NBA Summer League Roundtable, Upside and Motor edition

With the Las Vegas Summer League ending on Monday, we felt it was a good idea to get the Upside and Motor staff together to answer some questions on who has impressed, who has disappointed, and who has a chance to make some money for themselves this season. We allowed them to choose from both Orlando and Las Vegas for both of these questions.


1. What player has been the biggest standout of the NBA Summer League so far?

Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie): This is a surprise to me, given that I’ve never particularly been a fan of his game, but Tony Snell looks like he shouldn’t be here. His shooting stroke looks improved, he’s causing problems for everyone on defense, and his handle actually looks somewhat dangerous for a guy that will most likely make a living shooting from beyond the arc. It’s been an impressive week for him. Also, Nerlens Noel looks like he’s going to terrorize people defensively.

Andrew Ford (@Andrewford22): Anthony Bennett. After a terrible rookie season, he really had nowhere to go but up. He showed up in Vegas in better shape than he was at any point last season, and it reflected in his play. He ran the floor well, rebounded, and most impressively showed a well-rounded offensive game for a big man. He still has a ways to go, but I believe he’s back on track now.

Seth Partnow (@WhrOffnsHppns): Given how different summer league can be for rookies and guys with actual NBA experience, this is really a two-part question. Of the rookies, impossible to say anyone other than Nerlens Noel, who looks like young Marcus Camby out there. With second-year guys, Rudy Gobert has looked like a monster, while Dennis Schroeder looks like he might be ready for some real minutes.

Ben Rosales (@brosales12): Probably Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who looked almost nothing like the hesitant rookie that never managed to distinguish himself on a Detroit team begging for a floor spacer, or Tony Snell, another player who looks like he’s taking a big step on an otherwise tepid rookie season if you want a OPSL and LVSL answer. With a few hiccups along the way, both have been very comfortable running their respective offenses and seem primed for much bigger roles on their parent teams this upcoming year.

Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): Anthony Bennett is the sentimental answer after a slow start to his career, but I’ll go with Nick Johnson. It seems like the Houston Rockets always mine players in the second round or in free agency that fit perfectly into their scheme. Johnson doesn’t have a great shot but has an innate feel for knowing when to slash or pass, as well as some of the intricacies of the pick-and-roll. He has already parlayed that into a three-year deal with the Rockets. It’s been a bad offseason for Daryl Morey but here’s a small bright spot. 

2. What player are you most disappointed in?

Sam Vecenie: Probably Marquis Teague. As a third-year player, summer league games should probably look like they’ve slowed down for him. However, the game still looks like it’s in hyperdrive when Teague has the point guard reins. Given that he’ll be fighting for a job as Deron Williams’ backup point guard with Shaun Livingston out of the mix, this was quite an inopportune time to have a set of games where, outside of his good performance against the Sixers, he averaged 4.5 turnovers.

Andrew Ford: Meyers Leonard. I didn’t think he was ready for the NBA when he left Illinois, but I also didn’t think he would be as much of a non-factor as he has been in two seasons. Even his Summer League stats are underwhelming. He’s still young, and there is room for growth. However, his game appears to be stagnating right now.

Seth Partnow: Tie between Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Austin Daye. Guys who are somewhat established NBA players who just show up and chuck shots at this level of competition are wasting everyone’s time.

Ben Rosales: One would expect Jabari Parker to walk into a setting like this and dominate it utterly, his status as arguably the most NBA ready prospect of the top ten being parroted at every turn. And to a certain extent, he has shown a good deal of the potential he has, whether it’s his terrifying first step towards the rim out of the post or his overall scoring versatility, but he too often tries to go over a swarm of defenders and loses the ball in a careless manner, not to mention his lackluster shot selection. This is summer league after all and we shouldn’t take too much of it, especially since Parker will presumably be in better shape for the regular season, but it’s not an auspicious beginning for him relative to expectations.

Andy Liu: Jabari Parker. Summer League functions as a venue that helps you evaluate players on only one end of the spectrum. If they’re playing well: that’s what’s expected from a top pick. But if they struggle like Parker has in his games? Parker has shown flashes of what we expect: good ballhandler, good shooting form, and a mismatch nightmare for power forwards. But he hasn’t finished, shot well, and looked a bit out of shape. Those are correctable but just not what I expected. 

3. What second round draft pick has been the best, in your opinion?

Sam Vecenie: My love of Russ Smith is undoubtedly known in these parts, but he has looked like he’s ready to be a backup NBA point guard in Vegas. There have been few players so willing to take what the defense is giving them and play to their momentary strengths. If he has a bad shooting day? He gets others involved. If the defense in front of him is allowing him to drive? He attacks and gets to the rim for buckets. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s leading Vegas in assists, considering some questioned whether or not he could be more than an undersized combo-guard. Russdiculous looks like he’s here to stay in the NBA for a long time. Also, Jordan McRae is making the Sixers. His offense looks good and his ability to get to the line should translate. Plus any coach would kill to work with a guy defensively that has a 7’0 wingspan on the perimeter.

Andrew Ford: Jarnell Stokes. He showed why the Grizzlies acquired him in the draft by going out and averaging nearly a double-double in Summer League. He’s a rebounding machine, and he demonstrated an ability to carve out space for himself around the rim despite playing against bigger and stronger guys than he faced in college. He’s not a jump shooter, but he knocked down several mid-range shots when he wasn’t wide open, which is encouraging. His defense is a work in progress, but he always fights hard on that end. His work ethic and constant effort on the court will be what make him a useful role player in the NBA.

Seth Partnow: Nick Johnson, hands down. Not at all surprised Houston gave him a three-year deal. His level of all-court excellence both in Orlando and Vegas might have made the decision to trade Jeremy Lin “prematurely” (before the Rockets had a commitment from Chris Bosh) a little more comfortable.

Ben Rosales: Jordan Clarkson has been something for a revelation, even for a Laker fan who was high on his prospects going into the draft. His ability to run the pick-and-roll is something special, rounding the corner and doing a great job of keeping his dribble alive while surveying the floor for opportunities. He has a more than adequate first step to get all the way to the rim and finish, as well as a floater to keep defenders on their toes while he’s in the lane. In addition, Clarkson’s spot-up game has been rock solid, a more than welcome development for a guy whose stock was crushed in the second half of the season because his shot fell apart. He’s made Kendall Marshall look positively hapless in comparison and save for Julius Randle’s presence, would probably be one of the best performers the Lakers have had in summer league for years.

Andy Liu: Since I already went with Nick Johnson, I’ll change courses and tab Cleanthony Early. Everyone’s favorite name — and breakout NCAA Tournament star — some worried his shot and lack of strength wouldn’t translate to the big leagues. He’s been fine shooting the ball and creating for himself in Derek Fisher’s makeshift Summer League-style Triangle offense. On a New York Knicks team lacking for talent, look for Early to show out a bit.

4. What undrafted 2014 player has the best chance to make a roster (a la Ian Clark)?

Sam Vecenie: Mike Moser is the easy answer for me in Orlando. He already has NBA three-point-range, is long enough to guard 4s in the paint, and is a solid rebounder. The athleticism questions are very valid, but if the shooting is real from the NBA line, that’s an NBA player. Also, Aaron Craft has looked like a potential shit-stirrer defensively in the backcourt for both the Sixers and the Warriors. He’s not perfect by any stretch, and the shooting needs to improve, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone offered him a contract.

Andrew Ford: Patric Young. He’s strong as an ox, and his strength makes it difficult for guys to keep him off the glass. He creates second-chance opportunities for himself and his teammates with regularity, and that gives him value. He’s undersized, but there could be a place for him on the end of someone’s bench this season.

Seth Partnow: I’d say Scottie Wilbekin, but point guard is so deep it might be tough for him to stick. Other than that, I think Khem Birch’s length and slashing ability might get a look.

Ben Rosales: I remain somewhat surprised that no one in the late second thought that taking Mike Moser would have been a good decision, as he looks like a pretty prototypical modern four. He hits threes, rebounds, and has decent lateral quickness for the position and that’s a combination practically every team in the league is seeking. A camp invite somewhere seems like a foregone conclusion and he has a solid chance to crack into the league.

Andy Liu: Aaron Craft. He hoists his shot from the side of his head and barely jumps. He isn’t tall and doesn’t look to score inside or outside. But he can defend the living hell out of players. It’s about effort but it’s also about knowing the perfect situations to attack from the weakside and playing ball side. Craft is quick enough to get halfway to the basket and dish to big men. He’s not a starting guard by any means but there’s backup potential here. They get paid. 

5. Is there a player that is poised to go from the end of the bench last year to legitimate role player this year?

Sam Vecenie: I already mentioned Tony Snell, but what about Otto Porter? He looks really comfortable in the pick-and-roll, and has displayed skills creating his own shot that I hadn’t seen from him before. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looked way more comfortable than he did in his rookie season. It’s also worth mentioning that Rudy Gobert looks really good, and will probably get minutes for the Jazz next season. I’ve never particularly been a fan of his athleticism and fluidity, but the length is there to cause problems at the rim on defense.

Andrew Ford: Austin Daye. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out. If there is ONE organization in the NBA that can get something out of a guy that seemingly no other team can, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he gets Daye to contribute. It’s unlikely, but I think it could happen. Don’t rule out some kind of magic by the Spurs. Ever.

Seth Partnow: Have already mentioned Gobert and Schroder, but Gorgui Dieng and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also look poised to grab much larger roles this season. It would also be hard for Anthony Bennett to not see expanded PT even if he’s felt like a bit of an afterthought for Cleveland between LeBron, Wiggins and the Love rumors.

Ben Rosales: Seeing as the Thunder have signed essentially no one to fill the role vacated by Thabo Sefolosha, it seems as if they expect that Andre Roberson will be able to contribute this season. Roberson certainly has the length (6’7” with 6’11” wingspan) as well as the lateral quickness to be effective as a perimeter defender at multiple positions and it’s largely a question of whether he can provide enough utility on offense to be useful on the floor. He is a significant plus on the boards at either end, but whether he can be effective in spot-up opportunities will probably determine how big of a role he manages to carve out next season.

Andy Liu: Anthony Bennett, right? As long as he is on the receiving end of LeBron James crosscourt dishes, he’ll be fine. That’s really it. The LeBron James Academy of Basketball can make player’s careers. And prolong them.