1) John Wall
2) Lance Stephenson
3) DeMarcus Cousins
4) Damion James
5) Derrick Caracter
*These rankings are based solely off of how these players performed in Summer League*
1) John Wall, Washington Wizards, PG, 6'4'', 196 lbs, Kentucky
Wall was the most hyped player in Summer League, but he didn’t collapse under all of the pressure of being the #1 draft pick. He never disappointed the packed gyms he performed for. Wall looks like he’ll be an even better pro than collegiate player. There will be more space and driving lanes on the court in the NBA than there were for him at Kentucky. He led the entire Summer League in assists (7.8) and scored 23.5 points per game.
Walls speed and explosiveness were all on display in Los Vegas, but his character and attitude are what really stood out to me. He definitely showed that he can blow past defenders on all levels of competition, but I really liked that he makes his teammates better. His positive attitude and joy for the game seem infectious. Wall is a distributor by nature and his Wizards teammates will eventually cut harder, run faster on the break, be ready for the catch-and-shoot, etc. because they know that if they’re open Wall will make a play for them. This might be a revelation to some of the Wizard players who have played with “shoot first” (and second) point guards like Gilbert Arenas, Mike James, or Randy Foye.
We’ve already seen how Wall has influenced the play of center Javale McGee. This big man, entering his third year, has naturally developed but you can’t ignore Wall’s impact on McGee’s offensive output. McGee averaged 19.5 pts on 68.8% shooting and the shots he did miss were mostly his own ill advised fade aways or poorly executed post up attempts. The chemistry that Wall and McGee have is similar to how Chris Paul raised the play of Tyson Chandler, connecting on alley oops and pick-and-rolls. McGee appears to have more offensive potential than Chandler. Wall and McGee should become an exciting duo to watch, but so could Wall and Al Thornton, or Wall and Andray Blatche. Every player on the Wizards should benefit from Walls selfless play.
Overall John Wall is definitely the real deal. He has some holes in his game (5.2 TO, .377 FG%) but these are things that all rookie point guards typically need to work on. His coachability, personality, huge smile, and electric play will quickly make him the face of the franchise. The team executives have already overhauled the roster to rid the Wizards’ recent troubles. There’s only one player that could stop the Wizards from becoming Wall’s team….
2) Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers, PG/SG, 6'6'', 227 lbs, Cincinnati
In my opinion Lance Stephenson was the most impressive rookie in Orlando. He was incredibly efficient and smart with the ball. He looked like a totally different player than he was at Cincinnati. Stephenson had a much better shot selection and didn’t settle for long range jump shots. He looked like an early choice for steal of the draft. Unfortunately, he finished summer league prematurely due to a thigh injury. He missed most of the fourth game and the entire Orlando Summer League finale.
A huge key to his success was the Indiana Pacers’ decision to allow Stephenson to dominate the ball as a big point guard rather than a shooting guard. This proved to be a huge factor as he penetrated defenses to either finish with contact or drop off the ball to teammates. He surprisingly never seemed selfish (considering that was his reputation) and enjoyed every minute he was out on the court. I’m not saying he’s the next Tyreke Evans, but the comparisons are easy to make while watching Stephenson’s summer league games.
In his first three games Stephenson averaged 18.3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and just 2.3 turnovers. It’s easy to look at his 2 assists per game and think he wasn’t distributing the ball but that wasn’t the case at all. His summer league teammates struggled finishing for him even when he got the ball to them in good scoring opportunities. They were all plays quality NBA players would have converted. Without those missed chances Stephenson easily would have had 3-4 more assists each game.
His scoring and playmaking abilities were great, but I was most encouraged to see his positive attitude, shooting efficiency, and low turnovers. Even when his teammates made bad plays Stephenson never seemed overly frustrated and it makes me wonder if he was unjustly villainized earlier in his career. As for his shooting, Stephenson shot 75% in his first three games. Yes, 75%. He didn’t have a three point attempt in those games but it was amazing to see him play that effectively. He was definitely one of the most consistent rookies in either Summer League. His 2.3 turnovers are impressive too, especially considering that other rookie point guards selected in the first round turned the ball over at much higher rates (John Wall-5.2, Eric Bledsoe-6.2).
“Born Ready” definitely made a statement at Summer League. He’s raised the eyebrows and expectations of many NBA executives and fans. We’ll see how he progresses.
3) DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, C, 6'11'', 292 lbs, Kentucky
Cousins had extremely high ups (18.3 pts, 11.3 rebs, 45.8 FG% in the first three games) and disappointing lows (10.7 pts, 8.3, 20.0 FG% in the final 3 games). In his first three games he looked like he might be able to challenge John Wall as the most impressive rookie in Summer League, but in his last three games he looked like he couldn’t even crack the top 10. This inconsistency is alarming, but hopefully he’ll grow out of it.
It was rumored that Cousins showed a lot more versatility and skills during his draft workouts than we were accustomed to see out of him at Kentucky, and in Los Vegas Cousins proved that he has a lot more to his game than a big body and soft touch. In Summer League he was solid pick-and-popping, operated from the high post some, floaters, handled the ball a little, and he even showed shooting range beyond the college three point line.
Those were all positives, but he also looked horrible at times. He shot 3-15 and 1-12 in his final two games. The same shots he was taking and making in the first few games would not go in later in the week. He could have shot better shots and focused on the paint, but it’s the Summer League and it wouldn’t help him develop to become overly passive.
The poor shooting is one thing, but I was more concerned with the reason he began to play worse as the week went on. I believe it is once again a question of conditioning. I don’t think he was in good enough shape to handle playing so many games in a brief stretch of time. During the NBA regular season teams don’t play games as frequently as Summer League, but the 82 game season is much more taxing and demanding physically. Can Cousins stay disciplined and ready both physically and mentally to handle such a long commitment?
Cousins’ can easily frustrate a coach with his inconsistency and decision making (he had 5 or more turnovers in five of his six games), but the frame and tools that Cousins possesses aren’t teachable. He can definitely dominate in the NBA and if he stays focused I could see him as a Rookie of the Year candidate with high productivity.
4) Damion James, New Jersey Nets, SF, 6'8'', 227 lbs, Texas
James was much more offensive minded than we saw at Texas even though he was The Man there. No one thinks he’ll become a 20 point scorer in the NBA, but it was good to see much more offensive potential out of him while he continued to hustle, defend, and rebound.
He finished second to Jrue Holiday in scoring at the Orlando Summer League with 18.8 points on 46.4% shooting from the field. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds and just 1.5 turnovers despite how aggressive he was offensively. His biggest improvement was his 3-point shooting (40%). Shooting has always been a knock on James, but he’s worked on it tirelessly and he didn’t hesitate to spot up from NBA range.
James feels very confident playing for the Nets and their coaching staff (especially Avery Johnson) has helped raise his belief in his own abilities. Everyone knew James was a scrappy player with a nose for the ball, but in Summer League he showed a more polished offensive game. These are all things that will get him opportunities in the NBA, and when he’s playing well it will be hard for his coach to take him out. Nevertheless, James is an unselfish player that knows his role and will compete whenever he’s on the court.
5) Derrick Caracter, Los Angeles Lakers, PF, 6'9'', 280 lbs, UTEP
Caracter was one of the most productive and fundamentally sound big men in Summer League. He didn’t get much exposure after he left Louisville to play at UT-El Paso, but he was a main attraction and consistent contributor in Los Vegas. In five games he averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 59.3% from the floor (never shooting under 50% in a game).
The first thing I noticed about Caracter was what kind of shape he was in. He looks like he’s slimmed down and he’s in great shape. At the pre-draft combine he weighed in at 280 lbs, if that’s still his weight then he’s hiding it extremely well. His game has benefitted a lot from his lost weight. He appears more nimble, explosive, and a quicker jumper.
Offensively he showed a lot of skills. He had an excellent mid range jump shot that he was comfortable taking. In college he mostly relied on posting up, but it appears that Caracter realized that he’ll have to diversify his game to succeed in the NBA against longer, stronger, and smarter defenders. He was effective in the high post, spotting up, and finishing around the rim.
He had some problems with turnovers (5.4) and fouls (7.2) but those should be things he learns not to do. Offensively he was impressive, especially for a #58 draft pick, and defensively he played good help side D. It will probably be hard for Caracter to find a roster spot with the NBA Champion Lakers, but in my opinion he is deserving of a contract and he’ll eventually find a home in the NBA.
Jeremy Lin, Dallas Mavericks, PG/SG, 6'3'', 200 lbs, Harvard
Lin was a “feel-good” story coming into Summer League: a Harvard grad who could become the first Asian-American to play in the NBA. But that storyline quickly went away as Lin proved to be a very talented guard that has a real chance to make an NBA roster [Update: Lin was signed by the Golden State Warriors].
Lin isn’t known as a true point guard (and he’s not), but he showed that he was able to play some point. In Summer League he averaged 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.2 steals on 51.9% shooting (including 2 of 3 from down town) in just 18.5 minutes of action a game.
Lin has a deceptively fast first step and moves his feet very well on defense. As a perimeter defender he stays in front of his man well and stays down on shot fakes. He seems like a real competitor, just ask John Wall (I definitely recommend you watch the youtube clip and decide for yourself who came out on top in the matchup).
Devin Ebanks, Los Angeles Lakers, SF, 6'9'', 208 lbs, West Virginia
Ebanks started off the week on fire. He scored 21 points in his first game, then followed it up with a 24 point performance and shot 50% or higher in both games. As the week went on he cooled off considerably, but his play was still unexpected.
The biggest surprise was his three point shooting. He showed a confidence and fluidity in his long range jumper that he never had before. He shot an unbelieveable 45.5% from downtown and this is especially shocking because he didn’t shoot threes well in high school, college (11.4%), or at the draft combine (34% from college and NBA line, which is especially bad for a shooting drill).
Just so you know how unexpected this was, in 5 games of Summer League basketball he almost made as many threes as he made his ENTIRE collegiate career (5 in Los Vegas, 8 in 2 years at WVU).