Usually, NBA Summer League is an event which only the NBA hardcores in New Zealand follow and watch, a place where rookies and players trying to make their claim for a roster spot combine for what can at times be pretty uninspiring basketball.
This year, things changed.
With Thomas Abercrombie, Cedric Jackson and Steven Adams all getting court time in this year’s Summer League events, interest in New Zealand for this usually glossed over showcase has never been higher. There’s been so much interest in Summer League that I’ve been asked by several people to wrap up the tournaments that took place, and give my take on the players with Kiwi connections involved.
Before we get to those with a particular New Zealand interest, let’s take a look at those players who shone in the Summer League, and those you may be seeing a lot more of this upcoming NBA season.
Bazemore was the key man in the Golden State Warriors team who won the Las Vegas Championship, and is a player who I’ve long held an affinity for.
Bazemore is 6’5”, but has a wingspan of 6’11”, a crucial aspect of making him one of the best defensive guards in the game. Bazemore’s shooting was sporadic last season, meaning he didn’t get too many minutes off the bench, but when he did he showed huge All-Defence potential, showcased best by his lock-down play of Tony Parker in the dying stages of the fateful Game One, which was then ruined by Jarrett Jack leaving Manu Ginobili open on the wing.
As a manic Warriors fan, I watched every game of their undefeated run to the championship, and it was a pretty strange watch. Bazemore was tasked with handling the point, a job he did pretty decently, but with precisely zero “scorers” on the side, it was defence-first, and you couldn’t find a better man to do that than the relentless Bazemore.
It took a whole season, but I can finally spell Jonas Valencia Valanchewness Valanciunas’ name without having to get it spell-checked.
The practice has come from excitedly typing his name whenever the big Lithuanian did crazy things in Summer League, and that was often, with Valanciunas (nailed it I swear) winning the Las Vegas MVP on the back of several bullying displays in the post.
It looked like Valanciunas had put on several pounds of muscle during the off-season, which will definitely come in handy when playing against the far bigger, more physical big men in the NBA. And it’s not like he desperately needed to either, with his rookie year stats of nine points and six rebounds per game being excellent for the raw big man’s debut season.
With Andrea Bargnani gone, the Amir Johnson-Valanciunas frontcourt will have free reign in the paint for Toronto, and there’s very little doubt in my mind that Valanciunas will end up as a much more productive player than Bargnani.
Clark quietly shone in Miami colours during the Orlando Summer League, but the former Belmont star saved his best for the Warriors in Las Vegas.
Clark went undrafted in the 2013 class, despite shooting 46% on threes and also being named the Ohio Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. With “Three and D” guys being so valuable in today’s NBA, this makes little sense, and Clark proved that with his off-season display, averaging 14 points per game across both camps, shooting the deep ball at a 46% rate and also displaying some good on-ball defence.
This all culminated in a ridiculous showing during the Las Vegas Final, where he truly caught fire, breaking several records with seven threes and a 33 point display. While both the Warriors and Heat had little room for him on their roster, the Utah Jazz – home of the worst back-court in the league – quickly gave the perfect role player a two-year deal.
I wish to bring up Mr.Olynyk simply to warn people about over-reacting to Summer League, which I’m sure you are thinking I’m doing here. Olynyk was the talk of the NBA world for a short few days as he averaged 18 points per game while showing a good ability to run the floor, create his own shot and step outside for threes. The hype got so far that some Celtics fans were, hopefully jokingly, likening him to Dirk Nowitzki.
While it’s all very nice, young Kelly hitting his turnarounds, he looks like a duck in traffic on defence, being far overmatched by almost every big man. Oh, and he shot 23% on threes. Sounds like a poor man’s Andrea Bargnani.
That’s right, that’s three digs at Bargnani in the past two articles. Enjoy, Knicks fans!
Reggie Jackson and John Henson
The co-recipients of the “You’re Too Good To Be Here” Award, Jackson and Henson showcased their supreme talents during overwhelming Summer League displays, only to be shown a lack of faith by their front offices just days later.
Jackson showed everyone what he’s capable of in when stepping in for Russell Westbrook during last season’s playoffs, averaging 15 points, five rebounds and four assists per game and showing he’s deserving of more minutes in a Kevin Martin-less back-court. Then, the Thunder decided to re-sign Derek Fisher, once again limiting Jackson’s minutes and replacing them with an old guy who simply stands in the corner and can’t play a lick of defence.
Henson was a stand-out in both senses of the word during Summer League also, averaging 15 points and 14 rebounds in his 27 minutes per game, as well as three blocks per encounter. Henson was pushing for starters minutes near the end of last season, tossing up a ridiculous 17 points, 25 rebound, seven block display against Orlando – one of the best performances ever by a rookie.
So what do the Bucks do with this burgeoning young talent? They go and sign a mediocre centre, Zaza Pachulia, to join the already packed frontcourt. Keep an eye on Henson in his far-too-limited minutes this season.
The Kiwi Connection:
Jackson held a healthy lead in the Orlando Summer League assist stats, with eight a game for Miami, impressing the talent evaluators with his unselfish play in a shoot-first environment. Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on that performance in Las Vegas, struggling to take advantage of the scraps of minutes tossed his way from CJ McCollum’s high-dining table.
Everybody knew Jackson could pass, but what he needed to convince the front offices of was his ability to shoot the basketball and play defence, neither of which he displayed with any certainty. With the only gigs available at the end of the bench, Jackson needed to have an impactful skill on show, and I’m not sure he quite managed to do that.
Regardless, it was an impressive display from the honorary Kiwi, and one which will keep him on the radar of NBA squads for potential 10-day contracts and try-out opportunities.
Although it wasn’t in anybody’s wildest dreams that Abercrombie would find his way onto an NBA roster, the athletic Breaker would have been disappointed with his limited impact made. After 16 scoreless minutes in the opening game, coach Jeff Hornacek clearly saw enough, giving Abercrombie mainly garbage time minutes from then on.
While he didn’t do anything wrong, Abercrombie’s performances were rather forgettable, with ball touches being few and far between as he unselfishly stood in the corner and played decent off-ball defence. He made all the right basketball decisions, but it would have been nice to see him hog the ball and force some shots up there, like everyone else on trial did.
But hey, at least he dunked off an inbounds pass.
Finally, we get to the most hyped prospect in New Zealand basketball.
I’ve been well documented as one of the writers to attempt to slow down the hyperbolic Adams train, but I was impressed with what I saw from Adams in Orlando. He had three very solid games, finishing near the rim, setting hard screens and rebounding well, which is basically all that well-wishers can ask of him at this point in time.
I’ll reiterate my previous stance: Adams has potential, and I would love to see him starting on an NBA roster. But he’s still the fourth string centre on the Thunder, and should spend significant time in the D-League.
Summer League doesn’t show us who the great players are. It shows us who the bad players are. Adams has safely avoided that at this early stage of his career, it’s a promising beginning to what hopefully will be a very successful career.