*These rankings are based solely off how these players performed in Summer League*
1) John Wall
2) Lance Stephenson
3) DeMarcus Cousins
4) Damion James
5) Derrick Caracter
1) John Wall, Washington Wizards, PG, 6'4'', 196 Lbs, Kentucky
Wall was the most hyped player in Summer League, but he didn’t collapse under all of the pressure of being the No. 1 draft pick. He never disappointed the packed gyms he performed for.
Wall looks like he’ll be an even better pro than collegiate player. There will be more space and driving lanes on the court in the NBA than there at Kentucky. He led the entire Summer League in assists (7.8) and scored 23.5 points per game.
Wall's speed and explosiveness were all on display in Las Vegas, but his character and attitude are what really stood out to me. He definitely showed that he could blow past defenders on all levels of competition, but I really liked that he made his teammates better. His positive attitude and joy for the game seemed infectious.
Wall is a distributor by nature and his Wizards' teammates will eventually cut harder, run faster on the break, and be ready for the catch-and-shoot because they know that he will make a play for them. This might be a revelation to some current Wizard players who have played with “shoot first” (and second) point guards like Gilbert Arenas, Mike James, or Randy Foye.
We’ve already seen how Wall has influenced the play of center Javale McGee.
This big man, entering his third year, has naturally developed but you can’t ignore Wall’s impact on McGee’s offensive output. McGee averaged 19.5 pts on 68.8 percent shooting. The shots he did miss were mostly his own ill-advised fadeaways or poorly executed post-up attempts.
The chemistry that Wall and McGee have is similar to how Chris Paul raised the play of Tyson Chandler, connecting on alley-oops and pick-and-rolls. McGee appears to have more offensive potential than Chandler. Wall and McGee should become an exciting duo to watch, but so could Wall and Al Thornton, or Wall and Andray Blatche.
Every player on the Wizards should benefit from Wall's selfless play.
Overall, John Wall is definitely the real deal. He has some holes in his game (5.2 TO, .377 FG) but those are things that all rookie point guards typically need to work on.
His coachability, personality, huge smile, and electric play will quickly make him the face of the franchise. The team executives have already overhauled the roster to rid themselves of most of the Wizards’ recent troubles. There’s only one player who could stop the Wizards from becoming Wall’s team…
2) Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers, PG/SG, 6'6'', 227 Lbs, Cincinnati
In my opinion, Lance Stephenson was the most impressive rookie in Orlando.
He was incredibly efficient and smart with the ball. He looked like a totally different player than he was at Cincinnati with a much better shot selection and not settling for long-range jump shots.
He looked like an early choice for steal of the draft.
Unfortunately, he finished Summer League prematurely due to a thigh injury. He missed most of the fourth game and the entire finale.
A huge key to his success was the Indiana Pacers’ decision to allow Stephenson to dominate the ball as a big point guard rather than a shooting guard. This proved to be a huge factor as he penetrated defenses to either finish with contact or drop off the ball to teammates.
Considering his reputation, he surprisingly never seemed selfish, and enjoyed every minute out on the court. I’m not saying he’s the next Tyreke Evans, but the comparisons are easy to make while watching him.
In his first three games, Stephenson averaged 18.3 points, three rebounds, two assists, and just 2.3 turnovers.
It’s easy to look at his two assists per game and think he wasn’t distributing the ball, but that wasn’t the case at all. His Summer League teammates struggled finishing for him even when he got the ball to them in good scoring opportunities. They were all plays that quality NBA players would have converted. Stephenson easily could have had 3-4 more assists each game.
His scoring and playmaking abilities were great, but I was most encouraged to see his positive attitude, shooting efficiency, and low turnovers.
Even when his teammates made bad plays, Stephenson never seemed very frustrated and it made me wonder if he was unjustly vilified earlier in his career.
As for his shooting, Stephenson shot 75 percent in his first three games. Yes, 75 percent. He didn’t have a three-point attempt in those games, but it was amazing to see him play that effectively.
He was definitely one of the most consistent rookies in either Summer League. His 2.3 turnovers were especially impressive considering the other rookie point guards turned the ball over at much higher rates (John Wall 5.2, Eric Bledsoe 6.2).
“Born Ready” definitely made a statement at Summer League. He’s raised the eyebrows and expectations of many NBA executives and fans. We’ll see how he progresses.
3) DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, C, 6'11'', 292 Lbs, Kentucky
Cousins had extremely high ups (18.3 pts, 11.3 rebs, 45.8 FG percent in the first three games) and disappointing lows (10.7 pts, 8.3 rebs, 20.0 FG percent in the final three games).
In his first three games, he looked like he might be able to challenge John Wall as the most impressive rookie in Summer League, but in his last three games, he looked like he couldn’t even crack the top 10. This inconsistency is alarming, but hopefully he’ll grow out of it.
It was rumored that Cousins showed a lot more versatility and skills during his draft workouts than at Kentucky, and in Las Vegas, he proved that he had a lot more to his game than a big body and soft touch. In Summer League, he was solid pick-and-popping, operated from the high post some, floaters, handled the ball a little, and even showed shooting range beyond the college three-point line.
Those were all positives, but he also looked horrible at times. He shot 3-15 and 1-12 in his final two games. The same shots he was taking and making in the first few games would not go in later in the week. He could have shot better shots and focused on the paint, but it’s Summer League and being too passive isn't productive.
The poor shooting is one thing, but I was more concerned with the reason he began to play worse. I believe it is once again a question of conditioning. I don’t think he was in good enough shape to handle playing so many games in a brief stretch of time.
During the NBA regular season, teams don’t play games as frequently as Summer League, but the 82-game season is much more taxing and demanding physically. Can Cousins stay disciplined and ready both physically and mentally to handle such a long commitment?
Cousins can easily frustrate a coach with his inconsistency and decision-making (he had five or more turnovers in five of his six games), but the frame and tools that he possesses aren’t teachable.
He can definitely dominate in the NBA and if he stays focused, I could see him as a Rookie of the Year candidate.
4) Damion James, New Jersey Nets, SF, 6'8'', 227 Lbs, Texas
James was much more offensive-minded than we saw at Texas. No one thinks he’ll become a 20-point scorer in the NBA, but it was good to see much more offensive potential out of him while he continued to hustle, defend, and rebound.
He finished second to Jrue Holiday in scoring at the Orlando Summer League with 18.8 points on 46.4 percent shooting. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds and just 1.5 turnovers despite how aggressive he was offensively. His biggest improvement was his three-point shooting (40 percent). Shooting has always been a knock on James, but he’s worked on it tirelessly and didn’t hesitate to spot up from NBA range.
James feels very confident playing for the Nets and their coaching staff (especially Avery Johnson) has helped raise his belief in his own abilities. Everyone knew James was a scrappy player with a nose for the ball, but in Summer League he showed a more polished offensive game. These are all things that will get him opportunities in the NBA, and when he’s playing well, it will be hard for his coach to take him out.
James is an unselfish player who knows his role and will compete whenever he’s on the court.
5) Derrick Caracter, Los Angeles Lakers, PF, 6'9'', 280 Lbs, UTEP
Caracter was one of the most productive and fundamentally sound big men in Summer League.
He didn’t get much exposure after he left Louisville to play at UTEP, but he was a main attraction and consistent contributor in Los Vegas. In five games, he averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 59.3 percent from the floor (never shooting under 50 percent in a game).
The first thing I noticed about Caracter was what kind of shape he was in. He looks like he’s slimmed down and is in great shape.
At the pre-draft combine, he weighed in at 280 lbs, and if that’s still his weight, then he’s hiding it extremely well. His game has benefited a lot from his lost weight. He appears more nimble, explosive, and a quicker jumper.
Offensively, he showed a lot of skills. He had an excellent mid-range jump shot that he was comfortable taking. In college, he mostly relied on posting up, but it appears that Caracter realized that he’d have to diversify his game to succeed in the NBA against longer, stronger, and smarter defenders. He was effective in the high post, spotting up, and finishing around the rim.
He had some problems with turnovers (5.4) and fouls (7.2) but those are workable things.
Offensively, he was impressive, especially for a No. 58 draft pick, and defensively, he played good help side D. It will probably be hard for Caracter to find a roster spot with the NBA Champions, but in my opinion, he is deserving of a contract and will eventually find a home in the NBA.
Jeremy Lin, Dallas Mavericks, PG/SG, 6'3'', 200 Lbs, Harvard
Lin was a “feel-good” story coming into Summer League: A Harvard grad who could become the first Asian-American to play in the NBA. But that storyline quickly went away as Lin proved to be a very talented guard with a real chance to make an NBA roster [Update: Lin was signed by the Golden State Warriors].
Lin isn’t known as a true point guard (and he’s not), but he showed that he was able to play some point. In Summer League, he averaged 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, two assists, and 1.2 steals on 51.9 percent shooting (including two of three from downtown) in just 18.5 minutes of action a game.
Lin has a deceptively fast first step and moves his feet very well on defense. As a perimeter defender, he stays in front of his man well and stays down on shot fakes. He seems like a real competitor, just ask John Wall (I definitely recommend you watch this Youtube clip and decide for yourself who came out on top).
Devin Ebanks, Los Angeles Lakers, SF, 6'9'', 208 Lbs, West Virginia
Ebanks started off the week on fire. He scored 21 points in his first game, then followed it up with a 24-point performance and shot 50 percent or higher in both games. As the week went on, he cooled off considerably, but his play was still unexpected.
The biggest surprise was his three-point shooting. He showed a confidence and fluidity in his long-range jumper that he never had before. He shot an unbelievable 45.5 percent from downtown, which is especially shocking because he didn’t shoot threes well in high school, college (11.4 percent), or at the draft combine (34 percent from college and NBA line, which is especially bad for a shooting drill).
Just so you know how unexpected this was, in five games of Summer League, he almost made as many threes as he made his ENTIRE collegiate career (five in Vegas, eight in two years at WVU).