The 2014 NBA Summer League wrapped up last night as the Sacramento Kings beat the Houston Rockets, 68-77, for the championship. The Rockets fell apart with four minutes left, and Kings won despite getting only 9 points (but 7 in the last four minutes) from their leader Ben McLemore. It was relatively low-scoring, high turnover, low field goal percentage ending to the Summer League.
One team of semi-no-names beat another team of semi-no-names. Does anyone care? Here are my takeaways.
1) The fans are the big winners. The Summer League moved to Las Vegas in 2004 with six teams growing to 24 this year (here's the Wikipedia page). The NBA obviously likes Las Vegas, putting an All-Star game and the Summer League there amongst other things, and besides having a fun vacation spot for the execs, it's become a PR bonanza.
The best part is getting an early look at all the (uninjured) North American first round draftees away from their safe place in college. I'm actually kind of surprised - and delighted -- that the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are allowed to play at the risk of injury -- but there they are. This phenomenon wasn't true just a few years ago, and it seems like the owners got together in the back room and said: "Hey, this Vegas thing is great pub - let's push it."
2) Is there any basketball evaluation value to the Summer League? Yes and No.
Yes for the players, most of whom are not NBA-caliber. I said it before; the Las Vegas (as opposed to Orlando) Summer League is the Canne of professional basketball. Sub-NBA players are auditioning for paying gigs in front of representatives from pro leagues around the world.
What about NBA spots? Who knows what the coaching and executives staffs are thinking. The top-seeded Chicago Bulls didn't bother to play Doug McDermott in the semifinal game, while the Sacramento Kings played starter Ben McLemore but sat Derrick Williams after three games.
The first round draftees really have nothing to worry about. The preseason training camp is more important. The fringes - the last three to five slots - however, may be up for grabs.
My very rough estimate is that approximately three, maybe four, players per summer roster will make an NBA squad next season. Here is a very telling story about who actually makes the last three or so no-game-minutes spots on an NBA roster. After the starters and the rotation players, who are mainly first round picks, a combination of CBA limitations and personality decide the remaining "who cares" slots.
3) Who were the top players? Here's NBA.com‘s ranking. Jordan Adams is number six - I'll get back to Jordan.
Here are the Summer League All Star teams (not who you'd think).
I don't know why they left off Andrew Wiggins, but he dominated Jabari Parker in a head-to-head battle. Parker is surprisingly undersized (he's usually listed at 6'8" to 6'9" but didn't go to the Draft Combine -- so we don't know for sure), and can't play a lick of defense at this level -- yet.
The NBA.com list likes Nerlens Noel -- I do too, but he's a defense only player at this point, so my early prediction for Rookie of the Year is Wiggins - who may be headed for Minnesota (in a Kevin Love trade) before this is all over.
4) Surprises and Busts. Nick Johnson was the biggest surprise to me. He had a chip on his shoulder since he dropped to the #42 pick in this draft, and led a Summer League team that did not include the Rocket's first round draft choice. Glen Rice, Jr. shot lights out, and led the Summer League in scoring.
I was also surprised that the Chicago Bulls went into the playoffs in the top seed slot. Their 2014 and 2013 first round picks, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, did very well, and one of the Bruin surprises was David Wear (besides Jordan Adams). Wear scored 15 in one game, and adapted well to the apparent Summer League playing style -- a combination of running and hanging out on the perimeter once in the half court. Wear probably doesn't make an NBA roster, but should play overseas. McDermott still has a tough road in a forward-heavy Bulls roster -- especially now that they just added Gasol.
The biggest bust had to be Shabazz Napier who Miami drafted to supposedly appease LeBron James. His stat sheet is relatively empty.
5) The top Bruin was Jordan Adams (stats here). The Memphis Grizzlies played in Orlando, but not Las Vegas - the edition with far more star power, so there is a caveat to Jordan's statistical performance. I was also suspicious that he was able to play his UCLA game unfettered -- catch and shoot, drawing contact in the lane, going to the line a massive number of times and cheatfor the steal on defense. Nevertheless, he passed his first test -- check this off on the list. As of now, he's the most NBA-ready Bruin.
6) Zach LaVine (stats here) was given almost all the Minnesota minutes at point guard (in contrast to his UCLA experience), and they allowed him to grow into the spot over the course of the schedule. He started out very nervous and raw, and did have a high turnover to assist ratio, but Zach did show an arc, culminating in a 22 point performance. Based solely on the Summer League, I would now say Zach has the best future of the 2014 Bruin draftees. Unfortunately, he's stuck in Minnesota and behind two point guards, Ricky Rubio and Jose Barea, and possibly wing Andrew Wiggins if the Kevin Love trade happens.
7) I'm glad Kyle Anderson (stats here) went to the Spurs. They seem to have a plan for him. They challenged him to cover the opposing team's best player every game and it looks like they were coaching him to play wing on the perimeter -- something he didn't do as a Bruin. Was he up to the tasks? Not really. He seemed best, as expected, with the ball in his hands, but that's probably not in the cards for him. The NBA season is long and grinding. The Spurs, with their old legs, use a deep roster. If I had to make a call, I would say Kyle will get minutes during the season (is he D league--maybe), but he would be glued to the bench for the playoffs.