A new crop of rookies are introduced to the NBA during the Summer League games each year in Orlando, Las Vegas and now Utah. The games give those players a chance to begin the transition from college ball to the NBA. They can start working with some of their coaches and begin to learn some basic NBA plays.
In addition to rookies, the games provide a chance for unsigned free agents to make a name for themselves. The Summer League can be a great opportunity for prospective players to earn an invite to training camp, which could eventually lead to a spot on the roster.
Each summer there are some players that come into the Summer League under the radar, but leave having improved their stock around the league. With the Orlando Summer League set to end on Friday, we are beginning to have an idea of which players helped their chances of making it to training camp.
Here are some hidden gems from the Orlando Summer League (in no particular order):
Frank Gaines (Oklahoma City Thunder) – 11.3 points and two rebounds in three games:
Gaines came into the Summer League looking to make a name for himself and it seems as though he’s done just that. He went undrafted in 2013 out of IPFW and has bounced around between overseas and the D-League.
He came out in the first game on Saturday and led the Oklahoma City Thunder in scoring, as he dropped 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field in a 76-74 win over the Charlotte Hornets. He went 3-of-8 from three-point range and added two rebounds as new Thunder head coach Billy Donovan and general manager Sam Presti watched from the sidelines.
In three games with the Thunder, he’s shot 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Gaines still has two more games to impress coaches and should come out of Orlando happy with his performances.
Russ Smith (Memphis Grizzlies) – 14 points, six assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals in three games:
Smith was a part of three different NBA teams during his rookie season last year. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers and then was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans before finally arriving in Memphis in January.
He was a player coming into Summer League trying to solidify his place in the Grizzlies’ backcourt. He has certainly played like one of the best guards during the week through his first three games.
Smith has averaged 14 points per game on 60 percent shooting from the floor and his six assists per game are fourth-best among all players in Orlando. He even hit a game-winning shot against the Orlando Magic in a rare sudden-death second overtime on Tuesday.
What’s made Smith so fun to watch has been his ability to fill up the stat sheet in several categories. During that game on Tuesday, he had 20 points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals while converting 9-of-12 shots from the field. It seems as though he’s proved himself in Summer League and could get an extended look in Grizzlies’ training camp.
Willie Reed (Miami HEAT) – 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in four games
Reed has come into Orlando like a man on a mission with a lot to prove. This is a player who averaged 16.4 points, 12 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in the D-League last season, which apparently wasn’t enough for a call-up to the NBA.
Reed has looked like one of the best big men during Summer League with his ability to pull down rebounds and block shots. His seven total blocks on the week are tied for second-most, with Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner leading the way with 13.
He’s drawn comparisons to HEAT center Hassan Whiteside and has been nicknamed ‘Whiteside 2.0’ as the team wants him to play like Whiteside. He’s certainly performed to expectations and still has more to prove with another game in Orlando and more games in Vegas with the HEAT.
UPDATE: Just as this article was being published, Willie Reed agreed to a one-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets. Reed confirmed the deal to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy.
Branden Dawson (Los Angeles Clippers) – 12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks and one assist in four games
Dawson has proved to be another player who can fill up the stat sheet in a hurry. He’s coming off of his best game of the Summer League on Wednesday after scoring 15 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists.
Dawson was drafted by the Pelicans this year in the second round, but was traded to the Clippers shortly after. He played four years at Michigan State and averaged 11.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game during his senior year. He’s turned some heads this week in Orlando and even drew praise from one Magic roster player.
At 6’6, he has the ability to score and rebound the ball very well. His 14 rebounds on Saturday are tied for second-most this week, behind Aaron Gordon’s 18 rebounds. Dawson could be a guy that makes the Clippers’ roster after some time refining his skills in the D-League.
Nate Wolters (Clippers) – 14 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and one block in three games
Wolters was having himself a nice week before suffering a fracture on his middle finger. The Clippers announced on Wednesday that he’ll miss the rest of the Summer League due to the injury.
In three games prior to the injury, Wolters looked like one of the best point guards. He looked extremely comfortable playing against the competition, and even held his own against Magic sophomore Elfrid Payton.
Wolters was reportedly going to play in the Vegas Summer League in an attempt to land on an NBA roster, but it’s unlikely he’ll get that chance with the injury. It’s clear that he belongs on a roster, as he proven to be a solid player since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks. He should be a player to watch moving forward.
Joe Young (Pacers) – 20.6 points, four assists and three rebounds in three games
Young was drafted by the Pacers this year in the second round and has looked like one of the best rookies overall. He’s become one of the best scorers on the week, as he holds the top-two scoring performances of the week with 28 on Thursday and 25 on Wednesday.
He seems to be a great fit with what the Pacers want to do next season in an up-tempo offense. He’s also had the benefit of playing in front of Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel, which is always a positive.
He stands a great chance to make the roster with the team changing its offense, which seems to benefit a player like Young the most. The former Oregon Duck is turning heads on the court both with his play and with his ‘Jump Duck’ Jordan’s.
Troy Daniels (Charlotte Hornets) – 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games
Daniels has scored in double digits in each of the three games he’s played in and seems to have improved in each contest. He scored 10 points in his first game on Saturday, then scored 21 points and six rebounds on Sunday and is coming off of a 16-point and 14-rebound performance from Tuesday.
Daniels has been on fire from three-point range as he’s knocked down 55 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (11-of-20). His 15.7 points per game are good for sixth-best on the week as he’s become one of the best scorers in Orlando with his ability to hit the long ball. He’s been on three teams in just two years in the league, but hopes to lock in with the Hornets. His shooting alone should be enough to keep him around for a long time.
Keith Benson (Orlando Magic White Team) – 13 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in three games
Magic big man Keith Benson has been one of the more surprising players to watch this week. The 6’11 center has shown some promise and is trying to find his way back into the league. He was drafted in 2011, but has spent the majority of his professional career playing overseas.
He’s had a solid summer on an extra Magic team comprised of mainly overseas and D-League players. He made headlines on Wednesday after a monster block on Aaron Harrison, which landed as the top play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list.
These players all made a significant contribution to their respective teams over the course of the Summer League. They were players that largely entered the week under the radar as guys that will be fighting for a roster spot in training camp. Some of these players will elect to play for another team in Vegas and some are hoping that their time in Orlando will be enough to solidify their place on a team.
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