Now that most NBA teams acquired a number of young, talented players through the Draft last Thursday, the next event on the off-season slate is set to begin. This, of course, is Summer League play, which will kick off on July 9 with the AirTran Airways Summer League at the year-old Amway Center in Orlando, FL, and will feature 20 games.
Few of the league’s top selections will be taking part in this particular league this year (another summer league runs in Vegas from July 13-22), but a number of older players and undrafted free agents will make play interesting this year as those players make their case for a spot on their respective team’s roster. Between the eight teams in this year’s league, seven first-round draft picks are set to play with the highlights being No. 9 overall choice Andre Drummond for the Detroit Piston and the No. 28 selection, Perry Jones III for the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Arguably the most notable appearance in the Orlando slate this year is Perry Jones III, who took a pitfall to the Thunder at the No. 28 slot amid concerns of his health and attitude by other teams. Jones was widely regarded as a top ten talent, but worries over his knee and his attitude after he underachieved in two years at Baylor resulted in Jones’ falling almost into the second round. Jones’ journey to proving his doubters wrong begins in Orlando, and a motivated Perry Jones III could be a very scary player to have to play against. The Thunder hope that’s the player they can make him, but progressive logic likely suggests Jones’ career will end up more along the lines of Lamar Odom’s. OKC's roster has not been announced yet, but young Thunder players Cole Aldrich and Reggie Jackson will probably be appearing, plus undrafted Old Dominion defensive specialist Kent Bazemore is known to be playing, along with German big man Tibor Pleiss.
With the Celtics looking to become younger as a team, this year’s Summer League will be an important proving ground for the Celtics five choices between this year and last year’s NBA Draft. Last year’s selections, forward JaJuan Johnson (No. 27) and E’Twaun Moore (No. 55) will be on the team looking to improve before their sophomore campaigns. In their rookie seasons, each played only 4 and 3 mpg in 38 and 36 games, respectively and management hopes each player can take strides toward becoming options off the bench. This year’s selections, forwards Jared Sullinger (No. 21) and Syracuse teammates center Fab Melo (No. 22), and forward Kris Joseph (No. 51) will also play. The Celtics will arguably feature the most talented frontcourt in Orlando, and all of these players will figure to provide Doc Rivers with a young rotation of promising players to ease the load off Kevin Garnett in the final years of his career under his new 3-year, $36 million deal.
With the trade for Joe Johnson that sent away five players to the Atlanta Hawks, the newly-relocated Brooklyn Nets will be looking for standout performers in this year’s Summer League to fill out the active roster with limited financial flexibility to pursue free agents. The Nets also did not own a first-round choice this year, per a condition of the trade that sent forward Gerald Wallace to the Nets from the Portland Trail Blazers in March. But two draft-day acquisitions—guard Tyshawn Taylor and forward Tornike Shengelia—are expected to play. Taylor, acquired from Portland as the No. 41 pick, and Shengelia, acquired from Philadelphia as the No. 54 pick, will lead the host of rookies on the squad this year and both are looking to prove themselves as options off the bench for the Nets this upcoming season. Shengelia, a native of Georgia who recently played in a Belgian basketball league, was regarded as one of the top international prospects in this year’s draft. Taylor is a quick guard and already possesses the defensive capabilities that make it likely he will make the roster as the back-up to the recently re-signed Deron Williams. Other rookies on the squad are a pair of talented, but undrafted, alumnus of the Big East, Notre Dame’s Carleton Scott and Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs. Scott is a long and quick forward who can score from the post and perimeter and Gibbs is a threat from long-range. Both are hoping to make the roster as end-of-bench guys. A number of former lottery selections also will play with the Nets in Orlando, with Adam Morrison (2006 No. 3 choice), Julian Wright (2007 No. 13), and Al Thornton (2007 No. 14) looking to revitalize their careers with a potential new team.
The hosts of the league this year will feature their No. 18 selection, forward Andrew Nicholson out of St. Bonaventure. Hopes are high for Nicholson’s potential as he displayed a diverse offensive game and the ability to make an impact defensively. Nicholson probably isn’t the piece that can convince Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando, but this year’s Summer League will give Magic fans their first glimpse at what Nicholson can become, which is likely a starter in this league. Their other choice at the No. 49 slot, forward/center Kyle O’Quinn, averaged double-doubles in his final two years at Norfolk St. and could crack the Magic’s rotation in the post with his skill on the glass. In the backcourt, the Magic’s 2011 No. 53 pick DeAndre Liggins will participate as well after seeing little time on the court last season. Another older player will also play in the backcourt in point guard Ish Smith, acquired from the Golden State Warriors in this past season.
Detroit’s Summer League squad will probably be the most talented of all teams this year, as it will most notably feature the team’s No. 9 draft pick, Andre Drummond. Alongside Drummond, the Piston’s 2011 pick, No. 8 choice Brandon Knight, will play after an impressive rookie in which he started 60 of the 66 games he played and averaged 13 ppg. A third first-rounder, Austin Daye from 2009, will also play after his worst statistical season in his third year in the league. Detroit’s other choices from this year’s draft, forward Khris Middleton taken with the No. 39 pick, and guard Kim English selected with the No. 44 pick, will also play. The team’s other 2011 choice, No. 33 pick Kyle Singler, will return to the States to make a bid for a spot on Detroit’s roster after he elected to spend the past year playing in Spain rather than in the NBA. But possibly the most intriguing player on the roster could be Casper Ware, an undrafted guard out of Long Beach St., whose scoring ability I can personally attest to after witnessing him torch the Pittsburgh Panthers with 28 points, leading the 49ers to an 86-76 upset against the then-No. 9-ranked Panthers in Pittsburgh. Ware is only about 5’10”, but his speed and scoring ability have drawn comparisons to Isaiah Thomas, and if he can overcome concerns about his size and ability to be a pure point guard in Summer League, he could be looking at a roster spot either with the Pistons or another team.
The Sixers will send their first-round pick, No. 15 selection Moe Harkless out of St. John’s, to play in the league this year. Harkless left college after one year as a member of the Red Storm, and was the Big East Rookie of the Year in that time with his 16 ppg and 9 rpg averages. Alongside Harkless in the post, the 76ers’ previous first-round pick Nik Vucevic will participate after a solid rookie season that saw him play 51 games—and starting 15—and establish himself as a valuable member of Doug Collins’ frontcourt rotation. In the backcourt, Jacob Pullen looks to prove his worth after spending a year overseas. Pullen made his name with huge scoring performances at Kansas St., especially in the NCAA Tournament, but went undrafted in 2011 and spent the last year playing in Italy. The addition of Pullen could potentially help offset the likely loss of leading-scorer Lou Williams. Jon Scheyer, who gained many accolades in his career at Duke, went undrafted in 2010 and spent the past two seasons playing overseas and in the Developmental League.
For the Jazz, their lottery selections from the 2011 Draft will pair with the team’s only draft choice this year in Orlando. Enes Kanter (2011 No. 3) and Alec Burks (2011 No. 12) will play in the Summer League after they both proved to be valuable options off the bench for coach Tyrone Corbin in their rookie year. Burks played in 59 games, averaging 13 mpg and scoring 7 ppg. Kanter played in every game of the season, also playing 13 mpg and posting averages of 5 ppg and 4 rpg. The Jazz’s only draft choice this season, guard Kevin Murphy of Tennessee Tech with the No. 47 pick, will also play. Murphy showed off a lot of scoring potential in college, scoring 50 points in one game, and hopes to show that off in Orlando while vying for a roster spot.
The Pacers will field a talented team in this year’s Summer League, led by No. 26 choice, center/forward Miles Plumlee, and the No. 36 pick, guard Orlando Johnson, who Indiana acquired on draft-day in a trade with the Sacramento Kings. Alongside the rookies, two Pacers veterans Lance Stephenson and Jeff Pendergraph will play as well after seeing little time on the floor this season and looking to develop into more viable options off the bench. But the most intriguing of all the Pacers’ participants this year is Ben Hansbrough, brother of Pacers forward Tyler. However, Ben made his own name at Notre Dame, being named the Big East Player of the Year in 2010. Unfortunately for him, he was still undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft and spent the past year playing in Germany and Slovenia. If Hansbrough can show off his shooting ability and his heady guard-skills, he can make a strong case for a spot on the Pacer’s roster this season.