Nerlens Noel, Akil Mitchell

Seven standout players from Las Vegas Summer League


NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is over, the Sacramento Kings are deserving champions with their veteran roster.

But Summer League isn’t about winning teams and a trophy, it’s about player development and guys showcasing their talents to campaign for a bigger role next season (or in some cases to get a contract for next season.

Here are seven guys that caught my eye during my week in Sin City.

• Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers). He only played twice as the Sixers continue to bring him along slowly, but you can quickly see where this guy could be a force for Philly in future years. He is seven-foot, long and bouncy, all of which combine to make him an intimidating defensive force in the paint. Noel works hard on the glass. He plays with more physicality than you would expect — he’s thin and his center of gravity is too high to do much post damage, but he had the will to mix it up inside. He runs the floor and gets his points. Noel’s second Vegas outing wasn’t as impressive as his first, he needs to slow down and let the game come to him. And he needs to work on his touch around the rim, his running hook and his post moves. That said, he is going to have an impact for the Sixers this season.

• Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers). He showed up to Summer League in much better shape (down 20 pounds by his count but but the eyeball test would suggest more) and with that he was able to play with energy and be a beast on the boards and on defense. He will forever be saddled with being the No. 1 overall pick and his terrible rookie season, and there is a lot of work to do on his game still, but he showed in Las Vegas he could be a solid rotation big man in the NBA.

• Glen Rice Jr. (Washington Wizards). The leading scorer in Summer League, he averaged 25 points a game, and he was shooting better than 50 percent up until the last game of the Summer League for the Wizards. Rice and Otto Porter formed a good 1-2 combo with Porter doing more ball handling and Rice as the shooter. Porter is going to get quality minutes behind Paul Pierce and Rice made a good case to get big minutes behind Bradley Beal. The question is how will those two adapt to working more off the ball on a team with quality point guards in John Wall and Andre Miller.

• Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls). He was the most impressive player in Vegas out of this year’s draft (not saying he will be the best player out of this class, or win Rookie of the Year, but he shone in Vegas). We knew he could shoot the rock and he did shoot 44.4 percent from three in Vegas, but he also showed a more diverse offensive game where he could put the ball on the floor, create space for himself and make some creative plays. We’ve got questions about his defense, and if Tom Thibodeau has questions about his defense that’s bad for McDermott’s minutes. But he’s going to get minutes with the Bulls and has some real potential.

• Donatas Montiejunas (Houston Rockets). The Rockets center plays well in this setting — he is either too strong or too quick for just about anyone trying to guard him, plus his varied offense and crafty game gets him good look buckets. The result was 16.8 points per game on 59.3 percent shooting, plus he pulled down 8.1 rebounds a game. He just went to show what happens when you stick a legitimate, quality NBA rotation big man into Summer League — he owns it. The question is if he will get those midrange jumpers he was knocking down when the games start this fall. If he plays for the Rockets next season like he did in Las Vegas they just got a big boost.

• Dante Exum (Utah Jazz). His numbers were not standout — 7.2 points a game on 30.8 percent shooting — but there were flashes where you realized this guy is going to be very good. He has a real star quality about him. He has a wicked hesitation dribble with a crazy-quick burst. He is tall for a guard and that combined with a fantastic floor vision leads to some very smart passes. He is very quick with the ball and can get into the paint. He has a lot of work to do on his shot and being a floor general, but in a few yeas the Jazz may have a steal here.

• Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves). He averaged a double-double in Vegas of 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. He uses his athleticism well on the glass and on defense. On offense he worked hard off the ball and when he got the rock near he rim he showed deft footwork. He sets a mean screen. He fiercely protected the rim. Minnesota has an established front line (well, depending on what happens with Kevin Love) but they are going to have to give Dieng more minutes. His play is starting to demand it.

Honorable mention of other guys who caught my eye: T.J. Warren (Phoenix Suns), C.J McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers), Tony Snell (Chicago Bulls), Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Henriquez (New York Knicks), Jarnell Stokes (Grizzlies), Jordan McRae (Philadelphia 76ers), Russ Smith (New Orleans Pelicans), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Dennis Schroder (Atlanta Hawks).

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.