NBA Summer League, which takes place every year in Orlando and Las Vegas, can sometimes feel a little underwhelming. Just one month ago basketball fans were treated to some of the finest basketball ever played as the San Antonio Spurs destroyed the Miami Heat in five games, smashing apart the four-year reign of the Big 3 in the process.
Just try to compare the play of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James with the Summer League’s half-empty gyms, balls being dribbled off of feet and turnovers galore.
That said, Summer League represents a valuable opportunity for players and coaches alike. It’s the first opportunity that teams have to view their recent draft selections in action and it gives them a chance to develop some soon-to-be sophomores who need to refine parts of their game. For those same players, it’s an initial taste of basketball with fellow professionals—both newcomers to the NBA and players from overseas in Europe.
Summer League also provides a chance—sometimes a last chance—for players who went undrafted and are still looking to impress a team enough to add them to their roster for the coming season, not to mention guys who have some previous NBA experience and are looking to return to the greatest basketball league on earth. The quality may not be the best, but the stakes are certainly high.
Orlando’s Summer League ended July 11, and the Vegas edition goes on until July 21. Here are some of the standout performances, thus far.
James Ennis was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Miami Heat, but he spent last season playing in Australia and Puerto Rico. After his showing in Orlando, however, he may very well be on the Miami Heat’s roster come the start of next season.
Ennis, a 6-foot-7 small forward, took Orlando by storm, averaging 17 points per game during the tournament, which included a 29-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets. Ennis shot 52 per cent from the floor in his four games in Orlando, overshadowing even first-round pick Shabazz Napier. With LeBron’s departure to Cleveland, expect Ennis to play a role on the Heat in 2014-2015.
Noel was drafted sixth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers last year, but a combination of injury and a desire on the Sixers’ part to be awful last season kept the former Kentucky Wildcat out of action. But Noel looked the part in his Summer League debut against the Orlando Magic.
Noel had 19 points, four steals and a blocked shot against the Magic, showing off his potential around the basket and on defence. Noel hasn’t played at any competitive level basketball for 18 months, making his performance all the more impressive. Expect more of the same from the Philadelphia centre going forward.
To say that Anthony Bennett’s rookie season was a disappointment would be quite the understatement. 2013’s first overall pick averaged a dismal four points and three rebounds per game, along with 35 per cent shooting from the field. He showed up overweight and his rookie campaign never really got off the ground.
But in Las Vegas, the city where he played college ball, Bennett is starting to resemble a number one pick. On Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, he had 15 points and seven rebounds, which he followed up with a 13-point, 14-rebound effort in a win over the Spurs on Sunday.
Bennett looks to be in much better shape and his performances will give Cavaliers fans great reason for optimism.
Gary Harris, out of Michigan State, was selected 19 overall by the Chicago Bulls and promptly traded to the Denver Nuggets, along with Jusuf Nurkic, for Doug McDermott. On Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors in Vegas, Harris had one of the standout performances of Summer League, pouring in 33 points for a blowout win for the Nuggets.
Harris’ points came on 10-of-17 shooting, including five threes. He also added six rebounds. Harris, just 19 years of age, has faced a battle to win respect from those around the league who claim he’s too small to excel at the highest level. Saturday’s performance might have turned a few heads.
On Friday night Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, made his Summer League debut. He did not disappoint. Wiggins scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Cavaliers to a two-point victory over Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks. Wiggins followed up that performance with a solid, but unspectacular, 13-point effort against the Spurs on Sunday.
Wiggins’ future remains uncertain—he may yet end up being traded to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love—but his talent level is unquestionable. He has shown in a couple days at Summer League that he can defend, shoot and get to the line. It should be an exciting rookie season for the young Canadian.