Ranking the Top 15 Players at 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League
The 2014 Las Vegas Summer League will take place between July 11 and July 21, and while it won't feature the best basketball you'll see this season, players such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum will put their skills on display before their careers officially begin.
For most of the prospects in Vegas, sample size is small as it pertains to experience. Take the three players mentioned above, for instance. As much as we know about them at this point (they've been under the proverbial microscope for quite some time), they're still just 19, 19 and 18, respectively.
When ranking players, past statistics will be taken into consideration, but potential will be a major metric. NBA readiness is also a huge factor, as it's been a breaking point for plenty of talented players throughout the years.
There's no single stat or skill that can determine who is the best, but as action gets underway in Nevada, one thing is clear: Not everyone will make an NBA roster, but for a handful of players, there's a bright future ahead.
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
As a former No. 5 pick, it's safe to say that Thomas Robinson's career hasn't gone as planned since joining the NBA in 2012. He showed flashes of potential on both ends of the court in 2013-14, but it says something that his greatest accomplishment was not getting traded.
Don't expect Robinson to run rampant against summer league opponents, but don't be shocked, either, if we see big rebounding performances and a double-double here or there.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Like Robinson, Alex Len is a former fifth overall selection. Also like T-Rob, the early part to his career hasn't been what he expected.
Unlike Robinson, though, Len's slow start was because of the foot injury that kept him off the court when the 2013-14 season began. A slow start led to inconsistent floor time, but a good showing in Las Vegas should be a catalyst for more success in 2015.
Otto Porter Jr. (Washington Wizards) and Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings)
Otto Porter Jr. and Ben McLemore are getting lumped into the same category here because their narratives read largely the same. Both players were high draft picks, underachieved in their rookie seasons and are looking to redeem themselves with strong play before the regular season begins.
Neither has earned a spot on this list with their numbers, but neither can be left off based on sheer talent.
15. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Stats: 4.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 35.6 FG%, 6.95 player efficiency rating
Anthony Bennett did not have a good rookie season. That's obvious when looking at his numbers, but he'll have a chance to start convincing people he has a future when he suits up for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Although you can't make too many excuses for Bennett's poor rookie year, there's one worth noting: his offseason shoulder surgery. Beginning a career under the knife is hardly conducive to a strong start, and it kept him out of the 2013 summer league where he could have begun the natural transition from college to the pros.
This year, Bennett has the opportunity to not only play in Las Vegas but also to blend into the rotation on a young and talented roster—which now of course includes LeBron James. It's impossible to project the former UNLV product as an All-Star based on his rookie production (or lack thereof), but in exhibition play, the 21-year-old should make strides we didn't see in Year 1.
14. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets
2013-14 Stats: 6.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 42.6 FG%, 6.9 PER
Cody Zeller's numbers aren't going to jump out at you at this stage in his career. He was drafted fourth overall by the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2013 (a move that is still a bit perplexing) and then instantly sent to the bench with the signing of Al Jefferson.
He's not a dominant big man in the traditional sense, but he has a year of professional experience under his belt, and his offensive skill set should translate well in summer league action.
Consider Zeller a project, but one worth keeping an eye on. That theme will hold especially true against big men in Las Vegas, most of whom have seen limited time around true NBA competition.
13. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Stats (College): 9.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 37.5 3PT%, 14.6 PER
Question Zach LaVine's decision to go pro after one year at UCLA if you want, but the kid has talent, not to mention incredible jumping ability.
Despite not having a ton of production to boast in the form of numbers, LaVine has a quick first step to complement his explosiveness as a leaper. He can be a bit erratic at times as it pertains to his shot selection, but he's a good overall shooter with a playmaker's mentality.
Talent aside, there's still the question of whether or not he can play both guard positions at the NBA level. At 6'5", he's slightly undersized for the 2-spot (emphasis on slightly), but the Minnesota Timberwolves would also like to have another point guard in the mix to go along with Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea.
Summer league won't give us a definitive answer to that query, but it will be Step 1 in determining what LaVine can and can't do against big-time competition.
12. Kendall Marshall, Los Angeles Lakers
2013-14 Stats: 8.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 39.9 3PT% 12.66 PER
If anything comes with being a lottery pick, it's expectations. Kendall Marshall didn't live up to those expectations during his first year in the league with Phoenix (2012-13), but he has made strides toward improvement since joining the Lakers.
Aside from being one of the best players in the game to follow on Twitter, Marshall is an incredibly unselfish, pass-first floor general. He shocked some people with his strong three-point shooting last season, but he's likely going to be known as a passer first and scorer second throughout his career.
Although Marshall doesn't have the upside of some of the other point guards in Las Vegas (including Zach LaVine from one spot behind), his role is undoubtedly different. He won't always get credit for his impact, but as long as he avoids mistakes and can improve defensively, you know exactly what you'll get out of him.
11. P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets
2013-14 Stats (D-League): 21.8 PPG, 45.3 FG%, 35.8 3PT%
P.J. Hairston's path to the NBA has been far from traditional.
Following an indefinite suspension from the North Carolina basketball program, the 6'6"' shooting guard landed a gig in the Association's D-League. He put up strong numbers against borderline NBA competition, which should give him the confidence he needs to find success in Las Vegas.
However, Hairston is dealing with a wave of controversy off the court.
Kami Mattioli of Sporting News broke the news that his agent is not certified by the NBA, which could cause a headache for both Hairston and the Hornets. Hairston also had an alleged altercation with a high school student, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, and then there's the strange story involving Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon driving Hairston's car while intoxicated, according to Will Brinson of CBSSports.com.
On the court, Hairston has a ton of potential, which is why he's ranks highly among players in Las Vegas. Defensively, he's proved to be a liability in the past, but his shooting touch will drive opponents crazy.
He has the potential to make an NBA roster and be there long term, but while putting up numbers is the first challenge, avoiding controversy is going to be just as important.
10. Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Stats (College): 17.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 44.2 3PT%, 22.7 PER
Nik Stauskas was taken eighth overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2014 draft, and as a versatile scorer with deep range, he'll begin to show people what he can do during the Las Vegas Summer League.
The big question here for Sacramento is whether or not he can be a better, more consistent option than Ben McLemore. You know McLemore will be motivated to perform with Stauskas coming in, but a strong first showing from the former Michigan Wolverine could spell trouble for the sophomore.
Although Stauskas lacks the quickness and athleticism possessed by today's point guards, he does have good ball-handling skills. He'll be a 2-guard by definition, but in a jam, the Kings can use him as a floor general alongside the backcourt player of their choosing.
9. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
2013-14 Stats: 10.2 PPG, 36.3 3PT%, 12.79 PER
Tim Hardaway Jr. was a pleasant surprise for the New York Knicks last season. As a rookie, he came in and brought energy every night (even when the rest of the roster seemingly didn't), and in the words of Bleacher Report's John Dorn, "it's possible that—if he could develop mere competency on the defensive end, to the point where he isn't a liability—Hardaway's ceiling could be higher than (Iman) Shumpert's."
We'll leave that debate, as legitimate as it is, for another day. However, when it comes to summer league competition, Hardaway has an edge over much of his fellow prospects who have never played in a meaningful NBA game.
Keep an eye on Hardaway in Las Vegas, as he'll use this opportunity to run freely, knowing that his spot on the roster isn't going away anytime soon.
8. Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets
2013-14 Stats (College): 11.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 52.3 FG%, 22.2 PER
Noah Vonleh saw his draft stock drop at the most inopportune time—draft night. As a result, the Charlotte Hornets swept in and saved him from falling out of the top 10, but there are questions surrounding his ability to jell with fellow big man Cody Zeller.
At this point, it can be assumed that his slide in the draft has to do with readiness to compete at the highest level. He's great at running the floor and can play both above the rim and beyond the three-point line, yet strength could be an issue early in his career against bigger competition.
That, of course, is why summer league ball is going to be an exciting yet necessary adventure for this youngster. We'll see his raw talent on full display, and we'll see it against NBA-caliber players.
7. Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 51.7 FG%, 14.60 PER
Miles Plumlee doesn't have Noah Vonleh's ceiling, but there should be no question about which one is more NBA ready at this moment in time.
After averaging just 3.9 minutes per game in 14 contests with the Indiana Pacers (2012-13), Plumlee started in 79 games with the Suns in 2013-14. He boosted his numbers as a result, but his efficiency and energy are worth noting as he enters his third season.
In Las Vegas, Plumlee will be something he's yet to become in the NBA: a leader. He now has experience at the professional level and can be something of a mentor to those who are hoping to someday reach the same status.
This is a guy who will likely fly under the radar for his entire career, but if you watch these games with a critical eye, you'll see the 6'11" center taking charge on a young roster.
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Stats: 6.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 34.7 3PT%, 10.82 PER
Whether you can pronounce his name correctly or not, Giannis Antetokounmpo has the potential to be a strong contributor within the Milwaukee Bucks' ever-evolving roster.
At just 19 years old, the Greek Freak has one year of NBA experience to his name. He didn't put up big numbers during his rookie season, but with his raw talent and physical attributes on display, it became clear that he had arguably the highest upside of anyone on the team.
We all know that Antetokounmpo will continue growing as a player, but according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Matt Velazquez, that growth doesn't just pertain to his skill set.
"He came last September he was 6-9, 190 (lbs.) and today he's almost 6-11, 217 pounds," Velasquez said. "I think Giannis is a guy that is going to be able to play, at his size, he's going to be able to play some small forward and he's going to play some power forward some day."
If Velasquez is right, watch out, NBA. And more immediately, watch out, Vegas.
5. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Stats (College): 26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 44.9 3PT%, 32.8 PER
Doug McDermott, originally selected by the Denver Nuggets and later traded to the Chicago Bulls on draft night, is known for putting the ball in the basket. Hence the nickname Dougie McBuckets, and hence why he could be an impact player in this year's summer league (and beyond).
Following his career at Creighton—a career that saw him finish as the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA history—McDermott brings with him something the Bulls desperately need: a versatile offensive skill set. Chicago's anemic offense will receive a boost when Derrick Rose makes his return, but even when the point guard was running the show on two healthy knees, the Bulls weren't exactly known for shooting opponents out of the gym.
With McDermott on board, look for Chicago to open up the middle with the threat of a shooter on the outside. We'll see the early stages of that in Las Vegas, and fans in Chicago should be happy with what's on the horizon.
4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
2013-14 Stats (College): 15.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 50.1 FG%, 24.5 PER
Julius Randle has been a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers for as long as he can remember.
"From a little kid, I grew up and I was the biggest Lakers fan," Randle told Serena Winters of LakersNation.com during predraft workouts.
He continued, "Probably more of a Kobe fan but it didn’t matter! I was just the biggest Lakers fan and it was just humbling coming from where I come from going through what I go through."
The point is that Randle is exactly where he wants to be. Combine that attitude with his skill set, and you have a 19-year-old who's ready to make a name for himself as part of one of the most storied franchises the league has to offer.
At 6'9", 250 pounds, the Zach Randolph comparisons are easy to see. As B/R's Daniel O'Brien put it, "Strength, positioning and shielding is such a big part of Randle and Randolph's games because they're 'below-the-rim' finishers."
Summer league won't tell us if that comparison will come to fruition, but it will give fans who haven't seen Randle play a chance to witness what scouts have seen up to this point.
3. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
2013-14 Stats: N/A
At just 18 years old, Dante Exum offers an incredibly bright future for the Utah Jazz. He was considered a top-five selection virtually all last season, and that's exactly where he landed in the draft when Utah took him with the fifth overall selection.
In Las Vegas, we'll see what Exum can do playing alongside another ball-dominant guard in Trey Burke. Exum is a blindingly quick player considering his 6'6" frame, and while getting to the rim is his specialty, it's going to be interesting to watch the schematic approach Utah uses with Exum and Burke on the court at the same time.
Will it take time for the two to jell? Absolutely. But will it be fun to watch from the outside looking in?
Without a doubt.
2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Stats (College): 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 28.4 PER
The Milwaukee Bucks were in a win-win situation on draft night. The Cleveland Cavaliers had the luxury of choosing between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, but Milwaukee had the easy job: drafting one of the best consolation prizes in recent memory.
As it turns out, the Bucks open the Las Vegas exhibition against the Cavs, giving fans and media alike a first look at what will be a theme in the coming years: Parker vs. Wiggins.
When it comes to Parker, it's obvious that his addition alone improves a team that won just 15 games last year. As Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel states, "Parker appears to be a great fit for Milwaukee and already has generated plenty of excitement without playing with his new team yet."
On Friday, Parker will suit up with the Bucks for the first time, and while no career was ever made in summer league, fans are ready to see what the former Duke Blue Devil brings to the table.
1. Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Stats (College): 17.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 21.4 PER
As the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins has a lot to prove. He's been hyped since well before his days at Kansas, and that's not going to change entering his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
According to Wiggins, the hype won't go to waste. He had the following to say during his official introduction with the Cavs (h/t ESPN):
I just want to come in, create an impact right off the bat, offensively and defensively, bring the team to the next level and just be a good teammate, be a good part of the organization. I want to be on the All-Defensive team, be rookie of the year, make the All-Star team, all that type of stuff.
Although court time in July won't translate to the aspired accolades above, it will be the launching point for what should be a strong career. Wiggins is ready to hit the ground running, and Las Vegas is where we'll watch what he can do in the NBA for the very first time.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.