I know none of you are watching summer league, so I felt like I needed to fill you in (again, I know) on all the happenings in Las Vegas. What players surprised, fell short of expectations, or even just showed up?
Great Players + Pleasant Surprises
Zinger’s four games for the Knicks were the most anticipated summer league games ever. In limited minutes, he wound up averaging 10.5 points and just over 3 boards. He also wowed many onlookers with his willingness to fire away from three, and exceeded expectations with his rim protection, racking up nearly 2 blocks/game. While he was occasionally pushed around under the basket, what else do you expect from a European big who’s yet to turn 20? Kristaps has a lot of work to do, but his Vegas performance should leave Knicks fans hopeful about the future.
Perhaps the best assessment of his myriad strengths was said by his coach. “[Porzingis] complements so many different players and situations,” said Derek Fisher on how Porzingis’ style of play fits with the Knicks. “Defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. Offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor and do some things around the basket as well, I think he’s a player that fits with just about any lineup, no matter how you’re trying to play." For a player with sky-high expectations, it was relieving to see him live up to the hype, at least in Vegas. Here’s to hoping Kristaps can continue his brilliant run once the season begins.
Many were excited to see Mudiay stateside after his gap year in China, and his performance at summer league did not disappoint. Mudiay’s stat line (12 points, 6 assists, 3.5 rebounds on 38.5% shooting) won't blow anyone away, but few are questioning him after four games in Vegas. Mudiay was exactly what we expected him to be. He was bigger, stronger, and more athletic than every guard he faced. He showed a great ability to get by his defender and either finish at the rim or kick to an open shooter. Defensively, he was solid and his 1.2 steals/game is nothing to scoff at. He isn’t a great shooter and definitely doesn’t have NBA range yet, but we knew that coming in. Mudiay seems to be exactly as advertised and that’s a great sign for the rebuilding Nuggets.
But the most pleasant surprise of his performance was his patience. “I feel like playing overseas professionally, that really helped me,” said Mudiay. “Coming from high school to pro ball, in high school I was rushing everything. Straight out to China I was rushing everything. But I’ve got to let the game come to me.” If he can maintain this maturity in Denver, the Nuggets may have found their point guard of the future.
Oubre impressed during his time in Las Vegas, scoring 17 points and 6 rebounds/game. Entering into the draft, his propensity to disappear during games was of paramount concern. However, during summer league it was hard to lose him on the court. He was aggressive offensively, hoisting up threes like he was the reigning MVP. He only hit 25% of those, but a 5-7 performance from three in his Vegas finale ended Oubre's summer on a high note. Draftniks also blasted Oubre for lackadaisical defense in college, something else he seemed to fix in Vegas. While he was hardly an elite defender, his high steal rate points to an increase in attention, if nothing else. It’s obviously far too early to say Oubre was the best value pick of the draft, but this was a step in the right direction.
Doubters of D’Angelo Russell going into the draft were few and far between, but his summer league performance raised some eyebrows. He played big minutes and scored 12 points/game on 38% shooting. However, that’s not the part that had people worried. Russell averaged 5.2 turnovers compared to 3.2 assists/game. He made a lot of bad decisions with the ball in his hand and he payed the price for it. He shot 2-17 (that’s 12%) from three and only got 1 steal/game. Despite all this, it wasn’t all bad for Russell. Though he lost control sometimes, he looked smooth and natural with the ball in his hand, and he still has a great shooting stroke. The amount of minutes he played likely contributed to his amount of turnovers, and those numbers will go down once he adjusts the speed of the NBA. It wasn’t a good showing for Russell, but there’s no reason to stop believing in his potential. If he can avoid trying to do too much, he’ll be a lot more successful his rookie season. It looks like Russell could take a page out of Mudiay’s book, and let the game come to him. With any luck, he’ll be fine once real basketball starts.
After missing all of last season due to a broken leg, Randle was someone I had my eye on during summer league. Let’s just say I was disappointed by what I saw. Randle averaged 11.5 points and just 4 rebounds/game in his four appearances. But that’s not the worst of it. Randle shot just 39.5% from the field, which is especially worrisome considering Randle refused to take any midrange shots. Time after Time, Randle would catch the ball around the elbow and, instead of taking the open shot, he would spin move towards the basket before throwing up an off-balance shot. He put his head down when he caught the ball and rarely looked to pass (1.2 assists/game). Defensively, he looked like the same player. He still has trouble guarding really anyone and he still can’t jump high enough to affect shots (0.8 blocks/game).
Randle’s struggles were perfectly summed up by an Eastern conference scout, who said "Concerns you have about him are he just really only has one move going left and I'm not sure how good he'll play against guys with good length. No reason to panic with him, but he's got to learn how to create space to showcase his skills with the ball. What he's doing here doesn't work." After his play in Vegas, Randle looks like a player who was cut out for the college game. He will need to make huge strides if he wants live up to the expectations of being selected 7th overall.
The Number 1 Pick
What would a summer league recap be without some thoughts on the first overall pick? Towns summer league completion was nothing more than that: A completion. Towns play was solid, if unspectacular. He averaged 13 points and 7 boards on 40% shooting. Not great, but he affirmed his ability to hit a midrange shot. He protected the rim well, but not exceptionally, averaging 1.8 blocks/game. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Towns was that he averaged 6.2 fouls/game (remember you get 10 fouls before fouling out in summer league). Towns threw together a couple double-doubles and had a couple of rougher games. Most positively, he was able to score in a variety of ways. He showed off his post game, and balanced brute strength with a deft touch from the mid-range. Look for a big rookie season from Towns this year, whose future was perfectly summed up by ESPN columnist Amin Elhassan. When asked who would be the best pro from Summer League, he said “Towns. Don't overthink this one kids, he was drafted No. 1 for a reason.”
While one can extrapolate and project plenty from Summer League, there’s a limit to how much it actually matters. No matter how guys like Towns and Russell play, their future still appears bright.