Sometime around mid-July, once the largest of the free agency signings have wrapped up and there’s no prospect for real competitive basketball until much later in the fall, fans turn their attention toward the Summer Leagues that take place annually in Orlando, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
It’s understandable considering this is everybody’s first opportunity to get a look at the rookies in their new uniforms and see how they all stack up against each other during junior varsity play, but there’s also a pretty widespread understanding that Summer League games really don’t mean all that much. Just because a kid shreds the competition in Vegas or Orlando doesn’t mean he’s destined for great things in the actual NBA. Anthony Randolph once dropped 42 points in a Summer League game, just for one example, and Adam Morrison earned un-ironic “MVP” chants in Vegas two years after having played his last official NBA game.
Summer League has served as a stage for some of the most promising up-and-coming stars in the league, and in Las Vegas every year one player is named the summer’s MVP. Here’s a look at the last 10 years’ worth of Summer League MVPs, and how they fared once they actually made it to the NBA.
2006 – Randy Foye, Minnesota Timberwolves – After averaging 24.8 PPG on 53 percent shooting during his week in Vegas, No. 7 overall draft pick Randy Foye looked every bit as legit as the guy he was traded for on draft night, Brandon Roy. Nobody could stop Foye is his official NBA debut, as he got to the basket literally whenever he wanted against Summer League competition and shot almost eight free throws a game, which was enough for those in attendance to label him one of the stars of the draft.
While Roy’s career was a lot shorter, it certainly proved a lot flashier – though that’s not a knock against Foye, who continues to enjoy a respectable NBA career. He has averaged over 10 PPG in 10 seasons and has played for six different teams. He hasn’t been the organizational legend that Roy transformed into in Portland, but he’s been pretty darn good and continues to be a decade into his professional career.
2007 – Nate Robinson, New York Knicks – Considering Robinson played in Summer League for four consecutive years, it feels like he almost had to win MVP one of those times, and he finally did in 2007 after putting up 19.6 PPG and 6.0 APG while leading the New York Knicks to a 5-0 record. He was so good that the following year somebody hung up a Nate Robinson jersey at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in an attempt to unofficially “retire” it in recognition of his long and profound service playing summer ball on the UNLV campus.
In terms of his actual NBA career, Robinson played 11 seasons for eight teams, with a career average of 11 PPG. There were some big years in there, including a really fun one in Chicago when everyone thought he was cooked, and he remains the league’s only three-time dunk contest winner (for now), but he never was named an actual All-Star and was the same sort of career journeyman that Foye was. So far this offseason, it sounds as though teams’ interest in him has ebbed, but not after a flashy and memorable NBA career.
2008 – Jerryd Bayless, Portland Trail Blazers – Yet another NBA journeyman who has played for six different teams since getting drafted eight years ago, Bayless has done more than enough to keep himself employed (averaging 8.5 PPG and 2.9 APG). However, he has not lived up to the hype he ignited when he averaged 29.8 PPG and 4.8 RPG in Summer League as a lottery pick in 2008. He was 19 years old with all the promise in the world at the time, but it has yet to turn into anything remotely approaching an elite NBA career.
2009 – Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers – Easily one of the buzziest Summer League Players ever, Griffin won MVP honors in 2009 after putting up 19.2 PPG and 10.8 RPG in his five appearances in Vegas that summer. Those numbers actually weren’t quite as good as Andray Blatche’s 19.7 PPG and 11 RPG, and Griffin was only 10th in scoring behind such legends as Othyus Jeffers and Cartier Martin, but it was more than enough to show the world how good Griffin would be and certainly more than enough to make his preseason knee injury that much more of a bummer. He’d eventually win Rookie of the Year, but like 22 months later. To date, he’s one of only two players to have won Summer League MVP and NBA Rookie of the Year.
2010 – John Wall, Washington Wizards – After having led all players in points (23.5 PPG) and assists (7.8 APG), the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 was named the Summer League MVP in what had to have been rather unanimous fashion. In the six years since that honor, Wall has been named an All-Star three times and made an NBA All-Defense Second Team in 2015. He’s still one of the league’s most exciting stars, even though he has yet to see much by way of postseason success. In terms of former Summer League MVPs, however, Wall remains one of the most successful.
2012 – Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers and Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies (co-MVPs) – Lillard and Selby were so dominant in 2012 that they were asked to share the MVP award for the first time in Summer League history. For Lillard, his debut was fascinating because nobody was quite sure how his “small school” skills would translate against tougher competition, but he showed exactly how well he’d fare by shredding those sad, sad defenses for 26.5 PPG, 5.6 APG and 4.0 RPG. Like Griffin, he’d later win Rookie of the Year.
Selby, however, had a tougher journey since winning the trophy. His 2012 run through Summer League was his second go, and while he did own the opportunity, leading all scorers with 27.5 PPG and hitting over five three-pointers in each of his four performances, it didn’t lead to more opportunities with the Grizzlies later that season. Selby played in only 10 games in 2012-13 and was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January of 2013. He’d never play a game there or for any other NBA team again before finding himself pressed into overseas hoops duty. Since then, he’s played ball in China, Croatia, Israel and Turkey.
2013 – Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors – Valanciunas returned to Summer League following his rookie year and looked noticeably more muscular, something that allowed him to dominate the competition on the block that year to the tune of 18.8 PPG and 10 RPG over four contests. That did serve as a bit of a springboard into his sophomore campaign, as he’d jump from 8.9 PPG to 11.3 PPG and from 6.0 RPG to 8.8 RPG. He’s only four years into his career, but J-Val has gotten better every year and does have the potential to make a couple of All-Star Games at some point in his career.
2014 – Glen Rice, Jr., Washington Wizards – Considering how thoroughly Rice dominated the D-League competition before being drafted in the second round in 2014, it should come as no real surprise that he did the same thing to the Las Vegas Summer League that July. He led the league in scoring with 25 PPG over six games and chipped in 7.8 RPG and 2.5 SPG, so it was fair for Wizards fans to get excited about the potential second-round steal.
In the actual NBA, however, Rice never came anywhere close to replicating his Summer League success, playing in only 16 games over two seasons before finding himself waived in January of 2015. Only two years after his coming-out party, Rice already is out of the league, and a 2015 gun/drug incident that resulted in Rice getting shot in the leg doesn’t bode well for a return any time soon.
2015 – Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs – For the second straight year, Kyle Anderson is dominating the Las Vegas Summer League, and while it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll win the MVP award this year, he did win it 2015 thanks to 22 PPG and 5.8 RPG as the best player on what amounted to a pretty good Spurs Summer League team.
While Anderson’s first full season in the NBA didn’t translate to much, he did play in 78 games and managed a respectable 4.5 PPG on a team that, frankly, was too loaded with elite veteran talent to give the kid much more playing time than he got. With Boris Diaw shipped off to Utah, though, Anderson should see an uptick in minutes and still has the potential to be among those former Summer League MVPs who have a solid, if not stellar, NBA career.
So what should we expect from a Summer League MVP? With the exceptions of Josh Selby and Glen Rice, Jr., every single player to have earned that honor in the last 10 years has at least been a solid role player and at best a perennial NBA All-Star. By that same token, though, only three of these guys have even made an All-Star Game at this point.
That means most of these guys finish somewhere in the middle, which isn’t a bad thing, but does serve as a reminder that just because a kid destroys the Summer League competition doesn’t mean he’ll do the same in the NBA.
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