The NBA’s Summer League is a proving ground for players both young and old, but its style of play –– heavy on pick-and-rolls and fast breaks, low on defense and refinement –– makes it an imperfect measuring stick for projecting players to the league.
A great performance can be just as misleading as a bad one: Josh Selby had a Summer League for the ages in 2012, while Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose both had extremely forgettable Summer League sessions as youngsters.
Still, that doesn’t make the performances any less exciting, and the play of many young players this summer will have a bevy of teams feeling hopeful about their prospects. In case you missed it (and there’s a strong chance you did, given that it’s on NBA TV), here’s a look at some of this year’s most notable Summer League performances, including a couple surprising rookies that were selected outside of the top five in this year’s much-heralded draft class.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
The most impressive performance of the Summer League sessions came from second-year player Gordon, who showed off a new-and-improved jump shot that he used to drill 6-of-12 three-pointers during the Orlando Summer League. As Sam Vecenie at CBS Sports points out in-depth, Gordon has eliminated the hitch in his jumper, which looks good in terms of both execution and results, now with solid mechanics that so far seem to be working. The rest of his game didn’t go anywhere either, as he led the Orlando league in rebounding at 11.7 per game to go along with his 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per contest
Already blessed with the athleticism of a younger Blake Griffin, this type of fundamental growth from Gordon could turn him into an impact player for the Magic next season, which would make his performance potentially one of the most meaningful during the Summer League sessions as well. Gordon just had a bit of a setback when he suffered a broken jaw goofing around with his brother, but hopefully the injury doesn’t have much of an effect on his play.
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
Another small-ish forward who could find himself playing an important role on a playoff team next season, Warren has been the second-leading scorer during the Las Vegas session, pouring in 22.4 points per game on 57 percent shooting. That was Warren’s MO during his two seasons at NC State, but he spent most of his rookie year on the bench or in the D-League, refining the other parts of his game. Now that Phoenix traded one half of the Morris twins (Marcus), Warren has a good chance to step in and provide some scoring for the Suns.
The rest of his game is still coming around, as Warren hasn’t hit a three in Vegas and is only averaging 3.4 rebounds in 32 minutes per game. Jeff Hornacek called him a future NBA starter in late March, though, and if the slow-footed Warren can continue his small, steady strides in areas besides offense, he could easily have a role for the Suns next season.
Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs
This list didn’t start out as a list of undersized power forwards, but thanks to Anderson’s impressive Las Vegas summer session, that’s kind of what it’s become. Anderson is famously slow, but his soft shooting touch and general versatility have been on parade during the summer sessions in Utah and Vegas. Out in Nevada, Anderson has scored 22 points per game in just over 26 minutes per game, and in Utah, he rebounded extremely well at eight per game. Altogether, it was a promising inside-outside performance for the young point-forward, even though the efficiency wasn’t ideal.
Anderson has shot just under 43 percent overall and exactly 25 percent from three, which aren’t great marks, but he’s cut down on fouls and has generally shown improved talent. If he can up his efficiency in a lesser role, he could have a role on the wing for San Antonio next season.
Myles Turner & Joseph Young, Indiana Pacers
When the Pacers selected Turner with the 11th overall pick, it was seen as a long-term project of a choice, not a well-developed player who could contribute right away. And despite a glowing offensive scouting report, Young was still a second-round pick, which always have to struggle to make teams.
In Orlando, however, both Turner and Young exceeded expectations to the point that it wouldn’t be surprising to see either player become a contributor for the Pacers this season in certain situations.
Turner must lower his ridiculous foul rate of 4.7 per game first, but he showed off legit range, making 2-3 threes and a bunch of pick-and pop mid-range jumpers. When he wasn’t fouling he also blocked 4.7 shots per game and showed far better helpside timing and mobility than advertised on draft night. Provided he can stay on the floor, he’ll be a threat out of the pick-and-roll.
Meanwhile, Young will bring more guard scoring for a team that, for once, already has a ton of it. Thankfully, Young is a much younger and much cheaper option for this team who could develop into the next great undersized bench scorer in this league.
He looked like he was playing on another level on offense after a nine-point first-game struggle. In his last three games, he averaged 27 points on 53 percent shooting from three-point range and overall. While he’s still a defensive liability, he could score some points for the Pacers whenever he sees the floor this season.
Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons
Johnson was one of the top athletes in this year’s draft, but his selection by the Pistons seemed like an odd one, given that he was still a bit raw with an unproven three-point shot––not ideal for Stan Van Gundy’s system.
Down in Orlando. Johnson proved that he’s at least developing into a three-point threat, nailing them at an encouraging 41.7 percent clip, and his offensive game didn’t stop there. Johnson got into the lane seemingly at will and finished well whenever he got there, using a variety of floating, hooking and running moves to shoot nearly 58 percent overall. If that development holds up, he’ll be a valuable two-way contributor for a young Detroit team, since he’s proven he can guard three positions as well.