As most people who’ve watched summer league have observed, the Las Vegas session (in particular) was a smashing success by every conceivable metric. Not only did all 30 teams participate and were guaranteed five games, this allowed for every GM, coach, player and fan to have skin in the game. Nike accessorized each team with beautiful uniforms – maybe even a bit sleeker than some teams’ customary regular season uniforms, and from a competitive standpoint, the games were filled with players genuinely competing for not only a spot in the NBA, but jobs overseas. Besides teams deciding to strategically sit certain assets as the tournament wound down for various reasons, each game was played with teams who put players on the floor focused on competing and winning games.
I would imagine from a financial standpoint the summer league did very well. I commend the NBA for making summer league much more affordable than regular season games, and providing almost an amusement park setting for basketball fans. This summer more so than any other, summer league was a place for current NBA players to be seen, enhance their brand, network, and support the players who aspire to make the big club, while having plenty of opportunities to get their own work in during their stay in Las Vegas. The mood was light, joyful, and the true essence of what Adam Silver has been building in his time as leader of the NBA came to fruition. The spirit of summer league universally attracts everybody to it.
Over the next few weeks I will post select assessments of teams, players, and general observations from the last few weeks of summer league.
Grayson Allen – Utah: Allen impressed throughout summer league. Utah shut him down on the back end once they realized what they had as an asset. His competitive edge, and his ability to play with explosiveness and physicality translated to summer league. He is an old-school competitor, who has the ability to rise to big moments and focus solely on whatever task is at hand. His arrogance is still a tangible factor but is slowly being channeled the right way.
The element which stuck out the most is Allen’s ability to play the point guard position. His passing ability even surprised observers who have seen Allen play a lot of basketball at Duke over the years. His patience in ball-screening, drawing multiple defenders, and continually making the right basketball decisions were evident. I think once the Utah brass saw him play the point, and how effective he was, they shut him down so not to needlessly expose any more of that facet. Allen shot the ball well enough, even though his overall percentage in the Utah and Las Vegas summer league was 29% (16-65). Of course, those numbers are unacceptable, but for a fresh rookie in summer league those types of shooting numbers are not uncommon. His nearly seven rebounds and six assists per game in 25 minutes of action were encouraging from Utah’s perspective. With his ability to run the point, Quin Snyder will, at some point, have an interesting decision on whether or not to give those backup point guard minutes to Allen or Daunte Exum. My suspicion is that there will come a time in Allen’s rookie season where he is a more fruitful option than Exum. Utah also has Neto, the Brazilian point guard.
Georges Niang – Utah: Niang has long been a player I admire. His craftiness and feel for the game are what allow him to even be capable of playing at this level. His raw athleticism may be the lowest level of any player I observed in summer league. With that said, he can (pretty much) guard the 3-4 positions, rebounds to the limit of his capabilities, and has acquired a reliable enough three-point shot to space the floor ideally. His understanding of angles and footwork and anticipation make him a joy to watch. He has mastered the battle of balance. He uses opponent’s aggression against them and is constantly in a cat and mouse game of yin and yanging opponents who lean, lunge, or tilt a certain way. His window of time in the NBA is now, because even a slight deterioration in the slow-footedness and lack of explosiveness he possesses have a short shelf-life – and even a supreme feel for the game will not suffice being as undersized as he is. Niang was officially signed to a contract by the Jazz during the Las Vegas summer league, but Utah decided to let him play the whole way through, making Niang the only player on the Jazz roster to compete in all eight games, counting the Utah summer league. This indicates there are certain elements within his game the Jazz are looking for in his development they wanted to give him maximum in-game opportunities to address or, Niang is a high-level competitor who wants to model that approach to younger players. Maybe Utah wanted to see him expand his game more offensively, but I suspect there are also defensive scenarios and matchups they wanted to see Niang negotiate. He shot the ball very well from three, and aesthetically, it seems Niang has doubled down on investing in that set-shot. When he gets his feet the way he likes, he’s a knock down three-point shooter. His 46% shooting (51- 109) is not bad considering the typical out-of-flow type of shots which are mostly available in the summer league setting. He will never become a reliable finisher in the paint, and any attempts to drive it in there need to be with the intent of shooting a floater or kicking it out to a perimeter shooter.