The NBA Summer League is a fun time. Even though, many times, summer league performances are random flashes of greatness rather than signs of future stardom, it’s enjoyable to watch all the rookies and young players and see glimpses of who may emerge as the NBA’s next star.
Guys like Marcus Banks, though, have proven that summer league performances must always be taken with a grain of salt, as the summer league is a far different game than the NBA. Banks’ 42-point explosion was memorable for being completely un-indicative of how Banks plays in a real NBA game but—while we’re on the subject—can we talk about how Marcus decided after that outburst, which was in his first game, to sit out the rest of the summer league (blaming it on his “shoulder”)?
If I’m Marcus and I have 42, I’m coming back for more the next game. I’m coming back with a whole bunch of confidence to try to work on my clearly flawed game. But Marcus?
He sat out the rest of the summer league, in hopes of securing a big deal out of his one terrific summer league game (and he actually got one, worth $3.5 million a year).
And I guess Marcus’s reaction, not mine, is the spirit of summer league. These guys aren’t fighting for big point totals or even wins—they’re fighting for their futures. For the guys who weren’t first-round picks in this past year’s draft, they’re at summer league for a reason.
They’re there either because they want to earn more minutes for next year or because they don’t have a contract yet. Summer league basketball is a battleground moreso than a competition for wins.
When players are playing for their livelihood, sitting out a few games to get that first big contract of their career is nothing. After all, a big game or two in summer league doesn’t pay the bills. But that contract will.
At the same time, games are played and some players play well and others, well, don’t. And that means there are some 2009 NBA Summer League Awards to hand out.
The Dennis Green Award
Given to the player who “is who we thought he was,” Blake Griffin. Griffin was seen as far and away the best prospect in the draft, and failed to disappoint in the summer league.
All Griffin did was put up a ho-hum 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, even throwing in 3.2 assists for good measure. He still has some things to work on (his 45.9% free throws really stands out), but Griffin showed the athleticism, fearlessness and skills that make him such a cant-miss prospect.
The Ocean’s 11 Award
Given to the steal of the draft, DeJuan Blair. Blair, drafted by the Spurs with the 37th pick, apparently fell that low because he actually doesn’t have either ACL.
I don’t know how that works out, but I do know this—Blair is as good a rebounder as there is in this draft. At the very least, he will be like Reggie Evans—a rebounder who brings relentless effort and unparalleled rebounding off the bench.
But Blair is more talented than Evans, with super soft hands and a knack for carving out space down low to be able to finish against far bigger—ahem, taller—opponents. He should amount to more than just a designated rebounder.
The Harold and Kumar Award
Given to a very talented duo, but one that may not fare as well the next time around. For Harold and Kumar, the second time around was the sequel; for Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow, it will be the regular season.
The tandem from Golden State was truly impressive, as Randolph averaged a summer league-leading 26.8 ppg and Morrow was right behind him at 24.7 ppg. But the regular season likely won’t be as promising for Golden State fans.
Randolph, despite putting on some weight over the offseason, should still struggle with the NBA’s physicality. He has a bunch of talent and a long, athletic frame, but his thin build will haunt him until he puts on a little more weight. And Morrow?
He can score in a hurry when he’s on (note his 47-point summer league showing and 37-point show in his first ever NBA start), and can certainly shoot (46.7% 3pt% last year), but Don Nelson has a strange tendency to yank around his young players’ minutes.
If Morrow can ever get consistent minutes, he should be a dead-eye shooter for the Warriors, but getting those steady minutes under Nelson’s sometimes bi-polar coaching may be tough.
As time passes by, this duo could become great for the Warriors. But, for now, they are still a long way away from helping the Warriors become contenders.
The Frank Lucas Award
Remember in American Gangster, when Frank Lucas shot a rival drug lord right in the face, in the middle of a crowded street? The award in his honor goes to a player who is never afraid to fire, no matter what the circumstances—Steph Curry.
Curry scored 17.4 points per game in the summer league, but took 16 shots per game to get there. In order to succeed in the NBA, Curry will have to improve his efficiency and learn to take better shots. Nobody doubts that Curry has a spectacular shooting stroke, but he gets himself in trouble by taking tough, contested shots.
The Hangover Award
The award named in honor of my favorite summer movie is given to the summer league’s best story, an article about David Harrison by The Denver Post’s Chris Dempsey. You should really check out the article yourself, but I’ll give you a couple glimpses of the unintended comedy offered by Dempsey.
Harrison, on his life: “I'm not focused on the fame, the money, the women, anything really. It's just more now, what are people going to say about me when I'm dead?”
Harrison, on whether he’s a drug addict: “I don't think I'm a drug addict or an alcoholic or any of those things. I'm just very self-centered.”
Harrison’s brother D.J., on the Pacers team Harrison played for that got into the famous Palace Brawl: “He had the craziest group of characters assembled on one team. There was nowhere to hide on that team.”
In addition to providing all kinds of comedy, the story is actually a heartwarming piece that describes Larry Bird as a great friend to Harrison. Harrison gives Bird all types of credit for helping to turn his life around when everything was going downhill.
After reading this entertaining and emotional story, Harrison is a guy to root for in the future.
The Rocky Balboa Award
To a player who should have been done with summer league long ago, yet still put on a pretty good performance, Adam Morrison. Had Morrison lived up to the expectations he carried after a star-studded career at Gonzaga, he never would have participated in the 2009 NBA Summer League.
But he didn’t live up to expectations, so he was there, battling with the NBA’s rookies and journeymen, looking for a chance to revive his career. Morrison actually played very well, showing glimpses of the scoring machine he once was.
He put up 20.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, but—to be able to find a role with the Lakers—he will have to improve his efficiency.
The Green Street Hooligans Award
One of the most overlooked movies of the last decade, the award in Green Street Hooligans’ honor is given to one of the draft’s most overlooked players, Brandon Jennings.
An absolute athletic freak who is actually a pure point guard, Jennings has the talent to become a top-shelf point guard, yet fell all the way to tenth in the draft. I know Jennings failed to really make his mark during his year in Europe, but this guy oozes with talent. And he was just the fifth point guard taken in the draft.
A lot of NBA GMs are going to regret passing on Jennings, who averaged 14.6 points and 8.2 assists over five summer league games and flashed the potential that could make him an elite NBA point guard sooner rather than later.
So, there you have it—the first annual Celtics Town Summer League Awards.