The Most Eye-Popping Performances from 2014 NBA Summer League
Over the past couple of weeks, the 2014 NBA summer league has treated us to some dazzling performances by up-and-coming standouts.
Not only were there hot-shooting onslaughts and gaudy scoring numbers, but several competitors were also massively productive in the hustle categories. Even guards and wings got in on the rebounding party.
The summer's most inspiring efforts came in all shapes and sizes, from the shot-blocking prowess of rangy centers to the elusive speed of playmaking point guards.
Based on the combination of statistical production and impressive plays, we carved out the 10 most eye-popping performances from Orlando and Las Vegas. This list may not reflect the most consistently proficient players, but it gives a glimpse of the most brilliant single-game performances of the tournaments.
These performances didn't crack our top 10, but they were eye-popping in their own right:
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns: 28 PTS, 11 REB (6 O-REB) at PHI
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls: 31 PTS vs. DEN
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz: 29 PTS (7 3PT), 5 AST vs. MIL
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets: 33 PTS, 6 REB at TOR
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks: 30 PTS, 4 AST vs. DLS
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets: 10 PTS , 18 REB at SAC
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic: 18 PTS , 8 AST , 4 STL vs. DET
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls: 27 PTS (5 3PT) vs. LAC
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers: 14 PTS , 9 REB, 5 BLK vs. BKN
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail-Blazers: 28 PTS (6 3PT) vs. ATL
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons: 30 PTS, 12 REB at MEM
10. Rudy Gobert's Block Party
Stat Line: 13 PTS (6-of-6 FG), 9 REB, 5 BLK vs. MIL
Watching Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is an eye-popping experience every game due to his sheer size, and he's all the more extraordinary when he's active and aggressive.
The French big man's defensive presence and finishing skills shined each night in Las Vegas, as he earned All-Tournament Second Team honors. But he was particularly dominant against the Milwaukee Bucks. Gobert rejected five shots and altered a bunch more. He stuffed one-on-one challengers and volleyball-spiked foolish weak-side slashers.
It's not often Giannis Antetokounmpo (6'11" height, 7'4" wingspan) and Jabari Parker (6'8", 235 pounds) look small and inept in the paint. But Gobert (7'1" height, 7'9" wingspan) dwarfed the Greek Freak and the former Duke star while swatting their shots into the stands.
In addition to the leave-no-doubt blocks, Gobert went 6-of-6 from the field as he crammed home a series of dunks and putbacks.
Don't expect his low-post impact to be limited to the summer league. He's ready to contribute for the upward-climbing Jazz.
9. Casper Ware Is Undeniable
Stat Line: 24 PTS (9-of-17 FG, 3-of-7 3PT), 8 AST, 2 STL vs. BKN
With shifty moves, breakaway speed, sharp shooting and accurate passing, Casper Ware accounted for a boatload of Philadelphia 76ers baskets against the Brooklyn Nets in Orlando.
As a scorer, he used his quickness and change of direction to free himself for floaters, jumpers and drives to the tin. He darted wherever he pleased and flourished on fast breaks.
Despite his 24 points, Ware also managed to quarterback the Sixers and dish eight assists. He set up his teammates beautifully from every angle, keeping the defense honest.
Standing just 5'10", he's regularly the underdog and has barely spent any time in the NBA over the past couple of years. But his robust production in Orlando, including this playmaking gem against the Nets, should translate into opportunities come October.
8. Gorgui Dieng Rules the Glass
Stat Line: 13 PTS (6-of-13 FG), 19 REB (6 O-REB) vs. PHX
When Gorgui Dieng is locked in on the boards, it's tough to contain him. The Minnesota Timberwolves' second-year pro flashed glimpses of rebounding prowess during the 2013-14 season. In Las Vegas, he controlled the paint for extended stretches.
Dieng's skills go far beyond rebounding, of course, but his most awe-inspiring summer-league display came against Phoenix.
He effectively kept the Suns off the glass and prevented them from grabbing second-chance opportunities. On the offensive end, he snatched six boards to rekindle Minny's offense.
In all, he brought down 19 boards in 35 minutes, helping the Wolves advance past Phoenix in tournament play. His aggressiveness around the basket set the tone and enabled Minnesota to out-rebound the Suns, 51-30.
7. Elijah Millsap Robs the Lakers
Stat Line: 19 PTS (5-of-7 FG), 7 STL, 9-12 FT at LAL
D-League journeyman Elijah Millsap is usually overshadowed by his All-Star brother, Paul, but he made his own headlines with a splendid two-way performance July 16.
He buoyed the Philadelphia 76ers' Vegas squad to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, notching 19 points and a summer-league record seven steals.
The offensive output is impressive, for sure, but swiping seven steals in 24 minutes is outstanding. The high rate of theft is partially due to the Lakers' sloppiness, but give credit to Millsap for alertly capitalizing on every turnover chance.
"I will say that this has been my most focused [summer-league performance]," Millsap told Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I feel like this is my last opportunity to show guys that I can play."
Although he's not a top candidate to latch on in the NBA, outings like this one prove he can be extremely assertive on both ends.
6. Nick Johnson Explodes for Triple-Double in Orlando
Stat Line: 15 PTS (6-of-11 FG), 10 REB, 10 AST vs. BKN
The Houston Rockets were winless in the Orlando Summer League until the final day of competition, and that's when Nick Johnson took his versatility to another level. His triple-double put the club in the win column and gave the team fuel for a better week in Las Vegas.
He outhustled, outsmarted and outplayed the Brooklyn Nets in every phase. Johnson took advantage of each window to attack, and he consistently gave his teammates prime opportunities to score.
Although he's just 6'3" with shoes on, the Arizona product can hold his own with just about anyone, as evidenced by his 10 rebounds. His explosiveness and sharp timing give him an edge in traffic and in the open floor.
If his superb stats and all-around contributions weren't enough, he delivered the highlight-reel play of the day as well. Check out his effortless 360 dunk in transition.
5. Justin Holiday Does His Best Warrior Impersonation
Stat Line: 29 PTS (9-of-15 FG, 2-5 3PT), 13 REB (7 O-REB), 9-of-9 FT, 2 BLK at PHX
For most of his three-year pro career, Justin Holiday has been competing overseas or in the D-League.
This summer with the Golden State Warriors, he sent a message that he wants a promotion and is ready for the big stage. No game embodied that better than his 29-point, 13-rebound effort against the Phoenix Suns.
He outworked opponents en route to seven offensive boards, including some acrobatic putbacks. In the open floor, he assertively drove to the rim, and he also smoothly splashed a handful of outside shots.
Brian Kotloff of NBADLeague.com thinks there's a place in the Association for Holiday if he keeps up this style of play: "Holiday is an NBA-caliber wing if he continues to drain jumpers like he's done in Vegas."
Abundant energy plus effective shooting usually yields favorable results.
4. Donald Sloan Notches an Unconventional 20/10 Outing
Stat Line: 20 PTS (8-of-17 FG), 10 AST (0 turnovers), 5 REB at BOS
When an NBA player has a 20/10 game, it usually refers to 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds.
But Donald Sloan's 20/10 game was even more impressive. The Indiana Pacers guard racked up 10 assists to go along with his 20 points against the Boston Celtics, and he didn't commit a single turnover in the process.
He was all over the place in Orlando. Sloan moved fluidly without the ball, finished deftly when he caught it and created many of his own buckets. Sloan's quickness and court vision forced Boston's defense out of rhythm and earned him a slew of dime-dropping opportunities.
Although he's bounced to and from the D-League during his three pro seasons, his strong overall play during summer league could be a huge step toward a permanent big-league role.
3. James Ennis Brings the Heat
Stat Line: 29 PTS (10-of-12 FG, 7-of-8 3PT), 4 REB, 2 AST vs. BKN
When players are absolutely on fire, the net sometimes sounds different when it swishes.
It was that sort of game for Miami Heat small forward James Ennis, who seemingly couldn't miss against the Brooklyn Nets during their Orlando Summer League showdown.
In just 26 minutes of playing time, he tallied 29 points on an economical 12 shots. Ennis went 7-of-8 from three-point range, spearheading a high-scoring blowout for the Heat.
He manipulated the Nets defense using flare screens, transition opportunities, dribble pull-ups and step-back jumpers. Miami rang up 110 points, and Ennis accounted for more than a quarter of them.
Ennis had four other strong games in Orlando and Las Vegas, but this onslaught against the Nets was the pivotal moment that turned heads and boosted his stock.
2. Isaiah Canaan Marches the Rockets Past the Cavs
Stat Line: 28 PTS (10-of-16 FG, 4-of-8 3PT), 2 AST vs. CLE
It's not just that Isaiah Canaan scored 28 points. It's how he scored them.
In a high-octane shootout against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Canaan stepped up when the Houston Rockets needed him most.
He barely clears 6'0" in his shoes, but the second-year point guard delivered the kind of offense that Kevin McHale will need off the bench in 2014-15. Canaan drilled colossal three-pointers to keep the Rockets afloat, and he also finished some gutsy drives.
In the final minute, he methodically drove past Cleveland's Andrew Wiggins for the game-winning bucket. Patrick Harrel of The Dream Shake tried to describe the guard's brilliant play: "Whatever the hell 'it' is, Canaan has it."
It's clear that he's got the speed, skills and demeanor to make an impact beyond the D-League. Keep an eye out for him as a key weapon in Houston's rotation this season.
1. Glen Rice Jr. Lifts Wizards in Triple-OT Classic
Stat Line: 36 PTS (11-of-21 FG, 6-of-10 3PT), 11 REB, 3 AST, 4 STL vs. SAS
In his signature performance of the summer, Washington Wizards swingman Glen Rice Jr. helped lift his squad past the San Antonio Spurs in triple overtime to advance to the semifinals in Las Vegas.
Not lacking for confidence or scoring prowess, the 6'6" son of former All-Star Glen Rice poured in 36 points to carry the Wiz. The Vegas Summer League MVP scored via aggressive slashes, rebounds, floaters and outside jumpers.
As regulation turned into overtime, he warmed up from beyond the arc and hit some crucial shots, including a buzzer-beating corner three to send the game to triple overtime.
His outside shooting was superb, but Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com loved Rice's nose for the rim.
"The most impressive part of Rice's offensive effort in Las Vegas involves his constant attacking of the rim," said Standig. "He has the size and strength to take on contact. In these games, Rice has shown the mentality to initiate the hit and the skill to score after the bump."
Several qualified wings will compete for playing time come autumn, but if Rice picks up where he left off in Vegas, he'll hold his own.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.