Like many NBA fans, I watch a lot of Summer League games. Unlike many of those fans, I don’t particularly like Summer League games. Hear me out though.
The Summer League (SL) is a showcase for promising rookies and second-year players already under contract, as well as free agents looking to secure a contract for themselves. As such, there is a certain need for players to do all they can to make themselves stand out from the crowd. When you add to that the fact that the players typically have very little time to practice and therefore become accustomed to one another before playing in these games, it’s easy to see how this could turn into a parade of “me-first” type play.
Finally, it is frighteningly easy to overrate a player’s performance in just a few of these games and not realize that their success here probably won’t translate at the next level. For a shining example of this, I present to you Marco Belinelli. After being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft by Golden State, Belinelli came across the pond and promptly scored 37 points in his first SL game. He proceeded to finish out the SL schedule by averaging 22.8 ppg, giving hope to many Warriors’ fans, as well as prompting fans of other teams to clamor about trading for him. Belinelli stayed glued to the bench most of his rookie year though.
In his second SL campaign, Belinelli again lit it up, bringing about more cries from fans for him to play more or for their team to trade for him. In his sophomore season, the Italian guard finally garnered some playing time, averaging 8.9 ppg on 21.0 mpg. Through his career, Belinelli has mostly shown himself to be an average player on bad teams though. That’s why I tend to not get overly excited about what I see occur in SL games. However, with all of that being said…there are some promising things I have seen thus far in the Grizzlies’ SL contests.
First, is the perimeter shooting of Josh Selby. Note that I’m not speaking specifically of his scoring, which has been impressive, even by SL standards, as he is averaging more than a point per minute thru four games. I’m talking about his range and lightning-quick release, which he has doubtlessly worked on in the offseason. I know that Selby was a good shooter in high school and even in some cases during his short stint at Kansas. However, it almost seems as though he saw the glaring need that his organization had for perimeter shooting in his rookie year and dedicated himself to improving in that area — not just to garner himself a better shot at increased playing time, but to help out the team as a whole. Perhaps I’m reading too much into that, but that’s what I see right now.
Next, I have to say that I’m impressed with Tony Wroten’s court vision and athleticism. These were billed as his strengths, and they were not oversold in my opinion. Wroten’s ability to see everyone on the floor, evaluate their respective positions, calculate the angles, and then decide whether to thread the needle with a pinpoint pass or simply blow by his defender (seemingly at will) is unmatched by any of the other young guards I’ve seen in SL play. I don’t think Mike Conley has to worry about his starting position just yet, but Wroten certainly has the tools to be a lead guard in the NBA — and was definitely worthy of the #25 pick in the draft.
Finally, there is another player that I think could be a solid signing for the team — and could help to prevent the team from trading an asset for a lesser player. I’m talking about Matt Janning, the 6’4″ SG out of Northeastern who has shown good range on his jumper and quick hands on defense. After giving it some thought, I’d much rather see the team sign Janning as their “designated shooter” — and a guy likely to be at the end of the bench barring the unforeseen — than to trade a solid asset in Dante Cunningham (a player who knows his role and the system, does dirty work, and never complains) for a player in Wayne Ellington who hasn’t shown the ability to put up serious stats on a rebuilding team in Minnesota.
This isn’t to say that Ellington doesn’t still have the potential to be a good player, but I’ll take a proven big man (proven meaning known commodity in this instance) over a suspect shooter every day of the week. This is especially true when talking about a guy that will probably be in street clothes for much of the season. The Grizzlies already have 13 guys under contract, and will probably sign one more. Most people think that it will be a big man to help spell Marc Gasol, but I think keeping DC will alleviate that need, as Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights are capable of backing up both post positions. I know there is a money issue involved in the proposed Cunningham-for-Ellington deal, but wouldn’t signing Janning for the minimum rather than another big man for market value (because 7-footers always get paid more) make up for that? Just my two cents, of course.
With one final SL game to go thru tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves, we will see how the team decides to proceed. Given my track record, I expect the Ellington trade to be announced mere moments after I press Publish on this post. If that happens, feel free to blame me. I’ll take the heat.