Summer League is a magical time where everyone can get overhyped about players who won’t actually see playing time, get glimpses of guys who are clearly too good to really be playing there, and maybe, sometimes, actually find some “diamond in the rough” talent to be hopeful about.
Summer League has officially ended, and so we can go about the process of asking ourselves: what did we learn? Was there anything good? Anything we can get unreasonably excited about?
No. No, there really was not.
It’s possible I’m just being wildly pessimistic. I do that from time to time. So, let’s review what happened at Summer League, and what we can (or should) think about it.
First: we came into Summer League not particularly interested in the team as a whole, but rather in the performance of it’s individual players, and three players in particular: Tony Wroten, Jamaal Franklin, and Janis Timma. Wroten has been a project-in-waiting for a while — we’ve even written about him before on Beale Street Bears — and this summer was an exciting chance to see whether or not he can live up to the hope. For Franklin and Timma, the hopes were high and stakes were low for the Grizzlies’ second round draft picks and presumable signees.
Franklin, however, didn’t see a minute of game time in Summer League. Franklin hurt his ankle just before Summer League play, and has been held out of all play since. Whether he’s already recovered and was held out for further injury, or whether he is still recovering, is — as far as I can tell — unclear. From what I gather, he’ll be fine by training camp.
Timma, on the other hand, was just bad. The kind of “yeah, there’s really no redeeming part of this performance” bad that you really don’t want to see in Summer League. Really, there were very few plus sides to his game. Timma was drafted with the hope that he would be a strong shooter out of Latvia, and he came to Vegas to promptly hit only 1 three pointer in the entire competition, with somewhere near 15 attempts.
His defense, too, was something awful. That, to be fair, is not entirely his fault. It’s clear that his time in Europe has not educated him as to how NBA defensive schemes are supposed to work, and what his role in one would look like. On the other hand, he is also very slow, and his one-on-one defense was entirely reactionary; very rarely did he predict and cut off the move of the player he was defending. Instead, he was reacting to everything they did, and since he was so slow, he often had a hard time recovering. It’s hard to know, honestly, whether defense is something he could pick up or not.
His drives were much better, he had at least one or two decent drives to the hoop with nice, creative finishes. Unfortunately, all of those drives were in transition, as far as I saw. Timma struggled against NBA-level defensive athleticism and length: he had the tendency to, like clockwork, attempt an isolated drive from the wing, find himself stuck on the elbow, and then pass the ball back out beyond the arc in a thoroughly space-draining move. And even to the extent that he could be a good “take it to the hoop” talent, the problem is, he wasn’t picked up to take the ball inside, he was drafted to shoot it. It turns out, he was not very good at that.
And in fairness to Timma, the transition from Europe to America is famously difficult for basketball players, so assessing his talent purely off of Summer League is a perfect instance of jumping the gun. Lots of great players played horrifically in their first Summer League, and Timma might be one of those. The transition is notably difficult, and as he re-adjusts, his shot may find itself, his defense may shape up, etc. So don’t be too quick to write him off entirely.
Wroten is another story entirely. Wroten was clearly talented. He dazzled in game 1, even if his stat line wasn’t that impressive. He was the kind of “diamond in the rough player” we all hope for: someone who does really well in Summer League, but doesn’t dominate. His passing was crisp and clean and clever, he was aggressive and he displayed great smarts, court vision, and shot selection.
Truthfully, none of that really changed as Summer League went on. But one persistent red flag kept popping up (and we’ve discussed this thoroughly). He just couldn’t be relied on to score. He was supposed to be an athletic attacker and finisher and sometimes pretty solid shooter. Wroten was aggressive, but he was none of the other things. He just could not actually get the ball in the hoop, even when he did everything else right.
It’s easy to dismiss that concern because it’s Summer League. People shoot poorly all the time in Summer League who don’t normally shoot poorly. It’s ok.
Except the evidence is against Wroten here. Statistically he’s never shot well, he’s below 40% from the floor for his career. If he’s ever had a problem, it’s not his technique, or his ability to shoot/get to the rim, the problem has always been his ability to just finish, and it doesn’t look like he’s really fixed it.
The shooting in that shot chart is low-sample-size enough to not matter much, but looking at his finish rate in the restricted area on this chart is just generally not encouraging. Given his inability to finish against Summer League quality rim protection, it’s hard to get excited about Tony Wroten as the next big backup PG option.
It’s hard to not want to like Wroten. I really want to like him. Usually players with Wroten’s decision-making skills turn out to be really good. But I’m not close to sold on him yet.
Then, there were the “other guys” in the Summer League: guys like Vander Blue, Matt Howard, Donte Greene, Jack Cooley, and Gerald Robinson. Players who were there, but you had no expectations for, at all, whatsoever.
Matt Howard was the epitome of “one of those guys.” He played really hard, and he was a rebound hound. He also had chance after change at the basket, and time and again he just missed his chances. Turnovers or simple missed layups would often follow an offensive board from him. He’s a great hustle guy, and you had to admire him in Vegas, but there’s no way a guy like that could make it in the NBA.
Same goes for Vander Blue, essentially. He’s clearly a natural scorer, and he had a few nice plays, but for a “scorer” he has a remarkably hard time…well….scoring. Lots of people liked Blue for his sheer talent and athleticism, but his talent is the kind that’s probably good enough to carry him to the Summer League and not much further. His percentages were really bad, his shots were worse, and his vision was practically not existent.
Donte Greene, on the other hand, is really interesting, at least. He, like Wroten, was on the Grizzlies squad last year and saw minimal time, but was never viewed as a “prospect” the way Wroten was. He was a guy who might be a kind of “bench warming role player,” maybe.
Greene showed real flashes in Vegas, though. He had the same vision problems and awful “hero ball” tendencies as Vander Blue, but he did manage to pass more often than Blue, and his percentages were better. As well, his athleticism was enough to actually get him good rebounds, and his defensive awareness and timing were both really solid.
Lastly, and most importantly, he could hit threes.
That said, Greene still shot barely above 35% from the floor, his rebounding was nice, but hardly necessary on a Grizzlies squad with Randolph, Gasol, and potentially Teyshaun Prince off of the bench. To top it off, he’s a career 30% three-point shooter.
I wanted to like Greene, but I guess he’s also just “one of those guys.”
Oh, wait, you mean the Grizzlies have already signed Donte Greene to two years on the minimum?
Cooley was pretty clearly the brightest spot for the Grizzlies. He averaged right around 20 points, but for all the scorers for the Vegas Griz squad, Cooley was probably the only efficient scorer of the bunch. He averaged above 50% for the tournament and averaged above 10 rebounds per 36 minutes.
As well, he can shoot, a major plus for any big man the Grizzlies might want. However, where he displayed some impressive range early in the tournament, he failed to hit a three pointer after the second game, so it’s hard to know where his range actually is. That said, a big man who can stretch his shooting out to the top of the key is still handy for Memphis.
The major concern with Cooley is whether or not he can keep his rebounding and scoring with the more talented, athletic NBA front court to contend with. From what I can tell: probably not. Cooley struggled with turnovers and holding on to the ball down low, and he was blocked way too often relative to his shot attempts at the rim.
If he were battling with someone faster who could pressure him a lot harder? I suspect a lot of those near-turnovers and awkward finishes wouldn’t look so nice for Cooley on a stat sheet.
And then, of course, there’s the question of where, exactly, Cooley would fit within Memphis’ front court Logjam. Truthfully, there just isn’t a place for him.
Gerald Robinson, however, has a pretty open niche to hop into.
Robinson was my favorite player on the Vegas Griz squad. He looked like the smartest player on the court a lot of the time, and man, did his passes dazzle. His passes were so pretty sometimes that they literally glimmered in the sunlight – er – flourescent court lighting. But the important part about his passing was that it wasn’t pretty because he was doing trick passes and the like: there were no behind-the-backs and no-looks. The passes were pretty because of the sheer Rubio-like unexpectedness of most of them. He found players where I didn’t even know players were moving.
For every shimmering assist, too, he demonstrated the ability to carve up defenses inside. He’s short and quick, and can run through a paint defense with a tenacity reminiscent of 2011 JJ Barea. Unfortunately, he has the same problem as Wroten: he has a hard time finishing at the rim, and can’t shoot all that well. Unlike Wroten, his difficulties stem from his size, but they’re difficulties nonetheless.
Personally, though, I probably prefer Robinson over Wroten for the backup point guard spot. I think that if both are going to have difficulty scoring, then I’d rather have the smarter, more dazzling floor general running my team. Of course, both of them will have to compete with newly acquired EuroCup start PG Nick Calathes for that spot. However, I remain optimistic about Robinson, if for no other reason than there’s a reasonable need on the team for a smart backup PG.
And…that’s it. To wit: of interest in Summer League this season was a prospect who doesn’t seem to have improved where it matters, an injured second-round pick, a bad second round-pick, a scorer who can’t score, a meh all-around wing who’s already been signed, a big man with no role on the team, and an undersized PG who’s not likely to get noticed long-term.
So, there’s not much to be optimistic about moving forward, Summer-League wise. On the bright side, the team in general still appears to be getting better and better as the offseason continues (albeit incrementally), and it’s exciting to see what Memphis might offer.
In the meantime, Vegas, I suppose we enjoyed the ride.