Best Rookies of the 2015 NBA Summer League

If you’ve looked at our complete beginners guide to sports betting or our guide to handicapping basketball, then you already know that one of the most important parts of wagering on NBA games (or any sport, for that matter) is looking at player stats and matching them against each other. And while the 2015-2016 NBA season isn’t set to start until October 27, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to already have some stats figured out beforehand. But who should you be looking at this far ahead of the game? Well, to answer that question, we look to the 2015 NBA Summer League.

The 2015 NBA Summer League took place in Orlando, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. To help you figure out which up and coming players to look out for when next season rolls around, we’ll recap some of the best rookie performances at each of these three competitions and talk about what we expect to see from each of these talented players as we look forward to the start of the regular season.

Orlando Pro Summer League

The Orlando Pro Summer League kicked off the 2015 NBA Summer League games. At the end of it, the Orlando Magic offered rookie swingman Mario Hezonja a multi-million dollar contract that will increase his salary from $3.7 million as a rookie to $5.2 million by 2019. Hezonja only played two games in Orlando, but that was enough to impress GM Rob Hennigan. He was quoted as saying that Hezonja’s games in the 2015 NBA Summer League showed “a lot of what we expected just in terms of his intensity and his competitiveness, his energy.” Hennigan also said that Hezonja seems to be establishing a camaraderie with teammate Aaron Gordon.

Gordon isn’t a rookie in the strictest sense of the word, but the young forward didn’t have much of a chance to establish himself after he broke his foot last year and had to sit out for most of the season. The 2015 NBA Summer League gave him a chance to show off his skills, and he definitely made the most of his opportunity. In three games, he shot fifty percent from the field and maintained a point average of 21.7 with an average of 11.7 rebounds. His jump shot seems to be a bit stronger than it was before his injury. On the third day of the Orlando Pro Summer League, when the Orlando Magic Blue team faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gordon was the leading scorer despite his team’s loss.

Joe Young, a guard chosen by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, inked a four-year deal for $4 million after netting 28 points and becoming the leading scorer against the Orlando Magic Blue team in the 7th-place game of the Orlando Pro Summer League’s Championship Day. He’s got a lot of speed behind him, and he appears to be a naturally gifted strategist as well. Assistant coach Dan Burke, who previously thought that Young was “a little too wild,” was more than a tad bit impressed by his efforts.

Young’s teammate, center Myles Turner, surprised more than a few people with his performance in the first leg of the 2015 NBA Summer League. Despite his extraordinary height of seven feet, his college career left something to be desired. But Turner managed to gain 20 points and 8 rebounds in his first Orlando Pro game this summer, averaging 18.7 points and 8 rebounds across all three of his games. He still doesn’t have much prowess for three-pointers, and his defense could use some work, but he’s looking like the type of player that the Pacers could mold into a real contender next year.

The Detroit Pistons came in fourth on Championship Day of the Orlando Pro Summer League, and rookie forward Stanley Johnson helped them get there. Shooting 58% from the floor, Johnson’s offense was difficult to stop. He defense wasn’t too bad either, keeping his opponents from scoring on multiple occasions. Like some of the other rookies on this list, no one thought much of Johnson when he was drafted into the NBA. His performance during the 2015 NBA Summer League might change that a bit.

Justise Winslow played four different positions for the Miami Heat during his summer debut in Orlando, making him one of the more versatile rookies of the 2015 NBA Summer League. At the Heat’s opening game in Orlando, Winslow put 15 points on the board and helped his team to triumph over Indiana. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make a single rebound. He’s acknowledged this, saying that rebounds and free throws are the two aspects of his game on which he would most like to improve.

Russ Smith, rookie point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, helped his team win on Championship Day against the Orlando Magic Blue team when he sank a sudden death floater in double overtime. According to Orlando writer Josh Cohen, Smith would have been the Orlando Summer League Finals MVP if such a designation actually existed. He had forty total assists during the first stretch of the 2015 NBA Summer League, with 28 free throw attempts. It’s only a few seconds long, but the Bleacher Report has posted a video of his game-winning shot.

Also establishing himself in the Orlando Pro Summer League was Branden Dawson, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was especially notable in the team’s finale. While he missed his only three-point attempt, he led the team in scoring with a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Utah Jazz Summer League

Only four teams played in the Salt Lake City leg of the 2015 NBA Summer League games: the Utah Jazz, the Philadelphia 76ers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Celtics. In Utah’s first game, Australian guard Dante Exum topped the best regulation performance of his rookie season with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (the most assists on his team). Unfortunately, he was cut from the game rather early on due to what looked like an excruciating ankle injury. According to his teammate, forward Rodney Hood, it was just a sprain.

Hood was the leading scorer for his team in Utah’s opening 100-82 win against the Boston Celtics, putting 23 points on the board. While he didn’t put up a lot of three-pointers, he established himself as a key offensive player with a wide array of talents. And his first game wasn’t completely devoid of three-point shots. He put up at least one that barely even seemed to touch the rim. This is something of a theme when it comes to Hood’s game; lay-ups, jump shots, you name it…the kid’s shots are clean. Nothin’ but net will suffice for Rodney Hood.

Utah’s rookies played an amazing first game (not to mention winning the Utah Jazz Summer League with 3 wins and 0 losses), but the Philadelphia 76ers had a couple of pretty strong rooks as well. Richaun Holmes averaged a low-yet-respectable 11 points and 5.5 rebounds in the first few Salt Lake City games of the 2015 NBA Summer League. The Sixers haven’t formally added him to the roster, and his performance might not be strong enough to warrant such action on their part. Even so, the 2015 NBA Summer League is the first chance he’s had to play a real game after college, so he’s satisfied to learn the ropes for now and hustle up the energy needed to adjust to the shot clock.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about the Sixers without mentioning recent draft pick Jahlil Okafor. The team’s new center was one of the main attractions during the 2015 NBA Summer League games, playing about thirty minutes in each of his three Utah games with averages of 14.7 points and 8 rebounds. He had 20 points and 9 rebounds in the team’s first game alone, although his defense wasn’t everything it could have been. Even so, a lot of fans are expecting great things from him over the coming year.

Haitian center Cady Lalanne is one of the standout rookies for the San Antonio Spurs. His averages of 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds during the Salt Lake City leg of the 2015 NBA Summer League shows that his offense could use some improvement, but scouting director Brian Pauga is confident that the kid shows potential. He also shows an extraordinary level of persistence, having dealt with adversity in college due to his status as an illegal immigrant. He was forced to move back to Haiti while the issue was sorted out, during which time he came face-to-face with a shaky socioeconomic climate (not to mention a number of men with guns). Given what he’s been through, a few struggles with his offense should be a cakewalk.

Lalanne’s teammate, forward Kyle Anderson, was among the best players on San Antonio’s team during the Utah stretch of the 2015 NBA Summer League games. He had the most rebounds on the team in the first and third games, and he was the leading scorer on Day 2 with 25 points. His ball handling wasn’t at its best, resulting in five turnovers. Even so, his aggressive offensive strategies should establish himself as a key player for the team when next season comes around.

Marcus Smart, rookie point guard for the Boston Celtics, has an interesting history with Utah. The Jazz expressed strong interest in Smart prior to the 2015 NBA Draft, but he refused to work out for them on four separate occasions. Playing in Utah during the 2015 NBA Summer League, he showed them what they were missing. The Celtics didn’t boast a stellar performance at the Utah Jazz Summer League, but Smart was the leading scorer in two of their games, with 26 points in their debut game and 22 points in their finale.

Their finale was actually a decided turnaround for the team; even shooting guard R.J. Hunter, whose performance in the first two games was lackluster at best, managed to sink four three-pointers. Hunter’s now trying to work on his defense and establish himself as a more versatile player.

Las Vegas Summer League

All four teams from the Utah Summer League played in Las Vegas, and the Jazz continued to demonstrate a star rookie performance due to the efforts of forward Trey Lyles. He hasn’t been a very strong offensive player up to this point, but he nabbed 20 points in Utah’s last game of the 2015 NBA Summer League, 12 of which came from three-pointers. His outside shooting isn’t the only aspect of his game that’s been improving, either; he also managed to grab 9 rebounds, helping the team to win 84-78 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Seth Curry isn’t exactly a rookie, but he hasn’t had too many chances to establish a solid reputation for himself. Largely overshadowed by his MVP brother Stephen, he’s been bouncing around from team to team for a couple of years now. Playing for the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2015 NBA Summer League, he was the leading scorer in four of the team’s games as they went undefeated up until the Las Vegas Summer League Semifinals. Now signed by the Sacramento Kings, hopefully he’ll be able to play a longer stint with one team so we can see if he matches up to his older brother.

One of the more interesting performances in Las Vegas was that of undrafted forward Alan Williams. Having played for the Charlotte Hornets in Orlando, he played for the Houston Rockets in Vegas with an average of 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds, with 22 points and 21 rebounds in one of his better games. Unfortunately, we can’t look forward to seeing his skills in the NBA this October, since he just signed on to play in China.

Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay flew in the opposite direction, returning from China for the 2015 NBA Draft. During the Las Vegas leg of the 2015 NBA Summer League, he established himself as a veritable team player, passing the ball with both skill and aplomb. He commented on this in an interview: “I love scoring, too. But everybody can score. Unless we really need it, I’m going to find teammates.” So you can expect some solid team play from Mudiay this coming season.

Toronto Raptors shooting guard Norman Powell started off his appearances in the 2015 NBA Summer League with a strong offense as the lead scorer in his first game with 20 points. His second game was the same story, albeit with one less point on the board. But his offense isn’t what the team finds most attractive right now. They’re more interested in his solid strength as a defensive player. With strong play on both sides of the ball, Powell should work wonders for Toronto this year.

Jerian Grant, playing guard for the New York Knicks, was another one of the top rookie performers of the 2015 NBA Summer League games in Las Vegas. His skill level wasn’t consistent, but the Knicks were satisfied overall with his versatility and his ability to make plays. His contributions to the team during the coming season, however, are somewhat unpredictable at the moment. While the team knows that they can use him in the backcourt, they’re not sure how many minutes they’re willing to give him. They’ll likely start him off with relatively few at the start of the season, until they see a bit more consistency out of him.

Point guard D’Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers is worthy of mention, although he was far from being one of the best players in Vegas. After being picked second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft after his freshman year of college, his appearance in the 2015 NBA Summer League gave Russell a chance to prove himself at a professional level. Unfortunately, more than a quarter of his possessions resulted in turnovers, and his averages of 11.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, while not terrible, did not establish him as the strong performer that many had expected. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should write him off this season. His passing play was impressive, and the team believes that the pain of living down his Summer League performance might help motivate him to reach greater heights when the 2015-2016 season rolls around.

Having addressed one of the less solid rookie performances in the Las Vegas Summer League, it’s time to address one of the best. Nineteen-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns is by far a fan favorite this summer. Playing center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he won over a number of people as the best rookie in Las Vegas, and possibly in the 2015 NBA Summer League at large. He scored a double-double in his best game of the summer, with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He also established himself as a skilled team player, passing the ball with remarkable precision when he was double teamed by the opposition. The T-Wolves ultimately lost the game, but they gained some valuable insight into one of their best rookie’s capabilities.