NBA Summer League Standouts Who Are Mirages

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2013

NBA Summer League Standouts Who Are Mirages

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    Everybody knows that deriving meaning from NBA Summer League stats can be tricky, but for a few of this year's top performers thus far, the numbers are especially misleading.

    So before anyone starts getting excited about Austin Rivers' barrage of buckets or Michael Carter-Williams' hefty assist totals, let's all just take a step back and stay rational.

    Nobody's saying these summer league stars can't eventually turn into useful players. And while there are a few standouts who figure to carry their excellent Orlando or Las Vegas performances into the regular season—Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and rookie Kelly Olynyk come to mind—there are just as many stat-stuffers who seem more likely to fizzle when the games start to matter this fall.

Tyshawn Taylor, G, Brooklyn Nets

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    Tyshawn Taylor ranked fifth in the Orlando Summer League with a scoring average of 16.8 points per game.

    While that figure might cause some Nets fans to get excited about Taylor's prospects in his second year with the team, it's time for a small dose of reality.

    Taylor hit just 36.8 percent of his field-goal attempts in four games, which, incidentally, is the same rate he posted in his rookie season with the Nets. Also worth noting: He managed a PER of just 6.28 in said season (per ESPN Insider).

    The scoring is nice, but the same issue that held Tyler back as a rookie persists. The only difference lately is that a heavier minute allotment helped mask the problem.

    The athleticism and defensive chops are there, but Taylor isn't going to be ready for a big role until he can find a way to get his points more efficiently.

Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Summer league games generally serve a dual purpose: They help teams get a feel for which fringe signees are worth keeping around, and they also allow for an early look at rookies' games—warts and all.

    Michael Carter-Williams, the Philadelphia 76ers' future at point guard, gave his new organization plenty to be excited about. But at the same time, his showing revealed some serious flaws that will keep him from being a real factor for at least a couple of years.

    In 31.5 minutes per game, MCW averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, even though the lanky point guard showed the same good court vision and leadership that made him a lottery pick out of Syracuse, he also made a paltry 26 percent of his attempts.

    A busted shooting stroke has long been the knock on Carter-Williams, and he hasn't done anything to change that yet. Because Carter-Williams is a rookie, take the preceding criticism with a grain of salt. He has a ton of natural talent, and much of what makes him an intriguing prospect—vision, unselfishness, size—is unteachable.

    But until he reconstructs his jumper, MCW won't come close to duplicating the kind of numbers he generated in Orlando.

Jeremy Lamb, G/F, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    We've seen this before.

    Last year, Jeremy Lamb—the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft—averaged 20 points per game on 47 percent shooting in the Orlando Summer League. But after coming over to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the trade that made James Harden a Houston Rocket, Lamb disappeared.

    This summer, he did it again, ranking third in Orlando by averaging 19 points per game. To be fair, Lamb's game looked better this time around. He showcased a surprisingly quick handle and a nasty arsenal of step-back and pull-up jumpers.

    In fact, after watching him bounce between OKC's bench and the D-League last year, the polish and smoothness of Lamb's game was very encouraging. But because we know that Lamb has already followed up a brilliant summer league effort with a completely disastrous regular season, he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt this time around.

    The Thunder need him to take on a larger role with Kevin Martin out of the mix. But nobody should believe he's ready to do that until he proves he can carry over his summertime work into the season.

Jeremy Tyler, F, New York Knicks

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    Don't be fooled by Jeremy Tyler. Just don't.

    Yes, the young big man put up 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the New York Knicks' summer league opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. And yes, he followed that up with 13 points and eight boards in 13 minutes against the Washington Wizards.

    But Tyler's physical talents—he's huge, remarkably athletic and has decent hands—have never been able to make up for his spacey defense, lack of a post game and inability to grasp many of the fundamentals required for effective interior play.

    Vegas is an ideal environment for him; his natural gifts allow him to run past and jump over the inferior competition. But when the real games start (assuming he somehow makes the Knicks roster), he'll be totally lost.

    Tyler teased the Golden State Warriors for two straight summers, but when the competition suddenly matched up with his size, and the understanding of defensive schemes started to matter, he wilted.

    Enjoy Tyler now, because he's definitely not going to be a reliable contributor outside of the glorified pickup setting that is summer league.

Austin Rivers, G, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Austin Rivers got some phenomenal results in the Pelicans' first summer league game. Against the Knicks, the second-year guard put up 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists.

    After posting one of the single worst rookie seasons in history after his lottery selection, that kind of production out of Rivers had to be a welcome sight for the nearly extinct contingent of pundits who still believe he'll mature into a viable pro.

    But if you watch the tape, Rivers' game remains virtually unchanged. His elbow is still way out on his jumper, he still has to rely on difficult finishes at the basket because of a lack of elite athleticism, and he still shows no natural instinct to involve his teammates.

    The numbers look great in a box score, and Rivers can use all of the confidence he can get. But based on actual game observation, there's no reason to believe he'll be a different player. It would be almost impossible for Rivers to be worse in 2013-14, but don't expect him to be much better, either.


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