The NBA Summer League is the first chance for franchises to see their recently drafted players integrated into their systems. It also allows teams to bring any of their overseas prospects for which their draft rights are still held. Clubs may also trot out second and third year players that they still feel need the extra work in the summer to further their progression within the organization. Filling out the rosters are usually a cornucopia of undrafted free agents, tryout players, and local talent that has been plying their trade overseas or in the D-League. This unique blend of players leads to a somewhat disjointed series of games throughout July in which diamonds in the rough can emerge and supposed flops can assert themselves as NBA-caliber talents. Over the next couple of days, I am going to go division by division in the Association to highlight the stars of summer for each team. It may be a former top draft pick that is priming themselves for a bigger role. It might be a foreign talent finally ready to make the leap to the NBA. It could be a guy you’ve never heard of taking full advantage of a rare opportunity which could get him a gig in the league. We’ll start off in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division and work our way west from there.
BOSTON CELTICS: Jordan Mickey
The 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft showed this summer that he could be yet another second round steal in the NBA. Mickey has started every game for Boston in both the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues. He has used each league to display a different aspect of his game. In Utah, he was more of a defensive presence blocking two shots a game and altering many more while averaging just a shade under 10 points a game and 5 boards per. In Las Vegas, he displayed his offensive chops to go with his defensive skills. He has averaged a double-double through four games in Sin City with 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds (including 3 offensive per) to go with 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals a night. He has played the most minutes of anyone for the C’s in Vegas and has shown he could more than handle Brad Stevens’ offensive sets. The LSU product’s immediate readiness may allow the Celtics more wiggle room to trade Jared Sullinger who is heading into restricted free agency next summer and could be in line for a big pay day.
BROOKLYN NETS: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Many were stunned when Hollis-Jefferson slipped all the way to pick 23 in this year’s draft. It was mostly attributed to what some perceived as having offensive deficiencies. However, through two separate summer leagues RHJ has shown his ability to score the rock as well as backing up his claim that he was the best defensive prospect in this draft class coming out of Arizona. Though his percentages are a little rough on the eyes (37% FG, 25% 3PFG, 63% FT), Hollis-Jefferson looks comfortable in the flow of the Brooklyn offense. He’ll get even better looks when it is Brook Lopez down low instead of Earl Clark or Khem Birch. On defense, he is in constant motion and gets steals and blocks in bunches. With the Nets roster in a state of flux, there is a really good chance Rondae could start from day one and be a vital contributor to a team looking to start over.
NEW YORK KNICKS: Maurice Ndour
While all the focus on the Knicks summer league play has been on #4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis, late roster invitee Maurice Ndour has been New York’s best player in Vegas. The Senegalese forward out of the University of Ohio went undrafted last month after making second team All-MAC for the second consecutive season. The Knicks had him pegged for their summer league roster after seeing him represent his country in last year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain. He has not disappointed them and has a strong chance to make the main roster. His best game was a 23 point, 6 rebound showing in a comeback overtime win against Philadelphia. Overall, he’s averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds as well as 2 blocks per game. He has shown the ability to guard quicker forwards on the wing as well as bang down low with larger ones. If he doesn’t make the actual Knicks, their D-League affiliate Westchester should definitely look to snatch him up and keep him in the family.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Scottie Wilbekin
Similarly to New York, the main focus for the 76ers this summer has been #3 overall selection Jahlil Okafor. He hasn’t been anything short of outstanding for the Sixers. However, this is a team looking to build on the cheap with hopes of exploiting draft picks and cap space to compete in a few years. Okafor is a big part of their plans going forward, especially with Joel Embiid set to miss another year, but building around him is still a work in progress. With what I’ve seen in Las Vegas though, Scottie Wilbekin would be a perfect fit on this team. The former Florida Gator has played for two different organizations this summer, Orlando and Philadelphia. He has been exponentially better for the Sixers given a larger role offensively. He averaged 16.3 points per in Vegas including 26 against the Knicks. He is also a tireless pest on defense, something much needed as the league shifts to more perimeter oriented teams. As an undrafted free agent last year, Wilbekin would be a low risk, high upside option for Sam Hinkie and company. He’s got chemistry with Okafor and isn’t afraid to take a big shot. Quite the summer find if you ask me.
TORONTO RAPTORS: Norman Powell
Former UCLA Bruin Norman Powell is a rare bird these days coming into the NBA. He graduated college. As Chandler Parsons and Draymond Green among others have shown in recent years though, second round seniors can pay big dividends. Powell showed that potential in Las Vegas for the Raptors. The guard was the team’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per and averaged 1.5 blocks and steals each per game. He was Toronto’s only reliable three point shooter yet showed the ability to get to the rim when need be. Powell’s defensive prowess will give head coach Dwane Casey the ability to rest stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan at separate times because Powell can guard both positions. He could also be a source of instant offense off the bench in the way that recently departed Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams was for the team. Barring injury, Powell could be a darkhorse candidate for one of the two All-Rookie teams this season.
Do you think I missed anyone? Leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me a tweet @TREVORutley. Stay tuned here tomorrow when I profile the summer stars from the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.