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If there is just one thing that I wish the NBA would implement, it would be an exhibition league where we could watch incoming rookies showcase their skills as well as veterans essentially holding auditions for a spot on a roster during the regular season. That really sounds like it would be potentially entertaining right? It could be played during the summer dead period, sometime after the draft and before training camp and perhaps you could just simply name it the NBA Summer League. Hey, guess what? It already exists and if you aren't spending countless afternoons watching this wildly entertaining league, you may need to critically analyze your priorities and ask what you're doing with your life.
Please, try and name me another instance where you get to legitimately remark things like, That was a really impressive play by Robert Sacre. Just the other day, me and a few others were watching the Bucks Pelicans game and Nate Wolters ran three consecutive pick and pops with John Shurna resulting in a Shurna trifecta each time. The excitement in the room was palpable and this duo looked near automatic. It actually prompted me to claim that everyone needs to become accustomed to Nate Wolters assisting a John Shurna bucket which caused me to organize a Nate to Shurna chant so we could all get used to saying it in the future. We muttered it simultaneously in a monotone voice like mindless robots and it was truly one of the creepiest things I've ever heard in my life. Say it with me. Nate to Shurna.
It's not all positive; you can compile an entire SportsCenter Not Top 10 based off of one quarter of action. At least five times a game I find myself rewinding a play just to watch some of the ridiculous miscues that are made. Sometimes I have to just pause it to collect my composure after finding out that former Butler player Matt Howard is still trying to make basketball his profession. There are always good times to be had.
This all begs the question; how much can we actually take out of Summer League statistics? My answer is not much but here's why. This league is basically every man for himself. Rookies are trying to show what they can do to earn more minutes come regular season and veterans are trying to impress their way onto a roster. There is plenty of isolation and selfishness which makes shooting percentages (and shots in general) look ugly. Most teams are loaded with career D-League players which doesn't help the actual quality players' supporting cast and neutralizes their numbers. Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard lead the Summer League in scoring last year so clearly there is some validity to strong Summer League showings.
Let's take a look at some of the notably good and bad performances thus far in the 2013 Summer League and interpret it's meaning for each player moving forward.
•Kelly Olynyk may be the winner of Summer League MVP. He had games of 25, 13, 21 and 19 points while maintaining his typical efficiency and really having the entire offense run through him. Whether it was on the block or at the high post, the ball was in his hands often and he did not disappoint. He constantly made smart decisions with the ball by assisting on more than a few buckets as well as displaying an incredibly diverse offensive style. In just a single game vs. the Magic, I saw him hit a hook shot, a post fadeaway, a fake post fadeaway up-and-under floater (very awkward but effective), a few mid-range jumpers, and 2 three pointers. I came away unbelievably impressed with his skill set as a seven footer, and I think Olynyk is everything the Bobcats want Cody Zeller to become.
•Victor Oladipo showed flashes of stardom from the tip of the first game by burying a three pointer to start his career. He had a tremendously strong session with only one game where he struggled offensively, going just 2-12. He put up 18, 22, and 24 points in the other contests and if he can do that consistently, combined with his incredible defensive prowess, the Magic will be happier than a camel on Wednesday. It wasn't the point totals that impressed me as much as how he scored those points; off the dribble creating his own shot. Going into the draft, the inability to create his own offense may have been the only knock on him and the only factor preventing him from becoming a premier player, in my opinion. He was able to get to the rim, hit jumpers from mid range and deep as the ball handler on the pick and roll, and was extremely proficient finding his open teammates. To cap it off, he buried a ridiculous step back jumper just in front of the three point line over super-alien freak Michael Carter-Williams to give Orlando the lead with 4 seconds left. So he's athletically gifted, locks down anyone defensively, had already improved his catch and shoot ability during college, is showing monstrous strides in being able to create for himself, has the work ethic that makes you believe he can do whatever he wants, and flashed game-clinching abilities with a game winner where he clearly wanted to take the last shot. Maybe Dick Vitale wasn't so out of his mind when he called Victor a miniature Michael Jordan earlier this year, but we'll keep quiet about that until there is a bit more evidence.
•Then there's Trey Burke who would've been better served not showing up. He alternated between horrendous shooting game to very poor shooting game to extremely bad shooting game to just a plain bad shooting game. If you aren't at least slightly concerned about Trey and his mental health right now, you are clearly an uncaring person, but I'm going to opt to throw these stats away and pretend like it didn't happen. Trey's an isolation player which is tough to do in the Summer League where everyone knows that and there's no one around him to relieve the defensive pressure. Surround him with better players, give him some room to operate, let him find his offensive rhythm and I think he's going to rediscover his offensive game in the NBA. He'll be fine.
• Andre Drummond looked like a 6'10" 270-pound monster playing against a bunch of guys who have only heard folk tales about men that big. Oh wait, that's because that's what actually happened. At one point I'm almost positive I saw a point guard, who's name we won't mention, try taking a jump shot in the paint, only to get blocked by Drummond's elbow even though Drummond was not aware there was a game being played. So you surely need to put his 12 point 16 rebound 5 steal 6 block, 23 point 18 rebound, and 15 point 14 rebound performances in some kind of perspective. He remains a raw talent who has all the physical making of becoming Dwight Howard Jr. He averaged just under 8 points and 8 rebounds his rookie year despite having exactly zero offensive ability. With more minutes, he's capable of a double double just by being there...sometimes. I've seen him display rim-rattling dunks and reject shots leaving a dent in the floor where it hit, and if he ever figures the game out, I'm telling you, he'll make Dwight Howard look like Dwight Coward.
•I'm not too proud to admit that it looks like I might have been dead wrong on Cody Zeller but let me try to defend myself first; I never questioned Zeller's skillset. He can do things on the floor that not many players of his size can. He runs the floor extremely well and even though he didn't show it in college, he can really shoot the ball. With the ability to shoot the ball proficiently, less mobile forwards have to respect that part of his game which means Zeller can use his unique athleticism to skillfully finish around the rim, hopefully. My concerns always were about his defense; I wasn't sure if he was going to be consistently tough enough to get stops on physical, back-to-the-basket matchups. Zeller has been one of the biggest surprises to me because I thought it would take him some time to refine his game, mainly because at Indiana, he tended to look more awkward than athletic at times. After a 21 point 13 rebound and an 18 point 10 rebound game in which he moved nimbly up and down the floor, creating loads of matchup problems, I'm willing to admit I could be wrong on Zeller. There is definitely a niche in this league for a player of his skill, and his offensive ability should be promising enough to overlook some defensive ineptitude.
•After admitting my wrongfulness on Zeller, I need to redeem myself by declaring I was potentially right about something (Even though I'm probably wrong about this too). Otto Porter Jr. falls into the Zeller category of guys with size and skill. He's 6'8", versatile enough to play a few positions, and is a very intelligent player (As all Georgetown products usually are). However, much the same as Oladipo, I didn't see him as being very good as a ball handler, but unlike Victor, did not show improvement in that category is his Summer League opportunity. I think he's going to be more of a catch and shoot guy, and although his shot is improving, it still is inconsistent. He's struggled in his two games thus far, shooting 3-13 in the first and 4-13 in the second with a combined mark of 0-5 from three. He profiles best as a small forward but isn't exactly the most athletic player which could lead to issues on the defensive end of the ball. He can do some nice things; I saw him grab a rebound, quickly push the ball up the floor ending the possession with an assist under the basket, but I think if you're expecting him to be an all star and complete player like has been talked about, you may be a little bit disappointed.
•Ben McLemore is a graduate of the Kevin Durant school of efficiency and passivity. Those two things combined leaves everyone thirsting for a barrage of selfishness because people often believe you can just extrapolate a shooting percentage no matter the sample size. Truth is, some players just aren't comfortable shouldering an offensive load. McLemore is in the enviable position of getting to shoot as much as his heart desires while never being reprimanded for that normally frowned-upon behavior. After McLemore's 4-23 shooting day in the opening game, he was applauded by everyone for at least attempting to learn to demand shots. To be honest, the shots were miserably bad and maybe Ben should return to his 6-10 type of games. His 4-12 shooting clinic in the second game only confirmed that thought. He's also 2-18 from three-point range in two games. It's okay though, his shooting stroke is the stuff that legends are made of.
•Dennis Schroder has definitely sealed up the Most Intriguing International Prospect award. The Rajon Rondo comparison is just too easy. Schroder has shot a poor 8-28 in his three games but has shown glimpses of competence offensively. He has hit 3 threes and a nice floater from the free throw line. He needs to be just good enough from three to keep teams honest in the pick and roll and I'm a big proponent of the floater. The floater can replace every awkward shot that you ever need to take. Every guard should have that in his arsenal and I honestly don't think it's that difficult of a shot because I can hit it pretty consistently and there isn't much that I do right on the basketball court. Even playing with a roster that can only be classified as interesting, Schroder has had an 8 and 7 assist game. There was one play in particular where he was aggressively trapped in a pick and roll situation, but he kept his head up and slung a one-handed rocket pass between the two defenders to a teammate all alone under the hoop, who of course didn't make the shot (I actually watched him pump fake twice until a defender arrived and then he got bailed out by a foul call. Watch the Summer League). Schroder's assist totals obviously could be higher with real talent around him and I just continue to be baffled by Atlanta's decision to match the Buck's offer to Teague, especially when they have a chance to grow with a promising talent like Dennis Schroder.
There's a reason why I didn't write this article after the conclusion of the Summer League; I want you and everybody else to enjoy this with me. If you don't join the movement this year, you certainly aren't going to be allowed to watch Wiggins, Parker, the Harrison twins, Randle and Smart play in the Summer League 2014. If you aren't watching, you clearly don't appreciate the down side of the game of basketball mixed in with a few flashes of your team's future. Now say it with me. Nate to Shurna.