With NBA free agency rumors and scares dying down, NBA general managers and fans can breathe. Now, the focus is on new talent in the NBA and the impact they will have on their respective teams in the 2015 NBA summer league.
Summer league is basically just a bracket of games, putting rookies to the test to see if they can survive in the NBA. While this is not an accurate assessment of the players, it gives you a glimpse of what they can do on the court.
No. 1 | Karl-Anthony Towns, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves
No. 2 | D’Angelo Russell, Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers
No. 3 | Jahlil Okafor, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
No. 4 | Kristaps Porzingis, Power Forward, New York Knicks
No. 5 | Mario Hezonja, Shooting Guard, Orlando Magic
Looking at the top 5 draft picks in the 2015 NBA draft, we thought we knew where each player would land. Then, the Los Angeles Lakers switched up in selecting D’Angelo Russell second overall, leaving Jahlil Okafor to be snagged by the Philadelphia 76ers.
For newly drafted players, the time is over for all the flashy interviews, discussing how you will impact your team. It’s time for them to showcase their talent to the world in primetime action.
Karl Anthony Towns, the 6-foot-11 center and No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, is already showing signs of hunger in this league. With his size and athleticism, I have no doubt he will make a name for himself alongside Andrew Wiggins and NBA dunk contest winner Zach Lavine. He is averaging 12 points in the Las Vegas summer league. With him being the No. 1 draft pick, his efficiency on the court and ability to finish around the rim comes as no surprise.
On the other hand, D’Angelo Russell hasn’t quite found the touch in his position as a NBA point guard. He has averaged only 10 points and committed a lot of careless turnovers over a three-game period in summer league. At the point guard position, time and team chemistry are key. He hasn’t played with these guys long. I am putting Russell in the sleeper category. Eventually, he will be a great player for Los Angeles, knocking down big shots as well as establishing himself as a great facilitator for the guys around him. He just needs time.
“I get so wrapped up in getting better so fast that I forget it is summer league,” Russell said in a post game interview after a summer league game. “A lot of times, I tried to make something out of nothing when the plays were not there.” The speed and transition of college basketball to the NBA are things he must adjust to as a NBA point guard. We will see throughout the remainder of the summer how he deals with adjustment.
One of the most interesting comparisons of the top five has to be D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor. With the two having went No. 2 and No. 3 in the draft in a crazy switch up, people wondered would there be some rivalry between the two. However, a large block made by Okafor on Russell added fuel to fire. As of now, Okafor is playing better ball an adjusting well into his role. In my opinion, if I may, Okafor is the most impressive player thus far out of the top five. His ball handling and ability to score in the paint will be a huge contribution when the season begins. He is averaging 18 points per game this summer and tallied a 14-point performance in Utah. He is also averaging eight rebounds per game, which is a very good sight to see.
The last two names of the top five — Porzingis and Hezonja — are grabbing a lot of attention in the summer league for their performances. Porzingis, the tallest player in the top 5 draft pack, is definitely showing his ability to defend and block shots. While he is not a large offensive threat yet, he is averaging 10 points per game in summer league play. Porzingis passes the ball well, gets others involved and shows his ability to adapt well under pressure. His team currently remains undefeated in the summer league after an impressive overtime win against the 76ers, 84-81. Not to mention, he played exceptional defense against Okafor.
Hezonja is probably the least talked about player of the top 5, but he is certainly not the quietest. The 6-foot-7 small forward loves to talk during games and get in his opponent’s head. While doing that, he is showcasing his game on the court. After hitting a game-winning shot to seal the deal in his first summer league performance, all eyes were on him. In only two games, Hezonja has averaged 13 points in the Orlando Summer League.