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How Summer League Predicts Regular Season Performance

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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton takes a look at how Summer League translates to the regular season and has some hope for Jake Layman.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Portland Trail Blazers v Boston Celtics Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The conventional wisdom about Summer League is that drawing conclusions about a player’s potential based on their play in Las Vegas is a bad idea. Yes, Damian Lillard was co-MVP of Summer League in 2012. The other co-MVP that year? Josh Selby, a man who has been out of the NBA for 5 years. Surely Summer League statistics have little predictive value.

Or do they? Kevin Pelton, one of ESPN’s best at diving into the numbers and drawing out useful conclusions, took a look at all of the numbers from Summer League since 2004. His conclusions show promise toward summer being predictive and might give some hope for the Blazers for the upcoming season.

One of keys to Pelton’s Summer League conclusions is use of his SCHOENE projection system. The SCHOENE system takes a player’s last 3 years of statistics and tries to match that player’s statistics to past players with similar statistics. When a player in question is a rookie, NCAA data is used to match with past players’ NCAA data. The resulting matched past players are used to project the type of future performance the player in question might be expected to have. Pelton also looks at the individual projections for all of the players on a team to make team projections (with some success), but that doesn’t come into play in regards to Summer League.

What Pelton has identified is a correlation between players who have significantly outperformed their SCHOENE projection during Summer League and players who outperform their SCHOENE projection during the following regular season. Additionally, there appears to be a reverse correlation: players that badly under-performed their SCHOENE projection during Summer League tended to under-perform during the following regular season.

A number of former and current Blazers show up in the article. CJ McCollum outpeformed his projection in Summer League in 2014 by the 10th largest margin ever; just before breaking out in 2015. Two former Blazers made the all-time worst under-performing players in Summer League, Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh. Crabbe followed the pattern by under-performing his projection in the regular season. Vonleh is a counter example as he outperformed his projection during his rookie year in Charlotte.

Looking at the Summer League data through Sunday, the top over-performer using Pelton’s methodology is none other than Jake Layman. Of course this is no guarantee of success, but it may just be a sign that Jake is ready to come into his own this year after having his contract guaranteed for the 2018-19 season.

If you enjoy diving deep into the numbers, give Pelton’s article a read.