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Does NBA Summer League Success Matter?

It’s easy to get excited about Summer League MVPs, but how does that success translate to the actual NBA?

Joel Brigham

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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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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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