5 NBA Summer League Players Who Will Benefit from League's New 'Hustle Stats'

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 12, 2015

5 NBA Summer League Players Who Will Benefit from League's New 'Hustle Stats'

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    Randy Belice/Getty Images

    Good news, NBA fans. Quantifiable hustle is coming soon to a summer-league box score near you.

    The league is rolling out a pilot statistical program at the Las Vegas Summer League that will chart various "hustle" categories that have been traditionally uncharted.

    An official NBA release detailed the new program (via NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff):

    This year at Samsung NBA Summer League 2015, the league will be tracking five 'hustle stats.'  These statistics will be tracked in an attempt to quantify how a player’s effort and intensity, factors we know are important to team success but traditionally have not been formally tracked, affect the outcome of a game.  They will be distributed in-game to team personnel, media and broadcasters.

    The five stats that will be monitored are: two-pointers contested, three-pointers contested, deflections, loose balls recovered and charges drawn.

    Essentially, defenders will be awarded for challenging shots (even if they go in), making contact with the ball on non-field goal attempts (including a kick ball) and drawing an offensive foul call. Additionally, all players can be rewarded for corralling a loose ball, and tie-ups that lead to a jump ball will give each player involved half a loose-ball recovery.

    Plays that would have been easily overlooked before will now have their own place on the stat sheet. For the following five players, this is a tremendous opportunity to reap tangible rewards for their intangible skills.

Aaron Craft, PG, Golden State Warriors

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    DAVID BECKER/Associated Press

    Aaron Craft's NBA ticket was never going to be an easy one to punch.

    His biggest strengths reside on the defensive end, which has always been the more difficult side to statistically evaluate. One can record items like steals and blocks, but there is nothing to measure the straitjacket he drapes on opposing point guards.

    Unfortunately, the areas where he struggles are some of the first ones fans and evaluators notice. He's not a good outside shooter. He only hit 33.3 percent of his three-point attempts during his four years at Ohio State, and he shot just 25.7 percent with the NBA D-League's Santa Cruz Warriors last season. He's neither an explosive scorer, nor a prolific passer.

    But as someone who reads screens well and stays in front of his opponent, Craft should score highly in shot contests. And he's more than willing to pick up some floor burns and score some extra points in the loose-ball recovery department.

    "Aaron Craft flew out of bounds and landed with a thud trying to save a ball with 1:04 left in this summer league game," Bay Area News Group's Diamond Leung noted during the Golden State Warriors' 83-75 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

    Given the way pesky point guard Matthew Dellavedova rose to prominence during the NBA Finals, Craft's feistiness could put him on several teams' radars. He'll have to keep his offensive numbers respectable—Friday's nine-point, seven-assist, zero-turnover effort was a nice start—but these new areas will help highlight the other ways he's able to impact the game.

Larry Nance Jr., PF, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    When the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed Larry Nance Jr. with the 27th overall pick, the selection surprised many for a couple of different reasons.

    For one, his four-year resume at the University of Wyoming didn't exactly scream first-round talent. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks over his Cowboys career.

    On a related note, Nance wasn't expected to hear his name called nearly that early on draft night. Bleacher Report's draft expert Jonathan Wasserman pegged Nance to be the 55th overall selection.

    Despite possessing good size (6'8.5"), length (7'1.5" wingspan) and athleticism (37.5" max vertical), scouts weren't sure if Nance had an NBA game. He never found good rhythm from long range (30.8 three-point percentage in college), and he had trouble creating his own shot.

    "Nance lacks the ball handling ability to be effective as a face-up player and only projects as an occasional spot-up shooter with an eye toward the NBA," wrote Draft Express' Kyle Nelson. "... Nance also lacks much in the way of post moves, and is still only able to utilize simple drop steps, jump hooks, and the occasional and oftentimes wild turnaround jumper."

    While Nance will need to find a more reliable offensive niche, he helps himself by understanding that working hard is a skill all its own.

    "I play with an incredibly high motor," Nance said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "I never take a play off. Every loose ball, I’m on it it. Every offensive rebound, I’m chasing it."

    That energy and enthusiasm now has a way to carry over to the box score. Nance's defensive activity should help in the shot contests and deflections, and he won't miss many opportunities to snare a loose ball.

Justin Anderson, SG, Dallas Mavericks

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Justin Anderson's NBA future resides in the trendy three-and-D role.

    He wasn't born as a three-point shooter, but he built himself into a potent one during his junior season at Virginia. After hitting just 29.8 percent of his three-pointers in his first two collegiate campaigns, he connected on 45.2 percent this past season.

    That improvement speaks to his willingness to work, as does his success as a versatile defender. Between his physical gifts and mental makeup, Anderson has all the tools needed to be a shut-down defender.

    "At 6'6", with long arms, good quickness, and a well developed upper body, Anderson has quick enough feet to defend wings on the perimeter and enough brute strength to defend smaller players in the post," wrote Draft Express' Derek Bodner.

    Switching through multiple assignments isn't easy. It demands the determination to fight through physical fatigue while chasing players around the arc, and the willingness to withstand punishment underneath.

    But Anderson has both. Dubbed "tireless" and a "hard worker" by NBADraft.net's Tajh Jenkins, Anderson lives for the plays these categories track. When his opponent rises for a shot, Anderson won't miss many contests. And that internal fuel will help him cause deflections and track down loose balls.

    If Anderson's performance in the Dallas Mavericks' Sin City opener is any indication, he'll leave his fingerprints all over the traditional groups on the box score. Though his Dallas Mavericks fell 90-86 to the New Orleans Pelicans, Anderson pumped in a team-high 23 points to go along with seven boards.

    But since he can struggle to create his own offense, he'll need to affect the game in other ways when his outside shot isn't falling. Thanks to his intensity, that won't be a problem. And thanks to the tracking of these hustle stats, his impact won't be overlooked.

Bobby Portis, PF, Chicago Bulls

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Keep a snapshot of Bobby Portis' smile in your mental portfolio. Once he steps inside the lines, the 20-year-old doesn't flash it often.

    "I play angry, I play mad," Portis said, per CSN New England's A. Sherrod Blakely. "I play very angry. every game, I sit in the locker room and I have visions of the players on the other team slapped my mom. So that's why I get mad and now I get you because you slapped my mom."

    That's one way to light an internal fire. It's also quite possibly the way Portis punched his NBA ticket.

    The 6'11" forward is skilled, but not explosive. He's a bigger offensive threat from the perimeter than the low post. There's an undeniable finesse aspect to his game, which makes keeping his motor at full-throttle a necessity.

    But that isn't an issue for someone who has patterned his game after the fiery Kevin Garnett.

    "I feel I bring that same physicality, that same passion and that same log on my shoulder that he plays with," Portis said, per Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman.

    With enough speed to defend the perimeter and the strength to bang on the low block, Portis could be among the Chicago Bulls' leaders in shots contested. His 7'2" wingspan and defensive tenacity make him a prime candidate to pile up deflections. And there's no way he's getting beat to a 50/50 ball by a player he just mentally saw slapping his mother.

    Portis needs to make a splash at summer league. The Chicago Bulls are loaded with bigs, and their rotation may not be receptive to rookies if they're tying to make a run at the 2016 title. But if the new numbers put a favorable light on his activity, he won't be easy to keep off the court.

Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    As good as Marcus Smart's traditional numbers looked during the Utah Jazz Summer League, these newly created categories will show the full importance of his impact.

    During two games in Salt Lake City, Smart did a little of everything. His offensive volume was impressive (24.0 points and 7.5 assists a night), and his efficiency was solid (44.1 percent shooting from the field, 37.5 percent from long range).

    But watch how his value will soar once he starts being credited for his competitive drive and relentless motor. Even though he's a former lottery pick returning for his second summer session, he won't take his foot off the accelerator.

    He isn't built like that.

    "Marcus is a hard guy not to like. He plays with great fire," Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last summer, per Boston.com's Gary Dzen. "One of the top competitors I've seen all around the world."

    Normally, there wouldn't be a lot of pressure on a player like Smart. The Celtics liked him enough to make him the sixth overall selection in 2014, and though he struggled with his shot as an NBA freshman, it's hard to imagine Boston minded too much given his across-the-board production of 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals in 27.0 minutes per game.

    But at some point, the Celtics need to balance their guard-heavy roster. There aren't enough minutes to maximize the impact of Smart, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, James Young, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter together.

    Boston reportedly shopped Smart at the draft with the hope of climbing into the lottery, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, so there's a chance the former Oklahoma State star doesn't have the most secure spot in Beantown. But that could change quickly once his relentless defense and insatiable energy gain measurable values.


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