I like to look for 4 main things in the summer league setting: 1) athleticism/positional size comparatively 2) how a player gets his shots 3) passing/ability to read defenses and 4) defense/motor. Too often players are evaluated at summer league based on shooting, and in such a limited sample a results-based approach is too high variance for my taste. How a player looks (including shooting mechanics) is far more important than how a player’s box score looks in this setting.
With that brief introduction in mind, I recently traveled to Vegas to see basically every rookie in person, and the following is a tentative stock up, stock down assessment of players who stuck out in either capacity.
Lesser Known First Round Picks
The jury is still very much out on Maker. He has a ton of boxes to check in order to even be a legit rotation player, but he showed some promising developmental signs in Vegas. I saw Maker in person at the Hoop Summit and came away pretty mortified. He looked really uncoordinated on the court and his lack of feel was apparent. The latter is still a very much a question mark, as Maker doesn’t have the court awareness to playmake for others yet (0 total assists in Vegas) and gets sped up playing outside his lane trying to create his own shot off the bounce. In regards to the former, I thought Maker showed out quite nicely. He looked fluid on the court rim-running, dived hard to the rim, actually caught a majority of passes and even showcased a fluid jump shot.
He’s always been able to move his feet laterally, and looked very comfortable hedging in pick and roll. His motor is also promising, most notably on the glass, especially when paired with an alleged green flag work ethic. If he is indeed 19, Maker showed a foundation that can be built upon. He doesn’t have great lift as a finisher/lob-catcher and rim protector, and I’m very skeptical that he’ll ever be able to playmake on the move. But if he can rim run, space the floor some (the big key here) and defend in space/switch, he has more value than I afforded him as a mid second round flier.
Having a mid second round grade on Juancho, I was clearly too low on him given his sample in Vegas. He showed far more as a passer and defender in space than I saw in the ACB League. Juancho looked fluid off the bounce and had a few exceptional drop-off looks on the move. He also moved his feet on defense better than I expected for someone who got beat a lot in space overseas. His most notable attribute is his bounce and motor on the glass, as he seems to have a nose for the ball and is always in the thick of the action especially on the offensive glass. His shooting mechanics are also promising, albeit the results weren’t great in Vegas. Overall, Juancho flashed some enticing playmaking capability I didn’t know he had, and pairing that with his excellent statistical translations it’s fair to move him up into the first round rankings wise.
Second Round Picks
No one made a stronger case for draft day steal than McCaw in Vegas. Playing on an all too familiar floor, McCaw’s versatile skill-set shined. He handled better than expected and for someone who was already bullish on his playmaking potential; he exceeded even my expectations as a dribbler and passer. McCaw also showed fluid mechanics shooting off the catch from three, and threw in his usual harassing defense with lightning quick hands and excellent off-ball instincts. There are still frame concerns here, as McCaw looks freakishly rail thin close up. However, he plays and competes bigger than his size.
McCaw’s two-way skill-set is evident and looks tailor-made for Golden State’s motion scheme where he doesn’t have to be a primary initiator and expose his still work-in-progress handling chops. I had him 10th on my personal big board (I had to throw this in here as the sad is coming), and he looks like a definite lottery pick in a limited sample. The Warriors definitely needed to add more two-way talent. Sure. (NOTE: THAT WAS SARCASM)
We knew “Zubats” was a gargantuan human being with an enormous standing reach to match. What most of us didn’t know is how to pronounce his name correctly and that he had the plus level of soft touch he showcased in Vegas with some range flashes to boot. Zubac didn’t have a lot of floor spacing experience playing for Mega Leks, and while he showed good hands and good touch in the post, I didn’t think he had this level of touch. The Lakers are tinkering with the idea of letting Zubac shoot threes, and from the Vegas shooting sample that sentiment isn’t crazy. His biggest weakness of foot speed defending in space wasn’t fully exploited in Vegas. Felder got him a few times, but Zubac has never played against the level of speed/athleticism he will see in space at the next level. He’s pretty clearly a drop-back defender in pick and roll to enable him to better utilize his length to deter shots at the rim and mitigate his lateral quickness deficiency. Regardless, Zubac looks like a top 20 pick (I had him No. 21) and the Lakers at the very least look to have secured a legitimate backup center on a cheap contract for 3 years.
Ulis was one of the darlings in Vegas. He was able to create space for his midrange jumper in CP3-Lite fashion, and converted a plus percentage of long twos off the dribble. I’m still very dubious that will translate against superior talent and length, especially considering the best midrange shooters who don’t get all the way to the rim or shoot 3s at high volume have to shoot in the low 40s to be plus offensive players on the most inefficient shot in the game. Ulis has to be good enough offensively to make up for his size deficiency on defense, a very tall task. His ability to move laterally and get into guys with active hands swiping at balls was evident in Vegas. He’s also an incredibly heady player with great timing on dig-downs. However, his individual defense due to size and frame minuses was still exploited badly by even Tyus Jones types, a far cry from legitimate starting talents at lead guard in the league.
Basically, everyone loves the player here. If he was 5 inches taller and weighed more than 160 pounds soaking wet he would’ve been a top 5 pick. It’s never a good gamble to bet on the outlier, but maybe Ulis has enough intelligence to carve out a role in the league. He at least helped himself in Vegas in projecting a potential backup role moving forward, but I’d temper starting expectations.
Another waterbug type, Felder continues to impress with his craftiness finishing around the hoop and ability to create space off the bounce with plus burst + change of pace ability. Felder sports a much stronger frame and has better finishing versatility/athleticism around the basket than Ulis, and his floater game is advanced. He consistently showcased his ability to break defenses down off the bounce in Vegas, and generated high quality looks around the basket. There is some IT2 in his game, and he seems tailor-made to be a second unit playmaker.
With Delly’s departure there is a real chance Felder gets minutes for the defending champs in year one, so we might get the opportunity to witness whether he translates quicker than most. I had him as an early second round pick and ahead of Ulis as I tend to devalue backup lead guards, but where the Cavs got him this could end up being an excellent selection.
Diallo is one of the more interesting translation trial cases as an undersized center at 6’9” however he does have plus length and fluid athleticism. We knew he could change ends as a rim runner better than any big in the draft and plays with a high motor and activity level, especially protecting the rim. There just isn’t a lot of precedent for a successful center that’s only 6’9″. That all being said, I thought Diallo had better touch than given credit for at Kansas and that was verified with flashes of touch on his right hand jump hook and turnaround jumper.
He’s an undersized pick and roll dive 5 finisher without really any offensive feel, but if he has more shooting and finishing touch than mere lob-catching, that enhances his value. He was selected right in the range I had him ranked in, and even if he’s only a situational player/backup 5 he might afford enough value to outpace that ranking.
Williams has always had NBA athleticism, and his burst in pick and roll accelerating with the ball pops every time you watch him. It’s the mental and shooting aspects that have plagued Williams. He gambles too much on defense giving up easy baskets with low percentage chance plays, and his decision-making as a passer is very suspect. He’s also not a three-point shooter. That being said, he probably showed enough in Vegas with his athleticism/scoring combination to warrant a partial guarantee camp invite at the very least. Whether a coach is ever going to trust him outside of a fringe role is another question entirely.
Run TLC had a rough stretch in Vegas, where his handle completely betrayed him. There is a difference between a McCaw “loose” handle and a non-existent one. Luwawu was the latter, incapable of putting it on the floor and creating even in large spaces. Luwawu never projected to be a primary handler outside of his optimal ceiling outcome, but he demonstrated the ability to at least playmake some at Mega Leks, especially in pick and roll. Luwawu didn’t do anything in the creation department in Vegas, and how uncomfortable he looked with the ball was discouraging. This was my first time seeing Luwawu in person, and he is much more slender in comparison to NBA frames than he looked on tape, not to mention he plays smaller than his size/frame suggests. He really needs to add strength, as he got dislodged by stronger players trying to contain dribble penetration and struggled to finish through contact.
Basically, he’s much more raw than I expected, which is a bit troubling for a 21 year-old who had incredibly poor statistical translations. On the positive side, TLC did show smooth mechanics off the catch as a three-point shooter, and I continue to buy his spot up shooting. That wont be enough to justify how highly I ranked him (No. 4 overall), but his shooting mechanics at least look like it will translate. He was always more of a 1-2 defender than a 2-3 defender, but that super quick twitch athleticism he displayed as an on-ball defender on tape didn’t pop in Vegas. Overall, I’m not writing off Luwawu based on summer league alone, but he looks way more raw as a playmaker than he did at Mega Leks. It’s more than fair to have legitimate concerns, as he looks to be more of a 21 year-old project than originally thought.
Papagiannis was a confusing lottery selection at the time, and that sentiment was only enhanced with his stint in summer league. He was incredibly inefficient as a scorer and playmaker on offense, lacking any evident skill or clear avenue to discern how he’ll provide value on offense. I was mostly down on Papagiannis as a prospect based on the other side of the ball, as he’s a minus space defender who doesn’t have the rim protection instincts to play high level team defense at the 5 despite his size. That was also evident in summer league, and if he isn’t contributing on either side of the ball without a clear avenue of doing so that’s obviously a red flag. He’s only 19, and his selection was a clear upside long-term play, but Papagiannis looks like an enormous project who is years away from contributing, if he ever does.
I honestly don’t mean to pick on the Kings here. Just calling them like I see them. I watched Richardson intently twice in Vegas and came away with the same takeaway I saw on tape at Syracuse: an inefficient streak shooter who doesn’t create for others. I was paying extra attention to see how his defense was considering the difficulty of assessing that end of the floor in his zone scheme in college. Multiple times in the same game his head was completely turned around defending on-ball in pick and roll, leading to easy blow bys. He also was frequently out of position defending off ball on rotations. Basically, he looks like a less athletic version of Nick Young, and that’s not a player archetype I’m especially interested in at all, let alone in the first round.
It’s difficult to get overly worked up about the 51st pick in the draft, which has a near 0 percent hit rate, but Bentil’s unsuccessful shot-hunting in limited minutes stood out as notably bad in Vegas. He didn’t do a lot to rectify his “black hole who needs to make shots to stick” reputation.