Mitnick: Guys Who Caught My Eye At Las Vegas Summer League

MitnickThe Las Vegas Summer League not only gives fans their first impressions of this season’s top rookies but also provides a stage for young players on the cusp of NBA opportunity to showcase their development.

Approaching it from the outside in as I did, as an assistant coach for an overseas team, the Summer League is a great place to get impressions on the top American talent, all in one setting. With the talent pool spread across the D-League, Europe, Asia, South America and even the end of NBA benches, Las Vegas puts all these players together with the top rookies and recent draft picks to try to show their worth.

Some players can use Summer League to carve out a larger role with their current NBA team after spending most of last season on the bench. Some guys who were undrafted, overseas, or in the D-league last season can play themselves into an NBA contract. Lastly, with many of European basketball’s brightest minds in attendance, some guys may show that they can be top players at the European level and improve their status in that market.

Here is a look at who caught my eye out in Vegas:

NBA Breakout Candidates

kyleandersonKyle Anderson, SF, 6-8, 230 lbs., September 1993

Team: San Antonio Spurs; Nationality: USA

Drafted: 30th in 2014

The 2015 Summer League MVP has made the Spurs’ offseason look like it will be one to remember. At 6-8 and just 21 years old, Anderson already seems to have soaked in San Antonio’s team concept quickly and showed he can bring a lot to the table with his versatility. Not only was he arguably the most improved player, but he also played like a typical unselfish egoless Spur while doing it, which should almost guarantee he will get some more burn this season.

With a deep roster, Anderson may not get quite enough opportunity to get any major personal accolades this year. But “Slo-Mo” should prove to be a valuable piece for the Spurs as they look to rest their aging vets mid-season. Anderson’s performance really shows the power of the Spurs culture and how in one season they can convince NBA youngsters to quickly buy into not only their system, but their organizational unselfish mindset.

zach_lavineZach LaVine, PG/SG, 6-6, 181, March 1995

Team: Minnesota Timberwolves; Nationality: USA

Drafted: 13th in 2014

The 2015 Slam Dunk Champion continued to build on his late-season improvement throughout summer league. LaVine played with a much-improved confidence with the ball in his hands, and the idea of him, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns playing together in their prime should be enough to have Minnesota fans feeling optimistic. Though he only played in two contests, his rate of improvement was so obvious that he deserves some recognition.

With the game being more wide open in this era, guys like LaVine who can put the ball to the floor and have great quickness and explosiveness are more crucial than ever. LaVine is showing flashes that he can be among the league’s elite. Minnesota may have taken a chance using its 13th pick last season on a teenager without a true position, but it looks like years from now this will be one of the biggest steals of that draft.

TJ Warren HeadshotT.J. Warren, SF, 6-8, 230, September 1993

Team: Phoenix Suns; Nationality: USA

Drafted: 14th in 2014

Mark it down now: T.J. Warren will average double figures in the NBA this season. The guy is a pure scorer and is effective in both isolation situations and in the flow of the game. At 6-8 he is an absolute weapon from almost any spot on the floor, and is the kind of guy who could heat it up in a hurry.

Averaging 18.7 points in 29.7 minutes in Summer League, Warren showed that in a game where the goal is to score more points than the other team, he can get you points in bunches. While the Suns’ rotation can go in a few different directions with some of their offseason moves, there will certainly be minutes available for a guy who flat-out gets buckets.

lm1T6k0ONoah Vonleh, PF/C, 6-9, 247, August 1995

Team: Portland Trail Blazers; Nationality: USA

Drafted: 9th in 2014

After a shaky rookie season in Charlotte, Vonleh finds himself starting in Portland in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure. Vonleh’s acquisition can be viewed as a potential long-term replacement for Aldridge if he can reach his potential. After summer league, it is obvious the potential is there.

Vonleh showed how well he can move for a guy with his length and looked very comfortable attacking the basket in face-up situations. It is unreasonable to expect the soon-to-be 20-year-old to fully fill Aldridge’s shoes, but his dramatic improvement could somewhat soften the blow of his departure, or at least instill a little hope.

nogueiraLucas Nogueira, C, 7-0, 233, August 1992

Team: Toronto Raptors; Nationality: Brazil

Drafted: 16th in 2013

Nogueira is no longer the rail-thin kid that was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. He has filled out his body and still kept most of his mobility, although he was slightly less bouncy than he was in his rookie summer league. Averaging 10.6 rebounds in just 23.8 minutes, Nogueira showed a much-improved feel for the game and an overall better understanding of where to be on the floor.

While he has not had any NBA impact just yet after an injury-prone season with the Raptors, the 23-year-old center should get some quality minutes off the bench in Toronto. His high energy style of play is very good fit for the way the Raptors and his activity will fill a need in the middle.

Played Their Way To The NBA

jonathansimmonsJonathan Simmons, SG, 6-6, 205, September 1989

Team: San Antonio Spurs; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2012

Having played the last two seasons in the D-League after going undrafted (even playing a stint in the ABA), Simmons made a statement in the Summer League. Shoring up a full guaranteed contract early in the session, Simmons impressed all in attendance with his incredible energy at both ends of the floor.

Simmons is one of those guys who you know is absolutely giving his maximum every minute on the floor, and his energy is contagious to his team. Getting an NBA guarantee is a big accomplishment for this young man, and you can be sure if he gets an opportunity this year there is no question his energy will be on display.

seth currySeth Curry, PG/SG, 6-3, 185, August 1990

Team: New Orleans Pelicans; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2013

Seth Curry showed in Vegas that his MVP brother isn’t the only guard in his family improving year to year. Curry showed off a very mature offensive repertoire that could make him very valuable as a bench scorer for the Kings, torching defenders to the tune of 24.3 points per game to lead the Las Vegas Summer League.

While there are still some questions about his defense, Curry showed he is a prolific enough scorer and a more than capable playmaker, earning a two-year guaranteed deal as Sacramento outbid New Orleans. He likely won’t end up being the “Eli Manning of the NBA” and competing with his brother for MVPs and titles, but he should carve out a nice career.

mikejamesMike James, PG, 6-1, 185, August 1990

Team: Phoenix Suns; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2012

It was cool to witness Mike James ascend from a second division player in the Israeli league in 2013 to a double-figure scorer in the Euroleague in 2015, but what James did in Vegas was a step up. In the championship game it was evident that this undersized guard from Lamar deserves a shot in the NBA.

James showed that he can create for himself or for others almost at will, and displayed the combination of quickness and skill required for an NBA guard off the bench. Time will tell whether James will get his shot, but I couldn’t help but wonder how it would have played out if he would have played for Cleveland instead of Matthew Dellevadova. As much as Delly’s grit helped Cleveland through its injuries, what if instead the Cavs had a guy like James who could flat-out score and may have been able to create some offense when J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert went missing?

MauriceNdourDunkMaurice Ndour, PF, 6-8, 200, June 1992

Team: New York Knicks; Nationality: Senegal

Drafted: Undrafted in 2015

In 2012, I came to my first summer league in Las Vegas with my sights on Chris Copeland, a forward who would be playing with the Knicks who I believed could be a big time steal over in Israel. After a couple standout performances, Copeland played himself into a deal with the Knicks and has found himself making a nice NBA career, especially for a player who didn’t really have much NBA hype surrounding him.

Ndour was giving me flashbacks of Copeland as he showed a nice touch on his shot for a guy with so much athleticism and hustle. Coming from Ohio University and a member of Senegal’s National Team, Ndour originally looked like a guy who likely was headed overseas. After summer league it looks like Ndour will at least be in an NBA training camp with a shot to make a squad this season. Ndour has shown to be a quality player with a quality work ethic, and its hard to see there not being an NBA team willing to put in the minimum to invest in his  potential.

alan williamsAlan Williams, C, 6-8, 261, January 1993

Team: Houston Rockets; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2015

Maybe you don’t need to be all that tall to be a center in the NBA anymore. Alan Williams is sure hoping that turns out to be the case, as few did more to overcome long odds to make the NBA than Williams did in Las Vegas. Standing at 6-8, Williams was the competition’s leading rebounder with 11.8 per game and fifth-leading scorer with 20.5 points in 28.3 minutes for the Rockets. Overlooked as a legitimate NBA prospect because of his size, could the Rockets have found a diamond in the rough with Williams similar to Chuck Hayes?

Will Shine In Europe

HopsonScotty Hopson, SF, 6-7, 205, August 1989

Team: NBA D-League; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2011

With NBA size and athleticism, it is possible Hopson could get another look at the league. But as someone who was part of a Maccabi Rishon team that had our season end in the playoffs against Hopson’s Eilat team, it seems like Hopson is ready to take his game to another level overseas.

While Hopson was up and down during his stint with Anadolu Efes and did not fit in so well joining Laboral Kuxta toward the end of the season, Hopson can flourish if he signs in the right situation to start the season. Look for Hopson to be one of the most outstanding performers if he heads to Europe and a candidate of who could earn another shot in the league – such as James Anderson – after he establishes himself a bit more abroad.

AaronCraftAaron Craft, PG, 6-2, 195, February 1991

Team: Golden State Warriors; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2014

While his size and below-average outside shot may significantly limit his NBA upside, Craft should carve out a nice career overseas with his scrappiness. Craft is one of those guys who when he signs in Europe, you can almost be sure from the beginning of the season that barring unforseen circumstances his team will be competitive.

One of the feistiest point guards in the game right now, Craft not only brings defense and a quarterback mentality to the point guard position; he is a true leader on the floor. You can see that he takes it upon himself to pick up the level of his teammates, and having a guy like that throughout the long pro seasons in Europe is valuable to any club.

khembirchKhem Birch, PF/C, 6-8, 220, September 1992

Team: New Orleans Pelicans; Nationality: Canada

Drafted: Undrafted in 2014

After averaging nearly a double-double in the D-League as a rookie, Birch signed with Usak Sportiff in the Turkish TBL. Birch showed up to Las Vegas in tip-top shape and is looking like he is about to burst onto the scene in Turkish basketball with his length and athleticism.

With the international game becoming even more high pick-and-roll-oriented than even the NBA, Birch should find himself thriving, catching lobs and cleaning up the glass. Look for Birch to end up being one of the top big men in Turkey this season, and one of the top American big men abroad over the next few years.

larrydrewLarry Drew II, PG, 6-2, 180, March 1990

Team: New Orleans Pelicans; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2013

Despite improving his outside shot in recent years, the son of former NBA coach Larry Drew still may not be enough of a floor-spacing threat to crack an NBA team full-time. However, Drew showed in Summer League that he can be a top point guard in Europe, and that he would surely be a guy who is consistently among the league leaders in assists, leading this competition with 7.8 per game.

After two years without getting a legit shot, now might be the time for Drew to explore his options overseas where he can find a situation as a lead guard and truly develop as a pro point man. If he keeps on improving to the level where he deserves an NBA chance, the league will still be there waiting for him as he has already shown himself to be on the cusp of making the league. Now he just needs to get some true experience as a lead guard on a competitive team so he can take that next step forward.

pettewayTerran Petteway, SG, 6-6, 209, October 1992

Team: Atlanta Hawks; Nationality: USA

Drafted: Undrafted in 2015

An undrafted junior forward out of Nebraska, Pettway showed a lot of versatility for a guard his size. If Petteway could shoot it a bit better, he likely would be getting a shot at the league. But he looks like a prime example of a player who could thrive overseas and use it as a platform to get back to the NBA.

Teams overseas value versatile players who can defend multiple positions, so they can easily play switching defense or matchup zones. Petteway’s size also allows him to easily play next to many teams’ smaller local guards, who usually are the engines to their teams, meaning he will likely allow whatever team he ends up for to play some pretty effective lineups. There is still a roster spot up for grabs with the Hawks and Petteway could be in the mix for it. He alreasy looks like he is ready for Europe.

AJ Mitnick is an American living in Israel and working as an assistant coach in the Israeli Basketball Winner League. Mitnick is the assistant coach of Bnei Herzliya, following three seasons with Maccabi Rishon-Lezion. Follow him on Twitter.

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