Rockets vs. Kings: Highlighting Top Performers from Summer League Championship

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

Sacramento Kings' Ray McCallum shoots a three point shot against the Houston Rockets during the NBA summer league championship basketball game Monday, July 21, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

The Sacramento Kings are NBA Summer League champions.

That doesn't have quite the ring to it as, say, dropping "summer league" from the equation, but the roster's ability to come away on top of the crown jewel of the NBA offseason is an admirable accomplishment nonetheless.

Sacramento surged through the bracket at the second edition of the annual tournament before taking down the Houston Rockets in the final, 77-68.

The highlight was an eight-point comeback bid in the final frame, but the real focus—like each of the more than 60 games over 10 days—was on the young talent who will impact the league for years to come.

Let's highlight the top players in that regard from Monday.


Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 21: Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets shoots against the Sacramento Kings during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 21, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
Jack Arent/Getty Images

Nothing less than a major outing was expected from Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas on Monday after his being named to the All-NBA Summer League First Team.

He delivered, shooting 7-of-15 from the field with 16 points, two boards and three assists. It was yet another sign that his all-around game continues to improve, as he entered having scored a minimum of 13 points in eight games.

Motiejunas' career numbers through two pro seasons have been minimal, but efficient:


It's an overall encouraging sign, especially when one ponders the fact he'll be just 24 years old in September. As Houston summer league coach Chris Finch put it, via Lang Whitaker of, Motiejunas is trending in the right direction:

He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.

Monday was just the latest example of his rising to the occasion, and a reaffirmation that he has the ability to play a key role off the bench next season for the Rockets. If he can better convert on shots from range, he'll be an outstanding stretch 4 to pair with Dwight Howard.


Nick Johnson, Rockets

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 21: Nick Johnson #3 of the Houston Rockets drives against the Houston Rockets during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 21, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Jack Arent/Getty Images

Make that 14-of-15 for Arizona product Nick Johnson.

After tumbling to the No. 42 overall pick in this year's draft, Johnson has been on fire and scored in double digits in all but one of his appearances in the summer league.

Monday only continued the encouraging trend as he topped all scorers for Houston with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field, along with six rebounds and three steals. As AZCentral's Doug Haller pointed out well before the contest, any whispers about Johnson's ability in the pros have been silenced:

Or as Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears put it after the fact:

It helps that not only has Johnson been downright impressive right out of the gate, but he's doing it in a rather emphatic manner:

Johnson fell far in the draft, presumably because he left early after his junior season—which saw him average 16.3 points and land All-American honors to go with being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

All things equal, Johnson is a ridiculously sound scorer already, a facet of his game that might just see him break into the rotation sooner rather than later.


Ray McCallum, Kings

There was just one star for the Kings on Monday, and it's all the team really needed to pull away from the Rockets.

Heading into his second year as a pro, McCallum has been nothing short of electric at times this summer, highlighted by his 29-point outburst to land his team the top spot in Las Vegas. His overall form, though, has been hit or miss:

Jul 21at HOU9-153-79129
Jul 20vs WAS5-101-16311
Jul 19vs CHI2-40-1545
Jul 17at MIN6-71-14513
Jul 14vs DLS3-80-031210
Jul 13vs CHA1-50-1226
Jul 11vs SAS4-110-26210

Still, Monday is a bit of critical momentum for McCallum as he heads into what may be a decisive season in his career after struggling his way to just 6.2 points and 2.7 assists per game last year while being a bit lost in the backcourt shuffle.

The numbers are not overwhelming by any means, but as ESPN's Reggie Rankin points out, the Detroit product has showcased other positive traits outside of the stat box:

After the fact, he took to Twitter to celebrate the championship with fans:

Monday was a neat summary of the work McCallum has put in over the offseason in the hopes of making a second-year leap. Based on his overall performance, it's safe to say McCallum has a strong case for more minutes in a jumbled backcourt that features Darren Collison, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas.

If he can apply the summer's lessons to his second season, the success will translate in tandem.


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