LAS VEGAS — You don’t have to be a basketball junkie to love the NBA Summer League, especially if the venue is Las Vegas, Nevada. For the general admission price of $25 you get to watch a slew of games at Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, and if you’re paying attention you could bump into some celebrities or NBA executives. That’s like watching four live shows for the same price you would pay for a dinner buffet at Mandalay Bay.
One of the perks of being the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net is I get to make the pilgrimage to Sin City each summer to observe and absorb what is fast becoming one of the best shows on the Vegas Strip. A list of who’s hot and who’s not at the Vegas Summer League.
Jonas Valanciunas — The Toronto Raptors second-year pro looks like he’s added some muscle during the offseason and is ready to start from Day 1. Valanciunas went to work in his first summer league game, dominating the paint and scoring 20 points on just eight shots in the first 20 minutes of the game, most of them coming against Miami Heat center Jarvis Varnado. The 21-year-old Lithuanian averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds a game and named the MVP of the Vegas summer league. If Valanciunas continues to develop, the Raptors could have their center of the present and future to go with wing studs Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan.
Cody Zeller — After a rough first game, the former Indiana University standout showed what he’s all about in his second and third games for the Charlotte Bobcats. He posted 21 points and 13 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks, and then had 18 and 10 against the New York Knicks on 7-for-11 shooting from field. Zellar has been consistently knocking down his 18-20 footer, which makes his drives to the basket even more potent. Charlotte will be a much-improved team for the 2013-14 season led by Zeller, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and newly acquired center Al Jefferson. Michael Jordan has finally figured out how this owner thing works.
C.J. McCollum — The Portland Trail Blazers must be doing cartwheels again this offseason after hitting the jackpot for the second straight season after drafting Lehigh star C.J. McCollum. McCollum has been better than advertised, showing a knack for creating offense when set plays break down. Also, his competitive spirit and intangibles are off the charts. He nearly single-handedly brought back the Blazers with 22 points in a tournament game against Phoenix. McCollum scored in a variety of ways, and was very patient coming off high screen-and-rolls. He should provide Portland with another perimeter stud to run with reigning rookie of the year Damian Lillard.
Austin Rivers — What a difference a year makes. At last year’s Vegas summer league, Rivers appeared like a freshman being rushed into an older fraternity. He was trying so hard to fit in that he often made mistakes along the way. This year, however, Rivers looks more comfortable — and quicker. He plays with more force on his forays to the basket and seems to have a better idea on how to attack a defense. Rivers has been playing a lot of point this summer for the New Orleans Pelicans, which leads us to believe that he’ll be the backup to Jrue Holiday or spell Eric Gordon at shooting guard.
Ben McLemore — The Sacramento Kings guard suffered through a rough shooting game in his summer league debut, making just four of 23 shots from the field and looked a bit overwhelmed. He followed that awful performance with an even worse performance in his second game, missing his first seven 3-point attempts and finished the game just 4-for-12 from the field. A lot of McLemore’s 3-point shots weren’t even close to the rim, and some didn’t touch it. He just needs to settle down and move inside the line to get his stroke back.
Otto Porter Jr. — Speaking of struggling to find his stroke, the Washington Wizards forward is in the same boat as McLemore. Porter has been short on most of his misses, which means he’s not getting enough lift on his jumper. He also needs to be a little stronger with the ball as defenders are able to push him out of his favorite spots. Porter has good length and decent athletically, so he should be able to adjust to the pro game in due time.
Myck Kabongo — The former Texas Longhorn went undrafted in June and now we know why. He struggled during the Orlando summer league and he’s struggling again in the Vegas summer league. Kabongo is listed at 6-1 but he looks like he’s south of six feet. His ability to blow by defenders was suppose to be a strength, but he hasn’t shown it enough. And he’s a reluctant shooter, which makes it harder to create floor space. The Miami Heat could still invite Kabongo to training camp, but he will have a hard time supplanting either Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole at the point.
Meyers Leonard — There were scouts and experts who actually thought Leonard was a top-10 player in the 2012 draft. That’s a bit of a head-scratcher because Leonard has draft bust written all over him. He doesn’t rebound well in traffic and doesn’t play big in the middle. He’s very limited offensively and for some reason has fallen in love with the 3-ball. The Blazers have had a string of bad luck when it comes to centers and, unfortunately, Leonard is going to continue this sad tradition. To put in mildly, he’s a poor man’s Frank Brickowski. Sorry, Frank.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.