When you think of the NBA Summer League, the first thing that comes to mind is unproven talent. It's a great introduction for new players into the association, even though nothing that happens counts on the stat sheet or standings.
However, when you evaluate what players can do in the context of these games, there are things to take away. You can get an understanding for how they shoot, their decision-making process and feel for the game.
As you devour the stat sheets and reports for what's happening in the Summer League, there are going to be a lot of things that jump out. These are the names we are watching closely to make notable contributions during the regular season.
Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards
If you are looking for a strong NBA pedigree, you can do worse than Glen Rice Jr. Everyone knows his father, who played 15 years in the NBA, was a three-time All-Star and led the league in three-point percentage in 1996-97.
The younger Rice didn't come into the NBA with great ceremony as a second-round pick to Philadelphia, which traded him to Washington, last year and appeared in just 11 games, averaging 2.9 points.
However, there were glimpses of Rice's shooting touch in the D-league with Iowa that included a shooting percentage of 46.4 and three-point percentage of 35.1.
It's not just a pure Summer League creation, either. Ben Standig of Comcast SportsNet Washington noted how well the shot was coming along, with some help from the crowd:
Glen Rice Jr. is shooting like Glen Rice Sr. After his 3rd straight made FG, this one from 3, someone from the crowd yells, "OH MY GOD!!"— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) July 15, 2014
The Wizards are a team on the rise after winning 44 games and adding Paul Pierce to a young nucleus that includes John Wall and Bradley Beal. Rice won't be asked to do more than come off the bench, but teams are always looking for depth.
If Rice can just develop into a catch-and-shoot player this season, he will be a valuable asset for a Washington team that has one of the best young point guards in basketball.
Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks
Everyone knows that Phil Jackson wants to bring players to New York who play his triangle system. Derek Fisher might be the head coach, but he's operating as a surrogate to Jackson. That's not an insult since Fisher undoubtedly learned a lot from the legendary coach during their time together in Los Angeles.
In the triangle offense, the center is a key position to initiating the attack. Right now the Knicks have depth at the center position with Andrea Bargnani and Samuel Dalembert, but boast no one who has a future as the team's long-term big man.
Enter: Cole Aldrich.
The 25-year-old from Kansas has been a backup throughout his career but played in a career-high 46 games last year. Bargnani isn't dependable at all, having played just 108 games over the last three years.
Aldrich has played in only one game in Las Vegas due to a calf injury, according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, but he was impressive with 15 rebounds and nine points in 31 minutes.
Cleanthony Early has a sprained ankle and will not play today. Cole Aldrich (calf) likely done for the summer league.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) July 14, 2014
The Knicks made a point to re-sign Aldrich when Fisher was hired as head coach, as the two played together with Oklahoma City during the 2011-12 season. The center told Marc Berman of the New York Post, after agreeing to a deal with the team, that he made a point to learn the new offensive system.
Nothing’s changed since those practice days in Oklahoma City. [Fisher is] confident, comfortable and knows what he’s doing.
I feel good about coming back. I came out here to use the time to learn the triangle. I would love to sign and my agent is talking to management.
Once Bargnani gets hurt, which seems like a foregone conclusion given his history, Aldrich suddenly becomes more important to the Knicks. He finished the season strong with back-to-back double-doubles against playoff teams in Brooklyn and Toronto, so the future is looking bright.
Russ Smith, New Orleans Pelicans
There are some guys whose individual tools don't grade out well enough to make them attractive draft prospects, but when you put them on a basketball court, they have a commanding presence and feel for the game that indicates they could carve out a long career at the pro level.
Russ Smith is that kind of player. He is as old as you will see any player in this era of the NBA draft, coming into the league at 23 years old this June, when Philadelphia made him the 47th overall pick before trading him to New Orleans.
That advanced age undoubtedly helps Smith against Summer League competition, which is primarily going to be teenagers or players in their very early 20s.
However, you would be wrong to dismiss Smith as a guy just beating up younger competition. New Orleans signed him to a contract on July 15, which guarantees him a roster spot for the 2014-15 season.
Smith isn't the kind of player to hold a grudge because he didn't get drafted higher. As he told Rick Bozich of WDRB.com, there's no point in being upset about anything now.
I don't have a chip on my shoulder. I don't have to prove anything. My game speaks for itself. Whoever I get matched up against, I have to show that.
Draft night is over. Now everybody is on one level. Now it's just time to get to work. I have been trying to play as well as I can and just keep moving on.
You can see the passing ability in Smith's game based on his high assist per game average, which is more than one full assist per game better than the No. 2 player in the league. He's got to make smarter decisions than his 4.2 turnovers per game suggest he makes, but the skill is in there.
Which player will play the biggest role for his team in 2014-15?
It's easy to live with some of the mistakes and bad decisions because Smith is a guard who averages 16 points, 6.4 assists and five rebounds per game. He's going to be a valuable bench player for a New Orleans team that has talent at the top but needs depth.
The Pelicans know what it's like to groom a turnover-prone guard with Jrue Holiday leading the offense and averaging 3.1 turnovers per game in 2013-14. He's developed well as a shooter and passer to the point where you can live with the mistakes.
Smith is a similar type of player, so he's gone to a situation that will allow him to develop the things he does well and minimize his problem areas.
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