Summer League is upon us once again, and this year will has more importance than in year's past. With so many 1st and 2nd year players on the regular season roster next year gauging the development curve of these young guns is crucial to setting our expectations moving forward.
With a year of seasoning under their belts, the 2nd year players are looking to put their hard work on display and stake a claim to minutes during the regular season. Leonard, Robinson, Freeland, Claver, Barton, and potentially Lillard are all suiting up to showcase some of their offseason improvements. With two more months before training camp, there will be time to tweak their training with the results of this week of live competition. What are we looking for?
After a decent SL outing last year, Leonard entered the 2012-13 season with elevated expectations (as is our want). The speed of the NBA quickly put an end to those non-project hopes, but with more playing time toward the end of the season there were glimpses of what could be.
Leonard needs to aggressively attack this SL competition. He needs to show more mental agility than physical, by recognizing what needs to be done early and getting his body into position quickly. He needs to be anticipating rather than reacting. That's it. If he can do that, his rebounding, shot blocking, and defense will all take exponential leaps forward and his self-confidence should closely follow. Of all the players this week, Leonard needs to demonstrate improvement most.
As much as I hope he dominates, I'm limiting my expectations for Thomas this week. After getting bounced around his first season he'd naturally be unsettled trying to fit into yet another situation. I'd like to see him go back to his roots of rebounding and active defense. He's got the game to be an elite garbage man in the SL-style game of missed shots and lots of running. Mostly, I want him to develop a chemistry with his teammates. That's it. I'd rather he found a groove and regained some self-confidence this week.
Freeland & Claver:
I'm not expecting much from either player, so anything above "deep-bench quality" play will be a bonus. I'd love to see them take over but their games are strictly complimentary. Rebound. Set good picks. Don't turn the ball over. Defense. That's it.
There's no question that the kid has talent, but he's not Lebron. He needs to learn how to play within a team framework effectively. This will be his chance to demonstrate how well he can blend and choose his spots to shine. If the reigns were let loose for him to dominate, he could probably get himself 70 points against SL competition. But the team needs him to be a piece of a larger puzzle, and that will be his test. Play efficiently. That's it.
I doubt he actually plays any games, but I expect he'll be involved in a practice or two simply to begin building a chemistry with the new players. If he plays, I'd like to see him work on his pure PG skills and defense. There's no need to drive the lane and injure himself when there's plenty of slashing and alley-opp-ability on the roster. A few defensive slides and a lob pass or two would be a sweet cameo. That's it.
The rookies are coming in with a blank slate and need to begin the process of establishing themselves. CJ and Crabbe are both rookie guards that will be fighting for playing time on the regular season roster. Showing any elite skill in the SL would go a long way toward carving out minutes on what looks to be a broad (if not deep) bench.
He's going to get a lot of looks doing a lot of things; from running the offense as the PG to playing off-ball as the SG. He needs to put his decision-making on display. That's it. We know he can shoot, but how well does he play with NBA-caliber players? How is his timing on passes and his reaction to what defenses are showing him? How much of a defensive liability will he be at the PG or SG position? CJ will get enough run and opportunity to be the MVP, but I'd be more impressed with seeing him maximize the potential of those around him.
As a rookie 2nd round pick, my expectations are limited. Based on his draft profile, he should be an effective 3&D player. I'd like to see him handle a Bruce Bowen-type of role that can be the recipient of the kick-out pass after a drive. That's it. Anything beyond that is gravy. He could build a solid NBA career on just that, but he's gonna have to show he's got the disposition to play hard-nosed defense at the NBA level. Three-point shooters can be found anywhere. Without defensive ability to match the offensive ability, the player is a li-ability.
The rest of the roster looks to be there as a tryout for Euro-clubs or potential training-camp invites.
What are your expectations?