The Rocky Mountain Revue wrapped up recently, finishing up the NBA’s circuit of 3 summer leagues (Orlando and Vegas being the other two). Though I was able to watch the first two via webcast, I didn’t see any of the RMR. As such, all I’ve got to work with are the insights and observations of others, and boxscores. Luckily though, there weren’t a whole lot of high-profile guys playing there, with the majority of the first round guys playing in Vegas and Orlando.
As I did last time, I’ll point out again that much of Summer League has to be taken with a grain of salt. Especially if you’re just looking at raw statistics, it can be very misleading. However, that isn’t to say that there is nothing to be learned here (if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this), we just have to be careful about making quick judgments.
First, a few comments about the Rocky Mountain Revue, then we’ll move back to looking at some of the best and worst performances from all the Summer League.
Brook Lopez – According to all reports, Lopez was awful in Salt Lake. He lacked energy and looked like he just didn’t want to be there. For Nets fans, that’s not a real great sign. Lopez isn’t a terribly impressive athlete, and if he’s not going to consistently give full effort, chances are he’ll be destined for a short career. Not necessarily anything to panic over, especially since Lopez hasn’t really had effort problems in the past, but it is a bit worrying. You’ve got to wonder, between this and his brother Robin’s strong play in Vegas, who is really the better prospect?
Kyrylo Fesenko – There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Fesenko, the Jazz’s second round pick from 2007. He’s very athletic and active for a seven-footer, and has a lot of potential as a low post scorer. However, everyone (including David Thorpe, who trains Fesenko and has raved about him for a year) has been very disappointed with his performance. He showed up out of shape, and hasn’t been giving consistent effort at all. For a big man trying to make the league, consistent effort is absolutely crucial. Fesenko has tools, but it looks like his development might have taken a significant step back.
Anthony Morrow – If there’s one skill that is always in high demand among contenders, it’s perimeter shooting. For Morrow, that’s good news. The Georgia Tech product may be one-dimensional, but oh what a dimension it is. He won the MVP of the RMR while shooting a blistering 73.9% (17-23) from the three point arc! At 6′5, Morrow is able to get good separation from defenders, and his release is textbook perfect. He’s not a great defender, but he gives a lot of effort and has the size that would allow him to develop into a decent defensive player. His play earned him a contract with the Warriors, and it’s not hard to see him getting some minutes and thriving in Don Nelson’s system.
Acie Law IV – Law had somewhat mixed results during the RMR. On one hand, he was effective getting to the line and scoring, but also set up his teammates (almost 4 apg in about 26 mpg). However, his shooting touch doesn’t seem to have improved much, and he had nearly as many turnovers as assists. I think Law has a chance to be a quality point guard, and he certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, but he’s going to have to improve his perimeter jumper and work on controlling the pace of the game.
Richard Hendrix – He didn’t play much in Vegas because of a leg injury, and he played limited minutes in Utah, but he showed off the tremendous rebounding skills that make him an intriguing prospect. He averaged 7.6 rpg in only 9.6 mpg. If you’re wondering, that’s 38 rebounds per 48 minutes. Not a bad showing for a second round pick. He’s pretty quick for a big guy and get up and down the floor, so there’s a chance he gets some playing time next year with the Warriors to give them some much-needed toughness and rebounding.
Those were some of the notable performances of the Rocky Mountain Revue. Further than that, I can’t say a lot, since I didn’t actually see any of the games.
Now, we’re going to back up and take a look at all three Summer Leagues as a whole. Who impressed? Who didn’t? I addressed many of the Orlando players in my last summer league post, so I won’t go as far in depth on them, but I will give some final thoughts on their performances.
Jerryd Bayless – As I said before, any discussion of the summer league has to start with Bayless. As impressive as Bayless was in his first three games, slashing to the rim and getting to the line whenever he wanted, his performance in Portland’s 4th game was simply dominant. While he dominated with penetration his first three games, Phoenix cut off Bayless’s driving lanes and frustrated him to the tune of 9 first quarter points on 3-11 shooting (with two shots being blocked). With two above-average defenders often involved in his pick-and-rolls (D.J. Strawberry and Robin Lopez), he had trouble getting to the rim and his team was struggling. However, in the second half he changed his approach and lit up the Suns with 27 points. He rained jumpers down as his defender ducked under the screen, and he even hit an obscene fadeaway jumper with Strawberry’s hand right in his face. With all Portland’s other offensive options struggling (particularly Petteri Koponen, who had been so good previously), Bayless basically won the game on his own, pulling the Blazers back from 10 points down at the half and scoring 17 of his team’s 22 fourth quarter points, and hitting the game-winning shot with 18 seconds left. It was, especially considering how well he was defended, a truly amazing performance, and one that had me (and the commentators) simply going “wow” for most of the second half. Bayless may not win Rookie of the Year (he won’t start at the beginning of the season, the Blazers have already said that), and he may never be an All-Star, but I would be absolutely shocked if he isn’t a productive player in the NBA.
Kevin Love – Love displayed as high a skill level as you will ever see from a post player with only one year of college experience. He’s got a variety of moves to free himself up in the post, and he can step outside and bury the NBA three. A lot of praise goes to his outlet passing ability, but he’s also an exceptional half-court passer, finding cutters or making the right play out of a double team. And then there’s that outlet passing. It’s been talked about so much, but when you start to see exactly how much it can impact a game it’s startling, and you wonder why more big men don’t do it. Even when he isn’t hitting an open teammate in stride on a full court pass (which he usually does a few times a game), he’s very good at taking a made shot out of bounds and quickly firing it to half court, often giving his team an opportunity to score against an unset defense. He’s also a very good rebounder, despite his lack of height and athleticism. I think he’s going to struggle a bit more with that when he faces more athletic competition, but his timing and positioning are so good that he’s going to get his hands on a lot of caroms, and his hands are so good that once he gets hold of the ball it isn’t going anywhere. I still have concerns about his conditioning (at times, he was much slower getting back up the court than the rest of his teammates), his defense, and his below-the-rim play (I can’t help but think he’s not going to get a whole lot of and-1s in his career). However, I think Love will be a very good player, especially if he ends up playing with a taller, defensive-minded center somewhere along the line.
Anthony Randolph – I didn’t see as much of Randolph as I would’ve liked, but he certainly looked impressive at times, and people have raved about his performances in the Vegas league and the RMR. He’s obviously got huge potential, nobody ever doubted that. He’s extremely long, with good height and a ridiculous wingspan, but he handles the ball extremely well for a guy that size. His coordination and athleticism really make him stand out, and he thrives in a setting like the summer league. However, he’s still pretty raw and will need to improve his decision-making, and at the moment he’s a bit caught between positions. He’s not strong enough or really enough of a post player to play the 4, but he doesn’t shoot the ball well enough to be a 3. The plus side is that if he fills out a bit and works on his jumper, he has a chance to be a really dynamic combo forward. Despite his strong performance (he basically was able to get to the rim whenever he wanted to), he’s still has a lot of bust potential. He’s one of the biggest unknowns from this draft class.
J.J. Hickson – About the only area where you can fault Hickson is at the free throw line, where he shot a poor 50% in 5 Vegas games. However, his strength and explosiveness around the rim showed that he might contribute sooner than anyone thought. He actually shot better from the field (53%) than he did at the line, and averaged 19 points despite not having a ton of plays run for him. His ability to own the offensive glass made for several thunderous putback slams. Almost any time his man slid off to try and contest the shot of a driving guard, Hickson was there to clean up the miss and throw it down hard. His timing is good and he’s an exceptionally quick leaper, especially on his second jump, allowing him to get his hands on a lot of rebounds. When he did go to work in the low post, he did a very good job drawing contact, and usually was able to finish through it because of his strength and soft touch. In the Jason Maxiell mold, he’s relentless around the rim, trying to dunk anything and everything. He’s still raw in a lot of ways, and he’s going to have to learn not to leave his feet as often on defense when contesting drives into the paint (he actually showed very good patience staying on the floor when the man he was guarding threw pump fakes at him).
Ramon Sessions – I feel pretty confident that Sessions is going to be a reliable backup point guard in the NBA, maybe even a starter eventually. When you drop 24 dimes in a game, I think it’s a safe bet to say that you’re a baller. Sessions was arguably the best point guard in Vegas, leading the league in assists with 7.3 a game (and assists aren’t exactly easy to get in the summer league), and almost posting a triple double in his last game (13-9-8 in only 29 minutes). If I’m the Bucks, I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing from Sessions.
Quincy Douby – I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much of the Kings guard before I watched him play this summer, but after seeing him I think he’s got a chance to be a real contributor this season or next. Douby had the reputation of being a one-dimensional scorer with a great jumper coming out of college, but that was not at all the player we saw in Vegas. Douby was, quite frankly, a terror on the defensive end. He anticipated passes and jumped in to get a bunch of steals, and in general did a fantastic job of using his quickness to disrupt opposing guards. There are areas that he obviously needs to work on, ballhandling and strength being the most pressing, but he’s clearly a talented player, and could develop into a really nice backup guard.
Russell Westbrook – I already mentioned him last time around, but it bears mentioning again that Westbrook was the most impressive rookie in Orlando. I’m still not sold on him as a big-time prospect and I think he has significant bust potential, but he’s a very good athlete and will, at worst, be a very good defender.
Anthony Morrow – I already mentioned Morrow, but it’s worth mentioning that he played in all 3 summer leagues (first with Miami, then with Golden State), and shot obscenely well (we’re talking 70+%) from behind the arc in all of them. He was definitely the most impressive undrafted player this summer.
Marreese Speights – He played as well as any big man at Vegas, showing off the athleticism and high skill level that made him a top prospect. He has a great shooting stroke for a big man, and that’s one of the things that separates him from a lot of other prospects. He’s really a threat to score in a lot of ways from wherever he catches the ball, and that’s not something you can say about a lot of guys. He’s almost Amare-like in his skillset, if not in his physical stature. The problem with Speights is always going to be in his head. We’ve heard that he doesn’t have a great work ethic, and he isn’t a very good decision-maker right now, often settling for his jumper instead of using his superior physical gifts inside. Defensively, he shows good timing when contesting shots, and he’s a pretty good rebounder as well.
Up and Down Performances
Michael Beasley – As good as Beasley was in his first game as a pro (an almost effortless 28 points in 23 minutes), he was just as bad in the second, going 1-13 and in general looking completely out of sorts. However, over the course of 5 games, he showed off the incredibly high skill level and offensive versatility that will make him a premier scorer in the league. He’s the rare player whose off hand (Beasley’s right) is almost as strong as his dominant hand, and that makes him extremely tough to guard. He’s able to step out and knock down the NBA three with consistency, he can put the ball on the floor and drive, and he can absorb contact in the post and finish through it. He has such great body control and touch around the rim that he rarely misses close-range shots even if he’s fouled. He’s also a tremendous rebounder, using great positioning and his athleticism to pull down a ton of boards on both ends of the floor. The key for Beasley will be maintaining his focus and coming to play night-in and night-out. Too often he looks like he’s coasting, and while he could dominate like that in college, it isn’t going to fly in the NBA.
Andray Blatche – Blatche is the X-Factor for the Wizards. With their big three tied up and no cap space left, they’re going to have to rely on the improvement of guys like Blatche and Nick Young to take the team to another level. When you watch Blatche, it’s clear that he has that kind of ability. He’s a multi-talented guy who, on most occasions in Vegas, looked like the best player on the floor. He’s a very good athlete with great length, but he can put the ball on the floor and handle it, he’s a much better passer than anyone gives him credit for, and he has the post skills to be a reliable scorer. He’s just going to have to improve his focus and his drive. If he gave consistent effort, he’d be a much stronger rebounder, and a more productive post player. As of now, he’s a decent 7-8th man, with dazzling potential but a low motor.
Donte Greene – His first game (an ultra-efficient 40 point game) might have been the best ever seen in the summer league. The rest of his games? Not quite so special. One thing is for sure, Greene is not shy about shooting the ball, putting up 87 shots in 5 games, 38 of those behind the three-point arc. When his jumper is falling and he’s making strong cuts off the ball, Greene is a monster. He gets great separation on his jumper, and he’s very sneaky moving without the ball. However, when his shot isn’t falling the rest of his game tends to fall off. He doesn’t move as well without the ball, and his intensity level drops. If Greene is going to be more than a bench player, he’s going to have to learn how to help his team when his shot isn’t going down.
JaVale McGee – On the whole, it wasn’t a great summer league showing for McGee. However, my expectations for him were very low, and he showed a higher skill level than I expected. He’s rail thin and his decision-making is absolutely terrible, but the potential is there. He’s such a good athlete for his size and he’s so long that his turnaround jumper is almost unblockable, he just needs to improve his mechanics and make that a more consistent shot. Defensively, he could wind up having a big impact as a shotblocker, since his quickness and freakish length allow him to contest a ton of shots. I still think he’s a bust waiting to happen, but there is considerable upside there.
O.J. Mayo – Here’s the thing. If you’re looking for O.J. to be a superstar in this league, I think you’re going to be disappointed. This may be surprising to some, but Mayo doesn’t have great burst, his first step isn’t great at the NBA level. He lacks the elite quickness and lets call it blowbyability that most top notch scorers have. Don’t get me wrong, he’s extremely talented and is obviously a very skilled player, but he’s more like the ultimate role player than a number one option. He’s a very good shooter, he plays good defense, he can handle the ball, he’s got good floor vision, and he’s a great leaper. However, he’ll have trouble getting by defenders in the NBA, and he’s not very good at getting to the free throw line. I think his career is going to be heavily influenced by the players around him. If he can be the second or third option (paging Rudy Gay), then I think he can have a very successful career. If he’s asked to be his team’s best offensive player, he’ll struggle.
Derrick Rose - Maybe it’s a bit unfair to pick on Rose. After all, he only played 2 games in the Orlando league. Doesn’t matter, I’m going to do it anyway. If you were expecting Rose to immediately help the Bulls and be in the hunt for ROY (and I have, amazingly, seen some people pick him as their prediction for that award), you’ll probably be pretty disappointed. Rose is, at this point, not a particularly hard cover since he can’t shoot consistently from outside 16-18 feet, and his floor vision, while good, isn’t really outstanding. Guys like Rose, freakishly quick guards who can get to the rim, usually dominate the summer league (see: Bayless, Jerryd), and I think it’s telling that Rose didn’t do well. He looked very tenative and unsure of when to attack and when to distribute. I think it’s going to be a tough year for Rose as he adjusts to the NBA game and what exactly his place is on the Bulls.
George Hill – To say that the Spurs’ first rounder played poorly in the Vegas league would be putting it extremely lightly. Hill attempted 25 field goals through 3 games. He made 2. Yup, that’s a stunning 8% shooting percentage. No I did not miss a decimal point, that’s 8%. He did get to the line a good bit (but really, who doesn’t in the summer league?), and he rebounded well for a guard. Other than that, not a lot of positives for Mr. Hill. I always hate to criticize the Spurs because of their track record, but it’s hard to see Hill panning out into a player worth the pick they used on him.
Corey Brewer – To be fair, Brewer did some really good things at times. His length is a huge advantage defensively, and he made some really nice plays at that end. However, on the offensive end Brewer still looks like he has no clue what he’s doing. He isn’t a threat to score when he catches the ball, and he’s a very inconsistent shooter right now. He’s still young and has a lot to learn, but you’d hope for a more impressive performance against summer league competition than what we saw.
Joe Alexander – This shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone. Alexander was drafted for the complete toolbox of gifts that he has, but everyone knew he didn’t have the key to that toolbox yet. On the plus side, we saw flashes of his fantastic athleticism, and he showed a much better passing eye than anyone had given him credit for. However, all that is kind of offset by his poor shot selection and overall minor impact on games. It’s very obvious that Alexander is going to need significant coaching before he reaches his potential. The good news is that his work ethic is extremely high, so his bust potential is lower than you’d think.
Nicolas Batum – On one hand, you can see flashes of why people have ranked him so highly as a prospect for the last year. When he chooses to assert himself, he can contribute in a lot of ways: hitting a jumper, driving the ball, D-ing up multiple positions, blocking shots, and crashing the glass for rebounds. He’s a very smooth 6′8, and can do so much when his engine is running. Unfortunately, Batum rarely asserted himself during the summer league, and had his engine off most days. He’d make a strong play, then just disappear for huge stretches of the game, contributing nothing. For a player with his diverse skill set, that’s not ok.
In tribute to all those guys busting their butt in the Summer League to earn that last roster spot, I’m naming my All-Scrubs team. These are the guys who you don’t ever hear about, and who may not play more than 50 minutes total next year sitting at the end of the pine. For the best of those guys, I present you with the 2008 Summer League All-Scrubs Team.
PG: Jaycee Carroll – The scoring point guard did quality work in the Orlando league, lighting up a lot of people who probably weren’t expecting that from the unathletic 6′2 white kid. He can’t guard a paper bag, but he’s a great shooter.
SG: Coby Karl – I talked about Karl in my last post. Everybody in attendance at the Vegas league apparently loved him. He’s very intelligent, a good shooter, and he’s very versatile. Really, he’s almost like Luke Walton-Lite.
SF: Dahntay Jones – The former Blue Devil was extremely efficient, shooting 54% and getting to the free throw line a ton in Vegas. He’s a strong slasher and good defender who knows his role.
PF: Pops Mensah-Bonsu – You gotta respect a guy who comes to the summer league year-after-year and throws down some highlight dunks for everyone. Pops is fun to watch, but he’s still all kinds of raw, and his 6′9 height measurement is VERY generous.
C: Steven Hill - I mean, have you seen his beard?
BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.