Don't let the people who tell you that the NBA summer league means nothing fool you.
As Kevin Pelton detailed in a recent piece, there are statistical areas -- especially with rookies -- that can be used to predict in-season performance. Just don't go nuts doing it.
First-year players need to show confidence and on-court presence (think of what Damian Lillard did last summer). Second- and third-year players need to show growth, or, better yet, that they've outgrown summer league.
A lot of it really does come down to the "eye test," which is admittedly antithetical to what analytics normally preaches. You also have to remember that there are some players whose games are tailor-made to the "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" ethos of summer league.
Fantasy-wise, it's simple: Summer league should be viewed as a way to track which players are positioning themselves for larger roles in the upcoming season. These could be players with possible starting jobs, or players who might be an injury or losing streak away from getting 25-plus minutes a night.
You're mining upside, and there's always some waiting to be found in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Group 1: Young vets who have "graduated" summer league
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors (18.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, .561 field goal percentage, .879 free throw percentage): Valanciunas did everything you want a potential All-Star big man to do in summer league: Show off a new physique, throw around some D-Leaguers and rookies like rag dolls, average a double-double, then sustain a superficial injury that allows one to rest with a modicum of honor.
You want to look like a man among mere boys, and Valanciunas accomplished that. Throw in his inside track on an expanded starting role this season, and you've got a center I'd rather have than ...
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (15.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 blocks, .519 field goal percentage, .333 free throw percentage): Why would I rather have Valanciunas? Two reasons: more guaranteed minutes, and the prospect that Drummond might make Dwight Howard look like the second coming of Rick Barry. I honestly would have rather had Drummond skip summer league entirely and spend the time learning how to shoot free throws granny-style.
Does he have more fantasy potential than Valanciunas? Absolutely. But his inability to improve a key area of his game even a little bit worries me (if he shot 50 percent from the line, it'd be a 13 percent improvement over last season).
John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks (14.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, .548 field goal percentage): Henson was dominant at times, and showed why he'll be half of an intriguing, yet ultimately frustrating timeshare at power forward with Ersan Ilyasova in 2013-14.
Group 2: Young vets who have made improvements
Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder (18.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 3-pointers, .905 free throw percentage): Lamb is subtly positioning himself as a candidate to take the James Harden/Kevin Martin role as instant offense off the Thunder bench. Lamb wasn't efficient from the field this summer (.391 field goal percentage), but a lot of times it's more important to show you can get your shot, and summer league is one of those times.
Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder (19.5 points, 1.0 3-pointers): Here is Lamb's main competition for the Harden/Martin role (along with those Mike Miller rumors). Jackson broke an Orlando Summer League record with 35 points on July 8, including a 23-point fourth quarter.
Jeffery Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats (20.3 points, 1.8 3-pointers, 1.8 steals, .475 field goal percentage): Taylor was a genuine summer league force, showcasing an array of offensive moves while hitting 37 percent of his 3-pointers. With Gerald Henderson still unsigned, Taylor could surprise a lot of fantasy owners this season.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Pelicans (18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, .489 field goal percentage, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals): Rivers showed all kinds of confidence and held up well to the aforementioned "eye test." Key stat: In an environment that isn't very kind to guards' field goal percentages, Rivers almost shot 50 percent from the floor (up from 37 percent last regular season).
His problem in 2013-14 will be finding minutes behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon (not to mention Tyreke Evans, who can slide to both backcourt positions). But with Eric Gordon being one of the NBA's biggest red flags, Rivers could get an expanded crack at a second chance.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers (17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds): Per standard operating procedure, Waiters didn't really kick into gear until later in the week. (When a fellow Orange alum asked me what I was looking for out of Waiters, I replied "less consistent inconsistency.")
Waiters looked more confident overall in his final three games, finally achieving "man among boys" status against the Spurs (27 points, 6 rebounds). I think in a lot of ways this will be a make-or-break campaign for Waiters in Cleveland. They are loading up with young talent. Waiters needs to flatten out his box scores and show he can be a key cog in a budding playoff squad.
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers (10.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks) It wasn't too long ago that Robinson's name was bandied about as a possible No. 2 overall pick. He's had one of the bumpier, more expansively-traveled openings to a career for a high lottery pick in NBA history. But Robinson has found a nice landing spot in Portland. Robinson's motor is still running, and at only 22 years old, there's still time for him to become a fantasy factor.
P.S.: There are "LaMarcus Aldridge is gonna be dealt" rumors percolating all over the place, and should that happen (I wouldn't do it), Robinson could be in line for a bigger role.
Kent Bazemore, Golden State Warriors (18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals): Bazemore (my Las Vegas Summer League MVP) is behind too many other players in the Warriors' backcourt mix to warrant fantasy consideration. But he made his summer league games a lot of fun to watch, performed a sublime Michael Jordan championship trophy-cuddling impression and could have clawed his way into Golden State's 2013-14 rotation.
Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards (11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.6 blocks, .581 field goal percentage): Vesely would definitely be the poster child for "don't put too much stock in summer league"-type snark. But he did look like a much-improved player on both ends of the court. And he didn't foul out of a single game, which takes 10 fouls (and which he did last year, by the way).
Other names: Mo Harkless, Orlando Magic; Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors; Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets; John Jenkins, Atlanta Hawks; Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns; Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns; Andrew Goudelock, Chicago Bulls; Patrick Beverly, Houston Rockets
Group 3: Young vets who disappointed
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: His jumper still needs a lot of work. Until he starts making marked improvements on the offensive end, he'll remain the kind of player whose impact is felt more in NBA reality than in fantasy.
Josh Selby, Los Angeles Lakers: Last summer's second-brightest star (behind Lillard) flamed out on a Lakers squad that was begging for some go-to offense. Remember that even D-Leaguers who make a Mike D'Antoni-coached team have fantasy promise.
Group 4: Rookies showing promise
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats (16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, .520 field goal percentage): The Bobcats' choice of Zeller over Nerlens Noel (and others) was one of the bigger controversies on draft night. But Zeller continued an upward trend that started back at the combine with Las Vegas' best all-around rookie performance.
Even with the signing of Al Jefferson, the loss of Byron Mullens guarantees Zeller minutes from the get-go in Charlotte. If he beats out Josh McRoberts, with his offensive range? By the end of 2013-14, Zeller could be a rich man's Byron Mullens.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (18.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals): Here's your current frontcourt depth chart for the new-look, tank-friendly Boston Celtics: Brandon Bass, Olynyk, Kris Humphries, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Colton Iverson.
If I was Brad Stevens, and looking to give Celtics fans something, anything to look forward to this season out of this group (other than Andrew Wiggins fever dreams), I'd be drawing up 5-6 plays a game for Olynyk.
Ignore the knocks on his defense. For a rookie with Olynyk's defensively flaccid skill set? This is a "perfect storm" fantasy situation.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic (19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 steals, .375 field goal shooting, 4.8 turnovers): I wrote after draft night that I was worried that Oladipo had some MKG in him -- the kind of player whose plurality of intangibles caused fantasy owners to overrate his actual value.
When I wrote that, I wasn't counting on the Magic going into uber-tank mode by experimenting with Oladipo at the point.
Now? I'm officially intrigued.
Suddenly, Oladipo has some early-Rajon Rondo sheen to him, albeit without the natural point guard skills. He can get to the line and convert (.825 summer league free throw percentage), and showed some occasional 3-point ability.
Keep in mind that anyone who starts at point guard in a NBA game has real fantasy value. If he gets even 10-15 minutes per game at point guard, Oladipo suddenly adds the second-most scarce category (assists) to his elite steals capability. That would make him a nice value play (with upside) in the later rounds in leagues that don't count turnovers.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 3-pointers): McCollum delivered the offensive goods in Vegas, but it's hard to see him scraping his way to the 25 minutes per game he'll need to make him worth drafting. Consider him a free-agent sleeper for now.
Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks (10.8 points, 5.6 assists, 1.4 3-pointers, 1.6 steals): Strictly a name to stash away for the future, Schröeder was nonetheless Vegas' unexpected rookie success story. It looks like he's going to stick with the Hawks as Jeff Teague's backup, which would mean he'd be an injury away from decent minutes.
Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns (13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 3-pointers, .571 3-point percentage): Goodwin showed everyone why the Suns are so comfortable with the idea of trading 2012 first-rounder Kendall Marshall. He showed off a ton of athletic upside that had me wondering how he almost slipped out of the first round. He had a rough ride at Kentucky, but Goodwin is still only 18 and has a lot of time to find an NBA game.
Other names: Reggie Bullock, Los Angeles Clippers; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons; Ray McCallum, Sacramento Kings; Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers; Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls; Jack Cooley, Memphis Grizzlies
Category 5: Worrisome rookies
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards (6.3 points, 2.7 rebounds .300 field goal percentage): When you hear a player's lackluster summer league performance defended from the perspective that he is a "system" kind of guy, it makes you worry. A lot. I hate to say it, but Porter's summer performance sort of reminded me of Wesley Johnson's back in 2010 (so much so that I went back and found this article that echoed a lot of what was said about Porter).
He's got plenty of time to recover (once he gets ensconced in a system), but Martell Webster is a mortal lock to start at small forward in Washington.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings (15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, .333 field goal percentage, 3.6 turnovers): McLemore had a bipolar summer league. In his last three games, McLemore scored 26, 1 and 27 points. In his first two games, he shot a combined 2-for-18 from downtown. He racked up a ton of turnovers.
Still, when he was on, McLemore showed why he still has more offensive upside than any other backcourt player in this draft class. His form on his jumper is everything that Kidd-Gilchrist's isn't: a pleasure to watch, even on the air balls.
Don't ignore how negative buzz will affect McLemore's fantasy draft stock. There's still a "pile on" mentality that surrounds a lot of what is written about McLemore, which will only enhance his endgame value.
I think of McLemore as the backcourt version of DeMarcus Cousins; if he puts it all together, watch out, and even if he doesn't, the production isn't an abomination.