Nate Robinson, 5-9, Point Guard, New York Knicks, 1984
19.6 Points, 6.0 Assists, 3.6 Rebounds, 4.2 Turnovers, 48.3% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 81.1% FT
Regardless of where he falls on this list, Robinson was one of the top players in the Summer League, and showed just how talented of a player he is in this setting. He got his shot off at will, and while his shot selection wasnt perfect, he was knocking down his jumpers at a very high clip. What made Robinson stand out from many of the other point guards in attendance was the fact that he was beating his man off the dribble in addition to shooting the ball well. The fact of the matter is that Robinson is just too athletic to be contained at the Summer League level, and was able to do whatever he wanted offensively.
Though Robinson put on a show offensively, he hasnt developed as much as some of the players he was matched up with. His court vision is tremendous, but he tends to over dribble at times, leading to bad passes and turnovers. It would have been nice to see him make better decisions with the ball to show off his improved point guard skills, but some of his mistakes can be attributed to the environment in which he was playing. The Knicks found themselves with such big leads that it almost seemed like they lost focus at time, which probably contributed to Robinsons sloppy point guard play quite a bit. He tried to make some unnecessarily fancy passes, and while some of them led to highlights, others wound up creating transition opportunities for defenders.
The Knicks lack of urgency was also conducive to the way Robinson played defense as well. He hawked the ball effectively in the half court, but was reaching for the ball significantly more than he would in a regular season contest. This aggressiveness led to fouls more often than it led to steals. However, the officials had a lot to do with his discrepancy between steals and fouls.
It is hard to fault Robinson for the fact that the Knicks were too dominant for their own good in Vegas, because he was the best player on the best team. His court demeanor was less serious than many of his teammates, making his sentiments about the Summer League pretty clear. When the NBA season roles around, it will be intriguing to see if Robinson adjusts his level of play to his competition like he did in Vegas. Robinson will be spelling Stephon Marbury off the bench once again, and will have to really put in work to increase his minutes due to the depth Isaiah Thomas will enjoy next season.
Aaron Brooks, 6-1, Point Guard, Houston Rockets, 1985
21.4 Points, 5.2 Assists, 3.2 Rebounds, 3.6 Turnovers, 46.1% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 85.7% FT
No one may have proven more during this Summer League than Aaron Brooks. He showed the shot making ability and range of a seasoned NBA player. Brooks can punish opponents when left open, and was lights-out from three-point range all week. Brooks ability to hit the NBA three should fit in well next to Tracy McGrady should the two ever get the chance to play together. One thing that Brooks did show in Vegas was a propensity to take off balance shots from the perimeter. On the vast majority of his touches, Brooks either broke his man down off the dribble or shot the ball before his man could get a hand up.
What made Brooks offense game seem so seasoned was the way he used his quickness in Houstons offense. He moved surprisingly well off the ball, freeing himself by using screens and cutting backdoor for open looks at an alarming rate. This uncanny ability to create separation made Brooks lack of height a non-factor, which is a very promising sign for a player of his stature. However, he couldnt compensate for his size around the rim. He got to the rim with little resistance, but wasnt finishing as consistently as Nate Robinson or Jose Juan Barea. He doesnt have touch like Barea or explosiveness like Robinson, but falls somewhere between the two. He will need to develop a go to move when driving to the rim to be effective on the NBA level.
As a point guard, Brooks showed some inconsistency, interspersing his good decisions with bad ones. His turnover numbers were somewhat misleading, as his teammates dropped a handful of passes around the rim that a player like Yao Ming would have gobbled up easily. His teammates dont shoulder all of blame for his turnovers though, as Brooks made showed his lack of maturity frequently. At times, Brooks almost seemed to be in too big of a hurry going to the rim, leading to poor decisions with the ball. These problems will be remedied over time as Brooks gains experience and learns how to finish without needing as much space as he was trying to create by rushing to the rim.
Brooks showed above average intensity on the defense end, but didnt create a lot of turnovers. At this juncture, it appears that Rafer Alston and John Lucas III are the two most likely candidates to leave Houston, leaving Brooks playing the role of third point guard. With James and Francis occasionally playing at the two, Brooks could even see the minutes of a backup. While Brooks earned more playing time than anyone could have expected in Vegas, he still faces an uphill battle for time in Houston.
D.J. Strawberry, 6-5, Guard, Phoenix Suns, 1985
15.6 Points, 6.4 Assists, 3.0 Rebounds, 4.8 Turnovers, 1.4 Steals, 0.8 Blocks, 40.6% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 66.7% FT
The first thing Strawberry needs is a shooting coach, which is something that has always been known about him. His stroke isnt consistent enough for him to be a good shooter, but his shots fall when it looks smooth. This is indicative of a need for extra practice and game reps. Outside of Strawberrys lack of consistency from mid and long range, he showed some nice tools this week. Strawberry doesnt have the most refined handle, but he is big enough that he can blow by most point guards due to his length and athleticism. The moves he utilizes around the rim are predictable, but they got the job done for the most part. The only player to really cause Strawberry problems around the basket was another player on this list, Louis Amundson, who blocked him repeatedly due to Strawberry not being able to explode to the rim around the quicker Louis Williams.
As a point guard, Strawberry looked surprisingly crisp, moving the ball well and getting his teammates open looks. He did a spectacular job creating offense in transition, and wound up leaving Vegas as its 2007 assist leader. Unfortunately, he committed quite a few turnovers because he isnt a threat from the outside. There were numerous situations where Strawberry was forced to drive or hesitate when he had ample time and space to shoot a jump shot. Once Strawberry gets comfortable with his range, he will no longer have to force the ball into the paint, or pull up for a mid-range shot he really doesnt want to take.
Strawberry lands this high on this list due to his defense, since no one stood out more in this aspect of the game than he did. Strawberry gets in a low defensive stance on every play, and doesnt give his man any space. He hawks the ball from the opening horn to the final buzzer, and generally makes things miserable for his opposition. His hands are tremendous, and he started using them much more intelligently after recording 8 fouls in his first contest. Strawberrys ability to guard three positions, rotate effective from the weakside, and help out on the glass make him significantly more valuable than his numbers indicate.
As Strawberry embarks on his first NBA season, he should look to teammate Raja Bell for guidance. Early in his career, Bell found himself in much the same situation as Strawberry is in now. He was a great defender who didnt have a good enough jump shot to garner minutes. Strawberry is in a little bit different of a situation considering he is more athletic and versatile than Bell was, but he desperately needs to transform his shooting ability the way Bell did. Strawberry could play some spot minutes this year for Phoenix, but wont make a legitimate impact on the NBA level offensively until defenders have to respect his jump shot.
Louis Amundson, 6-9, Power Forward, Philadelphia 76ers, 1982
12.6 Points, 8.4 Rebounds, 1.6 Turnovers, 2.3 Blocks, 58.6% FG, 53.2% FT
On the offensive end, Amundson works hard for everything he gets. He fights for position on the block, and never gives up on offensive rebounds. Amundsons rebounding numbers arent representative of his impact on the glass, since he tips numerous misses to teammates and grabs essentially every loose ball even remotely in his area. Though his jumper isnt terribly consistent, it can be a weapon when he has time and space. Most of Amundsons baskets this week came from dunks and layups off of posts up, fast breaks, and pick and rolls. Amundson finishes quite a few tip dunks, since he runs the floor so hard behind the initial break.
Amundson is dynamite at using pump fakes when he faces resistance around the rim, and protects the ball with his body to get to the line. Amundson appeared to have turned things around from the line early in the Summer League, but quickly reverted back to his inconsistent nature. The only positive on that front is that his shot appears to have much more touch, and that is something that wasnt true about his stroke from the line in the past.
Defensively, Amundson goes after every shot that goes up in his vicinity. Though he doesnt always get the block, he does a sound job of altering shots without fouling. In back to the basket situations, Amundson doesnt give up any easy buckets, fronting his man and using leverage to take away passing angles. One of the things that made Amundson an effective defender this week was his competitiveness. Amundson is not afraid to get dunked on, and didnt back down from anyone in any situation.
It is hard not to enjoy watching Amundson play, as he does all the little things to help his team win. Take his screen setting ability for example; Amundson gets low and wide when setting screens, making it easy for his teammates to rub their man off and turn the corner. While things like that wont show up in the boxscore, they are the things that made Amundsons performances in Vegas and Salt Lake City so impressive. Amundson was easily the hardest working player in the Summer League, and he did his best work on a sprained ankle that caused him to miss an entire game. His production while injured is a telling example of type of player he is.
Craig Smith, 6-7, Power Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves, 1983
21.8 Points, 1.8 Assists, 6.0 Rebounds, 3.8 Turnovers, 1.2 Blocks, 62.9% FG, 75.6% FT
One of the most impressive things about Smiths new physique is how well he creates space down low with his footwork. Once Smith gets the ball with a man on his back, he can pivot quickly enough to seal his man for easy layups. Once Smith has a step on his man, he is simply too big and strong for his man to regain position. This often gets him to the line or draws help defenders. Smith found himself getting double-teamed pretty frequently in Vegas, and while he didnt always make the best passes, he began making better reads and sending the ball to open teammates on the perimeter more frequently as time went on.
Smith showed a handful of nice post moves this week, including a nifty spinning hook over his left shoulder. Though Smith doesnt use many finesse moves around the basket, he possesses nice touch. Even when he was at Boston College, Smith had an advanced back to the basket game, and he has truly embraced this aspect of his game. He ran the floor hard in Vegas, and always went straight to the block to find contact and create passing lanes for his guards. Smiths ability to get and maintain position serves him well on the offensive glass too, as he is able to eat up space and anticipate bounces.
What Smith lacks in speed defensively, he makes up for with strength and explosiveness. Though Smith doesnt jump out of the gym, he is a steady shot blocker due to his anticipation and football-player-like athleticism. He wont have an easy time defending quicker and taller players, and could still use to shed a little bit more weight to optimize his physical conditioning.
Smith looked extremely impressive this week, and would be a great compliment to Kevin Garnett should Minnesota decide to play the two together. Mark Blount is a nice option, but Smith can handle contact down low substantially better. If Smith can further improve his conditioning, he could surprise a lot of people this season with his production.