2014 NBA Summer League Stars Who Are for Real
Every year we see guys put up monster numbers in summer league, but not all of them pan out once the NBA's regular season hits and the competition picks up.
This year, a handful of young players have emerged as summer league stars in Orlando and Las Vegas, and only some of them are frauds.
Not these guys; they are the real deal. The following players are having huge summer leagues, and it's no fluke.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
Before suffering that ugly torn ACL back in February 2013, Nerlens Noel was considered a can't-miss prospect and a strong No. 1 overall candidate.
And that's how he's looked in summer league.
His explosiveness and bounce appear to be back—he's racked up nine dunks in four games with four of them coming in transition.
And he's shown off some touch and post moves that we really didn't see much of at Kentucky. He's hit five lefty jump hooks, an 18-foot jumper and a number of pretty driving layups.
But it's his defense that ultimately drives his NBA upside. He has 12 blocks and nine steals so far, thanks to his foot speed, length and anticipation—a combination that leads to weak-side rejections, deflections and interceptions.
Once Noel builds up more strength in his upper and lower body and his offensive game starts to come around, he's going to be an electric, above-the-rim presence at both ends of the floor.
James Ennis, Miami Heat
Something tells me James Ennis will get some minutes in Miami this season, following his big year overseas and his standout play in summer league.
He certainly looks the part, standing 6'7" with long arms and smooth athleticism.
And he's clearly tightened up his game since we last saw him as a senior at Long Beach State, where he projected as more of a three-and-D wing with a limited off-the-dribble game.
But Ennis appears to have expanded and polished up his scoring arsenal over the last year. He's been creating his own shot in the mid-range, whether he's stepping back or pulling up. And though the sample size is small, he's caught fire from downtown, hitting 13 of 27 three-point attempts.
He's had some big games in Orlando—Ennis went for 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the floor against the Brooklyn Nets after putting up 18 points against the Boston Celtics. In Vegas, he scored 19 against the Houston Rockets on 8-of-13 from the floor.
Ennis always had the physical tools to play at the NBA level. Now, it looks like his skills have caught up.
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls
In three games, Tony Snell has already gone for 27 points against the Los Angeles Clippers and 23 against the Denver Nuggets, and he's 12-of-23 from downtown.
He looks like a different player from last season, and not just because he shaved off the braids. Snell's confidence level appears to be at a whole other level this summer, if you couldn't tell by his 48 field-goal attempts in 87 minutes.
Snell has a beautiful three-point stroke with deep, effortless range. He shot just 32 percent from downtown last season, but it's only a matter of time before that jumper starts falling.
He also has a deceivingly tight handle, something you didn't see much of last year, given his role as a rookie. In Vegas, he's flashed some scoring ability and shot creativity off the dribble, from pull-ups over screens to step-backs over defenders.
Between his jumper, defensive tools and athleticism, Snell already had a place in the NBA. But look for him to take that next step this year by becoming a much bigger threat with the ball in his hands.
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
He just doesn't stop scoring. It's ridiculous.
T.J. Warren averaged 12.1 points as a freshman with a measly 19.5 percent usage rate and then finished third in the country in scoring as a sophomore at NC State.
An open cut on his eye forced him to miss the majority of his second summer league game, but Warren went for 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting in his debut and then followed with 28 points on 12-of-22. His latest gem was a 26-point effort on 11-of-18.
He can score with the game slowed down in the half court, whether he's working one-on-one or off the ball. And he's automatic on the break, where his body control is sensational and his Eurostep is mean.
The kid just knows how to get buckets, from pull-up jumpers and floaters to off-ball cuts and tips. And since he's 6'8" with good length, tremendous mobility and adequate athleticism, there isn't much to question regarding his physical tools.
Warren isn't the flashiest, and he doesn't have the traditional go-to shots you see from most NBA wings, but his offensive instincts are off the charts. You just can't teach that.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Through three summer league games, Tim Hardaway Jr. has essentially confirmed what we already knew: He's for real.
Hardaway is averaging 20.7 points per game, lighting up defenses as a lethal perimeter scorer.
It's not just the spot-up three-pointers, which along with a potent transition game, was his bread-and-butter as a rookie. Hardaway's ball skills and shot creativity have improved—he's separating for jumpers in the mid-range, and he's been using that escape dribble to free himself for balanced pull-up looks.
Defense and shot selection remain his two biggest challenges, but you have to assume they'll improve with the more reps he gets.
Hardaway should play a big role this year for the Knicks as a shooter and scorer on the wing.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I'm not sure anybody has flashed more upside in summer league than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who's scored at least 15 points in each of his first four games.
It's just so rare to find a prospect this big (6'11"), long and athletic who actually handles the ball and creates offense from the perimeter.
He's getting to the basket, which he can do with just one dribble and two ridiculous strides from the arc. And he's separating in the mid-range, whether it's off a spin move or step-back jumper.
But where Antetokounmpo has really shown potential is with his off-the-dribble game. Coach Jason Kidd played him at the point against the Utah Jazz, something he seems intent on experimenting with during the season.
"We've seen it in practice," Kidd told the Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner, referring to Antetokounmpo's ability to run the point. "When you see a player's comfort level with the ball — no matter what size — we wanted to see it in game action. We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense."
Antetokounmpo dished out five assists in his debut at the point. Gardner added: "Antetokounmpo has grown in confidence since the end of last season. He is more assertive on the floor and more effective in the half-court game, an area where he is striving to improve."
We're not just talking about an athletic Greek Freak of nature with monster length and oven mitts for hands; Antetokounmpo's skills are looking sharp—sharper than they were a year ago.
The fact that he's only 19 years old is downright frightening. This kid is going to be special by the time he hits his NBA stride.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
Without that traditional quickness and athleticism shared by most NBA wings, Doug McDermott's ceiling is debatable—just not his skill set or the value it holds in the league.
He can put the ball in the bucket from just about anywhere on the floor. And he doesn't need to dominate the rock to do it, which is ultimately what differentiates him from previous "non-athlete" volume scorers out of college who crapped out in the pros.
McDermott doesn't rely on one-on-one or isolation sets. He gets himself open shots by moving without the ball, as opposed to needing it in his hands to dance around and find an opening.
It allows him to stay productive without jeopardizing his efficiency or shot selection. In his second summer league game, McDermott dropped 31 points on just 12 shots. He followed up with 20 points and six assists on 13 shots.
He has a tremendous feel and understanding of the game. Between his sweet stroke, deep range, extensive shot-making ability and basketball IQ, he's going to give the Chicago Bulls some complementary offense right off the bat.
McDermott might not have that All-Star upside, but he's a real-deal NBA weapon who's going to make a fine living in the pros.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
You didn't hear much from Otto Porter last year, after an offseason injury cut into his summer league and regular-season action. He just never caught on after starting behind the eight ball.
But Porter looks healthy and determined in Las Vegas, where he's averaging 19.0 points, 6.3 boards and 2.0 assists through three games.
His NBA value lies within his ability to score without the ball and attack the basket with it.
He's been torching defenses in the mid-range by knocking down jumpers off curls and screens. At 6'8" with long arms and a fluid overall delivery, Porter gets good elevation on those jumpers, as you'll often see him rise and fire right over the top of the defense.
Porter is also a threat as a ball-handler and passer, and though he struggled shooting it last season, he's capable of stretching the floor. He's hit three triples through three games in summer league, and for what it's worth, he shot 42.2 percent from downtown as a sophomore at Georgetown.
Not every rookie is ready to come in and make an impact. Porter sure wasn't. But now a sophomore with a little more confidence, strength, polish and health, it shouldn't be long before he emerges as Trevor Ariza's long-term replacement.
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