LAS VEGAS — For a lot of us Summer League is the first chance to really size up the rookie class. Sure, we saw them in college — that’s how they got ranked and rated in the first place — but at that level they get matched up against inferior athletes who could be pushed around. At Summer League they go up against other men, ones fighting for their next paycheck. The game changes.
So how did the rookies in what has been hyped as the best draft class in a decade do?
Here’s a rundown of the guys taken in the lottery that I saw play in Vegas (so no Joel Embiid or Aaron Gordon who didn’t play in the desert).
No. 1 Andrew Wiggins (Cavaliers). The mind-blowing athleticism is there — he made some plays, particularly on defense, where you can see the potential. Things like covering ground to block shots or get in passing lanes. His offense is a work in progress. In his final game he was aggressive and taking it to the rim and that got him to the line 20 times, which was a good start. Still, he is raw with the need to work on a few things. That has to start with an improved jump shot — his form is good but he shot just 40.5 percent overall and 15.4 percent from three.
Here is Cavs coach David Blatt on Wiggins in Vegas: “I was looking at Wigs performances, guy was in double figures every game, he rebounded, he defended, he went to the foul line, he played with intensity on both ends of the court. I thought for a rookie, for a guy with a lot on his shoulders as the first pick in the draft, for a 19 year old, I thought he played extremely well.”
No. 2 Jabari Parker (Bucks).He averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game and had 20 and 15 in the Bucks’ final game. He showed an ability to score in a variety of ways and some court vision for passing. He’s going to have to work on his finishing and efficiency (41.9 percent shooting overall), plus he could be come passive and settle for jumpers too much. He had some good games but some “meh” games mixed in, too.
No. 5 Dante Exum (Jazz). His numbers are not mind blowing but you could see his court vision, his ability to be a floor general, his ability to lull you to sleep them explode past you, and you could see a potential future NBA star. You certainly saw a starting point guard — Trey Burke seemed to see it as well and became a gunner who would not pass to Exum (Burke shot just 30.4 percent, he had a rough go in Vegas). Exum struggled shooting as well (30.8 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three), but there were flashes of brilliance that should give Jazz fans hope.
No. 7 Julius Randle (Lakers). It was a little hard to read his performance — he signed 20 minutes before his first Summer League game and went out there having not played 5-on-5 with this teammates. Randle can score in the post with a variety of moves, but he shot just 41.9 percent for Summer League, plus he never grabbed more than five rebounds. He showed potential but he’s a rookie with a lot of work to do.
No. 8 Nik Stauskas (Kings). He can shoot the three (45 percent over the course of Summer League) and looks like a guy that could take minutes away from Ben McLemore. That said Stauskas struggled to do things that were not “shoot the three” — he was not great at creating his own shot for himself or others, his court vision and hoops IQ didn’t really show. He’s got some work to do, but if you can shoot the three you get time to figure everything else out.
No. 9 Noah Vonleh (Hornets). Charlotte thinks he can be a stretch four someday but he struggled with his shot, shooting 28.4 percent in Vegas (12.5 percent from three). What he can do is rebound, 10 a game, and he showed moments of strong defense.
“I like Noah, I think he has a bright future in this league. He’s a rookie, he’s 19 years old, it’s going to take some time…” Charlotte Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk. “The thing I think he needs to do is: rebound. He has to continue to rebound. His second game in here he had 18 rebounds and it’s not been consistent. Do all the things that he can be consistent with until his offense and all the other parts of his game is able to get going. He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.”
No. 11 Doug McDermott (Bulls). The best of the rookies in Las Vegas. Yes, he can shoot the three (44.4 percent in Vegas) but he can put the ball on the floor and create a little, he showed a varied offensive game. He averaged 18 points a game for the Bulls, and that was with one clunker of a last outing. If he can defend well enough to get Tom Thibodeau to play a rookie, you can see where McDermott will have a role with the Bulls right away.
No. 13 Zach LaVine (Timberwolves). Zach Lavine likes to see Zach LaVine shoot the rock. He did average 15.7 points a game but shot just 39.7 percent in Vegas and was a gunner first and point guard second (and he had more turnovers than assists). His last game was much better but he has a lot of work to do. That said, put the guy in the dunk contest now — he can fly.
No. 14 T.J. Warren (Suns). Warren is a great fit with the Suns — he got out and ran hard then finished in transition. He averaged a team-best 17.8 points a game on 54.4 percent shooting. Most of his shots were right at the rim because he got out and ran, beating his man and everyone down the court. What he showed in Vegas will fit will in Phoenix.