I know Summer League doesn’t matter. I know no one cares. But with free agency coming to a close, I need to find something NBA-related to consume. And after watching an inordinate amount of summer league, here are some observations I’ve made from watching.
I was a little skeptical of Turner coming out of the draft, but his summer league performance has been more impressive than anyone else's. He averaged 19/8 in three summer league games, one of the best stat lines in the entire league (did I mention he’s doing it on 60% shooting?). In addition, he also averaging 4.3 blocks/game. In a league where rim protection is key, Turner has shown the ability to move around the basket and affect shots, albeit against the likes of Russ Smith and Keith Appling. He has shown a nice midrange shot as well, and even broke out a fade-away that made me think of Lamarcus Aldridge. Beyond any statline, Turner has looked like he is the best player on the floor throughout the entire Orlando Summer League. When he is on the court you never forget he is out there, something that can be said for very few guys just weeks into their NBA careers. Turner may very well end up being Orlando’s MVP and for what it’s worth, Elfrid Payton was last year’s (Orlando) MVP and he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and showed a lot of promise during his debut season.
As a staunch Johnson advocate going into the draft, I could not be more excited with what I have seen from him in summer league. He’s averaging nearly 18 points and 7.5 rebounds/game. Like Turner, he is also shooting an astounding percentage (64% from the field) and has shown his defensive prowess with 2.3 steals/game. More than anything though, Johnson looks comfortable on the court. He is confident grabbing a rebound and bringing the ball up himself, as well as taking guys off the dribble and finishing through traffic. He’s able to use his NBA-ready body to hang with the big boys of summer league. Jokes aside, Johnson is not afraid of the spotlight and his confidence (remember he believed he should have been taken first overall) is something that has helped him in summer league and will continue to help him transition into the NBA.
Okafor has been somewhat of a disappointment through his first three games in the Utah Summer League. He’s not averaging bad numbers (14/8), but he’s shooting only 44%. His shot selection has been subpar (nothing to worry about, it’s summer league, everybody fires up shots) and he just seems to be less interested than someone like Stanley Johnson. Not that it’s imperative that he treats summer league like it’s game 7, but he picks his spots and disappears for stretches. There were concerns about his motor coming into the draft and what I have seen from him so far does not disprove those rumors. He has shown flashes of the post moves we saw him make at Duke, but we are not seeing it consistently. Obviously, most of this is just observation and in the grand scheme of things none of this probably matters, but still interesting to think about.
Gordon has been one of the most fun players to watch this summer league. He’s leading the Orlando league in scoring (21.7/game) and rebounding (11.7/game), as well as averaging nearly 2 blocks/game. What is most exciting about Gordon is his improved jump shot. He is taking midrange and even threes with confidence and he is making a good number of them. Gordon is a bit of a tweener on offense, mainly due to his inconsistent shot. If his shot has been improved to the point where he is a threat to shoot threes consistently, there will be a place for him on the court, especially considering his defensive versatility.
Exum only played one game before rolling his ankle, but it was a game that brought back hope into all Exum supporters’ hearts. He had 20/5/5 on 5-11 shooting and, in general, looked bigger, stronger, and more confident in his game. To add icing to the cake, he did it all against the Celtics, and more specifically Marcus Smart. Smart is one of the better defensive point guards in the East (maybe the whole league) and is notorious for not taking plays off. Exum had his way with Smart all night, and though he suffered a scary ankle injury he appears to be okay. If he can build on his play in summer league, it’s clear that Exum will soon be ready to lead the up-and-coming Jazz this season.
Though Smart got chewed up defensively by Exum, no one is worried about his ability to defend at a high level. People are, however, concerned about his ability on the offensive end. Smart took the first step in silencing those doubters through his first two summer league games. Averaging 24 points and 7.5 assists were big steps for Smart, but more than anything it’s his jump shot that has people talking. Smart is taking a lot of tough shots and getting a lot of them to fall. He is making threes consistently, even with a hand in his face, and looks a lot more comfortable running the offense. Yes, Smart should be doing this in summer league, figuring he started four playoff games last season, but they are steps in the right direction. He is also putting up 4.5 rebounds/game and 2.5 steals/game. The Celtics haven’t had the best offseason, but Smart’s performance is something to smile about.
While there’s very little evidence summer league play correlates to success in the NBA (Glen Rice Jr. won summer league MVP), it’s always fun to see how young guys are developing. We’ll see if guys like Exum can continue their stellar play, and if guys like Okafor can find a way to turn it around.