“Stats don’t lie” should be the official motto for all fantasy players. You win or lose championships on the stats that your players put up in the box score. When do stats lie? The answer is simple: during the NBA summer league.
Every year, a collection of rookies, developmental players and aging journeymen meet up in Las Vegas to try to impress the NBA brass. Many of these players are playing for a contract or more playing time. The competition (or lack of) produces players who put up Jordan-esque numbers.
The talk of Sin City last year was Marco Belinelli. The three-point shooting Italian lit up the summer league with a 22.8 scoring average. After hitting 10 three-pointers in his first two games, prospective fantasy owners and Don Nelson were left salivating at the thought of Belinelli in their lineups. Belinelli became a sleeper in most drafts. In dire need of a three-point assassin, I succumbed to my summer league induced delirium and selected him with my last pick in multiple leagues.
Once the regular season tipped off, the stats Belinelli put up during summer league were just another mirage in the Nevada desert. He averaged 2.9 points with 0.4 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 33 games during the regular season. It didn’t take long for owners to give up on Belinelli.
Not all summer league standouts end up as busts in the regular season. Players such as Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay backed up solid summer league performances with breakout seasons.
Kevin Martin was one player who translated a great summer league performance into the regular season. Martin averaged 10.8 points per game in 2005-06. He became a decent option off the bench for the Kings, but offered little fantasy value at that point.
The following summer, Martin averaged 22.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. The improvement carried over to the regular season and resulted in Martin finishing second to Monta Ellis for the 2006-07 NBA Most Improved Player Award. After being passed up in most drafts, Martin became a fantasy gold mine by nearly doubling the previous season’s scoring average.
How do you tell which players are for real? The easiest way is looking at rosters and evaluating the depth charts. In the NBA, production equals minutes – players that are on the court, get the stats. The following list is made up of players who put up eye-popping numbers in Las Vegas this year. Let’s try to weed out the real McCoy (Martin) from the flash in a pan (Belinelli).
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG, POR
Bayless was the talk of the town this past week in Las Vegas. The rookie Trailblazer led the summer league in scoring with 29.8 ppg. His hot shooting performance led to Bayless being named the T-Mobile NBA Summer League Top Rookie.
The transition from summer league to regular season should be easier for Bayless than most other rookies. Bayless has the benefit of playing along a burgeoning superstar – Brandon Roy – and won’t be asked to put the team on his shoulders. Roy should make a nice backcourt pairing with Bayless, helping with the ball-handling duties.
Other rookies have put up staggering summer league numbers only to disappoint when it counts (Ever heard of Randy Foye?), but few have been in a position to succeed such as Bayless. He will start the season battling Steve Blake for playing time, but should break into the starting lineup early in the year. With a nucleus of Bayless, Roy, Aldridge and Greg Oden, the Blazers have one of the brightest futures in the NBA.
Kevin Love, PF/C, MIN,
Love was a great player at UCLA, but many have questioned how well his game will transition to the NBA. The knocks against Love have been his weight problem and the fact that he is a big man who plays below the rim. The conditioning questions were answered when Love showed up at the draft 20 lbs lighter. The below the rim issue won’t be solved until NBA officials allow players to place ladders by the buckets or Love signs an endorsement deal with Strength Shoes.
Despite his battle with gravity, Love dominated the glass in summer league with a league-leading 13.5 average. He also faired well filling up the basket at a clip of 18 ppg. The Timberwolves aren’t deep in the front-court and should provide Love with plenty of minutes right off the bat. It’s highly unlikely that Love will ever be a 20/10 type, but he should be able to put up David Lee-like numbers immediately.
Ramon Sessions, PG, MIL,
Sessions should be a familiar name for fantasy owners – he provided value towards the end of last season by averaging 8.1 points and 7.5 assists. The Bucks are in a transition period with a new president and head coach. Head coach Scott Skiles likes a point guard who can get others involved and that is exactly Sessions forte.
After last year’s surprise production, Session continued his dime dropping ways in summer league. Sessions led the summer league with 7.3 per game. His 15.3 ppg showed that his isn’t a one-trick pony. The Bucks will start the season with Mo Williams at point guard, but don’t be surprised if Sessions unseats him at some point. Williams could become a Ben Gordon-type scoring option off the bench for the Bucks when Sessions take the helm.
Jason Smith, PF, PHI and Marreese Speights, PF/C, PHI
Smith averaged 15.6 points and 8 rebounds during summer league. He showed improvement in his range by knocking down open jump shots. Speights bettered his teammate with averages of 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. What’s not to like about the two young big men? A lack of playing time.
With Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, Reggie Evans and Thaddeus Young ahead of the youngsters on the depth chart, it will take a trade or injury for Smith and Speights to see significant run. Remember their names for future seasons but don’t expect much this year.
Wilson Chandler, F, NY
The Knicks are another team that is in flux. Chandler gave the Knicks a glimpse of their future with his line of 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in five summer league games. The problem is that his game might not mesh well with the direction the team is headed in.
New head coach Mike D’Antoni will try to instill his fast paced offense that relies on three-point shooting. Chandler hit two shots from downtown during summer league action, but showed that he is better at attacking the rim. Quentin Richardson played small forward for D’Antoni in Phoenix and reportedly has spent the offseason on his conditioning. Expect Richardson to see the majority of minutes at small forward as the Knicks try to take advantage of his skills from the arc.
Donte Green, F, HOU
Let’s take a look at the some of the players on the Rockets’ summer league roster: Michael Harris, Bradley Kanis, Joseph Jones, and Chris Daniels. The next logical question would begin with a “Who?". The Rockets needed someone to pick up the scoring slack and Green decided to answer the bell by putting up 22.6 ppg.
Green showed an ability to hit the long range shot – he nailed 14 three-pointers in five games – but also showed that he needs a ton of shots to score. He threw up an alarming 87 shots in the five summer league contests. Do you think he’ll get that many running with Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston? If Green becomes a more efficient shooter, he might develop into a fantasy asset along the way. Don’t expect it to happen during his rookie season.
Posted by Shannon McKeown at 7/21/2008 11:09:00 PM