After going through an 82-game NBA season, many young NBA players are like caged lions ready to bust out when given the chance. I have just spent the better part of two weeks witnessing it first-hand, watching 15 games in Orlando and more than two dozen so far in Vegas, baby, where the games continue through July 22.
The NBA summer leagues are a great opportunity for unproven players to show NBA coaches and decision makers that they deserve a chance in the big show. Last season, Klay Thompson turned a fantastic summer league showing into a 35 minutes per game role for the Golden State Warriors.
While summer league production does not necessarily translate directly to the NBA, it’s a good place for players to regain their confidence after playing miniscule roles on their teams last season. With momentum being so crucial to the success of an NBA player, playing in the summer league can be a turning point in a player’s career.
Here is a look at 15 players who looked good in summer league and are poised to make a big jump next season.
John Jenkins – Atlanta Hawks
After a rookie year in which he saw inconsistent minutes, Jenkins looked like one of the most confident players in the summer league, averaging 21.5 points per game in Las Vegas.
An outstanding outside shooter with a quick release, Jenkins is going to have a career filled with momentum baskets.
He looks ready to absolutely light up the league, and keep opposing teams’ video coordinators sleepless all year long.
Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons
With the Pistons looking to make a step towards relevancy, Drummond will be an essential factor if the playoffs are going to be a realistic goal in Detroit. A super athlete who dominated on the glass with 15 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game in Orlando, Drummond will need to consistently run the floor like he is capable of for the Pistons to handle playing at the tempo that will be fitting with Josh Smith’s style of play. He has potential to be a monster force in the middle, and if he comes hungry and motivated the next two seasons, Drummond is on his way to becoming a very rich man.
Reggie Jackson – Oklahoma City Thunder
The supremely athletic scoring guard emerged as the leader of the Thunder squad in Orlando, leading the competition with 19.5 points per game. It has been tough for him to find burn out in OKC with Russell Westbrook playing the majority of the minutes, and Eric Maynor previously competing with him for minutes.
With Maynor out of town, and Jackson’s improved decision making in the half court, he looks poised to make a big jump in production this season.
Jonas Valanciunas – Toronto Raptors
There were big expectations for Valanciunas coming into the league last year after he was drafted with the 5th pick and put up an MVP season with Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania the year before. While he didn’t meet the standards expected of him, he did have some bright moments with the Raptors. Valanciunas seems far more comfortable now, averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game in Vegas. With Bargnani shipped out of town, and the rookie transition year under his belt, look for Valanciunas to emerge as one of the better forces inside this season. He isn’t at an All-Star level quite yet, but he will be a very high level player this year.
Kent Bazemore – Golden State Warriors
Coming into a situation where Klay Thompson was emerging as one of the top 2 guards in the world, Bazermore wasn’t really given an opportunity to show what he can do this past year. While Kent was one of the more gifted scorers in last year’s draft, his offensive repertoire looks far improved from last season. He looked crisp and confident from all over the floor going for a tune of 21 points in his lone showing in the summer league. With his improved abilities, he is going to find his way on the court, one way or another.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Bobcats
While Kidd-Gilchrist still has a way to go before he truly taps into his well of potential, he is set to make a big jump this season. While his outside shooting is suspect, and his pull-up game is virtually non-existent, his ball handling looks very much improved. With better handles, he will have an easier time creating paint opportunities for himself off the dribble, which will only add to his efficiency scoring around the paint. It is very reasonable to expect this to be the first of a couple years in which he makes a big bump up in his value.
Jan Vesley – Washington Wizards
Vesley probably has the most room to improve of any player on this list, based on how flat out awful he looked last season. A season in which John Wall will be healthy from the beginning of training camp, and can find him easy baskets, will be a big breath of fresh air for Vesley. He probably was the least confident player in the league for stretches of last season, but he seems to feel a lot more comfortable, and has the tools to make a full 180 from last year.
Orlando Johnson – Indiana Pacers
Lance Stephenson was the big story this past year in Indiana, going from a taunting bench man, to a very solid starter on a contender. In the Orlando summer league, he showed off his killer instincts, and even showed some flashes of an impressive post game.
It will be tough to find minutes in Indy, but if they can figure out a way to get this fella on the court, he is ready to roll.
Jae Crowder – Dallas Mavericks
Crowder is one of the most exciting players in the world to watch. A non-stop energy guy, who would be a dominant player if he were 3 inches taller, Crowder is the type of player who would be a very rich man collecting MVP trophies if he ever went overseas. But right now, it seems that he is an opportunity away from carving out a nice NBA career for himself. In a system that is flexible when it comes to matchups and positions, Crowder can show off his versatility in a big way.