Can it just be the regular season already? Watching some of the rookies on show in the Las Vegas Summer League should make fans antsy for the great campaign ahead.
Stories about the 2014 draft class have grown a bit tiresome, but you're seeing in some of these summer league games exactly why the group of incoming rookies was so heavily hyped. The thousands of words devoted to the top prospects wasn't mere lip service; these guys can ball.
One of the rookies below isn't exactly from the class of '14, but he is a part of the group by extension.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers' patience with Nerlens Noel is paying off in a big, big way. The 2013 draftee has been a terror in the post defensively and moved up the court very well in transition. Noel has looked every bit the dominant big man the Sixers hoped they selected last year.
Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin made the case that Noel might be the best player in Vegas altogether:
Call it the "Blake Griffin effect" if you want, but Noel looks like the best player in Las Vegas. He's a guy Sixers fans — and Michael Carter Williams (his old AAU teammate) — are going to love. Even if there is still plenty of raw there.
'He’s active, he’s all over the place,' Sixers Summer League coach Chad Iske said. 'He's trying to do everything, he's trying to do too much on both ends. The hard part is do you want to just settle him down or do you want him to play with that aggressiveness? I don't want to give him too much and cloud him, and then he's thinking instead of playing. I think we just have to get out there and find the happy balance between him being within our rules and him being himself.'
The early success that Noel's having should encourage Sixers fans when it comes to Joel Embiid. If Philadelphia can help the former Kentucky standout get back to his best, why can't the same happen for Embiid?
For a fanbase with little to cheer next season, Noel's continued improvement will be one of the few silver linings.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
Almost everything Andrew Wiggins does in summer league is viewed through the Kevin Love spectrum. Are the Cleveland Cavaliers more or less likely to trade the No. 1 overall pick now?
According to Tom Withers of The Associated Press, the Cavs don't have any plans to trade Wiggins:
#Cavs don't seem willing _ at this point _ to budge on including Wiggins in a deal for Love, who would prefer going West.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) July 16, 2014
The more you watch him play, the more you wonder if Cleveland would be better off either waiting until the Minnesota Timberwolves accept a deal in which Wiggins isn't involved, or walk away from negotiations altogether.
You don't want to get too swept up in summer league performances, but Wiggins is demonstrating a ton of athleticism and a nasty step-back jumper:
Wiggins' step-back isn't really a step-back. It's a jump/explode/hop/bounce-back. He literally gets hang time during the move.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 13, 2014
Now just imagine this player learning from LeBron James. That's a scary prospect.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
The basketball gods giveth, and the basketball gods taketh away.
Dante Exum has largely been very good in the Utah Jazz's summer league games, but on Tuesday night, you saw why the Australian was considered somewhat of a risk in the top five. He turned the ball over four times and dished out three assists in an 87-69 win over the Denver Nuggets.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton noted that those are some of the struggles that any young point guard encounters:
Some growing pains tonight from Dante Exum. Struggling with turnovers while running the point.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) July 16, 2014
Before the draft, Exum was considered one of the more raw players among the lottery picks. He's gonna need some seasoning but has at the same time shown enough flashes in Las Vegas to think that he can become the dynamic point guard the Jazz thought they were drafting fifth overall.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
Doug McDermott was considered one of the most pro-ready players in the 2014 draft. His summer league success doesn't come as a major shock.
The former Creighton star dropped 31 points on the Denver Nuggets on Sunday and then followed up with a 20-point performance, this time against the Timberwolves on Tuesday night. In both games, he's a combined 9-for-16 from three-point range.
As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix noted, though, McDermott's biggest flaw is his defense:
Chicago is going to have to figure out how to hide Doug McDermott defensively, but he has legit NBA three-point range. Man, it's real.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) July 15, 2014
The good news is that the Chicago Bulls have plenty of talented defenders who can cover up for McDermott's deficiencies on that end of the court. And his problems aren't for a lack of trying, which is much better than the issues stemming from pure laziness.
Tom Thibodeau should at least make McDermott a passable defensive forward.
Note: All stats are courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.