By John Hooper
Through a combination of watching games in Vegas and on TV, here are 14 players that stood out to me for reasons both good and bad at the 2015 Vegas Summer League:
Kyle Anderson – Anderson was awarded the Summer League MVP after leading the Spurs to the league championship, controlling games with his versatile skill-set and well-timed aggressiveness. Anderson has had a unique blend of size, ball-handing ability and a high basketball IQ since his high school days, but the improvements that he’s made specifically on his conditioning and jump shot since being drafted out of UCLA have him poised to seize a larger role on the Spurs this year. He should see an increased role backing up Boris Diaw as a jack-of-all-trades big this year, and the work ethic that Anderson has been praised for within the organization may lead to even more than that. Hopefully we also see him alongside LaMarcus Aldridge as an intriguing version of how the Spurs frontline might look in the not so distant future.
Doug McDermitt – Although he put up numbers and was placed on the First-Team All-Summer League Team, I don’t understand what McBuckets' offseason plan was this year. He seemed focused on developing his low-post game while slimming down his body, two goals that are diametrically opposed. I want to give McDermitt the benefit of the doubt and assume that his work in the gym was done with the goal of trying to improve his quickness to allow him to defend wings more effectively, and that his repeated forays onto the block were an exercise to expand his repertoire to add to his long-range shooting skills. However, his struggles shooting both last season and in this Summer League along with his lack of elite size or athleticism have started to make me worried he may be a tweener without a true role in the league.
Jahlil Okafor – Okafor was the safest pick in the draft. He’s looked to be exactly what we expected with great footwork and touch in the post offset by limitations defensively, athletically and at the free throw line. He’s unbelievably advanced for his age offensively and I expect the ROY to be a two-man race between him and Mudiay. However, I think he’s the antithesis of where the NBA is heading and is not the player I’d want to be building a franchise around. I see many 20/10’s and 8-seeds in his future…
Karl Anthony-Towns – On the other side of the coin, Towns looks like he’s going to be a long-term project but he clearly has elite potential. He was much less of a dominating force asserting his will upon the game a la Okafor, but he flashed every skill you could want in a a big man: rim protection, a developing low-post game, a jumper with eventual range to the three-point line, great athleticism and a strong motor. My NBA comparable for him coming into the draft was Al Horford and I maintain that as the comparison for him after seeing him for the first time amongst NBA-esque level competition. I also think he’s in a great position in Minnesota with Kevin Garnett there as a mentor and no playoff expectations to impede his development.
Emmanuel Mudiay – Mudiay became the darling of the league after showcasing his precocious court vision in a 19 point 10 assist performance in his first Summer League game. His combination of size, strength and explosiveness at the point guard position had some comparing him to John Wall before the draft, but the unexpected level of maturity he showed running the Nuggets offense left the league buzzing that he could be the steal of the draft after falling to the seventh pick. As mentioned earlier, I expect the ROY to come down to Mudiay and Okafor due to the readiness of both of their respective games as well as the sizable roles they’ll both have on their teams.
Devin Booker – One of my favorite players heading into the draft, Booker saved his best game for the second to last game of Summer League, blowing up with 31 points on 10-17 shooting (5-9 from 3). I loved Booker as a prospect because his strongest skill, three-point shooting, is the most valuable commodity in basketball right now, but also because he successfully played the same role that he’ll be used in on the Suns at Kentucky last year. His experience as a complementary player will allow him to have a much easier transition into the league compared to the majority of players who are having to learn how to be bit-players for the first time in their basketball lives. When you factor in that Booker was the youngest player in the draft at 18 years old and had shown no glaring weaknesses, he looked as close to a can’t miss prospect as there was this year. However, while he showed a more impressive off the bounce game than expected, I still don’t think his ceiling in the league is that of an all-star as he doesn’t appear to have the mentality to take over games. I expect him to be the darkhorse in this year’s ROY race and to be putting up 18/4/2 within two years.
D’Angelo Russell – Russell’s best game highlighted exactly why I’m worried about his NBA future. Russell lit up Utah for 21 with a barrage of midrange jumpers but only 1 three-pointer. He also had 0 free-throw attempts, and while he showcased his incredible shot-making ability, the majority of his attempts were of a high degree of difficulty. While he may have prolific nights where he’s making tough shot after tough shot, it looks like the Lakers are going to be in store for a lot of 3-11 clunkers this year. Russell’s loudest critics leading up the draft cited his lack of quickness and strength as the missing ingredients that would allow NBA level defenders to contain him where his less athletic Big 10 foes were unequipped to do so, pointing to his 3-19 shooting night against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Arizona in the NCAA tournament as proof. I liked Russell a lot coming into the draft and still saw the glimpses of his great ball skills and court vision that made him the number 2 pick, but he’s going to have to develop a consistent three-point shot and ways to get easy points if he wants to prove those critics wrong.
Noah Vonleh – I’m going to get on my soapbox for the next 5 or so players. Granted, Vonleh didn’t show much in his first year with the Bobcats, but as a team that misses the playoffs in the East, don’t you need a major upgrade in talent if you’re trying to be a significant part of the NBA landscape? Why would you trade away a 19 year old who had enough potential to be drafted 9th overall after 1 year? And for a player who regressed last year, is on the last year of his deal and has duplicative strengths of one of your cornerstones in Kidd-Gilchrist nonetheless. This is also the same Charlotte team that passed up 4 first-rounders and 2 second-rounders to take Frank Kaminsky so I don’t know why I’d expect logical decisions from them, but the decision to give up on Vonleh so quickly was mind-boggling. Vonleh was a great under the radar pickup for the Blazers, showing in Vegas why he has the potential to be an ideal modern power forward with his shooting range and rebounding ability. Obviously it was a minuscule sample size, but 6’10” 240 pound players who go 5-10 from 3 and grab 34 boards in 4 NBA level games while 19 years old don’t grow on trees. I’m excited to see what Vonleh can do in an expanded role this year with the rebuilding Blazers.
Tyus Jones – While watching Jones play, my buddies and I realized that Jones epitomizes the player that falls through the cracks on draft day every year as he lacks great measurables and doesn’t possess any eye-popping skill, yet outperforms his draft position because of his intelligence, competitiveness and consistency. Sure, Terry Rozier might have a higher ceiling than Jones but I would be very surprised if Jones doesn’t have a 12 year career while Rozier is eating his spaghetti ranch sandwiches in the Euroleague. Jones knows how to run an offense, when to pick his spots and showed in the NCAA championship game that he’s not afraid of the moment. Jones is going to stick in the league a long time as a contributor.
Norman Powell – Norm is a player who has a clearly defined role in the NBA on day 1: using his elite athleticism to lock up wings as part of the second unit. His speed and strength also proved to be huge assets in transition in the Summer League as he was able to slash to the rim for easy buckets. Powell is the type of player that GMs should be looking for in the later stages of the draft as he already has at least one clear NBA level skill. Even if he’s the 5th man off the bench, he fills a niche that allows him to play right away and contribute to the team through his defense and hustle. He’s also a great type of prospect to draft in the later rounds for another reason, in that you can’t teach the type of explosion he has, raising his overall potential as a player. If Powell can continue to get easy buckets and starts to improve his long-range shooting, he could become a very solid starting wing within a few years.
RJ Hunter – If the calling card for the prospect you’re considering drafting is his jump shot, the fact that he shot under 30% from three-point range the season before he enters the draft may be cause for concern. When he shoots a shade under 36% over 8 games in Summer League I’d really be starting to worry about what this guy has to offer to my team. Just saying. On one hand I’m a huge hypocrite because I was hoping Hunter would fall to 30 so the Warriors could use him to stretch the floor on offense this year, but I’m starting to wonder if his reputation as a marksman was based more on volume than accuracy.
Sean Kilpatrick – On the other end of the spectrum, Kilpatrick looked like the best shooter in Vegas with an extremely quick and accurate stroke from long-range. Before looking him up I really didn’t remember much about him other than him carrying the offense of a Cincinnati team with very little firepower during his college career, but he looked like a player someone should give a long look to. If I’m Sam Hinkie, I’m letting him play 20 minutes a night and giving him a chance.
Kristaps Porzingis – The International Man of Mystery – the player I was most excited to see. I liked his attitude on the court; he’s humble and plays hard. He’s incredibly long, like Gobert long, and incredibly skilled for his height. I have two concerns with him in the NBA: first, he has a very long way to go in terms of developing his body. Where I found his lack of strength most worrisome was in rebounding and catching the ball as he had a difficult time corralling balls that would hit his hands, missing out on giving his team opportunities for second chance points, fast-breaks and steals numerous times. Simply put, 3.3 rebounds in 20.5 minutes a game is not going to cut it for a guy who’s 7’3″. Second, I feel that he’s being placed into roles where he’s not going to maximize his current abilities. Watching him trying to bang down low on both ends of the court may have been a worthwhile experiment in Summer League, but at this point he’s clearly a 4 and not a 5. Instead of trying to back someone down on the block, why not run some pick and pops to get him some daylight for that jumper?
On a related note, I actually thought that the 76ers actually should’ve taken him 3rd in the draft both because he fit their roster well – spacing the floor next to either Noel or Embiid – but also because he has such a high ceiling. It seemed that Porzingis fit the high-risk, high-potential mold of what Hinkie is looking to build much more than the closer to fully-formed Okafor, plus Porzingis would’ve been placed in a low-pressure environment that is emphasizing development right now, which would’ve been ideal for maximizing the player he’ll become. Oh well. Right now, he’s got a long way to go and I think his most realistic comparison is Channing Frye.
Jerome Randle – Has an awesome family who was a lot of fun to watch the games with. He was great to watch during his college career at Cal and I hope he continues to play well, whether it’s in the NBA or in Europe.