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Subpar NBA Summer League Performers

Which players have disappointed in this year’s NBA Summer League? Ben Dowsett shares his thoughts.

Ben Dowsett



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Within the yearly NBA lexicon, “Summer League means nothing” is just a hair less popular than, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It’s an age-old adage, rooted in observable fact. The list of guys who lit it up in Vegas for a summer or two before never being heard from again in NBA circles is nearly endless, and it’s almost as easy to find a number of doe-eyed 19-year-olds straight out of college who couldn’t do much in their first summer of action but still managed to become quality rotation players or better.

The mantra rings truer on the positive side of things than the negative side, however, and it’s through this lens that we can begin to parse a few details. It’s not surprising when D’Angelo Russell or Devin Booker put up big numbers with ease as second-year lottery picks with a full NBA season under their belts; when others in a similar situation badly struggle, however, it’s a warning light. Combine this with visual indicators and a few other telltale signs, and in reality it’s much easier to assess which guys are hurting their full-time NBA chances at Summer League than which are helping them.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of guys who haven’t lived up to expectations on this stage.

James Young, Boston Celtics

Now in his second Summer League appearance and set to enter his third NBA season, the 17th overall pick from 2014 has consistently failed to make an impact even at the Summer League level. He shot just 13-for-48 from the field in all summer competition in 2015, and his 14-for-39 showing this summer between Sin City and Utah brings his grand total over two summers of play to a gross 31 percent. Somehow, he’s actually shooting a better percentage on 138 field goals in the regular NBA than he is during a much easier competition.

It’s far from just a small-sample size thing, too. Young is frequently just invisible on the court, going long stretches where it’s far too easy to forget he’s even out there. He has the body to be at least a solid defender, with 6’6 height and a 7’0 wingspan, but has never shown the effort or mental capacity at any professional level. His off-ball defense ranges from “slow to react” to “flat-out disinterested.”

He hasn’t developed his body much (if at all) since entering the league over two full years ago, and hasn’t added any ball skills whatsoever to the shooter reputation that put him in the first round to begin with. Young has totaled just 10 assists in the same number of summer games over the last two years.

For a near-21-year-old picked on the fringes of the lottery and now playing mostly against journeymen and even younger players, these are damning realities. Young has managed to hit 40 percent of his three-point attempts this summer, a small boon, but the figure comes on just 17 total tries and puts his utter inability to score from inside the arc in the spotlight; Young has converted just five of his 22 two-point attempts, or under 23 percent. Given Boston’s stocked youth cupboard and his lack of success, he’s in danger of falling out of the league in the near future.

Rashad Vaughn, Milwaukee Bucks

There must be a curse on 17th overall picks or something, because 2015’s selection in the slot has struggled mightily to this point as well. Rashad Vaughn has sandwiched an NBA rookie campaign where he finished with a 4.2 PER (yes, 4.2, easily the worst in the league among players logging at least 1,000 minutes) in between Summer League showings of 36 percent and 34 percent from the field in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Unlike fellow prime number draft pick Young, Vaughn has been asked to do heavy lifting for the Bucks as their primary offensive creator in summer play. He’s taken over 16 shots per game between last summer and this one, clearly stretching the limits of his ability. Like Young, he’s been completely ineffective as a passer, with assist totals that come nowhere near where they should be given how often Vaughn has the ball. All of his numbers this summer look eerily similar to those from a year ago, a decidedly negative sign. He’s connected on just seven of his 30 three-point attempts this year.

Vaughn has a few more things going for him than Young, namely age – Rashad is a full year younger and won’t turn 20 until mid-August. He’s been an acceptable-to-solid rebounder at his position both last year and this one. Vaughn also has been asked to play a summer role that’s likely nowhere close to what his eventual NBA responsibilities would entail (assuming he makes it that far), where Young has largely been doing the same things asked of him in the full-time NBA and is still failing. There’s time yet for Vaughn to make an impact, but his second summer campaign isn’t a very good start.

Tibor Pleiss, Utah Jazz

Pleiss is a different sort of case, both because he doesn’t fit the “former lottery pick who’s multiple seasons in” label and because, on the surface, his production doesn’t seem all that bad. He’s hovered right around the 50 percent mark from the field overall in eight appearances this summer, shooting very well from beyond the arc and the free-throw line (both on tiny samples, but still).

Unlike many of his peers at this event, though, Pleiss is nearly 27 years old and is pretty much finished developing at this point, which puts production that’d be acceptable for certain guys into a different category for him. After a year spent mostly in the D-League, it’s a bit worrisome that Tibor hasn’t been able to make more of an impact among guys typically far less physically developed than himself.

The issues begin on the defensive end, where Pleiss’s gargantuan height and wingspan just haven’t translated into the sort of anchor one hopes for. Even in the D-League and against summer competition, he’s frequently bullied by stronger guys down low and has very little impact defending the rim, even against perimeter players. He lacks the strength (both in his hands, for grip, and in his arms overall) to win his share of contested boards, with most of those he does collect coming purely by virtue of his height advantage. Pleiss simply isn’t mobile enough to defend any high-level pick-and-roll attack or pick-and-pop bigs. The Jazz have been better defensively this summer while he sits, even with likely their weakest roster in years behind him.

Tibor’s offensive template is incredibly desirable in the modern game, but in application it’s less impactful. His strong performance from beyond the arc this summer comes after just a 32 percent showing from there in the D-League, and to this eye it could be a bit of a desert mirage. His shot takes days to load up, and the list of successful NBA marksmen who shoot a ball as flat as Pleiss is pretty short (on many of his attempts the thing literally doesn’t spin, knuckleballing its way to the hoop).

His timing and win rate on the offensive glass leaves something to be desired against NBA athletes, and he turned the ball over more often than he assisted teammates both in the D-League last year and in summer play this year. Huge inconsistencies from game to game over these seven contests showcase a talented guy still struggling to make a solid nightly impact.

Pleiss is an incredibly hard worker with a great attitude toward improvement, but in the context of his play that might actually be a bit of an issue – he really hasn’t gotten much better despite strong intangibles. If his shooting figures from this summer were the real deal long-term, it’d be a different story, but this just doesn’t feel like the case. He’ll be in a fight once again to stay on Utah’s full-time roster, and even if he wins it (he’s probably a favorite to do so at this point), it could be another year bouncing back and forth between the D-League and NBA with at least five names ahead of him on the Jazz’s big depth chart.

The Sacramento Kings

Yeah, a full team gets a failing grade here. After a pretty good summer personnel-wise (for them, at least), the Kings have badly bungled their Summer League team to the point where even the small nuggets to be gained from these games are rendered virtually meaningless.

It would be curious enough if the Kings simply had five centers on their Vegas roster, but it’s outright offensive to the basketball mind to see them playing two and even three of these guys at the same time. There hasn’t been enough room to find minutes for each of 2015 lottery pick Willie Cauley-Stein, 2016 lottery pick Georgios Papagiannis and 2016 late first-rounder Skal Labissiere – so the Kings have just said screw it, we’ll play them all anyway.

Willie Cauley-Stein is not a small forward, guys, and his numbers in particular represent just how strange this looks. Willie has barely cracked 25 percent from the field in four games, forced to stretch his game miles beyond what he should actually be doing in an effort to get each of he, Papagiannis and Labissiere at least 20 minutes a night. Big George has struggled from the field as well, but in either case, how can we have any clue if this is player- or scheme-related?

The Kings have lost each of their four games so far in Vegas, three by double figures, and while this alone isn’t so bad, the way they’ve gone about doing it is just such a silly way for a team to approach summer play. There’s a big difference between extending roles, like most teams do for certain guys at this time of year, and what the Kings are doing. This approach could yield bad habits so easily, and even if it doesn’t, it offers no real benefit. Cauley-Stein, for instance, did perfectly fine in the NBA last year and would almost certainly have been better off staying home and doing team workouts. Not that it’s anything new, but management in Sacramento needs to take a hard look at how they’re operating.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.


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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.

Spencer Davies



If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.

Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”

After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.

Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.

There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.

It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.

“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.

“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”

Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.

“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.

“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”

So what does that exactly entail?

“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”

Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.

“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.

“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”

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NBA Daily: Second-Round Draft Steals to Watch

Several possible second round picks have a chance to make an impact at the NBA level, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



The NBA Draft is upon us this week. The hopes and dreams of many basketball players will become reality. Each year there are players who are drafted in the second round who end up outperforming their draft selection spot.

A premium has been placed on draft picks in recent years. Even second round picks have become extremely valuable. For a team like the Golden State Warriors whose payroll might limit their ability to sign quality rotation players (veterans taking discounts to win a ring notwithstanding), smart drafting has seen them scoop up steals like Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. Both those players have emerged as key rotation guys on a championship team, and both were taken in the second round.

The second round is an opportunity to pick up overlooked young talent on cheap contracts. Sure, it’s rare to get a Manu Ginobili or an Isaiah Thomas or a Draymond Green that goes on to become an All-Star caliber player, but plenty of quality contributors can be found.

Here’s a look at a few guys who have a great chance at becoming second round steals.

1. Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Outside of DeAndre Ayton, there may not have been a more valuable player to the Arizona Wildcats last season than Allonzo Trier. He was the Wildcats second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. There have been questions about his supposed selfish style of play, but he’s been a solidly efficient player his three years at Arizona.

This past season as a junior, he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Over his three years in college, he was a 47.5 percent shooter from the field and a 37.8 percent shooter from the three-point line. He’s also an 82.3 percent shooter from the line. And he did dish out 3.2 assists this past season.

Trier is a scorer, plain and simple, an efficient one at that. Despite this, his name has failed to appear on many mock drafts. The few that actually project the second round as well have him being drafted near the end. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Trier has great size for a shooting guard in the NBA. A sixth man type scorer is probably his best projection at the next level.

2. Brandon McCoy – UNLV

The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite have such a noteworthy year, which might explain a little about why Brandon McCoy is flying under the radar. UNLV posted a 20-13 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, McCoy managed to emerge as their biggest bright spot.

In his lone college season, he led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. He also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and was their leading shot blocker at 1.8 blocks per game. For a big man, he shot a semi-decent 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

He has good size, he’s a legit seven-footer. He moves well on the floor and with some work, can be a very good defensive player. Part of what might be causing him to get overlooked is he doesn’t have much in terms of a mid-range game, a necessity for big men in today’s NBA game. But that can be worked on. At any rate, he can be a high energy big off the bench, good to come in and block some shots, grabs some boards and clean up around the rim. Every team could use a guy like that.

3. Devonte Graham – Kansas

One year ago, Devonte Graham’s Jayhawk teammate Frank Mason III was also being overlooked in the draft. Like Graham, the major issue working against him was his status as a four-year college player. Mason went on to be one of the bright spots for the Sacramento Kings, establishing himself as a legit NBA point guard.

This summer, Graham is looking to do the same. Mason was also a bit on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-11. Graham has little more size than that at 6-foot-2. He was the Jayhawks best player for most of the year, putting up 17.3 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the three-point line. He also dished out 7.2 assists per game.

Most mock drafts have consistently had Graham being drafted early to middle second round. Being a college senior, he has leadership abilities. He’d be perfect for any team looking for a solid point guard off the bench.

4. Chimezie Metu – USC

For much of the mock draft season, Chimezie Metu’s name appeared as a first round selection. But in recent weeks, as other names began to climb up the draft ladder, Metu it appears has fallen back into the second-round. It’s interesting though, as his skill set for a big man appears to project well in today’s NBA game.

He was the Trojans’ best player as a junior this past season. He put up 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field. He pulled down 7.4 rebounds while averaging 1.7 blocked shots. Although the percentages may not reflect that, he has an improving jump shot. He’s quick and mobile defensively.

He’s got all the tools be able to guard the post as well as switch out and guard other positions if need be. With a little more work, he can be a good jump shooter. With the evolution of today’s game, Metu has the perfect build and talent to find success as a modern NBA big man.

5. Tony Carr – Penn State

Tony Carr has been a consistent second round pick in most mock drafts. There has been the occasional one here or there that had him being drafted at the end of the first-round, but the second round is most likely where he’ll hear his name called.

Carr was the best player for a Nittany Lions team that ended up winning the NIT. This past season as a sophomore, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from the three-point line. He was able to pull down 4.9 rebounds per game and he dished out 5.0 assists.

He can play both guard positions and create for himself or his teammates. There have been question marks about his athleticism and ability to defend at the NBA level, but all a team needs for him to do is come in off the bench, run the offense a bit and get a few buckets. He’s definitely capable of doing that.

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NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019

The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.

Moke Hamilton



The NBA world nearly stopped last week when reports circulated that Kawhi Leonard wanted out from San Antonio.

All of a sudden, within a few days, both he and Kyrie Irving were both reportedly open-minded about taking their talents to New York.

And while either (or both) of the two would look great as Knicks uniforms, they’d look much better in orange and blue in 2019.

After all, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.

If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.

So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it… Next year.

If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that.

This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash this summer or whether he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.

The right play for the Knicks is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding each of them to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.

The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.

In other words, one year from now, the Knicks could have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.

That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.

If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of landing both Leonard and Irving, but instead of trading the farm for them, they’d have a realistic shot at signing them. They’d be adding them to the core instead of sacrificing it for them. Imagine that.

From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.

Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in playing in New York when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that he could opt to take his talents elsewhere.

Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Probably not. But one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.

As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team, even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.

And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.

Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. He’s no Steve Nash, but he is truly special. Just don’t tell the national media that.

Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.

Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.

Going from Leonard and Irving to Walker and Butler might seem like a sad story of riches to rags, but one could very easily make the argument that adding two high-quality All-Star caliber starters to a core featuring Porzingis, Ntilikina and two lottery picks would do more to make the Knicks contenders than unloading the cupboard in an attempt to bring one in.

If that sounds like exactly what the Celtics did, that’s because it is. The Lakers, too. There’s a reason why they’re the most winningest franchises in NBA history, it would seem.

One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.

So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.

In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge. 

So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.

“Prove it.”

Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.

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