Sunday, July 25, 2004
Jefferson and Howard star in summer league
By Chad Ford
It's not a time when stars are made or broken, but we did learn a few things in the last three weeks during the NBA summer leagues.
When judging what players did and didn't do in the summer league, there's one important fact to remember. Loren Woods once scored 28 points in a summer league game. Do we need to say more?
Success in the NBA summer leagues isn't a very accurate predictor of who will become an NBA star. While young players like LeBron James, Zach Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels gave us early signs that they were ready to have breakout years -- players such as DeShawn Stevenson, Qyntel Woods, John Salmons, Kedrick Brown, Zarko Carbarkapa and Lonny Baxter also dominated in the leagues. Where did it get them last season?
A more accurate predictor is summer league failure. Nine times out of 10, if a player can't produce against the watered-down competition in the summer leagues, he'll struggle mightily to get it done against real NBA players during the season. Last year only one player, the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, rebounded from an awful summer league (he had a virus) to have a productive rookie season.
This year the NBA held five summer leagues across the country -- the Pepsi Pro Summer League in Orlando, the Minnesota Summer League, the Southern California Summer Pro League in Los Angeles, the Reebok Vegas Summer League in Las Vegas and the Reebok Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City.
Who played well? Who bombed out? Insider talked to a number of NBA scouts and executives over the past week to get you the skinny. Here's what the NBA Boys of Summer were up to in July.
Summer League Top Rookies
Al Jefferson showed the Celtics he's ready to contribute.Al Jefferson, PF, Celtics
Stats: 13 ppg, 8.4 rpg in the Pepsi Summer Pro League
Stats: 18 ppg, 7.4 rpg at the Reebok Vegas Summer Shootout
The skinny: After watching Jefferson dominate in the paint in two summer leagues, scouts walked away convinced that Jefferson had a chance to be a significant contributor to the Celtics this season. Jefferson had a couple of dominant games, including a pair of 27-point outbursts versus the Nuggets and Wizards in Las Vegas. Danny Ainge is breathing a huge sigh of relief. All three Celtics rookies played well in the summer leagues. If he can get even half the production Jefferson gave him in Vegas, the Celtics will be better than we thought this year.
Dwight Howard, PF, Magic
Stats: 17.5 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 3.5 bpg in the Reebok Vegas Summer Shootout
Stats: 12 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3 bpg in the Pepsi Summer Pro League
The skinny: Howard got off to a slow start with a miserable 1-for-13 shooting opening night. But by the time he hit Vegas, he was rolling on all cylinders. His best game was against the Celtics; he held Jefferson to just six points while dropping in 26 points and adding 10 rebounds. Howard showed his versatility throughout the summer running the floor, spotting up for jumpers and even dishing out some assists. However, scouts see his real value next year rebounding and shot blocking. Offensively, he still has a ways to go, but scouts believe he could make an impact for the Magic on the boards next season. Combine his performance with a solid showing by the Magic's other first-rounder, Jameer Nelson (17 ppg, 6.2 apg in Vegas), and the Magic have to be pretty proud of their draft.
J.R. Smith, SG, Hornets
Stats: 26 ppg on 46 percent shooting at the Southern California Summer Pro League
The skinny: Smith led all summer leaguers in scoring. He scored 30 or more points in his last three games in L.A. and, at times, looked unstoppable. The only knock on Smith's performance was his poor 3-point shooting. He went just 12-for-46 from behind the arc. The Hornets, however, aren't worried. They know Smith can stroke it from 3 -- he just went through a four-game stretch where nothing would go down. His last game, a 33-point performance, he shot 5-for-9 from 3.
Devin Harris, PG, Mavericks
Stats: 22.5 ppg, 8.5 apg at the Southern California Summer Pro League
Stats: 14.7 ppg, 3.3 apg in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Losing Steve Nash was a major blow to the Mavericks. The good news is that Harris has looked great at times for the Mavericks in the summer league. He was especially dominant out in L.A. running a more up-tempo game. Once Marquis Daniels joined the team in Salt Lake, his numbers dropped off a bit. Harris has shown a real flair for running the point, but don't get your hopes up too much Mavs fans. He shot just 31 percent from the field at the Rocky Mountain Revue and went a miserable 8-for-29 from 3 in L.A. Again, no one's worried about his shot, but Harris did play out of control at times and his shot selection was questionable at best. He's still going to have to go through some serious growing pains before he's ready to be a full-time point guard on a playoff team.
Kevin Martin, SG, Kings
Stats: 22.4 ppg on 46 percent shooting at the Southern California Summer Pro League
The skinny: Martin was one of the most dominant scorers in college basketball over the past two seasons. Scouts were concerned whether Martin's skills would translate to the next level once he faced more athletic, physical defenders. They can start putting those fears to rest. Martin, by all accounts, was the most polished rookie in the L.A. summer leagues. He's got a smoothness to his game that is deceptive, and his ability to get to the free throw-line should guarantee him some playing time in Sacramento next season. He needs to get stronger and improve defensively, but it looks like the Kings got a steal late in the first round.
SLEEPER: Darius Rice, SF, Blazers
Stats: 15.1 ppg, 5 rpg, 43 percent from 3 in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Rice, a former McDonald's All-American, went undrafted after a poor pre-draft camp performance and a lackluster senior season. However, scouts have always been intrigued by his size (6-10), athleticism and ability to stroke the ball from just about anywhere. He looked great in Salt Lake, especially in the first few games before Qyntel Woods began hogging the ball. He played well enough to earn a roster spot for the Blazers. He may never be more than a 3-point specialist in the league, but given his size, that should earn him a steady paycheck over the course of his career.
Honorable Mention: Luol Deng (15.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Josh Smith, SF, Hawks (14.7 ppg, 39 percent from 3); Jameer Nelson, PG, Magic (17 ppg, 6.2 apg); David Bluthenthal, F, Kings (19.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 57 percent from 3); Andre Emmett, SG, Grizzlies (19.3 ppg); Ricky Minard, G, Kings (19 ppg); Tony Allen, SG, Celtics (14.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Andris Biedrins, PF, Warriors (11.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 50 percent shooting); Sasha Vujacic, PG, Lakers (13.1 ppg, 5 apg); Andre Iguodala, SG, Sixers (10.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Ben Gordon, G, Bulls (13.5 ppg); Sebastian Telfair (13 ppg, 5 apg); Beno Udrih, PG, Spurs (10.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5 apg on 54 percent shooting); Damien Wilkens, SF, Sonics (15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Nikoloz Tskitishvili, F, Nuggets
TskitishviliStats: 25.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 57 percent from 3 in the Reebok Vegas Summer Shootout
Stats: 13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg at the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Perhaps spurred on by the Nuggets' decision to trade for Kenyon Martin, a bulked-up Skita put on a show in Vegas, leading all scorers with 25.7 ppg and shooting lights out from behind the 3-point line. The flaws to Skita's game are still there. He still shies away from contact, spends too much time taking 3s for a 7-footer and doesn't defend the way he should, but he showed some toughness in the paint that had to make Jeff Bzdelik smile. Skita petered off toward the end of the week in Salt Lake City, but it was mostly based on fatigue and reduced minutes. The Nuggets are hoping that his performance here improves his trade value or, at the very least, convinced coach Jeff Bzdelik to give him another chance.
Josh Howard, SF, Mavs
Stats: 24 ppg, 8.8 rpg in the Southern California Summer Pro League
Stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Why have the Mavericks been so reluctant to include Howard in a trade for a big-time center? He continues to prove that the entire league totally wiffed on him when he slipped all the way to the 29th pick in the draft. Howard's scoring ability, rebounding and improving 3-point shot should make him a staple in the Mavericks' offense this season. The only troubling thing about Howard's performance was how poorly the Mavs team in general played. No one shot particularly well and the team dropped all but one contest in Salt Lake -- despite having three players in Howard, Harris and Marquis Daniel who could be in the starting lineup next season.
Willie Green, SG, Sixers
Stats: 19.3 ppg, 4 rpg in the Minnesota Summer League
The skinny: Green's frantic energy on offense convinced head coach Jim O'Brien that he needed to get him a lot more playing time. That led to his decision to trade away Eric Snow to free up backcourt minutes for Green and John Salmons. Green, like his backcourt mate, Allen Iverson, is relentless taking his player off the dribble and getting to the basket. He's als0o quite a gunner, which should be interesting if AI and Green are Philly's starting backcourt next season.
Leandro Barbosa, PG, Suns
Stats: 17.8 ppg, 4 apg in the Rocky Mountain Revue
Stats: 18.7 ppg, 3.8 apg in the Reebok Vegas Summer Shootout
The skinny: Barbosa's ability to do a little bit of everything in the backcourt drew praise from scouts around the league. They're all claiming that he's improving at a remarkable rate for someone his age and with his relative lack of experience. One scout is predicting big things for Barbosa next season. "I think the three guard rotation of Nash, Joe Johnson and Barbosa could be devastating. Nash has the experience, Joe is just a freak and Barbosa is so long and quick, they can throw just about whatever they want at you. I think in three or four more years, Barbosa could be a star in the league. He's really got a pretty complete package, it's just about him getting more experience at this point."
Mike Sweetney, PF, Knicks
Stats: 19.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg in the Southern California Summer Pro League
The skinny: Sweetney didn't get much love during the season, but he looked like he could be an Elton Brand-type bruiser -- at least in summer league ball. He was basically a 20 and 10 machine in every game. The word out of New York is that the team is interested in moving Kurt Thomas, in part, to free up more time for Sweetney. There may be another explanation, however. A number of teams are talking trade with the Knicks. After watching Sweetney clean house in the paint, Isiah Thomas may have another valuable asset on his hands.
SLEEPER: Loren Woods, C, Bobcats
Stats: 14 ppg, 11.7 rpg on 57 percent shooting at the Rocky Mountain Revue
Stats: 10 ppg, 9.4 rpg on 62 percent shooting at the Pepsi Pro Summer League
The skinny: Woods has become the patron saint of summer league one-hit wonders. Every year he seems to come in and play at a level no one believes he's capable of. Woods is back at it again, this time with the Bobcats. The numbers are tough to ignore. He's been the best center on the floor and will get a long look from the Bobcats before they let him slip away. The problem with Woods, as you already know, starts when the regular season does. Loren has flashes of brilliance, but then disappears for the rest of the season. Is he just setting us up for more heartbreak?.
Honorable Mention: Qyntel Woods, SG/SF, Blazers (18.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 42 percent from 3); Keith Bogans, SG, Magic (23 ppg); Dahntay Jones, SG, Grizzlies (19.8 ppg); David West, PF, Hornets (15.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg); Zaza Pachulia, C, Bucks (15 ppg, 6.8 rpg); Jason Kapono, SF, Bobcats (16.1 ppg, 47 percent from 3); Dajuan Wagner, SG, Cavs (18.6 ppg, 3.2 apg); Jarvis Hayes, SF, Wizards (17.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Gerald Wallace, SG, Bobcats (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Maciej Lampe, C, Suns (12 ppg, 6.2 rpg); James Jones, SF, Pacers (15.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Curtis Borchardt, C, Jazz (8.7 rpg, 2.7 bpg); Primoz Brezec, C, Bobcats (14.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg);
Luke Ridnour, PG, Sonics
RidnourStats: 5.4 ppg, 2.3 apg, 21 percent shooting in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: The Sonics would like Ridnour to take over starting point guard duties as soon as possible. They let Brent Barry slip away in free agency and have been dangling Antonio Daniels around to interested clubs in an effort to clear more playing time. Maybe they should put those ideas on hold for a bit. Ridnour had a so-so rookie season, but he looked awful in Salt Lake. A minor injury may have hurt him a bit, but that's also a knock on Ridnour. Even his new and improved body still needs help. The bottom line was that he didn't show enough for the Sonics to even remotely consider letting him run the show next year. That's a pretty big blow.
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Raptors
Stats: 13 ppg, 3 rpg in the Minnesota Summer League
The skinny: Bosh was the most underrated rookie in the league last year -- overshadowed by the play of LeBron, Carmelo and Wade. However, he looked pretty shaky in Minnesota and shut things down after three games. Scouts say he didn't look in shape or motivated. That's scary for the Raptors. Bosh will probably be just fine. However, he should have been the best player in that league and he wasn't even close.
Robert Swift, C, Sonics
Stats: 3 ppg, 3.5 rpg on 41 percent shooting in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Remember the pre Lebron and Amare days when high school players came into the league and struggled for the first few years? Meet Robert Swift. He showed a couple of flashes of the talent he had, but he was not even close to being ready to play in the league.
Ndudi Ebi, F, Timberwolves
Stats: 9 ppg, 5 rpg on 40 percent shooting in the Minnesota Summer League
The skinny: Speaking of not being ready, that year spent on the T-Wolves' bench didn't do a heck of a lot for Ebi. While it's clear from watching him play that he has talent and the hustle you want in a young player, it's also clear that the talent and hustle would've been much better served by going to Arizona to play basketball for a couple of years. He's still a long ways away.
Travis Outlaw, F, Blazers
Stats: 10.1 ppg, 4 rpg in the Rocky Mountain Revue
The skinny: Ditto.