Over the first three days of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, I got a first look at several of this year's key newcomers. Here are thoughts on the rookies who stood out to me as particularly interesting.
THE TOP PICKS
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte - With Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis busy with the USA Olympic team, Kidd-Gilchrist was the top pick in action on the UNLV campus. Kidd-Gilchrist was impressive on Friday, playing a key role in the Bobcats' 2-2-1 press that confounded the unsuspecting Kings and finishing in transition. What I like most about Kidd-Gilchrist is that he never makes the game more difficult than it needs to be. He is always under control and makes the right decision.
Bradley Beal, Washington - Beal and the Wizards played the first three days of action, and I caught the first two games. Really, Beal did nothing to change my impression of him from Florida. He's smooth in the open court, a solid ballhandler for an off-guard who can make the occasional play for teammates but prefers to call his own number, and probably rightfully so.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland - For better or worse, Waiters is a freight train off the dribble, picking up speed and using his strength in traffic. During Sunday's summer debut, that often worked against Waiters, resulting in charges. Waiters must look for teammates and expand his pull-up game, while he also needs to develop NBA three range. However, he'll be more effective at getting to the rim when the floor is better spaced.
Thomas Robinson, Sacramento - Robinson struggled with his shooting, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched him against teams with length (like North Carolina) at Kansas. Learning to neutralize shot blockers will be Robinson's biggest adjustment. It's unclear whether the amount of time he spent on the perimeter was a response to this issue, or how the Kings want him to play, envisioning a high-low combination with DeMarcus Cousins. In terms of rebounding and defense, Robinson is ready to contribute now.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State - On Friday, Barnes showed the kind of scoring skill that makes him such a tantalizing prospect. Barnes was making quick decisions and hitting all the way out to three-point range as the Warriors routed a dismal Lakers entry. A day later, those shots weren't falling, and we saw the other side of Barnes' potential. To his credit, Barnes contributed on the glass (and with four steals) on Saturday. That and becoming an impact defender will determine his success or failure in the NBA.
Terrence Ross, Toronto - While Barnes has the far greater pedigree, there is a lot of similarity between him and Ross, who went one pick later. Like Barnes, Ross had one good shooting night and one tougher effort. He supplemented his weaker game Sunday with nine trips to the foul line, and is more capable at the defensive end when matched against twos, giving him a size advantage.
OTHER ROOKIES OF NOTE
Donatas Motiejunas, Houston - Motiejunas provided a nice reminder of the danger of small sample size with his two performances over the first two days in Vegas. After dominating Toronto with 25 points and nine rebounds in his impressive debut, Motiejunas was a non-factor against Washington on Saturday, finishing with one point and missing all five of his shot attempts. Motiejunas' activity will serve him well in the NBA, in conjunction with his size. He's also skilled in the post. Still, expect the kind of inconsistency we saw during the summer to continue into his rookie season.
Evan Fournier, Denver - Fournier proved somewhat more skilled than I expected from reading scouting reports and looking at his numbers. He shoots the ball with confidence from NBA three range, but what really impressed me was Fournier's ability to make plays off the dribble. Fournier will struggle at the defensive end before he adds strength, but his skills will demand he play occasionally right away.
Tony Wroten, Memphis - As I wrote about for the SSSBDA blog, Wroten's unexpectedly strong shooting was one of the stories of day two of Vegas action. Besides his shooting, the other questions about Wroten center on his decision-making. He had plenty of turnovers Saturday (four in all), but kept his ratio of good decisions to bad decisions high enough to be productive. Observers unfamiliar with Wroten's game quickly got an impression of his elite court vision, as well as his penchant for throwing risky passes.
Jeffery Taylor, Charlotte - Paired with Kidd-Gilchrist, Taylor gives the Bobcats a pair of athletes with length on the wing, which might--might--make the 2-2-1 press viable in brief stretches. (With Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined on Sunday, Charlotte struggled to pressure Cleveland.) On Friday, Taylor made everything he threw up at the rim. If he can approximate that on a semi-regular basis, Taylor was a second-round steal.
Tomas Satoransky, Washington - Satoransky was one of the most intriguing prospects on display. On the plus side, I underestimated Satoransky's athleticism. He threw down a pair of highlight-reel dunks and excelled in transition. Satoransky had a more difficult time handling the ball against pressure. He tends to dribble upright, giving smaller defenders ample opportunity to make a play on the ball. Barring further development overseas, that's going to be problematic if he plays as a point guard.
Jae Crowder, Dallas - Crowder, we've quickly established, is one of my favorite rookies. At the defensive end, Crowder played to his potential on Sunday, capably switching into a variety of matchups and covering ground quickly. His strength is a major asset on defense. Nearly everything at the other end was from the perimeter, which led to poor shooting numbers. Crowder still doesn't look comfortable making the NBA three, which he will ultimately have to do.
Draymond Green, Golden State - Coming off the bench, Green played a key role for what might be the best team in the NBA Summer League. Green shot the ball with NBA three range and effectively went up in traffic to collect rebounds against much bigger opponents. The Warriors used Green as a four, which is probably his best position defensively but will cause some issues in terms of help defense because of his limited stature.
Izzet Turkyilmaz, Denver - During Turkyilmaz's first stint on the floor, it wasn't entirely clear why the Nuggets would waste a pick on a rail-thin 7-footer who looked lost. Quickly, Turkyilmaz gained confidence and started dribbling the basketball and attempting passes behind his head. He also showed three-point range. Turkyilmaz should not come over until he's added a considerable amount of strength, but there might be something here.
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