10 Things We Can't Wait to See at NBA Summer League 2014

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIJune 27, 2014

10 Things We Can't Wait to See at NBA Summer League 2014

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    With the NBA draft in the books, the next chapter of the upcoming season will soon be upon us. The summer league will kick off in July and excitement is bound to grow along with it. 

    The summer league is like a teaser trailer for the new season. It's where the league's most exciting rookies, and guys that are trying to grind their way onto an NBA roster, come together to get basketball fans' blood pumping. 

    With a strong class of rookies and a handful of notable names from last year, there will be increased attention on Orlando and Las Vegas this summer. After all, this will be the world's first look at studs like the Cleveland Cavaliers' Andrew Wiggins and the Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker (the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in this year's draft, respectively). 

    Along with those two future superstars, here are a few other things we can't wait to see when they roll out the balls this summer. 

The Arrival of Andrew Wiggins

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    On the 11th anniversary of the day the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted LeBron James, the franchise ended up with its next big thing. Much like King James, the buzz around No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins started in high school and only became stronger as draft day neared. 

    The Cavs may have been conflicted over who they'd take with the first pick, but Wiggins seemed like a no-brainer all along. He's a breathtaking athlete with the potential to be an elite player on both ends of the court. 

    He didn't take the NCAA by storm at Kansas like some had projected, but he still managed to average 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game for the Jayhawks. After Cleveland dropped the ball with the No. 1 pick last year in the form of Anthony Bennett, the pressure will be on Wiggins to make up for the team's past mistakes. 

    From the moment he takes the court in Las Vegas, all eyes will be on him. With the old King of Cleveland currently mulling his future, this will be the first step in the new king's ascension to the throne. 

The Milwaukee Bucks' Newest 1-2 Punch

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    Andrew Wiggins isn't the only potential franchise savior that will garner attention this summer. No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker will be bringing a couple of things that were sorely lacking from the Milwaukee Bucks last season: scoring and excitement. 

    You can make the case that the Bucks haven't had a young star like this since the days of Ray Allen. It's been a long time since Milwaukee has had someone to build around, but they have it now in Parker. 

    The former Duke standout is instant offense. He averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in his lone season with the Blue Devils. He also shot 47.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from behind the arc. 

    Parker will now team with last year's draft gem, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to give the Bucks an exciting one-two punch. Both are just 19 years old, and it will be interesting to see how the two play off each other this summer. 

    After years of being an afterthought in the Eastern Conference, the future looks bright for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Nerlens Noel's Knee

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    The case can be made that no appendage will be watched more closely than the surgically repaired knee of Philadelphia 76ers big man Nerlens Noel. Noel hasn't been seen in a meaningful basketball game in a year and a half after tearing his ACL as a freshman at Kentucky. 

    The concerns over his knee caused Noel to slide from potential No. 1 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 6 last year. The Pelicans quickly traded Noel and a 2014 first-round pick to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. 

    With the Sixers committed to rebuilding (read: tanking), Noel wasn't rushed back onto the court. He didn't play in a single game last season despite telling Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that he'd been "100 percent for months." 

    “I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really. I will be playing in summer games and summer league,” Noel said. 

    Noel's arrival will make up for the absence of the Sixers' 2014 first-round picks. No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid is out as he recovers from foot surgery and Dario Saric, acquired in a draft-day swap with the Orlando Magic, will be playing overseas for the foreseeable future. 

    While there is more than enough time to talk about Embiid's eventual return, the time is now for Noel. As the first piece in Philly's rebuilding effort, many will be watching to see if the former Wildcat is back to being the dominant force he was in college. 

    Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be worth watching, as will second-round pick K.J. McDaniels. In a couple years, Philadelphia might have the most exciting team in the league. 

The New-Look Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz already had some young and exciting pieces in the form of Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. Now, they have two more building blocks in rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood. 

    Exum, the 18-year-old (will be 19 in July) Australian phenom, fell in Utah's lap with the No. 5 overall pick. He's a 6'6" combo guard that has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant from at least one general manager, according to ESPN insider Chad Ford (via CBS Philly's Andrew Porter).

    Exum's elite size makes up for Burke's lack of ideal height (generously listed at 6'1") and gives the Jazz two playmakers in the backcourt. Given both players' ability to create for themselves and for others, Utah will be able to do a lot of different things offensively going forward.

    Then there's Hood, the former Duke standout that dropped to the Jazz at No. 23 overall. Hood averaged 16.1 points for the Blue Devils as a sophomore. He shot 46.4 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc.

    Hood's arrival gives the Jazz a little leverage in their contract negotiations with Hayward, who is a restricted free agent this summer. If Utah deems the former Butler star too expensive to hang on to, Hood could slide in at small forward. If Hayward stays, Hood could take over the minutes vacated by veteran Richard Jefferson. 

    Regardless, Utah has two more pieces to an already intriguing puzzle. It will be tough for the Jazz to ascend up the Western Conference ladder in the immediate future, but at least they will be fun to watch going forward.  

The Orlando Magic's Young Defense

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    The Orlando Magic did a masterful job on draft night, as they managed to fill two major holes in their starting rotation while also improving a defense that was 17th in points allowed last season (102 points per game). 

    Forward Aaron Gordon (No. 4 overall) and point guard Elfrid Payton (No. 10 overall, acquired from Philadelphia) may have their flaws, but there is no denying their potential on the defensive end. 

    Gordon didn't block a ton of shots or come away with many steals at Arizona, but he showed the ability to defend nearly every position. With his athleticism and energy, he could be this generation's version of Shawn Marion (a comparison Jalen Rose made on draft night). 

    As for Payton, he has drawn comparisons to Boston Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo. Like Rondo, Payton is a good on-ball defender that has a knack for forcing turnovers. He averaged 2.3 steals per game for Louisiana-Lafayette. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and great defensive instincts.

    Now, add both of these two along with another defensive maven, last year's rookie gem Victor Oladipo, and you have a Magic defense that has the potential to be pretty impressive for years.

    All three players have aspects of their offensive game they need to improve on (mainly shooting), but they will make up for their shortcomings with some top-notch work on the defensive end.  

The Chip on Gary Harris' Shoulder

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    Dynamic Michigan State guard Gary Harris waited patiently for his name to be called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. And waited. And waited. 

    Finally, the Chicago Bulls ended Harris' slide at No. 19 overall before shipping him off to the Denver Nuggets as part of a deal for No. 11 pick Doug McDermott. How much of a slide Harris took on draft night is dependent on where you initially thought he'd go. 

    NBADraft.net had Harris going to the Phoenix Suns at No. 14 in their mock draft. DraftExpress.com had the former Spartans scorer going to the Boston Celtics at No. 17 overall. So it wasn't like Harris' fall was the kind of drop that will later require a 30 for 30 documentary. 

    Still, this seems to happen every year. Players that are projected to go high take a dip and use that slight as motivation to torch the rest of the league. We saw it with Paul Pierce (No. 10 overall) in 1998. It happened with Chris Paul (No. 4 overall) and Danny Granger (No. 17 overall) in 2005 as well as Rajon Rondo (No. 21 overall) in 2006. 

    It's all about making the most of your opportunity. In fairness, Harris won't have the same opportunity as those other three did. On a Nuggets team that just acquired Arron Afflalo, per The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, Harris will likely be reduced to being a spark off the bench to start his career. 

    That doesn't mean he won't make the most when his time comes. It just means it will take longer for him to get his revenge on those that passed on him. 

    In the summer league though, Harris will get to be the big man on campus again. He'll be at the forefront of Denver's team and he'll get to show everyone what they missed out on. 

    Revenge may be a dish that is typically served cold, but Harris might be delivering it this summer with a little bit of heat. 

The Los Angeles Lakers' Newest Building Block

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    Gary Harris won't be the only rookie playing with a chip on his shoulder. Los Angeles Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle believed he should have went higher than No. 7 overall and has vowed to make those that looked elsewhere pay for their oversight.

    "I think I should've went higher for sure, but, you know, the teams that passed on me will regret it." Randle told ESPN's Jay Williams after being drafted, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin.

    There were concerns that Randle would need surgery on his right foot, which may have caused his slide. The Kentucky big man routinely refuted those claims in the weeks leading up to the draft and dismissed the concerns once again after the Lakers drafted him.

    "I'm healthy. I have no problem with my foot," Randle said. "Whether (the Lakers) want to do something (to correct his foot) or not, we'll see. But I'll have that conversation with them when I get there." 

    Randle's foot will get a ton of attention during the summer. If it's as good as he says it is, his alleged pain would be the Lakers' gain. It's been a long time since the Purple and Gold have had a youth movement. Randle is the first lottery pick the franchise has had since drafting Andrew Bynum in 2005. 

    With star guard Kobe Bryant nearing the end of his rope, Randle could position himself as the future king of the Lakers castle. The 6'9" forward averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman for the Kentucky Wildcats. He also shot 50 percent from the field. 

    On a roster that's in a state of flux, Randle is the team's first building block for the future. Randle's present, meanwhile, will be filled with retribution. 

The Return of the Charlotte Hornets

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    Even if the Charlotte Hornets didn't have multiple picks in this year's draft, there would still be a considerable buzz (no pun intended) over the return of the once-storied franchise. 

    The new-look Hornets are back with a revamped look on their old logo and colors. To help bring in the team's revival, Charlotte went out and added some promising rookies to last year's surprise playoff team.

    Charlotte kicked off their 2014 draft by stopping the slide of Indiana forward Noah Vonleh at No. 9 overall. With his length (6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan), athleticism and stroke from the outside (shot 48.5 percent from three for the Hoosiers last season), Vonleh is the perfect complement to bruising center Al Jefferson

    Plus, Vonleh has the chops to make the Hornets even more formidable on the defensive end. He averaged 1.4 blocks per game last season, and with his long arms and enormous hands, his shot-blocking ability should translate to the pros. 

    Oh, but wait, the Hornets weren't done. 

    After initially drafting UConn point guard Shabazz Napier with the No. 24 overall pick, Charlotte swung a deal to send Napier to the Miami Heat in exchange for exiled North Carolina Tar Heel guard P.J. Hairston (No. 26 overall). 

    Hairston has some obvious character concerns, which is why he was drafted out of the NBA's D-League as opposed to UNC. Still, there's no denying his potential. Hairston averaged 21.8 points per game for the Texas Legends last season. 

    He also shot 45.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three. On a Hornets team that needed perimeter scoring, Hairston is a perfect fit, if he can get his head on straight. 

    Hairston and Vonleh join a Hornets franchise that already has Jefferson and Kemba Walker as its core pieces. When you throw in prospects like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller, this team isn't that far way from making serious noise. 

The Boston Celtics' Dynamic Duo

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    This year's draft had a number of teams with multiple picks. The Boston Celtics were one of those, and they made some interesting choices. 

    The Celtics led off with dynamic Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart. Now, Smart's presence spells the end for either restricted free agent Avery Bradley or All-Star Rajon Rondo. Maybe even both. 

    As a freakish athlete without a true position, Smart could either team with Rondo to give Boston a fine defensive backcourt or eventually supplant Rondo if the Celtics decide to move him at some point this year.

    Smart could have been in the running for the No. 1 pick last year had he decided to come out. Instead, he stayed an extra year, averaging 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He'll need to work on his outside shot (29.9 percent from three last season), especially if he's going to be paired with Rondo (28.9 percent from behind the arc last year) for the foreseeable future. 

    Next, the Celtics used the No. 17 overall pick on Kentucky guard James Young. Young is, for lack of a better term, young. He turns 19 in August, but there's a lot to like already. He averaged 14.3 points per game as a freshman for the Wildcats. He also shot 40.7 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from the outside. 

    He'll likely start off as a role player off the bench, but could play his way into the starting rotation as he matures. 

    With their youthful exuberance and impressive athleticism, Smart and Young should be a fun tandem to watch during the summer league. Along with big man Kelly Olynyk, the trio could play their way into being the new order in Boston sometime down the road. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Life After Kevin Love

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    As it stands right now, All-Star forward Kevin Love is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. That will eventually change. It could be next week. It could be next month. It could be during the trade deadline in February or during next summer. 

    However, while Love will dominate the headlines until he is playing elsewhere, it is those that will still be in Minnesota (in theory) long after he is gone that should garner more immediate attention. 

    Minnesota quietly had a decent draft by drafting athletic UCLA guard Zach LaVine in the first round (No. 13 overall) and following that up with Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III in round two (No. 40 overall). Neither will be the kind of impact player that Love is (although LaVine could make some highlight reels with his 41.5" vertical), but they are nice pieces nonetheless. 

    Where LaVine and Robinson fit in the grand scheme of things won't be known until Love has been traded or signs elsewhere. Still, Minnesota is slowly building towards life after Love. 

    Besides Love, the Wolves have a couple franchise pieces in point guard Ricky Rubio and bruising center Nikola Pekovic. They also have solid role players in Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. 

    Now, take a look at the young pieces that will be on display this summer. LaVine is an athletic combo guard that could be a poor-man's Russell Westbrook. Robinson was a steady role player at Michigan. Last year's rookie steal Gorgui Dieng had his moments in the final two months of the season. 

    Furthermore, fellow 2013 rookie Shabazz Muhammad can go nowhere but up after a rough debut season. At the very least, those four will make for an exciting summer league squad this year. 

    The fate of the franchise won't be realized until the Love situation is handled. The important thing to take from this year's draft is that the team didn't let the Love trade talk distract them from adding some nice pieces for their future.

    For the first time in a long time, Minnesota might be heading in the right direction. Ironically, it's coming at a time when their franchise big man is determined to head the other way.