NBA Summer League Review 2010: Las Vegas Profiles Part One

NBA Summer League Review 2010: Las Vegas Profiles Part One
Aug 19, 2010, 01:28 pm
In our second recap of the 2010 NBA Summer League, we take stock of the top non-rookie forwards and centers that left the strongest impressions in Las Vegas.

John Wall made most of the headlines at this year's Summer League, but there were a host of strong performances made by veteran players. Though you always have to take Summer League production with a grain of salt, numerous players showcased significant development.

NBA Summer League Review 2010: Orlando Profiles

J.J. Hickson, 1988, 6'9, 245, Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
19.3 Points, 6.3 Rebounds, 1.0 Assists, 3.2 Turnovers, 4.2 Fouls, 58% FG, 61.3% FT

Hickson was one of the top players at the Las Vegas Summer League, and turned in one of the most significant performances in terms of what we can expect from him next season. He finished as the 6th ranked scorer and produced at roughly the same rate he did at this event in 2008, while leading the Cavaliers to a 3-1 record. Though Hickson still has a number of areas to improve upon, he showed a significantly more versatile skill set than what we saw from last season.

Throughout the 2010 regular season, Hickson proved to be a nice compliment to Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James, taking advantage of the easy opportunities at the rim and finishing in the top-25 League-wide in FG%, but showing only a few flashes of one-on-on scoring ability. With James, O'Neal, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas headed elsewhere, Hickson will be called upon to take his game to the next level and become more than a catch-and-finish, complimentary power forward. Based on what we saw in Vegas, it is clear that the North Carolina State product is taking that call to heart, showing improvements in his individual skills and committing himself to the up-tempo style of play Byron Scott will be bring to Northeast Ohio this fall.

From the opening tip of Cleveland's first game, Hickson's intentions were clear; he wanted to showcase his jump shot and continue developing it in a game setting. Over the course of the week, Hickson showed the ability to step out to the perimeter and make shots, a quality his game desperately lacked last season. His touch and confidence are noticeably improved, and the time he's spent in the gym this summer has allowed him to develop a nice shooting rhythm. Though he certainly forced some shots with a hand in his face and needs to improve the consistency of his release point, he made some difficult face-up jumpers from 15-feet, knocked down a few catch and shoot jumpers NCAA three-point range, flashed a one-dribble pull-up, and was one of the few bright-spots for the Cavaliers in an otherwise troubling offseason.

In addition to his jump shot, Hickson displayed an improved floor game, looking more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and appearing a bit more decisive in the post. He has a nice first step for a player his size, and his big frame allows him to use spin moves effectively in the paint. He still has a lot to prove when it comes to creating his own shot and knocking down jumpers on the NBA level, but he's made obvious progress in some areas.

Hickson didn't show much that we didn't already know about him on the defensive end. He's still too eager to leave his feet and is prone to getting beat with double-moves as he tends to over commit when he's beat, but his wingspan, strength, and energy level, help him compensate for some of his mistakes.

On the whole, Hickson made quite an impression with his athletic play in transition and improved scoring arsenal, promising signs for one of Cleveland's best long-term assets. An early candidate for the Most Improved Player award, Hickson's usage should allow him to have a productive season, and he could put up great numbers if he continues to improve and adjusts to Byron Scott's offense quickly.

JaVale McGee, 1988, 7'0, 250, Center, Washington Wizards
19.5 Points, 9.3 Rebounds, 0 Assists, 3 Turnovers, 68.8% FG, 54.5% FT

After seeing sporadic playing time for the majority of last season, McGee posted solid numbers in extensive minutes after the Wizards opened up a spot in the starting lineup by sending Brendan Haywood to Dallas. A standout performer in last year's Summer League, McGee was even better this year, showing excellent chemistry with Jon Wall and dominating his matchup offensively with his tremendous length and mobility for a player his height. Still far from a finished product in many areas, McGee continues to be a player to watch as he begins to see extensive minutes playing next to a true point guard.

As was the case last year, more often than not, JaVale McGee's frame is simply too much for many defenders to handle at this level. He's able to release shots around the rim with ease, use his huge strides to beat his defender to the rim, and offers a giant target for his teammates to pass to when they are looking to create. Over the course of the four games he played in Las Vegas, McGee shot nearly 70% from the field. When he was able to catch the ball with his defender recovering or within a few feet of the rim, his length and leaping ability did the rest, resulting in a handful of highlight plays and his exceptional shooting percentage.

McGee's ability to convert his finishing attempts has seldom been taken to task, he proved capable last season as a spot player and starter, but his post scoring continues to be a concern. He likes to use his length to his advantage using a nearly unblockable hook over his left shoulder, and shows soft touch on his turnaround jumper, but he doesn't always appear too fluid when making moves and lacks the refined body control that would take his post game to the next level. His touch can compensate for that to some degree, but it would be nice to see him add some polish to one or more of his post moves to become more comfortable in one-on-one situations.

Away from the rim, McGee knocked down a handful of midrange jumpers off of one dribble, but struggled in catch and shoot situations. Considering his height and athletic tools, anything McGee brings to the table outside of the paint is icing on the cake. In contrast, Flip Saunders would love to see McGee's physical profile turn him into a game-changer on the defensive end. McGee is already amongst the better shot blockers in the NBA, but he keeps himself off the floor with his tendency to commit fouls and doesn't always make his presence felt consistently. He didn't play with much urgency on the defensive end in Las Vegas save a few impressive blocks, though his length allowed him to challenge a lot of shots that the average NBA center wouldn't be able to. McGee still has a lot to prove in terms of man-to-man defense, but we can't draw many concrete conclusions about his defensive fundamentals from the Summer League.

With a youth-movement of sorts taking place in Washington, McGee was one of the more intriguing young bigmen in the game. John Wall will make McGee's life much easier than it has been in the past, and his physical tools will no doubt afford him some success next season, but he still has a world of untapped potential and will have every opportunity to achieve it over the next few seasons.

Sam Young, 1985, 6'6, 210, Small Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
19.4 Points, 3.8 Rebounds, 1.4 Assists, 1.2 Steals, 2.6 Turnovers, 54.1% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 72.2% FT

The fifth leading scorer in this year's Summer League, Sam Young saw consistent minutes as a rookie last season in Memphis, and while he didn't hit jump shots at a high rate, he still got the job done off the bench. A long and powerfully built wing, Young struggled to translate the spot-up proficiency he showed at Pittsburgh to NBA three point range. One of a number of players selected in the early part of the second round in 2009 that had a productive season on the wing, Young showed well in Las Vegas. His numbers are a bit skewed because of a 3-point performance in limited minutes in Memphis' final outing, but his 35-point explosion against the D-League Select team surely compensates for that.

Playing next to O.J. Mayo initially during his Summer League cameo and the rest of Memphis' stable of former draft picks, Young was the primary beneficiary of the Grizzlies' efforts to play a very up-tempo style. Leaking up the floor regularly, the Pittsburgh product found himself on the receiving end of a handful of deep outlets every game. Young capitalized on the fast break frequently, using his excellent athleticism to finish explosively at the basket and using his strength to his advantage to take contact and get to the line.

When the game slowed down, Young didn't seem to be looking to take the ball to the rim, with most of his touches around the basket coming off of back-door cuts and a handful of well timed offensive rebounds. For the most part, he looked to break his man down off the catch using jabs and quick rip-throughs to open up space for his midrange jump shot. Young did knock down a handful of catch and shoot jumpers and pull-ups, looking extremely confident with his shot selection, but didn't convert at a fantastic rate.

Defensively, Young showed some hustle defensive, and made an effort when closing out the likes of Gary Neal and Wayne Ellington, though both players hit quite a few shots with Young a step late in pursuit. Young played a sound brand of team-defense, seldom taking risks and doing a good job positioning himself to help his teammates, but his play in Las Vegas was a microcosm of some of the issues he had as a rookie last season.

Young has the tools to be a very good defender, but he doesn't make scrappy plays denying penetration one-on-one or show the high intensity level that one would like to see from a player with his potential. We can't condemn Young for his defensive performance in the regular season last year or in the Summer League, but the Grizzlies are certainly hoping to see more from him down the road.

Young's ability to improve on the defensive end will significantly increase what he brings to the table in Memphis. He's proven capable of putting points on the board despite his inability to shoot the NBA three, but he could become an exceptionally valuable player if he brought his A-game defensively on every possession. Xavier Henry will be charged with knocking down shots off the bench in Memphis, meaning this is a golden opportunity for Young to do the things that he does best offensive and start to achieve his potential defensively.

Honorable Mention

Pooh Jeter, 1983, 5'11, 175, Point Guard, Sacramento Kings
14.4 Points, 2.0 Rebounds, 5.4 Assists, 2.4 Turnovers, 48.2% FG, 80.0% FT

One of the more consistently productive point guards in recent Summer League history, Pooh Jeter's performance with the Cleveland Cavaliers earned him a guaranteed contract with the Sacramento Kings, the first NBA contract of his career. Jeter started his professional career in the NBADL before stints in the Ukraine and the ACB that included EuroCup and EuroLeague appearances. He most recently played for Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel. The University of Portland product has produced in each of the stops along his basketball odyssey and, obviously, made a considerable impression in Las Vegas.

Over the course of five games, Jeter showed the ability to position himself to score the ball and set up his teammates using his tremendous quickness. Jeter was outstanding on the pick and roll, turning the corner with ease and making good decisions with the ball once he distorted the defense. His quick release makes him a threat off the bounce despite the height he gives up to many defenders, and he was opportunistic with his chances around the basket. Defensively, Jeter will have his mettle tested at the NBA level due to his lack of size, but his quickness allows him to pressure the ball the length of the floor. Jeter's best quality may be his intangibles, though, as he brings tremendous leadership skills to the floor and has always been considered an outstanding teammate.

Gary Neal, 1984, 6'4, 210, Shooting Guard, San Antonio Spurs
16 Points, 2.6 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists, 1.4 Steals, 1.6 Turnovers, 50% FG, 50% 3FG

Last time we checked in on Gary Neal, he was in the middle of a tremendously productive season in A1 Italy and the EuroCup, leading us to bump him up to the third overall spot in our overseas free agent rankings. Neal's performance opened many eyes in the NBA as well, and after an outstanding NBA Summer League performance, he walked away with a three year guaranteed contract with the San Antonio Spurs. Filling the gap left by the departures of Roger Mason Jr. and Keith Bogans, Neal has some very valuable tools that Gregg Popovich will have no trouble utilizing.

As Neal proved time and time again in Las Vegas, he's a tremendous catch and shoot threat from beyond the arc. On the week, Neal knocked down 17 of his 34 three-point attempts. While he wasn't quite as good off the dribble, he showed a confidence in his jump shot that should serve him well as he translates his game to the NBA level. The Towson product didn't do much at the rim, he played hard defensively, something he didn't always do overseas. When Neal plays with energy, he proves to be pretty savvy, something was clear during the Summer League. He denied penetration very effectively, actively contested shots, and forced some turnovers in the paint with his quick hands. If Neal brings the same intensity into the regular season, he could make a splash in rotations minutes as a rookie.

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