldn't have been a surprise.
The Gonzaga product showed NBA-ready offensive chops, driving past lumbering big men and overpowering smaller opponents. Best of all, he drilled a handful of threes, igniting hope that he could become the Boston Celtics' stretch-4 of the future.
Olynyk may have to wait a while before he sees major minutes during the regular season, as Boston will surely want to showcase most of its veteran bigs in hopes of raising their trade value. But down the line, Olynyk projects as one of the few current Celtics who could be part of the team's next-generation core.
If he can push some of Boston's older forwards in camp, Olynyk might force the team to consider fast-tracking a trade in order to free up frontcourt minutes.
As much as any player on this list, Olynyk seems like the real deal.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Summer League Statistics: 18.8 points, 10 rebounds, .560 FG%
Ladies and gentlemen, your Las Vegas Summer League MVP!
If there were honors for "most talked-about physique," Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas probably would have won that award, too. The Lithuanian big man used his added bulk to beat up opponents on defense and seek out contact on offense.
Put more succinctly, Valanciunas beasted.
The second-year center is a little different than most of the players we've covered so far because he already showed plenty of promise during his rookie campaign. All the same, he'll have plenty to prove in training camp with the Raptors.
The difference will be that Valanciunas will be out to show his team that he can be a legitimate star and focal point going forward.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Summer League Statistics: 19 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, .375 FG%
The Orlando Magic hope Victor Oladipo can make the difficult transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard over the course of his upcoming rookie season. If his work over the summer is any indication, such a change seems possible but not entirely easy.
Oladipo is a terrific athlete, and he showed a handle that was good enough to get him to the hole whenever he wanted. He handed off a number of impressive assists when defenders collapsed on him at the rim, but those types of passes are more representative of terrific athletic instincts than any innate point guard skills.
He'll have to demonstrate some of the more refined aspects of facilitation in training camp before the Magic feel comfortable shopping Jameer Nelson.
Defensively, though, Oladipo was as good as his draft profile advertised. The three steals per game were nice, but his incessant activity and obvious commitment mattered more. When camp opens, he'll already be a terror on D.
If he can develop on offense at the point, the Magic's rebuilding project will have its cornerstone.
Kent Bazemore, Golden State Warriors
Summer League Statistics: 18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals, .440 FG%
If Kent Bazemore resembles the player he was during the Las Vegas Summer League when training camp rolls around, the Golden State Warriors won't be able to keep him out of the rotation. Sadly, that may mean they'll have to find another guy to handle end-of-the-bench shenanigans.
That'd be a shame, as Bazemore has perfected the art. But if the vastly improved guard can serve as Golden State's backup behind Stephen Curry, the team will probably get over the loss of its chief celebrator.
Bazemore has always had immense defensive ability because of his length and anticipation, but he also showed an out-of-nowhere sense of timing as a pick-and-roll operator. His jumper was improved, he found his teammates and, most importantly, Bazemore played like a guy who genuinely believed he was a leader.
Golden State took its summertime games very seriously, and Bazemore piloted a very committed team to a championship in Vegas.
The Warriors signed Toney Douglas to support Curry at the point, but if Bazemore comes into camp with the same confidence he showed over the summer, he'll snatch the job easily.
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