Summer league is just about over with the championship game set for this Monday, so now is a good time to look back at how some of the prospects performed. There was a lot of hype with some guys in the top of the draft, and a few returning guys made some convincing steps. Here are some of the observations I made.
Ben Simmons is good, but…
If this was your first exposure to Ben Simmons then it was probably a fun one. You saw a big NBA body who has potential to guard every position on the court, and throws passes reminiscent of some of the greatest point guards in the game. In the summer league his passing arsenal was on full display, showcasing an ability to thread the needle and anticipate where his teammates will be at all times.
The problem is, if you’ve watched him over the past 2-3 years, he looks exactly the same. Because of his elite measurables and athleticism, Simmons hasn’t really needed to push himself to new heights to compete more, and hasn’t bothered really addressing his shooting inability. Though he actually took a few jumpers in the summer league they were all mid-range shots that he mostly missed, and he only attempted one three pointer his entire time in Vegas. Not only is Ben Simmons a bad shooter, but he refuses to shoot as well. This puts more pressure on him to be elite in every other faucet of the game every night to be a net positive. That’ll be hard to do in the NBA where guys will be able to stay in front of him, and will be packing up the paint– daring him to shoot. You can point to his age which is fair, and Philadelphia will be a good environment for him to slowly build confidence. However, I am a bit troubled that up to this point it hasn’t seemed to occur to Simmons that he needs to start taking shots and that his game is virtually the same it’s been since high school. This probably won’t mean much long-term, but it could mean that the Sixer fans might need to be a little more patient with Simmons development.
What are the Suns doing with Dragan Bender?
If you’re a Summer league junkie like me, one of the more intriguing sqauds were the Phoenix Suns. The additions of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss made them the must-watch team to watch and I was interested to get more data on Bender.
The good part? Bender looks as good as advertised in terms of lateral quickness. He kept up with most of the forwards and some guards, though he’ll still need to work on his verticality when defending at the rim. His jumpshot looks promising, he had a couple of flip shots that highlighted a soft touch, and he mostly looked like a guy who wasn’t fazed by the speed of the game.
However, the Suns played him at the three almost exclusively which I didn’t love. Though he has the quickness to stay in front of forwards, it left him floating a lot on the perimeter, and it took away a lot of rebounding opportunities where he could grab the boards and push the break. The Suns have a bit of a crowded frontcourt with Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley, and Dragan Bender. If the Suns plan on countering this by playing Bender at the 3, then they’ll really be putting him in a position where he can’t be used to his full abilities.
Kay Felder looks like a steal
I’ve long been on the Kay Felder bandwagon, and thought that if he went to one of the larger schools he would have for sure been a first round pick. Despite his height, Felder is a hard-nosed defender who does a really good job getting into other point guards. He’s a really good athlete, and has a body that can handle the hits he’ll be getting at the next level (think Isaiah Thomas in terms of build). The best part about his game for me was his ability to run the pick and roll. Felder showed great poise and the ability to read the defense on the fly and make the read almost every time. He had a great duel with Celtics guard Terry Rozier and buried the Lakers with a constant diet of high pick and roll that put the burden on him to make the right plays. Another undervalued skill that makes me bullish on Felder’s NBA aspirations is his ability to finish at the rim. He already has a strong arsenal of moves at the rim that will allow him to finish among the trees at the next level. In Cleveland, he’ll most likely be in play for the backup point guard position, and should be able to be a sparkplug scoring guard off the bench.
Jamal Murray vs. Buddy Hield
Another thing I’ve been watching for in the summer league is how both Hield and Murray would look. Both are shooters that have similar height, Hield is the better athlete with the better wingspan while Jamal Murray is said to have more potential. I’ve personally never been that high on Jamal Murray, but I may be turning into a believer. I still think he’s best as a 6th man who gives you buckets, but I wasn’t always confident in his scoring ability against professional athletes. In Vegas, he showed the ability to dictate the pace when given the chance to run the point, and he looked really comfortable with the ball in his hands. Even though he still looks like he’s wearing 30 pound ankle weights on defense, based on what his role should be at the next level, he showed enough to make you think that he could be a contributor sooner than expected.
On Hield’s side, he had a hard time finding his shot, and looked like the game was going too fast for him. However, he did look a little more comfortable near the end of the week, and looked a lot more comfortable running off screens and shooting off the catch rather than pulling up. With the ball in his hands, Hield also seemed really confident in his ability to attack the big off the pick and roll though his handle still leaves a lot to be desired. Overall, I think Murray had the better week, but I’m interested to see how Hield looks with better overall talent.
Jaylen Brown and the weird evaluation
Jaylen Brown is already one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft. Kevin Pelton’s analytics don’t project him to be a particularly strong prospect, but scouts and people who understood how much of a misfit California was are high on him. I’m part of the latter crew, that was actually really happy about the selection, and he was just about as good as expected.
Brown is an elite athlete who has an electric first step and the ability to get to the line at will. In Vegas, Brown had 8 or more free throw attempts in 4 of the 6 games he played. It was clear that after the knee injury he suffered after the first game against Philadelphia it took him a couple of games to get his groove back, but once he did he looked like the best athlete on the floor. Brown is a raw prospect, he’s still learning how to use the newfound space that he has at the next level, and still has some technique things to work on in terms of positioning on the defensive end. Defensivley, he actually showed an ability to get into passing lanes, averaging 2.3spg during the summer league (averaged 0.8 in Cal). Steals are usually an indicator of defensive potential, so it was nice to see Brown actually getting better at it on a professional level.
His role at the next level will most likely be a backup wing who has to run the floor, defend, and get most of his points in transition. At this stage he will be able to do that, which is big for a Celtics team that is very thin on versatile wings. I was actually very impressed with Brown’s handle. Didn’t get to see it much in college, but he has nice crossover that mixed with his athleticism has devastating potential. The ball-handling is important, because it’s his gateway into becoming a one-on-one scorer. However, his ability to get the rebound and go is one of my favorite skills. It’s at this point where you can see Brown’s vision and decision-making at full display. During these plays Brown showed the ability to see tough passing angles (though he wasn’t able to actually make the passes), the ability to lead his teammates with good passes, and the ability to finish.
However, a common critique that I’ve seen a bunch is that he doesn’t have a “feel for the game”, which I find inaccurate. To preface, “Feel for the game” is a highly subjective trait that scout people throw around and no one really accurately defines, so I’ll give you my definition.
Having a feel for the game means that you have an overall understanding of how to play the game of basketball. When you grab a rebound you know to look up and either find a guard or look to ignite a transition scoring opportunity. It’s understanding what another team is trying to do and beating them to a spot. It’s knowing how to fill a lane when in transition or when to cut across the baseline at just the right moment. Basically, it’s your overall awareness as a basketball player. In this sense, Jaylen Brown has a good feel for the game. He knew where to be on both ends, when he made mistakes on defense he understood and corrected them. With the ball in his hands he made a lot of good reads despite not being able to always make the actual play. He did have a have some trouble finishing at the rim, but I’m not buying it as a legit issue. On a lot of his misses it looks like he may be taking off from too far, and other times he was clearly forcing plays, things that are easily correctable. Having a feel for the game, and being raw are not synonymous. You can be a prospect that understands the game, but not yet have the all the skills to make the plays. I do think Brown fits in this category, and that’s fine because his role won’t require him to have it all figured out.
sophomores ready to make an NBA impact
Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance jr., Terry Rozier, Norman Powell, and Bobby Portis definitely passed the “too good for Summer League test”. Out of all the prospects, I found myself absolutely blown away with the strides that Norman Powell had made. As the 46th pick in the draft, teams aren’t expecting much from a prospect at all, making the team is probably a pleasant surprise. Powell not only is a guy that deserves rotation minutes, but he looks like he could be a starter in this league, and the Raptors will probably be fielding a lot of calls for him soon. He came in as a great athlete and a versatile wing defender. The 6’4 guard is showing promise as a good shooter (52.4% from three in Vegas), and impressive finishing when running the pick and roll. With Powell’s ability to play on and off the ball, he’ll be a perfect complement to Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozen as a guy who can play with either of them or altogether. Not too bad for a 2nd rounder.