The Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, so says this year's NBA Summer League results.
OK, so maybe the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues aren't the best evidence from which to form cogent opinions.
Still, fans have a right to get a little bit excited when one of their favorite team's younger players begins to assert himself. Without optimism, none of us would be sports fans.
These five players have been among the best so far in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Are we sure the Cleveland Cavaliers even need LeBron James? They've already got Anthony Bennett.
Nothing else really needs to be said about Bennett's rookie year that hasn't already been said before. This summer, he looks to be in shape and determined to make up for last year's failures. According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN, the Cavs forward is down about 15 to 20 pounds from where he was in April:
Anthony Bennett has been working out in Cleveland the last couple months, hired personal chef. Says he's lost 15-20 lbs since April— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) July 12, 2014
That new look made an impression on ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin:
Anthony Bennett does look much better at Sumer League. He's in shape, first, and with that he is moving with energy & purpose through sets.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) July 13, 2014
The way in which people completely dismissed Bennett last season was ridiculous. He's still only 21 years old, after all.
Through Cleveland's first two summer league games, Bennett's averaging 14 points—tied for second-most on the team—and 10.5 rebounds a game.
Of course, you never want to read much into summer league stats, but those are at the very least encouraging for Cavaliers fans.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
Part of what makes the summer league somewhat important for Dante Exum is that he remains an unknown quantity. A lot of people have seen his highlight reel, but fewer have seen him in game action.
The Australian point guard didn't waste any time impressing plenty of basketball writers:
I've watched Dante Exum play like six minutes of summer league and I've already decided he's going to be amazing.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 13, 2014
It's just summer league, but just saw an amazing steal followed by a baseline two-hand dunk by Jazz rookie Dante Exum.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 13, 2014
Watched Jazz-76ers game tonight @NBASummerLeague. Jazz will be ecstatic with some of things Dante Exum did tonight.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) July 13, 2014
Holy **** just saw the Exum highlights.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 13, 2014
You can see that Exum is still a little raw. It won't take long for teams to figure out how to stifle him early on. The general skills are there, though, for a potential All-Star guard. Exum's lightning quick and can get to the basket.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
In the Chicago Bulls' first two games of NBA Summer League, Doug McDermott is averaging 20.5 points a game. That number is somewhat skewed by the 31 points he dropped on the Denver Nuggets Sunday. The former Creighton star hit five of his nine three-point attempts.
The biggest piece missing on the Bulls last year was a scorer who could spot up at the three-point line. Chicago may have failed to sign Carmelo Anthony, but McDermott is at the very least a cheaper option who can somewhat fill the void.
"Dougie McBuckets" was one of the most pro-ready players in the 2014 NBA draft, if not the most pro-ready. For a Bulls team that's built to win in the present, the fact that McDermott's hitting the ground running is a great sign.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks
Dennis Schroder was one of a few players largely anonymous from last year's rookie class. He played 13.1 minutes a night in the 2013-14 season, averaging 3.7 points and 1.9 assists.
The young German was always viewed as a bit of a long-term project, so nobody was surprised when he didn't set the NBA ablaze in his rookie campaign.
Schroder looks to be primed for a strong sophomore season, due in some part to how well conditioned he was upon arriving in Vegas, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Danny Ferry said Dennis Schroder has put on 7-8 pounds of muscle. When I asked Dennis about it, he just flexed. #ATLHawks— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) July 14, 2014
Against the NBA D-League Select team, the 20-year-old exploded for 30 points, four assists and four rebounds. His ability to create off the dribble was particularly impressive.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers took a major leap of faith when they traded for Nerlens Noel. Big men with knee injuries tend to raise red flags. To the Sixers' credit, they weren't afraid to pull the trigger and subsequently let Noel use all of last season to rehabilitate.
The former Kentucky standout has been one of the best big men in NBA Summer League, averaging 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks a game in Orlando. Noel looks like somebody liberated by being on a court again.
He admitted that spending a year away from competitive basketball has left him a bit rusty.
"The post moves haven’t come around yet," said Noel, per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. "I haven’t made strong moves. But as my mind slows down and the mental aspect comes around, the feel for the game will come around. I’m finding my teammates pretty well. Screens, pick-and-rolls, it’s all fluid."
Philadelphia fans don't have many things to look forward to next season, but watching Noel's development should be a welcome release.