The Las Vegas Summer League came to an end on Sunday, but NBA fans shouldn’t fret—there’s more basketball to come, as Team USA’s men’s basketball kicks off its Olympic run this Sunday against France.
But for all those basketball fans looking ahead to the upcoming regular season, the Summer League provided the first glimpse into which under-the-radar players have a chance to emerge from the end of the bench and contribute to their NBA teams.
Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies
Selby must have sensed his chance to shine in Vegas this summer, and it’s safe to say he showed Memphis management all they needed to see in the Summer League. The second-year player out of Kansas put on a scoring clinic, averaging 24 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 64 percent from three point range en route to earning Summer League co-MVP honors. There’s an opportunity for a scorer to come off the bench and play significant minutes for the Grizzlies after OJ Mayo signed with Dallas, and Selby showed he has the scoring ability to make a difference next season.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Drafted 6th overall by the Blazers in this year’s draft out of Weber State, there were plenty of questions about whether Lillard’s scoring prowess in college would translate to the next level. The two-time Big Sky player of the year took a great first step in quieting his critics this summer, leading the league in scoring at 26.5 points per game to share MVP honors with Selby. Annointed as the Blazers’ starting point guard after the team let disappointing Raymond Felton walk, Lillard showed he could put up numbers against stronger competition. However, he also showed room for improvement in his true point guard abilities, as he sported a 1.4 assist/turnover ratio, which would have ranked him 68th in the league in last year’s regular season.
Houston Rockets rookies Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrance Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas
After the Rockets unloaded the foundation of their team this offseason, each of these first-year players will be given every opportunity to contribute and brings something different to the table. Lamb averaged 20 points per game in Vegas, and the Rockets will hope the UCONN product can translate his scoring prowess to the NBA game against stronger and more physical defenders. Jones and Motiejunas each displayed impressive shooting range and rebounding prowess and turned in efforts that will earn them a shot at regular season minutes. Though White struggled with his shot, his unique playmaking ability for a forward was on display later in the week. If you need proof, click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i8fVR10UgI
Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks
In five games in Vegas, the Harris shot the lights out from midrange and exhibited improved toughness inside, especially for a youngster. The 20-year-old posted two huge double-doubles in the middle of the week and was among the most consistent scorers in the Summer League, averaging 20.8 points per game. Though the Bucks chose to re-sign Ersan Ilyasova, Harris may be able to separate himself from the glut of forwards in Milwaukee if he continues to improve rebounding and scoring inside.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
A lot of role players left Chicago this offseason, including Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer at the guard slot. Butler was used sparingly by coach Tom Thibodeau last year, but he will likely play a bigger role as a defender off the bench this upcoming season. The former Marquette Golden Eagle showed impressive scoring prowess in Vegas, as evidenced by his 20.8 points per game. He won’t be called upon to score a lot when the real games start, but Butler can contribute in the NBA, especially if he improves his shooting range. With more meaningful experience, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Butler ends the season as the Bulls’ starting two-guard.