Predicting Which 2014 NBA Draft Picks Will Shine in Summer League
The NBA Summer League tips off in a matter of days, so it's time to pinpoint which rookies will flourish during the exhibitions.
These midsummer tune-ups usually lack the team chemistry and fluidity we're used to seeing in the regular season. Consequently, the players who excel are those who outwork and outrun their opponents while aggressively creating buckets.
The 2014 draft class is littered with talent, but which newbies are primed to produce in Orlando and Las Vegas? Only the most versatile and polished players will rise above the crowd.
We identified a handful of rookies who will stand out and post robust numbers during summer league play.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics G
Drafted: No. 6
Projected Summer League Stats: 17.2 PPG, 6.4 APG, 44% FG, 33% 3FG
With an NBA-ready body and two-way tenacity, Marcus Smart will outduel most rookies and surprise many sophomores during the Orlando Summer League.
At Oklahoma State, we saw him spend time at both guard spots, and it looks like he'll do the same with Boston's summer squad. Jay King of MassLive.com said Smart will play point guard and shooting guard this summer.
He's not the most brilliant floor general from a passing standpoint, but he can create off screens and skillfully find teammates.
"One of the things that impressed me: he can pass out of (pick-and-rolls)," head coach Brad Stevens told reporters during Smart's introductory press conference, per MassLive.com.
He's unselfish yet an aggressive scorer. That can be an awesome blend, especially when it's followed up by ruthless defense on the other end. Smart will use his 227-pound physique and elite lateral quickness to stymie unprepared summer league ball-handlers.
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns SF
Drafted: No. 14
Projected Summer League Stats: 17.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 47% FG, 32% 3FG
Fresh off a tremendous sophomore year at N.C. State, T.J. Warren will thrive in the Phoenix Suns system during summer league play.
The 6'8" small forward is one of the most instinctive scorers in the 2014 draft class. He'll not only stand out among fellow rookies in Las Vegas, but he'll give NBA sophomores and third-year pros a scare.
He can make a huge impact offensively without dominating the ball or creating off the dribble. His perfectly timed cuts and transition skills will fuel huge production in Phoenix's system, especially alongside savvy summer league teammate Tyler Ennis.
And when Warren does handle the rock, he's equally dangerous. Few rookies can finish as deftly as he can, especially from such a wide variety of angles. He can drive from the wing for floaters or layups, and he's also a proficient mid-range shooter. In 2013-14, he drilled a tidy 43 percent of his two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Summer league defenses simply aren't set up to slow down scorers like him.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F
Drafted: No. 2
Projected Summer League Stats: 21.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 45% FG, 34% 3FG
Even though the Milwaukee Bucks are in the middle of a coaching change (hello, Jason Kidd) and have underwhelming personnel, Jabari Parker is ready to make Deer fans smile.
During summer competition, the Duke star will frequently show that he's superior to most of the league's young talent. He has the size and versatile skill set to score in almost any situation, using his advanced footwork and soft shooting touch to frustrate opposing defenders.
Although he's not a finished product, he's better prepared to serve as a featured scorer than any other newcomer.
Former NBA star Brad Daugherty believes Parker will make a huge impact as soon as he enters the league. He told Sirius XM NBA Radio that the youngster "uses his angles well."
He's poised to have a superb rookie campaign, and it all starts with an eye-popping summer display.
P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets SG
Drafted: No. 26
Projected Summer League Stats: 20.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 47% FG, 37% 3FG
In both pace and playing style, summer league basketball shares a lot of similarities with the NBA D-League.
That's why Charlotte Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston is licking his chops. He should be not only one of the best players on his team but one of the top performers in the entire Vegas league.
His polished shooting, strong physique and outstanding scoring instincts put him a step ahead of many raw participants.
He is ready to contribute for Charlotte's regular season, so the summer league is like a warm-up for him. He's a master at finding soft spots in opposing defenses before they're set, so he may feast against disorderly units throughout July.
Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer noted Hairston's gifts will translate smoothly to the Association: "He looks like a pro when he walks into the gym, onto the court and whenever he shoots. He has strength and size and he shoots as if he was meant to."
Of any player picked in the 20s, he's the one who is poised to put up big numbers this summer.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers SG/SF
Drafted: No. 1
Projected Summer League Stats: 17.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 47% FG, 33% 3FG
Andrew Wiggins set the bar really high for himself upon arriving in Cleveland, and the summer league is his first chance to put a dent in the NBA.
"I want to come in and create an impact off the bat, offensively and defensively, be a good teammate, be a good part of the organization,” Wiggins told reporters at his introductory press conference, per Basketball Insiders. “I want to be on the All-Defensive team, be Rookie of the Year, make the All-Star team."
After some scattered underwhelming performances in college, he was widely perceived as a soft player who deferred too often. But the offensive system at Kansas wasn't optimal for him, and he's much more suited to the NBA game.
New coach David Blatt—who reportedly will coach the Cavs' summer league squad per Allon Sinai of The Jerusalem Post—will try to put Wiggins in position to attack regularly. The young prodigy will oblige by outclassing many inferior athletes.
He still has a lot of developing to do, but I envision him having his way against most foes in July.
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings SG
Drafted: No. 8
Projected Summer League Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.0 APG, 46% FG, 38% 3FG
The Sacramento Kings summer league roster includes high-flyers like Derrick Williams and Quincy Acy, along with returning backcourt contributors such as Ray McCallum and Ben McLemore. It also features 7'5" tower Sim Bhullar.
Those should be some fun pieces to watch, but none of them brings the kind of versatility that Nik Stauskas provides.
Perimeter scoring is a big part of the Canadian sharpshooter's game, and his quick release will tally a healthy share of points in Las Vegas. But the 6'6" Michigan product can also handle the ball and make plays off the bounce. The Kings will benefit from his ability to facilitate, in addition to his much-advertised shooting prowess.
Sactown has placed a lot of hope in Stauskas to produce on the wing in the future, so it will give him plenty of touches throughout the summer.
Even though it might seem like he's simply replacing McLemore, coach Mike Malone indicated to Kings broadcaster Jason Ross that the two can play together. Don't be surprised if he handles the ball to set up McLemore on occasion.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz G
Drafted: No. 5
Projected Summer League Stats: 17.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, 43% FG, 35% 3FG
Trey Burke will commandeer the Utah Jazz summer league offense as a primary ball-handler, but that doesn't mean Dante Exum won't make waves.
If the Australian phenom plays off the ball, he's still going to get bunches of slashing opportunities and showcase his scoring ability. He'll also thrive in the open floor, where he can maximize his creativity and athleticism.
I would be surprised if he didn't spend time at the point as well. When he takes the reins of the team, he will generate a ton of offense and make star-like plays with his length and instincts.
He has the tools and mental makeup of a featured asset, and he will play like one against his Vegas league challengers. He has been waiting for this live-action opportunity since last autumn.
It might take him some time to adjust, but his basketball DNA and elite physical tools will quickly take over. He'll team with Burke to form a lethal summer league backcourt.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: