Each NBA Vegas Summer League Team's Biggest Standout Performer
Twenty-three NBA organizations descended on Las Vegas to see their prospects in action, and a choice group of youngsters proved they can make significant contributions beyond the summer league.
The joy of summer league comes from seeing glimpses of future ability flash in a showcase built to display it now. No team's top scoring option in Sin City should fill the same role when the regular season tips off—not unless his franchise has designs on tanking in 2014-15—but a huge offensive performance in Vegas can indicate to coaches what skills to cultivate over the coming years.
On the other hand, the lower level of competition in summer league play versus the NBA proper requires parsing out substance from style. Will the volume-shooting outbursts translate when someone gets fewer touches? Or has a supporting player excelling at more modest tasks better proven how he can help his squad win?
While every summer league team has produced at least one tantalizing performer, what follows are the standouts whose successes in the Las Vegas Summer League won't just stay there.
Atlanta Hawks: Dennis Schroder
If Mike Budenholzer really is building the Atlanta Hawks into the San Antonio Spurs of the East, then he needs more guys who can create with the ball in their hands.
That was Atlanta's biggest weakness last season. Jeff Teague could dart through defenses and either get to the rim or find one of the plethora of Hawk shooters, but when he went to the bench, no one could ignite the offense. Weapons like Kyle Korver are extremely less useful without a ball-handler setting them up.
Dennis Schroder's 3.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers per game in starter's minutes don't scream "facilitator," but with 6.7 assists per game last season, Teague's not the purest pass-first point guard either.
What's more important is Schroder showing up to summer league stronger and more explosive than he was last season, attacking off the bounce and sparking the Atlanta offense with his athleticism whenever he was on the court.
His 15.7 points per game came on just a hair under 40 percent shooting, but that stands to improve with fewer shots and better talent around him, even as a second-unit quarterback. If he can provide Atlanta with some penetration off the bench, the shooting depth gets that much more dangerous.
Charlotte Hornets: Noah Vonleh
The crux of Noah Vonleh's case as a top draft prospect hinged on his comfort playing the post on both ends of the floor, as well as his physical gifts.
Furthermore, the Charlotte Hornets' investment on Vonleh with the ninth overall pick implies they believe his 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a freshman at Indiana undersell the level of production of which he is capable.
So is Vonleh all yet-to-be-realized upside, or does he have the skills to do damage now?
Based on his Vegas play, it turns out the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Watching a 6'10", 240-pound inside scorer shoot 28 percent from the field is troubling, but he still pulled down 10.0 boards per game and successfully unleashed a nice array of hooks and feints when he got the ball on the block. The results might not have been pretty, but finding an 18-year-old so smooth in the post is very rare.
Though erratic, Vonleh looked natural working around the basket, and it will be much easier for Charlotte to help him refine fluid play than to teach him fluidity in the first place. Give him some time with the Hornets coaches and Al Jefferson, and Vonleh could quickly establish himself as a potent post scorer.
Chicago Bulls: Tony Snell
Among Chicago Bulls wings, Jimmy Butler led in scoring with a paltry 13.1 points per game last season, and Mike Dunleavy was forced into the lineup just to get some more shooting on the floor.
The healthy return of Derrick Rose (fingers crossed, salt over the shoulder, prayer to the fickle god of knee ligaments) will certainly help, but so will the emergence of Tony Snell.
In just 16 minutes per game as a rookie, Snell shot 38 percent and averaged just 4.5 points per game. The speed and hops were there, but he lacked the controlled dribbling ability to get good looks for himself, as well as the shooting refinement to capitalize on the shots made for him.
Playing in a familiar environment, the New Mexico product outdid new teammate Doug McDermott's sharpshooting in Vegas. Snell led all Bulls with an even 20 points per game, and he did it on 47 percent shooting overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Now, a 17-for-34 three-point performance won't translate perfectly, but his play as one of just two scoring threats is encouraging. He looked comfortable finding, taking and making whatever shot he wanted, and his improved spot-up game from deep will do wonders for Chicago's spacing.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett
Andrew Wiggins did things like this and this for the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league squad, but nothing stood out more than the 2013 first overall pick looking like a viable professional basketball player.
Following a season plagued by asthma, sleep apnea and generally poor fitness, Bennett showed up in Vegas in much better shape and able to use his oversized frame to his advantage.
The 21-year-old will always have a man-childish frame; his broad shoulders and stout midsection are similar to Julius Randle's, who, at 6'9", is two inches taller than Bennett and a pure power forward, as opposed to an anomalous tweener.
As he wheezed through his rookie campaign, it seemed Bennett would be too short to guard bigs and too breathless to keep pace with small forwards. With no positional fit, he was 20 years old and already seemed to be a bust.
That was not the case in Vegas, as Bennett played just a hair under 30 minutes a game, racked up 13.3 points and 7.8 boards and showed how dangerous a man built like him can be running the floor.
He's likely still not a starting-caliber player, but he's showing the potential that motivated Cleveland to take him first overall last year. Still very young, Bennett will continue to improve, and he will make Cavs fans—or possibly fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves—very happy.
Dallas Mavericks: Ricky Ledo
If Rick Carlisle's inventive scheming from last season bleeds into this one, the Dallas Mavericks won't need a ball-dominant point guard to run the offense, but they will need passing.
Jose Calderon dished out just 4.7 assists per game last season as Dallas' starter at point, trailing Monta Ellis' 5.7 for the team lead. Now that Calderon has been traded to the New York Knicks in a deal for Tyson Chandler, the Mavs will still likely look to work without one primary distributor, lest they rely too heavily on Raymond Felton and Devin Harris to facilitate Dirk Nowitzki and company.
Even though Ricky Ledo succumbed to bouts of chucking in summer league play, his assist numbers were a revelation.
Considering summer league rosters are assemblages of prospects with little to no playing time together and competing with their teammates for future opportunities, Vegas isn't exactly the most conducive to passing.
That's what makes Ledo's 4.4 dimes per game so remarkable. They were good for eighth in Vegas, and the next-most generous player taller than 6'7" was San Antonio's Austin Daye (6'11"), who tied for 21st with 3.0 per game.
Scoring 15.4 points on 32 percent shooting won't impress anyone, but that passing from the wing will. Ledo played just 33 total minutes as a rook, but his Vegas play should earn him some more time facilitating the second unit.
Denver Nuggets: Erick Green
All eyes were on Gary Harris amongst the neophytes the Denver Nuggets trotted out, but his quickness and defensive instincts shouldn't overshadow 32 percent shooting—both overall and on threes. If he can't hit against lesser competition, Denver won't be giving him too many minutes right away.
Erick Green only hit a third of his threes, but he made half of all his shots from the field en route to 16.6 points per game. For a guy who Denver acquired in 2013 for his perpetual ability to finish around the rim, this most recent example ought to get him a chance to prove it in the regular season.
When the Nuggets picked up Green from the Utah Jazz, who drafted him 46th overall in 2013, all they were gambling on was his 25 points per game as a senior at Virginia Tech, tops in Division I and good enough to garner him co-ACC Player of the Year honors with Shane Larkin. Green only spent last season in Italy due to a glut of shooting guards already on the Nuggets roster.
Arron Afflalo, Randy Foye and Harris are all at that position now, but Green deserves his chance amongst that group, if only for bench minutes—especially if he ups his three-point percentage closer to the 39 he shot as a senior at VT.
Of course, the same can be said of Harris, a career 38 percent three-point shooter at Michigan State. This isn't a knock on Harris; this is an appreciation of Green's ability to pinball his way to points inside and the belief that this most recent example of it makes it a trend Denver will acknowledge.
Golden State Warriors: Justin Holiday
The Splash Brothers have given the Golden State Warriors offense a high profile, but beyond them and David Lee, the Dubs' scoring becomes haphazard.
If Harrison Barnes can undo the step backward he made last season and resume his positive development, that problem largely disappears. Short of that, the Warriors still need to find some wing scoring to come off the bench.
Justin Holiday won't bring as much of the long-range bombing that has become Golden State's offensive hallmark, but he'll add some defensive strength and dribble-drive ability on the wing that the Warriors' second unit has heretofore lacked.
His 14.8 points per game came on just 42 percent shooting and 33 percent from beyond the arc, but Holiday came through with points in key moments. He didn't fare so well with a huge shooting load, but when his team needed a basket, he succeeded.
The 25-year-old Holiday also looked more muscular this summer than he has in past attempts to make the NBA, and it showed in his perimeter defense and board crashing, leading to 5.0 rebounds a game.
At 6'6", he's a swingman as opposed to a true small forward like Barnes, but Holiday can give the Dubs some of the help they want from that position.
Houston Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas
It has taken some time, but Donatas Motiejunas could finally be coming around.
The Houston Rockets foresaw a seven-foot-tall stretch forward when they traded for Motiejunas on draft night back in 2011, but after another season in Europe and two more with Houston, he hadn't shown the consistency offensively to put his shooting and face-up game to good use.
Given that history, his Vegas production against inferior defenders should be taken with a grain of salt. Motiejunas scored 16.9 points per game on 62 percent shooting overall and 42 percent on threes, but his seven Vegas games aren't enough evidence to say he has figured everything out.
Even so, he played those games as though he knew he could do what he wanted when he was on the floor. Even at 7'0", he was able to take slow-footed bigs off the bounce above the free-throw line and effectively drive to the basket, then raining jumpers over defenders when they gave him space.
Save for Isaiah Canaan, Motiejunas was Houston's only reliable summer scorer. When he gets to support the Rockets' many offensive threats, he'll have even more room to operate.
Los Angeles Clippers: Amath M'Baye
The Los Angeles Clippers found a much-needed injection of wing energy in Amath M'Baye.
L.A. stocked up on swingmen last season, but it ultimately wound up surrounding Chris Paul with shooters who didn't contribute much on the other end.
J.J. Redick could at least cover other shooting guards, but he can't shift over to small forward defensively if need be. Jared Dudley was acquired for that job, but he appeared a shell of himself last season, and Reggie Bullock wasn't yet ready for the task.
That left the job to Matt Barnes, who could bulldog his way through it just fine, but he's also 34 years old and now lacking his three-point stroke. A changing of the guard is in order.
Enter M'Baye, whose hustle was evident on both ends this summer. At 6'8", he's more than willing to battle inside for points, getting 13.0 per game on 46 percent shooting, and he hounded opposing wings on the perimeter, bothering them with both his size and his athleticism.
His jump shooting still needs a good deal of work, but at least when the Clips need a stop, they have more than just a 34-year-old up for the task.
Los Angeles Lakers: Jordan Clarkson
Julius Randle was the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, but Jordan Clarkson, selected 46th, was the story of the Los Angeles Lakers' summer league.
Few players in Vegas looked as confident as the Missouri combo guard did. Though Kendall Marshall started at point for the Lakers, relegating Clarkson to off-ball status, the rookie knew exactly what to do when Marshall kicked to him.
For a 6'5" guy, Clarkson's first step is brutal for opposing defenders, forcing an oftentimes shorter man to contend both with his height and off-the-bounce burst. Play him too close, and he'll turn the corner effortlessly. Give him space, and he'll shoot over the top, which he did to the tune of 42 percent on threes.
He's not a polished enough point guard to handle the task as L.A.'s lone ball-handler yet, nor to serve as a lead scoring option in bench-heavy lineups, but he would be a devastating secondary option against teams unprepared to stop multiple penetrators.
Clarkson can play with Jeremy Lin at point and Kobe Bryant playing up at small forward right away, both capitalizing on the attention paid to his veteran teammates and easing the pressure on them. At this point in Kobe's career, that's a valuable gift to get from a second-rounder.
Miami Heat: Justin Hamilton
Justin Hamilton reminded everyone of a timeless lesson in Vegas: If you're 7'0", 245 pounds and can play competently in the low post, there's a place for you in the Association.
Just that simple center performance would have been enough for the Miami Heat, whose other options at that position consist of a 36-year-old Chris Andersen and brief stints of Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts. There's the faintest hope that Greg Oden can be useful, but banking on him to do so and stay healthy sadly remains unfeasible.
Summer league teams trot out even lesser center competition than that, but Hamilton nonetheless torched it in convincing fashion, dropping 18.0 points on 63 percent shooting from the field and recording 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
On top of that, he stepped out and hit half of the threes he attempted—which is to say he made three of six, but the willingness to take them displays a confidence in his jumper that will fit nicely within Erik Spoelstra's offense.
The 24-year-old Hamilton produced less for Miami than Oden did last season, playing only nine minutes per game in eight appearances with Charlotte and the Heat. All signs point to him contributing much more in 2014-15.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jabari Parker was poised to be the star of the Milwaukee Bucks' summer league, but after shooting 42 percent from the field and going just 2-of-11 from deep, he didn't even finish as Milwaukee's leading scorer.
That honor instead went to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who flashed more star potential than anyone else in Vegas.
We had already seen a full season of the rangy, springy "Greek Freak" trying to harness his limitless ability, with a clear future as the Platonic ideal of the defense-threes-athleticism small forward. But his play this summer suggested even loftier goals.
Giannis attacked off the bounce in Vegas—not just as a summer experiment, but as a legitimate and terrifying weapon. His stats don't come close to telling the whole story of his play: 17.0 points on 46 percent shooting and 38 percent on threes is great production for the second-year forward, but his driving to the basket and devastating finishing showed what's to come.
He won't be able to beat defenders so easily in the regular season, but as he grows more comfortable with his ever-expanding arsenal, All-Star play seems like a matter of when rather than if.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Zach LaVine
Speaking of freaks of nature displaying the skill to produce earlier than expected, let's talk about Zach LaVine.
Though the 6'5" UCLA product could eventually grow from athletic wunderkind to a Russell Westbrook-like point guard, LaVine revealed that he's good enough to perform as an off-ball guard right now.
As a shooter, he's not quite ready yet to create for himself; though his stroke looks pure, his 15.7 points per game lose some shine when you consider he shot a hair under 40 percent, and his three-point shooting (26 percent) suffered when he couldn't find a rhythm.
NBA defenses will know he'll likely miss if forced to shoot off the dribble, but LaVine has the kind of Association-ready athleticism that can offset his weakness. He can beat defenders so effortlessly to get good looks, and opponents have to respect him offensively. When LaVine's on, he's really on.
On top of that, he'll have the likes of Ricky Rubio setting him up when he gets to the Minnesota Timberwolves. LaVine has no ceiling in that environment.
New Orleans Pelicans: Russ Smith
Russ Smith found a way to play a well-rounded point guard game, chemistry-less summer league roster be damned.
More than any other NBA hopeful in Vegas, Smith was able to set up his fellow prospects to score, leading all players with 6.4 assists per game. Relative to his competition, he displayed a superior level of experience on the floor, showing ability to bend defenses to create scoring chances for his teammates.
That savvy extends to his own scoring as well. There's a good chance his 6'0" reported height is an exaggeration, but he knows how to use his diminutiveness to his advantage. Smith stays low, makes quick, decisive moves and can contort his body to finish around defenders several inches taller than him.
With 16.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game to his name, Smith had a hand in just about every New Orleans Pelican play when he was on the floor. Those stats, and particularly his surprising glass cleaning, indicate a guy with a nose for the ball and the knowledge of how to make the most once he has it.
New York Knicks: Shane Larkin
With 22.8 points per game, Tim Hardaway Jr. was the second-leading scorer in Vegas, but Shane Larkin's performance was even more important for the New York Knicks.
It's not that Hardaway shot poorly—43 percent from the field, 38 percent on threes—but that his high-volume shooting won't continue once he starts playing with Carmelo Anthony again. "TH2" was negligibly less efficient offensively as a rookie; as nice as it was to see him explode, New York didn't learn much from his play.
Larkin, however, has only been a Knick for a few weeks, and he has now proved he can bring much-needed quickness and headiness to the point guard position.
As summer league progressed and he grew more familiar with New York's triangle actions, Larkin's rapid decision-making and equally speedy execution allowed him to gash past defenders off the dribble or shake them with precise cuts.
On the other end, Larkin's instincts carried his play, as he constantly darted into passing lanes en route to 3.0 steals per game. For a Knicks team severely lacking in perimeter D beyond Iman Shumpert, that pressure is vital.
Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens Noel
Jordan McRae's 21.0 points per game deserve their due, but no story could possibly be bigger for the Philadelphia 76ers than Nerlens Noel's return to the court.
His production wasn't anything extraordinary—13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game—and the 2013 sixth overall pick was still shaking off some rust in some of his first games since his time at Kentucky, but watching him play instantly revealed he would reassume his elite rim-protecting form.
Even if 228 pounds might be generous for the stick-thin 6'11" Noel, his weight did not seem to diminish his shot-altering ability whatsoever. Despite his surgically repaired ACL, he's such an explosive leaper with such long arms and quickness traversing the paint that he can swat away balls few other bigs could even reach.
Noel still went through Vegas play under strict protection, averaging 26.5 minutes in just two games. Even so, he'll be an even more disruptive force when he's unrestrained in the regular season.
Phoenix Suns: T.J. Warren
In T.J. Warren's two-year career at North Carolina State, he was an offensive machine due to his herky-jerky approach and unorthodox shot-making.
Would that style of play translate from college to the pros? Five summer league games later, it certainly seems like it will.
That said, his 17.8 points per game on 54 percent shooting must be scrutinized. Not only is summer league a small sample size, but the green defenders Warren faced there were more likely to get flummoxed, while seasoned veterans will know how to deal with him.
His tenacity and body control will still allow him to score, though. Even if getting close to the basket won't always be easy for Warren, he's an expert at probing defenses from different angles and battling on the boards to create chances for himself in the most prime real estate, contorting himself to get the cleanest possible shot off once he's there.
The Phoenix Suns need that wing scoring to aid their two-point guard attack, and Warren will be able to capitalize efficiently on the space they create for him.
Portland Trail Blazers: C.J. McCollum
Just think of how terrifying the Portland Trail Blazers will be with a second scoring combo guard playing next to Damian Lillard.
C.J. McCollum did not get a true shot to perform during his rookie year after breaking his left foot prior to the season, and when he did take the court for the second half of the season, he was playing at less than 100 percent.
He's not working his way back into playing form anymore; he's clearly already there.
No one in Vegas could stop McCollum when he got the ball in his hands. He carved up defenses with 20.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from deep. And those rates actually underrate his efficiency. When he gets to the real Blazers, he won't have to attempt 29 treys over a five-game stretch, and he'll up his percentage with fewer and better facilitated shots.
Portland's second unit struggled in vain to produce when the starters sat, and with McCollum bolstering the bench in earnest now, scoring should no longer be a problem.
Sacramento Kings: MarShon Brooks
Some summer league players pour on points behind tons of shots, selection be damned, but MarShon Brooks is the rare score-first guy to make the most of limited attempts.
Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas, each of whom played over 29 minutes per game, are bigger shooting guard prospects with greater upsides than Brooks has. The 25-year-old is entering his fourth season, and yet the Sacramento Kings will be the sixth NBA franchise for which he has played.
If he shoots like he has in Vegas, Brooks' professional basketball career won't be so nomadic anymore.
That's not possible in the long run, of course. Brooks shot an insane 59 percent overall, allowing him to put up 11.3 points in only 15.2 minutes per game. He did not force shots or shoot off balance. Brooks just kept his shooting form steady and took what the defense gave him.
It's as simple as that. After three years and now twice as many teams, Brooks has embraced the cliches of playing within himself and letting the game come to him. Not the most exciting Vegas revelation, but it's one that Sacramento will find valuable when distributing its shooting guard minutes.
San Antonio Spurs: Austin Daye
Austin Daye did not have a great Vegas on the surface. As with Vonleh, Daye's 35 percent field-goal rate isn't pretty, even if it led to 16.3 points per game.
Look closely, however, and there's a telltale sign that the 6'11" forward might be turning into a wiry version of Boris Diaw.
San Antonio's dancing bear came up huge as a meaty Swiss Army knife in the Spurs' championship run, contributing 9.2 points, 4.8 boards and, most meaningfully, 3.4 assists per game in the 2014 postseason. His interior passing was emblematic of the team's beautiful ball movement, and it earned him three more years and $22 million.
Remember we mentioned that Daye averaged 3.0 assists per game in summer league play? For context, he played 27.3 minutes per game. In five seasons, he has played 14.6 minutes per game and dealt 0.8 assists, peaking with 1.1 back in 2010-11.
As the offense ran through Daye's distribution, the system stood out as much as the player. San Antonio isn't just picking up bigs who can pass as a luxury; the Spurs are teaching that skill and preaching it as a necessity. He is just the most recent beneficiary of that organizational tutelage.
Toronto Raptors: Bruno Caboclo
Bruno Caboclo is definitely still a work in progress, but he's closer than "two years away from being two years away," as ESPN's Fran Fraschilla put it on draft night.
The out-of-nowhere enigma of a first-rounder known as the Brazilian Kevin Durant isn't some athletic marvel with a discombobulated approach to the game. Make no mistake, he's got tons of physical gifts—the kid is 6'9" with a 7'7" wingspan and he's still just 18. But he looked surprisingly competent playing with and against guys in their 20s.
Caboclo shot just under 40 percent from the field and barely over 30 percent on threes, but he also was able to capitalize on enough scoring chances to hit double digits in each of his five games, averaging 11.4 per game.
On defense, his intensity showed through, as did his athleticism, making life difficult for opposing small forwards and coming at them harder when he got beat. While that drive led to an immature shove of C.J. Fair when the Toronto Raptors faced the Mavs, resulting in a technical foul, it was refreshing in a way to see the most unlikely Vegas contributor invest so heavily in a game whose result hardly matters at all.
This much is clear: With some polishing and some bulking up, Caboclo can be as good as anyone, and he has the motivation to put in the work to do so.
Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert
With Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and more, the Utah Jazz sport a deep, exciting crop of perimeter prospects. Even so, you have to pay respect to the 7'1" dude who has developed a feel for the game.
A simple increase in on-court awareness over the past year has made the difference between Rudy Gobert, clueless center project, and Rudy Gobert, unstoppable interior force.
Last summer, the Frenchman had no idea how to utilize his height or his 7'9" wingspan, processing plays too slowly to react properly and resorting to flailing rather than moving his feet and positioning himself correctly.
This trip to Vegas was entirely different. Sure, the big competition isn't the most skilled in the summer league, but Gobert's 2.5 blocks per game were especially ferocious, and he put up his 11.8 points per game on a ridiculous 73 percent shooting. He was so automatic from the field that he missed more free throws (nine) than field goals (seven) in his four games.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are both ahead of Gobert on Utah's frontcourt depth chart, but there's always room for a giant who can dictate play under either rim.
Washington Wizards: Glen Rice Jr.
Yeah, points scored aren't necessarily the best measure of a summer leaguer, but Glen Rice Jr. got more of those than anyone else, so let's talk about him.
Playing alongside another breakout wing in Otto Porter, Rice made sure to have the ball in his hands as much as he could; if Porter wasn't looking to score, Rice would make something of the possession.
And it's not as though Rice's 25.0 points per game were the result of ball-hoggery. He hit 47 percent overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc, so he didn't squander his many attempts, and he still found time to dish out 2.3 assists per game.
When he didn't have the rock, Rice went and got it. The 6'6" shooting guard was persistent on the boards, pulling in 7.8 rebounds despite his size. He also swiped the ball away from opponents 2.5 times a game.
That two-way excellence earned Rice Vegas MVP honors, but he'll find himself on the bench backing up Bradley Beal nonetheless.
In a great summer for the Washington Wizards, Rice's performance still demands respect. He might have gone from 9.9 minutes per game in 11 rookie-year appearances to sixth man on an Eastern Conference contender just like that.
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