If you're reading about fantasy basketball in July, then chances are you're more than a casual NBA fan. And if you're more than a casual fan, you'd be absolutely out of your mind not to try to attend at least one NBA summer league in your lifetime (before the lockout).
Yes, it is a league comprised of rookies, less-heralded young vets and also-rans. And it is dangerous to place too much stock in the results of the games. But some of these players do end up making an impact, both in the regular season and in fantasy leagues.
Personally, I enjoy it because it gives me the rare chance to actually perform some semi-professional basketball reportage (I gave up on professional basketball reportage after getting yelled at by Jim Boeheim in a press conference during my freshman year at Syracuse). Without coach Boeheim around to intimidate me, I am free to roam and gather fantasy-relevant information.
Now, because I don't look like an actual NBA reporter (more like a cross between Elvis Costello and the guy from the Decemberists), I tend to stand near the Italian scouts in an attempt to blend in. They tend to be mixed in with some NBA scouts as well, so the aggregate hoops knowledge of overheard conversation can be illuminating and in English.
I don't have the trained eye of a scout, but after going to a few summer leagues, I have started to at least get a feel for what to watch for in terms of who might make a fantasy impact when the regular season kicks off in the fall.
Does a player have a composed flow to how he carries himself around on a basketball court? When a rookie has "it," (a la John Wall) it's a big indicator that he could end up doing some damage for fantasy teams. This is something that's especially noticeable when you see the games in person.
You don't have to be David Thorpe to note when someone is, by far, the fastest guy on the court. Quick first steps and freakish acceleration will translate to any league. For instance, 30 seconds of seeing Rodrigue Beaubois in action last year in Vegas was all I needed to put him on my radar.
There's no doubt the summer league favors athleticism, so you can't get too excited when Sam Young or Nick Young starts throwing down dunks like they set the rim at eight feet. Conversely, some bigger players like Greg Monroe might need a game or two to adjust to the pace, so you can't write them off too early.
Is a player putting together a solid week? Are they up and down? Do they start slow and finish strong? Like DeMarcus Cousins, do they start the week looking like Moses Malone and finish looking like Paul Mokeski? With so many young players getting their first taste of the NBA, the maturity (or lack thereof) factor is an important trait to track.
Does someone show signs of improvement across multiple summer leagues? A lot of players (like Andray Blatche last year) will make huge strides from one year to the next. That's a sign a player may be ready to transfer a strong summer league into the regular season.
It's relatively easy to get to the line in Vegas, so it's a good forum to see who excels at getting to stripe and converting at a high percentage. This also goes back to the rhythm thing I alluded to earlier.
Staying on the court
One of the main problems a young big man can experience is a supercharged foul rate. They allow 10 fouls a game in the NBA Summer League, so it gives you an opportunity to gauge who might have issues with fouling out in an NBA setting. Hasheem Thabeet had a game last week with five blocks and eight fouls; frightening lines like this tend to stand out.
In the end, this is what it really comes down to: Does a summer league player have the potential to eventually grow into a 30-plus-minutes-a-night NBA player? If a player was taken with a high lottery pick, you know his team has a vested interest in getting him on the court as soon as possible.
Less-heralded players on teams that are lottery-bound may still end up logging heavy minutes due their team's lack of overall talent. Maybe a player is on a depth chart where he's only one injury away from starting, and has the tools to capitalize on a suddenly expanded role. Like Robert Evans says, luck is where opportunity meets preparation.
Bearing all this in mind, here are some players who you might want to keep in your mind when draft day rolls around.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: Let's start with the obvious. Wall had the best performance in the summer league, and that includes the previous week in Orlando. He's got "it," he's got speed, he was consistent, he's incredibly mature, he adjusted and cut down on turnovers, he got to the line and converted, and he's going to be a Day One starter on a rebuilding team that will give him all the minutes he can handle. Now all he needs is a better outside shot. Teams will definitely open the season giving him Rajon Rondo-type space on the perimeter.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: Cousins was the only rookie to even scrape Wall in the "Dripping With Prodigious Talent" category in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, he also displayed the lack of maturity that cost him several spots in this year's draft. After a couple of monster games, Cousins slumped, got into foul trouble (getting a perfect 10 in one game) and came off as downright surly at times, having a couple of what John Waters would refer to as "glamour fits." His "coachability" is going to go a long way in terms of how much time he sees on the court in 2010-11.
Rodrigue Beaubois, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks: It was something of an off week for the lightning-fast Beaubois, mainly due to the fact that he was playing/learning point guard. The Mavericks are grooming him to be their floor general of the future, but Beaubois will see big minutes this fall alongside Jason Kidd at the 2. Side note: Also solid was Mavs rookie guard Dominique Jones, who will be someone to watch as the year progresses.
Ed Davis, PF, Toronto Raptors: Davis didn't dominate, but he still had a quietly efficient week in Vegas. I'm not saying he's going to set the league on fire, but Toronto has a Chris Bosh-sized hole in the middle that Davis should step right into. He's not the offensive talent Bosh is, but he will certainly block more shots than Bosh did in 2009-10, and has a large amount of upside.
Greg Monroe, PF, Detroit Pistons: Monroe gathered steam as the week went on, showing the offensive polish that's going to eventually translate into solid fantasy production. He saved his best for last, going for 27 points and 14 rebounds in his finale versus the New York Knicks. Teammate Austin Daye also showed marked improvement in his second summer league.
DeMar DeRozan, SG, Raptors: DeRozan is precisely the kind of player you have to remind yourself not to get too caught up with in the summer league. That being said, he was undeniably impressive, posting averages of 21.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. With Bosh having defected to the Heat, I see several intriguing fantasy storylines opening up in the Raptors' training camp.
Reggie Williams, SF, Golden State Warriors: Williams carried over his strong finish to the regular season with a dominant week in Vegas. As long as Don Nelson is the coach in Golden State ("how long" being the question as of this writing), Williams will have the chance to be a very good fantasy player.
J.J. Hickson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers: It's hard to place too much stock in any Cavalier at the moment, but Hickson seems sure to be one player who won't be dealt in Cleveland's post-"The Decision" player movement frenzy. Mark my words: All he needs is 30 minutes a night to become the next Paul Millsap.
JaVale McGee, C/PF, Wizards: McGee appears to be one longtime summer leaguer who's poised to make the jump to full-time fantasy contributor. McGee is still growing -- literally, still growing -- having added an inch to his previously 7-foot frame since the beginning of the 09-10 season. He's fully stocked in the athleticism department, but showed newfound signs of aggression in Vegas. McGee's bigger body, badder attitude and seemingly guaranteed starters' minutes all spell big-time sleeper potential. Throw in his obvious chemistry with Wall, and you have the makings of a solid late-round pick.
Other players worth watching: Marcus Thornton, SG, New Orleans Hornets; Chase Budinger, SF, Houston Rockets; Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Los Angeles Clippers; Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets; Alonzo Gee, SG, San Antonio Spurs; Landry Fields, SG, New York Knicks; Jordan Hill, PF/C, Rockets; Jermaine Taylor, SG, Rockets; Larry Sanders, PF, Milwaukee Bucks.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.