It should come as no surprise that second-year players often outperform their rookie counterparts in Summer League since they’ve already adjusted to the pace of the game and the sheer strength of the professionals on the court. With that said, this year’s crop of NBA freshmen has a couple guys that have actually played well in Summer League.
The top two picks in this year’s draft, Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, have each had moments ranging from encouraging to flat-out impressive – while still understandably adjusting to the NBA game and all of the lofty expectations placed upon them. Our Joel Brigham recently discussed whether success in Summer League actually matters in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider the scrutiny and skepticism that can come from under-performing, it’s always better to be solid.
Keeping in mind that Summer League action doesn’t quite measure up to actual NBA play, it’s still important for these players as they develop. Today, we’ll take a look at a few players who have done enough to stand out among the pack. Guys like Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris each performed well in one game, but we’ll focus on the players who’ve had at least two-to-three quality games thus far. Keep in mind, some players could have played for multiple Summer League squads in Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas and that averages are subject to change:
Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz) – Lyles showed some flashes as he played sparingly for the Jazz as a rookie, but he’s really imposed his will in Summer League action. He’s one of the tournament’s leaders in scoring (23.8 points per game) and is managing to pull down nine boards per game while knocking down 38.9 percent of his 6.5 three-point attempts per contest. Lyles is still obviously behind veteran teammate Derrick Favors on the depth chart, but don’t be surprised to see his playing time increase if he continues to have similar success moving forward.
Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns) – Booker has also been impressive (26 PPG and 6.5 APG through two games) for the Suns’ Summer League team. He started 51 games and played in a total of 76 for Phoenix in 2015-16 and was very effective while replacing injured starter Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe’s uncertainty – he has missed 90 games over the past three seasons – plus Booker’s impressive start could lead to Bledsoe being seen as somewhat expendable by this year’s trade deadline. Bledsoe is only in year three of a relatively cap-friendly deal (that averages $14.5 million per season over the next three years ), but if Booker continues to play well and they can find a suitor that would permit them to address other holes or roster concerns, don’t be shocked to see the Booker into a major role by mid-February. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Booker is that he is still just 19 years old and way head of schedule in terms of his development.
D’Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers) – Russell is a player who had all types of questions surrounding him heading into the offseason and particularly entering Summer League given the ups and downs he endured as a rookie. There were also many people who wondered how he would handle the intense scrutiny sure to come his way. Despite what some pundits may have you believe about Russell, he’s actually responded extremely well. Moving past the drama of last season, Russell has clearly put in work on his body and it’s already evident. He looks comfortable and even more certain of himself and his skills than before (which is saying a lot given the fact that he had a ton of confidence as a rookie). Perhaps, we still “ain’t seen nothin’ yet” when it comes to his ceiling, but the Lakers would certainly like to see more of this when players report to camp this fall. If Russell can maintain this momentum and take the next step as a player – as he appears to be doing as a professional – then the Lakers will be in business.
Norman Powell (Toronto Raptors) – Powell only played in 49 games for the Raptors last season, but he saw his playing time increase throughout the second half of the season and then had some very strong moments during Toronto’s postseason run. Swingman Terrence Ross still hasn’t been consistent enough to solidify his place in the rotation, so it will be interesting to see if Powell can ride this wave of confidence into training camp and solidify himself as one of the first perimeter players off the bench for the Raptors once 2016-17 kicks off.
Kris Dunn (Minnesota Timberwolves) – Dunn was labeled as one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class and he has certainly lived up to that billing thus far in Summer League player. He started his Summer League action with a 27-point, five-rebound performance against Emmanuel Mudiay and the Denver Nuggets. Then, he followed up that outing with another impressive 21-point, nine-rebound and four-assist game a couple nights later against the Toronto Raptors. Dunn is currently third among all players in points per game (behind only Lyles and Booker) and first among rookies.
Honorable Mentions – Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks) deserves credit for putting up back-to-back double-doubles to kick things off for Milwaukee’s team. The aforementioned Mudiay (Denver Nuggets) also gets props for one the game he played (against Dunn) since he had 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
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