We are now entering into the dog days of summer. The majority of the big free agent ‘whales’ have been harpooned, and now we’re left looking at the goldfish in a dwindling pond. The last bit of NBA action until preseason starts in September are the NBA’s Summer Leagues – where this year’s draft crop show their wares, and undrafted hopefuls try to strut their stuff in front of NBA front office brass. Added intrigue to this years SL is the new “2 way contract” – where teams can now have 2 additional “development” roster spots to hold the rights on players down in the G-League (yes, G is correct).
We’re in the midst of the Las Vegas Summer League, which Joel will recap for you once it’s all wrapped up, but the Orlando and Utah Summer League’s are (both) now in the books – and I’ve got some thoughts on the standout campaigners.
BAM ADEBAYO – MIAMI HEAT
Stats: 17.5ppg, 8.3rpg, 1.3apg, 1.0spg, 2.3bpg on 35.2%fg, 76.2%ft in 30.8mpg through 4 games.
I didn’t see this coming. Bam at Kentucky was a dunker, rebounder and defender… that’s about it. He looked like your prototypical banger. Bam at the Orlando Summer League was unleashed as a player that can get to the line at will (10.5 attempts per game), bring the ball up the court with purpose, shoot the 15 footer and finish inside as advertised.
Defensively, he has the length to disrupt at the rim and contest shots – as well as the foot speed and lateral quickness to stay with guards on the switch. Like many players in Summer League, he shot a poor percentage from the field, but the early signs are promising that perhaps Miami saw an untapped skill set in Bam that other teams didn’t.
Adebayo still faces an uphill battle for playing time in Miami, but will be hoping to carve out the “Willie Reed role” of 12-15 minutes per night backing up Whiteside – although the recent addition of Kelly Olynyk won’t help his quest.
OKARO WHITE – MIAMI HEAT
Stats: 19.0ppg, 8.0rpg, 1.8apg, 0.3spg, 1.5bpg on 37.7%fg, 30.0% 3fg, 82.8%ft in 34mpg through 4 games
White played for Miami in last years Summer League, and showed enough to be signed by their D-League affiliate, Sioux Falls. After a plethora of injuries, he was called up to the big leagues and provided solid rotation minutes at times for Erik Spoelstra’s squad. In this year’s Summer League he has been featured more as a scorer, and led the Orlando Summer League in points per game – even if the efficiency left a little to be desired. White arrived in Orlando intent on showing a more versatile, play-making skill-set – however ended up averaging 5 turnovers per game. Given his overall below average ball handling ability, White looks to project more as a 3&D stretch 4 at the next level.
Assuming White remains on the Heat’s opening night roster, he likely faces an uphill battle to claim a rotation spot – but certainly showed enough to be considered an option.
MARKELLE FULTZ – PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Stats: 20.0ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.0apg, 0.5spg, 1.50bpg on 46.9%fg, 46.2% 3fg, 80.0%ft in 24mpg through 2 games
Fultz was as good as advertised in his first couple of games as a Sixer. After struggling a little in his first game vs Boston, he showed out against Utah with a big game in limited minutes – displaying his 3 point stroke and whirling, acrobatic finishing abilities in the paint.
He’s a supremely talented offensive player; with an elite pull up game, body control and finishing ability, and should be a quality scorer in the NBA from day one. This will only be heightened with passing dynamo Ben Simmons finding him for open looks. He provides much needed spacing (alongside new signee JJ Redick) for Embiid and Simmons, and demonstrated his shooting ability throughout his injury interrupted, and therefore limited, Summer League showcase.
Philly have said recently that Simmons will be the starting point guard, which just means Fultz will be that much more dangerous as a spot up and off the ball weapon.
HENRY ELLENSON – DETROIT PISTONS
Stats: 17.4ppg, 7.2apg, 1.4apg, 0.8spg, 0.0bpg on 44.0%fg, 33.0% 3fg, 76.9%ft in 34mpg through 5 games
The Second year forward out of Marquette didn’t play a ton last season (19 games to be exact), but looks to assume a larger role in the rotation with the starting PF spot up for grabs following the trade of Marcus Morris and an unsettled Detroit lineup.
Ellenson is a modern-day stretch 4, and we know how Stan Van Gundy feels about them – having developed Ryan Anderson way back in Orlando. He looks to be an ideal front-court partner with Andre Drummond in a rebuilding Detroit lineup, as their strengths and weaknesses match well. Detroit were #27 in the league for 3’s per game last season, and will be looking to improve this weakness next season.
Ellenson had a solid week in Orlando, shooting reasonably well from the perimeter and displaying a soft touch with some shifty forays to the hole. He’ll never be mistaken for the most athletic guy on the court, but if he can space the floor for Detroit’s prime movers in Drummond, Tobias Harris and (maybe) Reggie Jackson, he’ll get a good dose of playing time next season in a league that values outside shooting more than ever.
LUKE KENNARD – DETROIT PISTONS
Stats: 17.2ppg, 4.2rpg, 2.4apg, 1.4spg, 0.2bpg on 46.5%fg, 47.8% 3fg, 100.0%ft in 33mpg through 5 games
Part two of how the Pistons will become a better three-point shooting team next season is the addition of Luke Kennard, arguably the best shooter of this years draft crop. He wasted little time displaying that sweet lefty stroke – shooting a blistering 47.8% from downtown in Orlando and 2.2 made threes per game. Kennard hit shots in a number of different situations – whether it’s off the dribble pull ups, catch and shoot in transition or spotting up in the half court. He also managed to show a bit of his play-making skills and prove he isn’t purely a one-dimensional player. He’s just a smart, savvy baller.
With the Pistons letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk and bringing in Avery Bradley, Kennard will be getting first dibs on backup Shooting Guard minutes – and will be relied on heavily to continue to keep the floor spaced for Drummond inside.
DANTE EXUM – UTAH JAZZ
Stats: 20.0ppg, 4.3rpg, 6.3apg, 0.3spg, 1.0bpg on 52.4%fg, 41.7% 3fg, 73.3%ft in 27mpg through 3 games
Exum’s career to date has been pretty underwhelming. After entering the draft as an 18yr old “international man of mystery”, he struggled to adapt to the physicality of the NBA in his rookie year. His sophomore year was lost entirely due to a ruptured ACL, and his third year was so-so as he played limited backup minutes behind George Hill. The Jazz front office openly challenged Dante to show up and show out at Summer League and he did just that.
Exum looked like one of the most confident players on the summer circuit, as he should going into his 4th season of NBA basketball. His handle looks tighter, helping him blow by would be defenders with ease, and his finishing ability in the paint is improved through the use of a savvy floater – which should translate back in the pro’s. Exum has elite size for the PG spot and would do well to continue to develop his post game (ala Shaun Livingston). With Gordon Hayward’s defection to Beantown now official, the Jazz will be looking to see if Exum is worthy of a heavier investment over the course of next season. He will get opportunities, it’s up to him now to make the most of them.
JAYLEN BROWN – BOSTON CELTICS
Stats: 17.5ppg, 10.5rpg, 1.0apg, 1.0spg, 0.5bpg on 54.5%fg, 37.5% 3fg, 53.3%ft in 28.5mpg through 2 games
Brown made the All-Rookie 2nd Team last season despite averaging just 17 minutes per game, and carved out a solid role on the #1 seed in the East. His potential is obvious – he has good size for an NBA wing, and a physical 225lbs frame that goes along with it. This bulk allows him to take contact at the rim and finish and 1’s, despite the poor couple of games he had from the free throw line.
With the addition of fellow #3 pick Jayson Tatum, retention of Jae Crowder and the off-season addition of Gordon Hayward, Brown faces an uphill battle to improve on his 17 minutes per game next season at the wing spot. However, given his high motor, excellent athletic ability and improving 3pt range – he will demand attention from Brad Stevens and the coaching staff.
In many cases, the Summer League is a player’s first five on five battle in many months – so while it can be difficult to ascertain a lot from such a small sample size, it will be interesting to watch how these players strong Summer League translates into their Training Camp battles for rotation spots and addition court time.
Keep your eyes peeled for Joel’s piece on the Las Vegas Summer League – and which stand out performers strutted their stuff!