The NBA Las Vegas Summer League is set to kick off Friday, and while the 10 teams in Orlando have been a tasty appetizer, the 24 teams that will be at UNLV campus makes Vegas the hottest destination for hoops heads who aren’t just content to follow the free agent hot stove on Twitter.
The Summer League is a lot of fun as this is the first time people will be able to see some of 2014’s top draft picks lace ‘em up in a professional environment. With the wealth of talent that was just brought into the league, this year should be a real party.
Last year, Toronto Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas walked away with Summer League MVP, leading to a pretty successful sophomore campaign for the big Lithuanian.
So, who are the best players to watch for over the next few days? Here’s a handy guide with the 10 players we’re most excited to see:
Bruno Caboclo (Toronto Raptors)
The biggest mystery from draft night, just about the only thing we know about Bruno Caboclo is that he’s Brazilian and he’s very, very long. Almost no one has ever seen him play, or even heard of him before Adam Silver called his name. Summer League is as good a time as any to find out if he really is “two years away from being two years away.”
Andrew Wiggins (Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Thornhill, Ont., product was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft even though there are many that believe that was only because of Joel Embiid’s injury. When he takes flight and dunks all over some hapless bystander, however, all of that talk will be forgotten. Wiggins’s athletic ability is for real and he should have no problem stepping in and lighting it up.
Dante Exum (Utah Jazz)
Prior to Caboclo getting selected in the first round, Exum was the international man of mystery in this draft class. The 6-foot-5 Australian point guard went No. 5 to the Jazz despite very little being known about him. His combine results were strong, and his play during the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit was definitely eye-catching, but we still don’t really know if he can play. Now, it’s time to find out.
Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks)
Jabari Parker is currently the betting favourite to win the NBA rookie of the year and for good reason. While Wiggins went one spot ahead of him and is the better athlete and defender, Parker is Carmelo Anthony 2.0 and can put the ball in the basket better than any other player from the 2014 draft class. Parker’s a natural scorer and can fill it up from virtually anywhere on the court. Don’t be surprised if he goes off for 30 or 40 in a game during Summer League.
Nik Stauskas (Sacramento Kings)
The best shooter from the 2014 crop, the Mississauga, Ont., native will definitely be splashing threes from all around the perimeter for the Kings, but will also hopefully be given an opportunity to show what he can do when he puts the ball on the floor. A lot more athletic than he’s usually given credit for, the No. 8 overall pick can flush it on defenders and, most excitingly, drop dimes with the best of them when he gets into the paint.
Tyler Ennis (Phoenix Suns)
Unfortunately for Raptors fans they’ll have to see the Brampton boy lace up for Phoenix but that still shouldn’t deter you from checking out a player who may be the best “pure” point guard in the draft. Ennis is a pass-first guy who’s always under control and will find the right guy at the right time at all times. He’ll be sharing the floor with big-time college scorer T.J. Warren and the massive Alex Len, so there should be plenty of opportunity for him to showcase his floor generalship.
Lucas Nogueira (Toronto Raptors)
The most intriguing piece that Toronto acquired as part of their trade with Atlanta was Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira. The seven foot Brazilian was the 16th overall selection in the 2013 draft and he played for Estudiantes in Spain’s top league last season. He’s very raw offensively, but defensively he could turn into a devastating help-side guy and rim protector as he has innate shot-blocking instincts, is a good athlete and has incredibly long arms.
Myck Kabongo (Toronto Raptors)
The Raptors have only ever had one Canadian play for them in their history—Myck Kabongo hopes to be the second. The Scarborough, Ont., product went undrafted in 2013 and spent last season on the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League where he averaged 9.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, including 37.9 percent from three-point range in 45 games played. Kabongo is a very quick point guard and with Nando de Colo heading to Russia instead of staying in the NBA, he could have a shot at making the Raptors’ roster as their third point guard.
Zach LaVine (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Do you like dunks? Of course you do. Zach LaVine may be the best athlete in this draft class (yes, even better than Wiggins) and as such he can really throw down. The Summer League isn’t much known for its defensive responsibility and rotation. I think you know where we’re going with this.
Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls)
The man known as “Dougie McBuckets” was a prolific scorer and tenacious rebounder in college and was named national player of the year this season, so he has to be dynamite NBA player right? Well, the jury’s still out on McDermott who is kind of a tweener and may not be a great fit at the NBA level. He can definitely shoot, but is he quick enough to get his shot off, or strong enough to crash the glass with NBA-calibre bodies? We’ll have a better understanding as we watch him in Summer League.
In case you weren’t paying attention, of those 10 players to watch, four of them are Canadian. And just as the NCAA tournament this year became something of a runway for Canadian hoops talent, the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League also has genuine maple syrup flavour to it.
In total, there are 13 Canadians participating in Vegas, spread out over 10 teams. Here’s a quick rundown on the nine others:
Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, the Brampton native had one of the worst rookie campaigns in the history of the NBA. This year, however, Bennett should be in shape and ready to show why Cleveland took him first overall in the first place, and Summer League is a great place to start.
Melvin Ejim (Philadelphia 76ers/San Antonio Spurs)
The Big 12 player of the year will be splitting time between the Sixers and Spurs in hopes of sticking with one of the two clubs and getting an NBA contract. The Toronto kid has fallen into that unfortunate “tweener” listing as a combo forward and will look to use Summer League as a means to show at least one or two definable skills to NBA personnel.
Jordan Bachynski (Charlotte Hornets)
Hailing from Calgary, Jordan Bachynski is the Pac-12’s all-time blocks leader. Listed at 7-foot-2, with a lithe frame reminiscent of Shawn Bradley, Bachynski is a natural rim protector with great timing, anticipation and a fearlessness that gives him a great shot at earning an NBA contract.
Brady Heslip (Minnesota Timberwolves)
A deadeye shooter, Heslip has a pure stroke that could make him valuable as just a three-point specialist. Unfortunately for the Burlington boy, his smaller stature combined with his weak handle and passing ability will make keeping an NBA job tough. He does have the smarts for it though, and he could probably turn to his uncle Jay Triano for some advice.
Sim Bhullar (Sacramento Kings)
Is Sim Bhullar too big to play in the NBA? The 7-foot-5 behemoth and Brampton, Ont. native did a lot to get himself in shape and be able to get up and down the floor in his three years at New Mexico State but with the NBA game getting smaller and faster, all that time getting in better condition may not be enough.
Nick Wiggins (Sacramento Kings)
Older brother to Andrew Wiggins, Nick isn’t nearly as athletically gifted as Andrew but is a hard worker and has a good understanding and feel for the game. In his two seasons at Wichita State, he was a big part of those teams’ second units, acting mostly as a high-energy sixth man.
Chad Posthumus (Chicago Bulls)
From Winnipeg, Chad Posthumus was the fifth-leading rebounder in the NCAA last season, pulling down 10.9 boards per contest. He’s a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a wide, strong body and a fierce, tenacious spirit when going after the boards. He’s the exact kind of player a coach like Tom Thibodeau loves, but his lack of athleticism may ultimately hold him back.
Khem Birch (Washington Wizards)
Khem Birch is an extremely raw 6-foot-9 long-armed shot-blocking athletic freak from Montreal who impressed physically during the combine, but was ultimately passed over in the draft because of how unpolished his offensive game is. Still, he certainly has a shot at earning an NBA contract because of how athletic he is, and if he’s able showcase a few highlight-reel blocks and dunks in Summer League, who knows what may happen?
Christian Kabongo (Washington Wizards)
The brother of Myck Kabongo, Christian also spent some of last season in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede. He only played eight games but he did certainly leave an impression as he did this: