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What I Learned From NBA Summer League

July 19, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA;   Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robbie Hummel (6) looks to pass during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
July 19, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robbie Hummel (6) looks to pass during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

It is hard to know what to take out of NBA Summer League. Lottery picks and second or third year pros should look dominating against undrafted rookies and older players who are not good enough to make (or stay on) an NBA roster. Randy Foye is a former summer league MVP. Jonny Flynn averaged more assists during his summer league visit than Chris Paul. Wins, losses, and statistics from these games tend to mean very little when trying to gauge future NBA success.

Yet, it would be unwise to dismiss everything that comes out of NBA summer league. After spending six days in Las Vegas, watching all or part of more than 35 games, there were a number of things that I was able to take away.

Some were good, some were bad, and all are below the fold.


Damian Lillard appears to be for real

As was the case with Foye, we'll have to wait to see Lillard play a real NBA game before making any concrete assessments. In Vegas, however, he was easily the best player of summer league and was far above the other rookies who were in attendance (Anthony Davis did not play in summer league due to Team USA). Lillard was brilliant running the pick-and-roll all week and his assist totals would've been a lot higher had he been playing with guys who could consistently make open shots.

Lillard ended up finishing with 26.5 points per game on 44% shooting, 5.3 assists per game and 4 rebounds per game. Portland is going to have fun watching him this season.


Will Barton has really excellent court vision and passing skills

Portland Trail Blazers forward Will Barton impressed in a variety of ways during this year's summer league, particularly in his 27-point game against Miami and his 21-point, 9-rebound game against Denver. Barton's athleticism was on display, as was his leadership. He was vocal on defense and there were multiple occasions where Barton would offer support to teammates and direct them into the right spots.

One aspect of his game that impressed me the most, however, was Barton's ability to locate the open man and find him with an on-target pass. Barton's passes were often at Brett Favre-speed, and a couple were bobbled by teammates as a result, but his abilities to see things unfolding and to make the smart basketball play were extraordinary. This is a player whose basketball IQ seems to be pretty high.


Dion Waiters needs to take things a little more seriously

When the Cleveland Cavaliers used the 4th pick of the draft on Dion Waiters, a lot of people around the NBA (both fans and front office folks) thought the pick was a reach. Waiters certainly did nothing at summer league to dissuade anyone from that opinion. Waiters started off by coming into the week a good 10 pounds overweight. On the court, he shot 30% from the floor (1-of-6 from 3), and averaged 3.0 assists to 2.3 turnovers per game.

The Cavs elected not to play Waiters in their final two games of the summer league session.


Kawhi Leonard has scary good ball handling

Given that Kawhi Leonard played heavy minutes for the Western Conference finalist San Antonio Spurs this season, he probably didn't need to show up for summer league in the first place. Leonard, apparently, wanted to work on some specific skills, namely his ball-handling. Leonard's teammates on the Spurs, and head coach Gregg Popovich, rave about what Leonard does in practices with the ball in his hands. He had those skills on display in the two summer league games that he played in this week.

The Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers could barely stop Leonard from getting to the hoop whenever he wanted, which resulted in 19 free throw attempts and 50 points over two games. It was a treat getting to watch Leonard go to work. I watched his game against the Lakers next to one of the guys who runs Lakers Nation, and he was dismayed with how thoroughly Leonard was beating his team.


Judging from summer league, it looks like Canis might have been right about Jae Crowder

Despite being a second round pick, Jae Crowder was definitely one of the standouts among the rookies at this year's summer league. Crowder averaged 16.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, while playing effectively on the perimeter all week. He also showed that he can defend away from the basket, at least at this level. It looks like his game will be able to translate to the NBA, much the way that people like Madison Dan and vjl110 thought it would.


Josh Selby likes to shoot the ball. A lot.

Memphis' Josh Selby played excellent basketball this week, averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 64.3% from three-point range. While Selby took a lot of attempts, many of which were pretty awful attempts to be honest, he definitely showed that he can score at a high rate. It was a fun performance to watch, and if he can keep a little bit of it up in the real NBA, he's going to be a contributor for the Grizzlies this season. I'd expect those percentages to come down to earth though.



Not all NBA players have fashion sense

A number of veteran NBA players showed up to provide support to their future (or current) teammates, or to just take in some good basketball action. Throughout the week, these players included Luke Walton, Richard Jefferson, Baron Davis, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton, JaVale McGee, Brandon Rush, Etan Thomas, Omri Casspi and many others.

Being in Vegas, unrestricted by the NBA's dress code, it was interesting to see the attire that many of these players chose to wear. Given their salaries, it's somewhat funny how many players showed up in plain white t-shirts and jeans. There were some others who switched it up. Jefferson and Walton had matching purple polo shirts. LaMarcus Aldridge opted to support his team with a Trail Blazers shirt. Greivis Vasquez wore a shirt that said, "Cash", beneath a picture of young Johnny Cash.

The best NBA fashion of the week is a tie between the New York Knicks' J.R. Smith and the Memphis Grizzlies' Lionel Hollins, who had on a sharp white fedora to match his outfit (pictured above).

The worst NBA fashion of the week was a tie between the many GMs (including the Wolves' own David Kahn) who showed up with jean shorts, polo shirts and tennis shoes. Kahn did put on more formal attire when Wolves' owner Glen Taylor (and Taylor's wife) were in town for the NBA's Board of Governors meeting.


Wesley Johnson showed aggression for once

One of my biggest complaints about Wesley Johnson in his NBA career has been his passive attitude on the court. Johnson is too willing to just stand in the corner or on the wing and wait for a kick out, at times almost disappearing from the action.

There were times this week when Johnson certainly had an edge about him - times when he seemed downright angry - and that aggression paid dividends. Through his first three games, Johnson shot 15 free throws and averaged nearly 23 points per game. Defensively, Johnson also appeared more engaged, and his shot blocking was noteworthy.

Unfortunately, in Johnson's final game against Memphis, he appeared to take a bit of a step back, shooting zero free throws and scoring only 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The good news is that Johnson's abilities, at least against this level of competition, appear to exist at a somewhat-high level. The bad news is that Johnson's attitude needs to be far more consistent for any of that to matter.


Derrick Williams is a good news, bad news situation

The good news with Derrick Williams' summer league performance is that he got to the foul line at an incredible rate (56 total attempts in 5 games).

The bad news is that Williams only shot 63% when he got to the line.

The good news is that Williams' was being much more aggressive and attacked the basket for more regularly than he did in his rookie season.

The bad news is that, after opposing teams adjusted by switching up coverages or sending double teams, Williams failed to adapt. As a result, we saw a lot of Williams' patented "bull in a china shop" routine that ended up with a turnover or an offensive foul.

The good news is that Williams has lost a lot of weight, wants to lose more, and seems committed to playing the wing position this year.

The bad news is that Williams shot 35% from the floor, 13% from 3, and his ball-handling still has a ways to go.


Robbie Hummel cannot play NBA-level defense

Given Robbie Hummel's well-known injury issues, and his ongoing rehab, this assessment could certainly change over time. In Las Vegas, however, it was pretty clear that Hummel was having a tremendous amount of difficulty on the defensive end. His lack of lateral quickness was obvious and there were several instances where opponents easily drove past him to the basket. In one instance in particular, D-League Select player Mardy Collins crossed him over so badly that Wolves' trainers should've checked Hummel's knees to see if any new cracks had formed.

Hummel's jump shot looked serviceable, but right now, there is no way he will be able to guard any of the top-notch players at the NBA wing position.

Free Jet Chang

Jet Chang, from BYU-Hawaii, did not play a single minute in this year's summer league. This was despite signs from fans in the audience in support of Chang and plenty of people on Twitter clamoring for an appearance.

Looks like we'll have to wait to see what Jet Chang has in store for the NBA.

There are some really great parents out there, and a few lousy ones

One of the great things about NBA Summer League is that, for parents, the cost is relatively cheap compared to a regular NBA game. $22 gets full access to all seven of that day's games, and every person gets to sit in the lower deck. That same amount would buy an upper-deck ticket for only one Minnesota Timberwolves' game.

As a result, many of the spectators at summer league games are families with young children. It's awesome watching parents interacting with their kids, showing them the wonderful game of basketball, and just spending some quality time with them. My dad brought me to my first NBA game when I was a young kid and sparked my passion for the game. I love knowing that there is a new generation of young people who are also developing that appreciation.

Of course, it is Las Vegas. At about 1 AM on a Saturday night, as I walked through a smoke-filled casino where scantily-clad women were dancing above sets of blackjack and poker tables, I saw some parents pushing their kids around in strollers. There's something really sad about that picture.

Thankfully, there seemed to be more of the basketball parents than the casino parents.

There are a lot of really cool bloggers out there

One of the best parts about attending NBA Summer League is the ability to meet and talk in-person with bloggers and journalists from across the country. In a Twitter world, we tend to know each other by our avatars (which often aren't even pictures of us) and screen names.

I had the pleasure of staying in a house, rented by SB Nation (of which Canis Hoopus is a part), with Lisa Rotter of Mavs Moneyball, Matt Tynan of Pounding the Rock, Jordan Sams and Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers, Seth Pollack of Bright Side of the Sun, Daniel Buerge of Lakers Nation, Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting, and Conrad Kaczmarek of Fear the Sword.

There were pick-up basketball games, poker games, air mattresses, lots of bacon, and many, many conversations about NBA basketball.

Take the time to visit their blogs, as well as the other great NBA blogs across SB Nation, and you won't be disappointed. These people do terrific work and their enthusiasm for the game of basketball really shines through.

Walking 10 miles in the Las Vegas heat is not a great idea

As I was staying in the SB Nation house, which was a good 4-5 miles from the Strip, and did not have a car, my options for transportation were limited. Wanting to play some blackjack, and not want to bother my new friends for a ride, I decided to take the journey on foot. I started out around 8:30 AM. The temp was a cool 86. The sun was still rising from the East. It was a pleasant walk that took a little under an hour.

I played some cards, won some money, had some lunch, took in some sights on the Strip and started home.

Unfortunately, by that time, it was around noon, the temp was up to 104 and the sun was in the middle of the sky. I stubbornly decided to walk back to the house anyway. It was not one of my favorite life moments, although I was rewarded with an impressive sun burn on my forehead, some heat exhaustion and two feet that felt as though they might just melt off at any moment.

If you ever go to Vegas and are thinking about walking 5 miles in the middle of the day, spend the money on the cab fare. Trust me.

I'm definitely going back next year

No matter what comes out of summer league, and whether the results ultimately mean a lot or mean nothing at all, the NBA Summer League is a terrific time, and not only because of basketball.

Personally, I met a lot of new friends and had a lot of wonderful memories. I plan to make summer league an annual trip. If you have the time and can afford a trip out to Nevada, I'd definitely recommend it to you, too.