It’s hard to write something about Summer League without giving a sort of perspective on it. People should know: Summer League is a completely different beast than regular basketball. Unfortunately, SL comes at a time when all basketball fans are in desperate need of a basketball fix. There’s a certain buzz about it, which is a credit to the NBA for raising the SL’s profile. Getting the first glimpse at a John Wall at such a dead time for hoop fans only raises expectations when it shouldn’t.
Let’s just be honest from the start: the quality of basketball in Summer League is not all that great. There are times when you can get the same quality watching a pickup run with college players. If I were David Stern I would make a reality show off a SL team. Think about it…It’s an odd mishmash of rookies trying to get their feet wet, second or third year players who may or may not want to be there, journeymen trying to catch on anywhere and some people there for the party. Sometimes that leads to players doing too much, going too fast, and a lot of whistles. If you’ve been watching the Orlando Summer League, you pretty much know what to expect from it.
The Blazers are in a unique situation in that they will be showcasing 5 players who have attachments to the team (Pendergraph, Cunningham, Babbitt, Mills, Johnson). As a fan this has to be seen as an ideal situation. It gives you more time to look into the future and truly look at your own talent instead of wishing ‘Man I wish Pooh Jeter would pass the ball’ (sorry Pooh) or desperately looking for a roster sheet/Google. That being said, I would keep the expectations low. Summer League is Summer League, yes it can give you a glimpse into a player, but it is not going to give you the whole book. Example: remember how awful Nic Batum looked in Summer League? Now there are Blazer fans who wouldn’t trade him for Chris Paul. Also, remember how great Qyntel Woods used to look in Summer League? Every Summer he would trick Blazer fans by dominating and then would just end up being the same old Q. For pete’s sakes Adam Morrison averaged 20 last year and he stopped making baskets in November.
The title may say projections, but I’m moreso going to list what I want to see from each players involved. Like I said before, in Summer League stats don’t matter. Luke Babbitt can go average 33, but if it takes him 28 shots to get it should I really be impressed? To truly analyze a player on this odd platform, you have to look at the little things.
- Jeff Pendergraph: Want to see a more physical presence on the boards and defensively. Easy to expect a lot from someone in their 2nd summer league, but let’s keep the expectations low. Pendergraph has shown potential to be a ‘junkyard dog’ or ‘enforcer’ for the Blazers, this platform will give him a great avenue to continue working on those things. He’s already shown an ability to hit a mid-range jumper, so how he operates on the low block is more important. Stronger post defense and an even more beastly attitude on the glass will go a long way.
- Dante Cunningham: An ability to defend against smaller, more athletic players. I don’t know if he’ll get the chance, but if Cunningham can start guarding 2’s and 3’s, the Blazers become even more dangerous. Then, you can throw Cunningham out there at the 4 and switch all sorts of ballscreens and cause havoc defensively. Improved perimeter defense from Cunningham will soften the blow of losing Martell Webster’s activity on that end. Also, we’d like to see more aggressive offense from Cunningham. At times he can look hesitant and unsure of himself. In his second year, those jitters should be gone. You know what else wouldn’t hurt his cause? An improved mid-range jumper. Coup and myself both stated last year that if he could stick that mid-range jumper, he’ll be in the L a long time. He’s shown he can, now he needs to take it to the next level.
- Luke Babbitt: From Babbit, I’ll be looking for a couple things. Babbitt has the offensive skillset to potentially explode at Summer League. I want to see if he’s able to get his shot off easily against longer, athletic opponents. I want to see if he can create offense on his own, or if he’s going to have to have it created for him. If it’s the latter, there isn’t much difference between Babbitt 1.0 and Webster 6.0. Also, I’ll be looking at how he plays defensively. The easy thing to try and see is if he can keep guys in front, which is important. However, I want to see how physical he plays. How he rebounds and how he fits into a team defensive scheme. There are a lot of poor defenders in the NBA who look better because they fit into the team’s scheme.
- Armon Johnson: An ability to finish at the rim. His tagline is that he is a physical, slashing guard who can finish. Similar to Bayless in some respects. At Summer League, playing the off-guard, he should have the ability to show off his ability to create.
- Patty Mills: Comfort running the show. A part of us died last summer when Mills was injured and could not participate. What Mills has to show, is a comfort in running the offense. We know about the quicks and the potential, but can he groom that into consistency. He could prove to be a vital piece for the Blazers in the future, I’m just excited to get an extended look at him.