With the 2014 NBA Summer League in the rearview mirror, the cream of the crop has shown flashes of greatness and has given a glimpse of what the league will soon look like. Yes, we all know about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and other attention grabbing talent, as well as veterans that came through the Summer League ranks. On the other hand, the Summer League puts the basketball community on notice about who should actually be grabbing headlines before the season even begins. Take a look at a few teams and players that have improved their reputation and have garnered increased respect after playing in this past summer:
- Washington Wizards – Glen Rice Jr., SG (Right): Otto Porter, SF (Left) – The 2013 2nd round pick out of Georgia Tech showed that he was in the gym this off-season by averaging 25 points and more than 7 boards per contest in the Las Vegas Summer League. With Trevor Ariza heading back to H-town for a second stint with the Rockets and an aging Paul Pierce joining the Washington mix, it would behoove the Wizards to bump Rice’s minutes up from the 10 he averaged last season to about 15-20 an outing. But Rice better not take his foot off of the gas pedal because Otto Porter is lurking right behind him for those minutes. Porter quietly dropped 19 a game and added 5 rebounds to that stat line in an effort to make amends for a below average rookie campaign. Rice may have to thank Porter because the former Georgetown standout probably pushed Rice Jr. to the top of the heap in the name of friendly competition; definitely a positive sign for a squad that is already stockpiled with talent.
- New York Knicks – Tim Hardaway Jr., SG: Cole Aldrich, C: Shane Larkin, PG: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF – Surprisingly, the Knickerbockers had a productive late spring and summer to go along with a summer league filled with hopefuls for the youth movement that will eventually contribute to Melo’s pursuit of a ring. Phil Jackson’s hiring of Head Coach Derek Fisher and acquisitions through the draft, as well as via trade, gave him some added credibility that he could handle a management role as President. These pieces injected some new life into the Big Apple and gave the nation of blue and orange something to cheer for during the Las Vegas Summer League. Second year shooting guard, Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to improve his stock and give his pops, Tim Hardaway Sr., former perfectionist of the “killer crossover,” some bragging rights about his offspring. Hardaway Jr. averaged more than 22 a game and led the Knicks to a 4-1 record out west. On top of that, former University of Kansas standout, Cole Aldrich, was a beast on the glass among all centers on his way to averaging 15 rebounds per contest. With those two gaining much of the attention throughout the month of July, the floor leadership of second year point guard, Shane Larkin (acquired via trade), and flashes of athletic promise from Cleanthony Early, who plays both forward positions (2014 2nd Round Draft Pick), were often overlooked but will surely pay off at various points throughout the upcoming season.
- Houston Rockets – Nick Johnson, PG/SG: Isaiah Canaan, PG – Drafting Nick Johnson and holding onto Isaiah Canaan sure has the Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, gloating in his office chair with his feet up. Upon trading away Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers before the Rockets participated in the Orlando Summer League, many thought that there would’ve been a lack of depth for the Rockets at point. Though they still have Patrick Beverly in the fold, the nerves of Houston fans were eased upon reading that the former Arizona Wildcat’s averages were 15, 6, and 5 (ppg, reb, asts) once he was done in the sunshine state. And oh yeah, he dropped an under the radar triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a victory against the Brooklyn Nets during his quick stay in Florida. As the Rockets summer league action shifted to the Las Vegas Summer League, Isaiah Canaan shined where he averaged 17 points, and was among the top 15 in scoring. Though both play the same position, the two games are completely different. Johnson is a multi-faceted player who occasionally dibbles and dabbles in several statistical categories, while Canaan has more of a killer instinct coupled with a bulldog mentality. The two of them should definitely be able to challenge Beverly in practice and pick up some of the minutes that Lin once occupied.
- Detroit Pistons – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG – The Pistons coaches told KCP one thing and one thing alone in the Orlando Summer League, “Keep shooting! Just keep shooting!” Though he shot only a shade above 40% from the field on his way to averaging 24 a game, Caldwell-Pope showed that he had the capability to handle a volume shooting load. Leading the D to a 3-2 record in their Orlando session, the shooting guard was clearly green lit as he scored 26 or more points in four out of five games, proving that he is ready for more minutes, more shots, and a larger role in his sophomore season. Quite frankly, Detroit should honor all three categories considering they are not a franchise on the up-and-up, and it wouldn’t hurt to make more of an investment in their younger talent.
- Minnesota Timberwolves – Zach Levine, SG – The Minnesota Timberwolves went 2-4 in the Las Vegas Summer League, haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, and it has been reported that their best player, Kevin Love, no longer wants to play in the twin cities. So why mention the Wolves? Zach Levine, that’s why. While he was unable to take over and dominate the summer league the way prime time players do, there were definitely flashes of superior athleticism and basketball play-making ability. Despite his scrawny frame at 6’5 and 180 lbs, he managed to average more than 15 points and 4 rebounds. Primarily using his quickness to get anywhere he chose on the floor and exceptional jumping ability to knock down jumpers with a hand in the face is a primary reason for those numbers. So Wolves fans can only envision his skill set once he hops on a NBA health and fitness regimen to improve his strength and overall muscle mass. Honestly, when you’re a player who has averaged less than 10 points a game at UCLA, played only one year of college ball as a true freshman, and is taken in the NBA Draft lottery ahead of your Bruin teammate, Kyle Anderson, who was considered to be the best player on their 2013 – 2014 roster, much is being said about Levine by the Wolves management who decided to pull the trigger on a talent that has little experience and production. Luckily for them, the decision appears to be the right one.
By Clinton Jackson