Did you get the memo? Victor Wembanyama is the biggest bust in NBA history. No, wait, scratch that … he’s actually incredible.
The reactionary whiplash to the No. 1 overall pick was enough to break your neck this weekend, as Wemby went from struggling against the Hornets, shooting less than 15 percent from the field and having his lunch eaten by Brandon Miller, to absolutely dominating on Sunday night against the Blazers — finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes of play.
If Summer League can teach us anything it’s this: Stop overreacting to Summer League.
I know, I know … I’m in sports media. It’s absolute blasphemy to suggest not to have an immediate hot take based on too little information. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless would hang their heads in shame. The truth is that when it comes to the NBA Summer League, more importantly watching rookies in the NBA Summer League, everything we see means precisely nothing.
Quiz time: Can you name the 10 highest scoring Summer League Players of all time among those who played more than one game? Think about it, roll it around in your mind. You’re imagining KD probably, LeBron? He surely lit up the Summer League.
- Jerryd Bayless
- Donovan Mitchell
- Cam Thomas
- Damian Lillard
- Omer Yurtseven
- Marco Belinelli
- Randy Foye
- Adam Morrison
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker
- John Wall
We have a certified superstar in Dame, a star in Mitchell, John Wall was a star in his prime … then it’s a whole lot of meh. Care to know who struggled in the Summer League?
- Nikola Jokic: 8.0 points per game in 21 minutes
- Stephen Curry: .325 shooting on 16 attempts per game
- Brandon Ingram: 12.2 ppg, .412 shooting in 27.4 minutes
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 12.8 ppg, .396 shooting in 31.2 minutes
Summer League stats are littered with amazing players who struggled and terrible ones who excelled. It’s a rarified environment of weirdness that naturally leads to wild overreactions. There’s really only one safe time you can draw an opinion from Summer League, and that’s when a player is in their second year or more, has seen playing time in the NBA itself, but still can’t manage to hold their own against Summer League players. If that happens it’s a massive red flag, and probably indicates that they just don’t have it.
So what can we learn from all this as it applies to the Big Three from the 2023 NBA Draft?
The big thing with Wemby is that he’s a unicorn, albeit a spindly unicorn we know needs to get stronger. It’s really not dissimilar to Nikola Jokic, who got out-muscled in the paint by larger guys in the Summer League before becoming a monster.
We saw this when Wemby struggled against the Hornets. The big thing here is that he needs to work on his physique, which will come over time — but also get a better feeling for what he can’t get away with in the NBA vs. playing in Europe. The on-ball defense is going to be a lot stricter, and his ball handling isn’t quite at the level (because of his size) that he can iso dribble on a defender, like he did in France.
The big indictment of Wemby came from this clip where Brandon Miller ate his lunch.
Miller happens to be a good defender in his own right, but this was also about Wemby needing to learn how to back down strong guys in the paint — a skill he doesn’t have yet.
That said, on Sunday night Wembanyama was clearly already getting a better feel for the limitations against NBA talent, and playing more inside those confines he dominated the midrange game and showed why he could become an elite player in the NBA.
Nobody’s numbers in the Summer League will be a biggest statistical liar than Brandon Miller. Through three games he’s been an up-and-down scorer that’s shown flashes, but hardly been the knock-down outside shooter he was touted to be at the draft.
The reason for this is pretty simple: Horrible guard play. The Hornets group in Vegas is a total mess, with Charlotte’s backcourt players trying to get noticed by volume shooting from beyond and arc at a disgusting rate. These shots aren’t falling, and nobody seems to be interested in passing the ball to Miller.
This is a statistical death knell for an off-ball scorer who isn’t the best shot creator. The entire reason Charlotte drafted him was to have a scoring presence for LaMelo Ball to feed. When you don’t have guards looking to feed a scorer it forces the player to make things happen on their own, which has never been the strength of Miller’s game.
The most encouraging takeaway if you’re a Hornets fan is that defensively Miller has been excellent. He’s been a strong on-ball defender, an enthusiastic rebounder, and shown a knack for frustrating opponents.
We didn’t see a lot of Scoot, but my goodness the returns look promising. Basically, everything we thought Henderson would be came through in his Summer League debut, and that’s enough to get Blazers fans excited.
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket here, because I love Scoot and think he’ll be great — but Summer League is exactly the environment where he should thrive. That doesn’t mean he can’t do it at the next level, but enthusiasm over his Summer League performances should be tempered.
Scoot is a ball-dominant guard who can create based on his quickness, agility, and athleticism. Playing against fringe NBA players is all he’s done for the last year with G-League Ignite, meaning that Summer League is basically an extension of his pro career so far. Nothing he’s being asked to do is outside of his comfort zone or ability, and we’ve yet to see him face down a strong NBA caliber defensive guard. Naturally this will lead to eye-popping numbers.
If we can’t learn much, then what’s the point of the Summer League?
Okay, seriously, yes it’s basically about making money — but it’s a neat first step in seeing players be forced to up their game against better competition. It’s much more important for second round picks with question marks and international players to get reps against this competition than the bonafide NBA Draft stars who already have games that project to the next level.
The important thing is that whether you’re watching your teams’ own first round pick, or simply looking at the top players in the draft, you want to see how they respond to questions about their game. Are they shooting poorly from three? How were the looks they were getting? Did they try to do too much with the ball? Too little? It’s more about identifying traits than hanging off box scores.
It might not generate hot takes, but it’ll make you a smarter fan.