2015-16 Fantasy Basketball: Summer League Notes
First off, go to the sink and splash yourself with some cold water and then come back. OK, hopefully that cleared your mind a bit so that you’re no longer thinking Kyle Anderson and T.J. Warren are players to target in the 4th round of your fantasy draft. I’m not telling you that neither guy will have fantasy value this season, instead just reminding you to not overreact to anything that happened in summer league. For example, let’s look at last season’s Vegas all-first and second teams to see how things went for them last year in fantasy:
So, of those ten players named to the all-Vegas teams last July, only two of which were fantasy relevant in standard leagues for any stint worth noting. Glen Rice Jr. was the MVP of the Vegas SL last year, yet was waived by the Wizards this past January. Of course, my guy Rudy Gobert was solid to start the season and became an absolute fantasy beast after Enes Kanter was dealt before the deadline. Donatas Motiejunas was the other, thanks to injuries to Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard on the Rockets, but even in that stretch where he played 30 minutes a night, Motiejunas never became a must own in standard 12-team formats. There are some players that just shine on the minor league level but will never become reliable NBA players. The one who always pops in my mind when discussing this is Austin Daye. That kid would dominate summer league and continue that play in the widely known “Drew League” in Los Angeles, but when it came to the NBA regular season, he couldn’t stay in any team’s rotation and when he did get in, there was nothing to see.
So, how do you determine what players may be legitimate fantasy targets and which are just summer standouts? The majority of the time, it is all about situation and opportunity. Everyone knew Gobert was special, but he didn’t takeover until the guy in front of him was traded away. Tim Hardaway Jr. on the other hand had all the opportunity in the world to prove himself in New York this past season, yet he didn’t produce significantly in any statistic and shot below 39% from the field. There’s a long time between now and when most of your drafts will occur in October, so most of this summer league hype will die down by then and even the guys who are worthy of draft consideration won’t be drafted anywhere high enough to hurt you, even if they flop.
There are some players who we need to look at though and try to decipher if they’re worth keeping an eye on in preseason and such, so let’s hit on some summer league top performers, rookies and other notables.
TOP FANTASY RELEVANT PERFORMERS
Rodney Hood – Utah Jazz – SG/SF
I won’t go too into Mr. Hood at this time because I am going to be talking about him a ton between now and the start of the season. In fact, I already started the love for him in our site’s Fixies column back in April. I love Rodney’s game and fit in the Utah offense this year, and his play in the lone two summer league games (in Utah) he took part in did nothing to derail that. Every time he was on the floor it was apparent that he was a man amongst boys out there. He was so much better than the competition that they didn’t even chance injury and kept him out the remainder of their games in Utah and Vegas with a “sore shoulder.” The best part about Hood’s play was that he didn’t even shoot the ball well from long range which is one of his biggest strengths. He did most of his damage by dribble-driving to the basket fearlessly. In two SL games, Hood averaged 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, one steal and got to the foul line nine times. His defense looked improved as well. Look for Hood to beat out Alec Burks for the starting shooting guard gig in Utah and put together a breakout season.
Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics – PG
It was a bit of a roller coaster of a summer for Marcus Smart, who flashed both good and bad in his five games played before it ended with a tough break — literally. It was obvious that Smart was working on his in game 3-point shooting, as he shot a wild 39 treys in 126 minutes of game action. After three games he was sitting at a respectable 37% (10/27) from deep, before shooting a brutal 1/12 in the final two games, including 0/8 in one of those. Smart hit 33% from behind the arc last season, making 1.4 per game, and while it’d be great to see him shoot 5+ per game, more likely is that he sits around four attempts again unless his accuracy improves. Here is his shot chart from deep last season:
So, while Smart doesn’t show any green on his shot chart, he more importantly doesn’t show any red. This all meaning he’s average from everywhere behind the arc, not terrific nor terrible. This tends to mean that there is definitely reason for optimism that his shot will continue to improve from distance in time, but for now he’ll continue to be inconsistent as he was this summer. I talked about Smart’s minutes not getting the bump we had originally expected in my off-season losers article last week. I haven’t even gotten to the worst part of his summer yet. In the fifth game he started in, Smart came down awkwardly on his hand battling for a rebound and dislocated two of his fingers. It looked worse than it is, as he’s only expected to miss a few weeks. Hopefully he’ll be ready at some point during camp. I’ll surely be revisiting the injury and Smart’s role as fantasy draft season nears.
T.J. Warren – Phoenix Suns – SF
The only player to grace the all-Vegas team list each of the last two years, sophomore T.J. Warren who showed great strides in his game this summer even if his stats look pretty similar to the previous year. Here’s a look at his summer numbers the past two years:
Missing from the above is games played. TJ played in five games in the 2014 Vegas summer league and seven this go around. The Suns came up just short in the Vegas tournament, losing to the Becky Hammon led San Antonio Spurs in the championship game. Nobody doubts that Warren can score it, but he doesn’t do much elsewhere, leaving him as just a ‘needs’ fantasy option. Despite his big scoring, Warren doesn’t hit or rarely even attempt 3-pointers. He went 0/4 from deep both last year and this year in SL, and in 40 regular season games last season he was just 5/21. With Marcus Morris out of town though, Warren should see around 25 minutes a night behind starter P.J. Tucker, and he will be a better option in fantasy points leagues, or if you’re just needing a scorer with upside in the later rounds.
Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers – C
When I tell you the table is set for Myles Turner to be a fantasy beast right away, I mean it. In just three summer games in Orlando, Myles played 29 minutes per night and averaged 18.7 points, 8.3 boards, 4.3 rejections(!!!) while shooting 60% from the field and 80% from the foul line. That’s not all, Myles also showed that the talk of his smooth shooting stroke wasn’t just a college perk. The big man out of Texas hit 2-of-3 from treyville as well. While it’d be fantastic for Turner to hit a three-ball per night, he only averaged 0.5 in college, and while that’s nothing to “wow” over, you wouldn’t complain getting 41 treys from a center this year. Myles FT-shooting is for real, too as he shot 83% from the line last season.
With Roy Hibbert already moved to the Lakers, the starting center gig is Turners to lose, and with just Ian Mahinmi behind him, he shouldn’t have any issues securing the job from day one. He may not play mega minutes since the Pacers want to play some small ball with Paul George at the 4 and also Jordan Hill being able to play some 5 as well, but Turner should still see 25-30 minutes a night right away if he can just manage to stay out of foul trouble. He had 14 fouls in three SL games, eight were in one game (you’re allowed 10 in SL before being fouled out). Look for Turner to shoot up draft boards if his good play continues into the preseason. The shooting and especially blocks upside is too high to ignore.
Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons – SF
Stanley Johnson is the real freaking deal. The rookie out of Arizona was a standout performer in the Orlando summer league. He was another player you knew was above the competition. Now, this is summer league, so the competition isn’t always elite and it’s easier to pad your stats when you’re the number one guy on the team rather than when surrounded by Brandon Jennings, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, but Stanley left no question in anyone’s minds that he was going to be a really good NBA player. In 5 games, he played 27 minutes and lit up the box score for 16 points, 6.8 rebounds, two assists, one triple, 1.8 steals and one block per game. Stanley was a solid 5/12 (42%) from 3-point land and shot an impressive 57% from the field, but he only made 60% of his free throws. I wouldn’t stress the foul shooting right now though since he was able to hit 74% in college.
When the Pistons dealt for Suns winger Marcus Morris, it was assumed that he’d be the teams starting SF to start the year, but SJ has absolutely shown that he’s going to put up a fight for that title. Either way, Detroit is likely to not run Stanley into the ground right away. So, I would imagine he’ll play 20-24 minutes early on and if he continues to play at a high level his playing time would rise. Johnson has also been killing it in the Drew League and is really building his reputation as an all out baller. I strongly advise you check out this two minute clip of SJ and new teammate Drummond playing together in the Drew League, ballerific stuff. SJ shows off some handles, big slams and that he can be lethal from distance, all with swagger. Don’t snooze on this kid.
Emmanuel Mudiay – Denver Nuggets – PG
Emmanuel Mudiay played pretty well in four summer league games with 30 MPG – 12 PPG – 3.5 RPG – 5.8 APG – 1.2 SPG but his issue this season will continue to be his percentages. He shot just shy of 39% from the field this summer and just 50% from the foul line. Both of those will need to improve for him to be a reliable fantasy option. With Denver dealing Ty Lawson to Houston, it left the keys to the starting PG job to Mudiay. He’ll get plenty of minutes and time to work on his game live in action, much like Elfrid Payton did last year. Mudiay will be worth owning in all formats this year, but don’t move him up too terribly high because it will be a bumpy rookie road.
Frank Kaminsky – Charlotte Hornets – PF/C
Frank Kaminsky may not look near as flashy as the aforementioned rookies, but he has the offensive skills to be a fantasy factor in his rookie season. He showed his ability to score the ball in Orlando SL averaging 15 PPG while also grabbing down 7.8 boards in 32 minutes. His shooting efficiency could be frustrating at times especially if teams limit his ability to get shots at the rim. Big Frank blocked 1.5 shots per game over his junior and senior years at Wisconsin but don’t look for him to keep that high of an average up against the big boys. I’d think 0.8 BPG in his rookie year is more likely.
It doesn’t hurt that he only has Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller to hold off in the power forward position battle. There’s definitely some defensive worries here and when Charlotte rolls out Kaminsky and Al Jefferson together, their good opponents will basically be getting free buckets in the paint at will. Although the Hornets don’t have many other alternatives there unless they use Kidd-Gilchrist at the 4 some times. Minutes in the low-20s is the best bet for the early part of Frank’s rookie campaign anyways. More than likely he won’t be drafted in most standard leagues unless it’s an end of draft flier.
Mario Hezonja – Orlando Magic – SG/SF
The Magic have desperately needed to add a player who can knock down triples, and they definitely got their man in Mario Hezonja out of Spain. Mario isn’t just a shooter though. While he absolutely does have the cajones to take and hit a game winning trey, he can also take it to the rim and reap your soul with a big time jam.
Mario will serve as an off the bench scoring spark in Orlando backing up both of Victor Oladipo at SG and Tobias Harris/Aaron Gordon at SF. Mario’s 6’8″ frame allows him to play at either spot and will be looked at frequently to stretch the floor where most of the Magic crew aren’t real threats from deep, yet. Mario will probably be a 17-20 MPG guy out of the gate and if he proves his worth, that should creep up as the season goes on. Not a draft day target yet, but definitely one to monitor, especially if a Magic wing were to get injured.
Jahlil Okafor – Philadelphia 76ers – C
Jahlil Okafor became A LOT more valuable to both the 76ers and fantasy GMs once it was announced that Joel Embiid would miss the entire 2015-16 season. As I mentioned in this pre-draft article, Okafor is already a gifted offensive player. He has the footwork and a nice touch around the rim, but the big fella definitely has his flaws, too. Already in summer league Okafor looked lazy or disinterested at times, and while this is just summer league and he may feel he’s above this, it’s not something I like to see. Jah shot just 44% over five games and an even worse than anticipated 39% from the foul line, but he managed to rack up 15.8 points, 8.4 boards and 1.4 assists in 30 MPG.
The playing time will be there day one for Okafor. His efficiency will be a bit of a roller coaster, his lack of defensive stats, plus very bad foul shooting leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I doubt I’ll own Jahlil in any leagues this year even if he does end up with solid scoring and rebounding numbers.
Karl Anthony-Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves – PF/C
I won’t lie, I was expecting to see a better Karl Anthony-Towns in the Vegas summer league, but he really struggled at times. Over time he’s going to be really good as he improves his offensive game, because he has all the tools to be a well-rounded fantasy big man IF he can stay out of foul trouble. 9-4-9-2-7, that’s not his rebound numbers, that’s the fouls he totaled in each of the five games he took part in this summer, yikes! With that foul trouble and the 39% shooting from the field, there’s big cause for concern about KAT in his rookie season. He will still remain relevant and worthy of owning though, due to his decent points, solid boards and blocks while being a plus-FT shooter.
Obviously more rookies took part this summer, but I can’t cover everyone in this piece, so be on the lookout for a lot more rookie content coming soon, including some dynasty league rookie rankings and analysis.
QUICK SUMMER NOTES
– Pierre Jackson returned with the 76ers after looking good last summer before tearing his ACL. He did his thing once again and got himself a 4-year contract with the team. With only Isaiah Canaan and Tony Wroten ahead of him headed into camp, I like Pierre to get good minutes right away and eventually start at the point in Philly. Legit fantasy sleeper potential here.
– Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic is a guy that even as a Magic fan, I wasn’t all that high on because I didn’t like how he was a tweener (not quite a PF or a SF) who seemed to try and force shots and drives last season when he was healthy. His defense though, was spectacular and has a lot more upside to go. I was starting to label him as an off the bench defender on a good team, but he looked much improved with his handles and pull-up jumper this summer. He’s one to keep a sharp eye on, because if his hot streak carries over to October, he will be moving up draft boards.
– While Kyle Anderson was phenomenal this summer, the simple truth is he’s stuck behind Kawhi Leonard on the depth chart. Kyle won’t be worth drafting this year.
– The Mavs had two guys really catch everyone’s eye this summer in rookie Justin Anderson and second year pro Dwight Powell. Neither will be due for big minutes right away but both should be monitored in case of another Parsons injury (Anderson would likely draw starts) or if Powell becomes the primary backup power forward over Jeremy Evans and Charlie Villanueva.
– Noah Vonleh played in four games and knocked down five treys, shooting 55% FG and 76% FT. Noah also averaged 17 points and 8.5 boards in 29 minutes per. Vonleh looked like a guy the Blazers needed to keep in the big man rotation this year no matter how crowded their frontcourt is. His minutes and production will be inconsistent because of the depth chart chaos, his rawness on offense and his lack of defensive skills. So, keep an eye on him, but he’s not a draft target at the time being.
– While it was good to see Julius Randle out there healthy for few games, he greatly struggled on offense. His first-step is killer fast and he gets to the bucket with ease but he has a really hard time finishing. He also doesn’t make the appropriate kick out pass when defenders collapse on him.
– Seth Curry — brother of NBA MVP Steph Curry — led the Vegas summer league with 24.3 PPG shooting 46% from the field despite being just 22% from long range. Seth was signed to a two-year deal by the Kings where he’ll be just smothered on the depth chart and at best an end of the rotation scorer. No fantasy relevance aside from 30-team leagues as of now.
For more fantasy hoops analysis and to have any questions you may have answered, follow Zack on Twitter @BigZack44