Summer League is one of the weirdest times in the NBA year. It comes just after the draft and the beginning of free agency. A month has passed since the last game and the only connection to basketball has come through rumor-spouting Twitter feeds. Fans want to see their team's draft picks perform and every 20 point explosion against the D-League select team is a sign of hope. Stars are born in Orlando and they retain that status until Vegas wraps up. It's a legitimately fun event to watch and, from what I've heard, exhilarating to attend in person. But there's one big problem with Summer League: it teaches us next to nothing about how the players will do in the league.
So much for the notion that unpredictable rookies are the scourge of coaches.
"This is one," Nelson said, "that doesn't make me nervous."
Marco ended up playing a total of 75 games and little over 1,000 total minutes for the Warriors in two seasons before being traded to the Raptors.
One year after Belinelli had one of the most hyped performances in Summer League history, George Hill went 2-25 (1-6 from three) from the floor in four games, had as many turnovers as assists and logged a single steal. He played over 1,000 minutes his rookie year, became an integral part of the rotation by year two and netted the Spurs the pick that became Kawhi Leonard when they flipped him before he became too expensive to keep.
All of this is a long winded way to say that there is no reason to panic about bad performances during the summer and it's not advisable to read too much into good numbers, either.
Kyle Anderson didn't shine. He averaged eight points a game on 40% shooting and, for such a gifted passer, his two assists per game seem disappointing. He averaged over 50% from three but only took seven attempts in six games. Defensively he couldn't keep up with smaller, quicker wings and generally looked mediocre. By the numbers, DeShaun Thomas outplayed him. The assists weren't there but Thomas took more three pointers and hit them consistently and pulled down more boards.
But Anderson is just 20-years-old and getting used to the speed of the game. He was playing with gunning guards, Austin Daye in volume scorer mode and no real pick-and-roll threat. Thomas' game is built to impress in Summer League (as his performance last summer proved) because rebounding prowess translates through any league and he is a natural scorer. Anderson needs a more formal setting to thrive and that's not how Summer League is played.
Perhaps the one player on the Spurs' roster that was harmed more than Anderson by the style played in Vegas was Jeff Ayres. It's was a bit of a head scratcher to see Ayres on the roster. I can understand the motivation behind it if the intention was to get him more reps with the system but if it was intended as an audition it's hard to see what the point was. A player like Ayres who bases his game on rebounding, hustle and defensive competence is not going to look good playing a fast and loose game in which the perimeter defenders barely make an effort and the offense usually devolves into "if you have it, shoot it."
Ayres fouled like crazy and part of that seems to be that he's simply foul prone. But he also had to try to protect the rim against dribble drivers that made their way to the paint unimpeded. He ran the floor every time and barely ever got rewarded. He took up space and boxed out so his teammates could get boards. He basically played the right way and that doesn't get you too far in Vegas. Basically, his contributions were almost impossible to notice while his notoriously bad hands (and over-eagerness to dunk balls he had no chance of dunking) were like flashing neon lights spelling "scrub." It almost (almost) makes sense for fans to want him off the team.
Not helping the perception of Ayres' was JaMychal Green, who had a great tournament. Green knew how to play to get noticed. He crashed the offensive glass for put-backs, went for blocks even on perimeter jumpers and played with enough energy to mask most of his flaws. He was also very often out of position on D and leaked out whenever he could for easy points. I don't want to take anything away from Green (whom I'd love to see in training camp if he doesn't get an overseas offer first and who probably was my favorite player to watch in Vegas) but it's hard to imagine him getting minutes with the varsity team playing like he did with the JV. And the same thing applies to the trigger-happy, risk-taking Darius Morris and Marcus Denmon.
Which brings me to Austin Daye. Just like with Ayres, what exactly the Spurs were hoping to learn about Daye by having him play in Summer League is unclear to me. As the tenured veteran and most talented offensive player on the starting lineup, Daye proceeded to gun away even if his shot wasn't falling, averaging 16 points per game but taking 14 shots to get there. If it weren't for assiduous trips to the line -- which are not something he should count on getting in the league -- Daye would have struggled to crack double digit scoring with those terrible percentages he had. The only takeaway here is that Daye is never going to be a dependable go-to scoring option. But didn't we know that already?
Both Ayres and Daye will probably be on the roster opening day and they should be. We are talking about the team's 11th and 12th player and they are decent enough to occupy those roles. They are familiar with the system and have a defined set of skills the coaching staff knows about. The temptation to extrapolate their bad performances from the past two weeks into an indictment of them as players is what Summer League does to the brain. But I want to believe the Spurs don't make their decisions like that.
The one player for whom Summer League was really huge in terms of a NBA future was Bryce Cotton. His teammates were already under contract or headed back to Europe, for the most part. But Cotton secured an invite to training camp before SL even started. With Mills out for a few months, there is a place for a shooting point guard in the rotation and Cotton came out of college with a stellar reputation as a gunner.
What he showed in Vegas was a more evolved driving game than advertised despite being generously listed at six feet and decent playmaking instincts. The three ball just wasn't there but hopefully it returns for training camp. His play in Vegas was never going to secure him a spot on the final roster but it might have severely decreased his chances had he played poorly. Fortunately, he didn't disappoint and will get a fair shot in a couple of months.
So that does it for Summer League. Now reality sets in and players will go back to more familiar roles that suit them. As exciting as it was to see Daye do his Melo impersonation, I'm ready for him to go back to practicing his corner threes. Hopefully he and the rest of the Summer Spurs are ready too.