Each year, the NBA Summer League fills fans with optimism and opportunity to look over their team’s newest draft picks, players coming back to the association, with a mix of local and overseas talent trying to show their hand on why they deserve a coveted 2-way contract or an invite to training camp.
This season, the Australian contingent of players looking for a spot on a NBA roster was possibly at an all-time high. With 16 Australian and NBL connected players running out over the past 12 days, there was certainly plenty to watch. With the likes of Dean Vickerman and Trevor Gleeson sitting in the stands, the Summer League has been a happy hunting ground for the NBL. Not only are they on the lookout for new stars, but it’s an opportunity to take a closer look at players who previously played in Australia.
The latest edition of Summer League had a different feel compared to previous seasons. As Australians, we weren’t waiting to watch household names like Ben Simmons, Dante Exum or Thon Maker, all of whom had been drafted in the top 10 since 2014.
In 2018, there were no Australians drafted into the NBA, but there was an air of excitement in watching the likes of Saint Mary’s standout Jock Landale and Louisville’s leading scorer for 2017/18 Deng Adel. Both of these young Aussies entered the NBA draft but unfortunately did not hear their names called out on the day.
Exciting news also dropped with ex-NBL star Torrey Craig signing a guaranteed $4 million, 2-year deal, after spending last season on a two-way deal shuttling between the Denver Nuggets and the G-League.
This has paved the way for hopeful NBL imports on getting either back into the Association or getting a chance for the first time. This season, the likes of Casper Ware Jr, JP Tokoto, Dayshon ‘Scoochie’ Smith, Travis Leslie and Fuquan Edwin all took their talents back to the the US, in an attempt to gather interest in their services.
1. Deng Adel (Houston Rockets) 21.2 MPG | 8.25 PPG | 57.9% FG | 71.4% 3P
The Summer League started slowly for Adel, who clocked a measly two minutes of court time in the first two games of the Rockets campaign. This changed in Day 4 with a major uptick of time on the court, where Adel helped the Rockets move to 3-0 with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He hit the floor running, coming off the bench to record 22 minutes and showed that he is a threat on both ends of the floor, racking up 11 points and disrupting the Clippers on the defensive end with 3 steals and a block. For Adel, this was the chance he had been grinding for, and he did not disappoint.
Adel became one of the standout Aussies in the NBA Summer League. His ability to play between positions, work off the dribble, finish above the rim in transition and stretch the floor is what Mike D’Antoni loves and how the Rockets’ Summer League roster looked to play. The former Louisville standout has put himself in a wonderful position with the departure of Trevor Ariza, with opportunity open for a genuine 3 and D type of player on the Rockets’ roster.
Deng Adel proved as many Aussies did, that he is prepared to work on both ends. He filled the lanes and really put the clamps on his opponent, but wasn’t afraid to make an impact on the offensive end either, which wouldn’t have been a surprise with the lack of minutes early in the tournament.
It remains to be seen if he can translate his game play into consistent NBA minutes. He will be waiting by the phone for an opportunity to join the Rockets or any other NBA team for their training camp, but one feel that someone will come knocking, after ending the Summer League on such a high.
2. Mitch Creek (Dallas Mavericks) 17.9 MPG | 6.8 PPG | 3.4 ORPG
NBA Summer League 2018 marked Mitch Creek’s second foray into the NBA spotlight, with an opportunity to impress with the Dallas Mavericks. This year, Creek really left a mark. He assumed what looked like a leadership role within a young core of budding stars the Dallas Mavericks put forward.
Creek played and moved like the ultimate glue guy and an ideal team player. He was always willing to make the extra pass, set a bone crunching pick or be the first person to jump over and help his teammate off the floor. Whilst his offensive game is built around hustle plays off the offensive rebounds, smart cuts to the basket and overall out hustling his opponent, one question that continues to arise – can he have an impact on the offensive end from outside the paint?
Unfortunately it seems his dreams have been dashed with the Dallas Mavericks as they signed Kostas Antetokounmpo to a two-way contract, which most likely means Creek will have to take his services elsewhere in the NBA.
The NBL star had a breakout game when the Dallas Mavericks had a comfortable 91-71 win over the Golden State Warriors. Creek put a big step forward in limited time after getting the nod for the start. The forward had 18 minutes of play, in which he knocked 13 points down on 5-7 shooting, got to the line with ease and grabbed 7 rebounds.
One amazing stat that really stands out this Summer League: Creek averaged 3.4 offensive rebounds per game, and had the ability to bang down low with players 2-3 inches taller. The 6’5 forward’s combination of physicality and basketball smarts has enabled him able to rack up impressive rebounding numbers, an impressive statistic from someone who’s undersized for his position.
Creek can only sit and wait to see if an opportunity comes along come training camp. With his showing over the past two weeks, he has definitely given everyone something to think about. If a two-way contract doesn’t eventuate, there is every chance he goes back to Europe to keep working on his game instead of flying back to Australia and the NBL. The only thing at the moment that could hold Creek back from potentially securing that coveted two-way contract, is the level of confidence he has in knocking down that three-point shot.
3. Jonah Bolden (Philadelphia 76ers) 23 MPG | 6.5 PPG | 6 RPG | 1.5 SPG | 1 BPG
After exceeding expectations at the 2017 NBA Summer League, right on the back of getting drafted with pick 36, there were expectations that Bolden would show the 76ers, he was ready to enter their regular rotation.
Bolden has a solid season playing in the Israeli Premier League and EuroLeague for Maccabi Tel Viv where he shot an impressive 48.1% from the field and 31% from behind the arc. Bolden needed to add the three ball to his offensive arsenal, to help translate his game into the modern day NBA.
The forward had a decent Summer League performance, which still ended as a slight disappointment, given the fact that expectations were high based off his showing last year. Consistency was his biggest problem this tournament; there were games where he had problems with a rusty jumper. That inconsistency was a big factor, one that stopped him from being a real threat throughout Summer League.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks, we finally saw what Bolden can bring to the 76ers roster. It was fantastic to see his trademark defensive tenacity and energy, and he was able to shoot the ball with a relative ease. This was the type of performance the 76ers were hoping to see.
His best defensive effort came against the Number 1 draft pick in Denadre Ayton. Ayton had proved all Summer League long, why the Suns used their coveted pick on him, and Bolden was able to use his length and defensive smarts to out-position him several times, causing Ayton to have what looked like his most ineffective game to date.
With a contract already secured –news broke that the forward signed a 4-year, $7 million rookie deal with Philadelphia– Bolden finds himself in a different position compared to the other Australians he joined at this year’s Summer League. The question now for Bolden, is whether he has done enough to secure minutes in a loaded 76ers roster that’s set to become a part of the NBA’s elite Eastern Conference teams.
What looks fairly certain, is that he needs some time in the G-League to get used to the quicker pace of the game, as well as constant defensive switching and coping with guarding across positions. If Bolden can find some consistency in his shot, he displays enough versatility to play a role for the 76ers.
4. Jock Landale (Atlanta Hawks) 16.7 MPG | 3.83 PPG | 4.83 RPG
The Saint Mary’s standout had an exceptional final year in the college system. There weren’t many big men that Landale couldn’t handle, but questions remained on his ability to translate his game to the NBA level.
His college accolades speak volumes of what he was able to achieve, and this is a new and exciting challenge for the big man. The good news for Landale, was that he was able to get on the court and was given plenty of playing time throughout the tournament. There were flashes of opportunity for Landale, and it seemed the longer that he and Trae Young played together, the better he looked.
On the defensive end, Landale seemed comfortable playing close to the basket. His big body filled defensive gaps and his positioning gave him an advantage on rebounds, particularly on defence. He arguably had his strongest game against the New York Knicks and it started on the defensive end, where he filled the paint and used his size to pull down nine rebounds, along with a block and two assists.
This game, Landale looked comfortable switching on defence, helping his teammates fill lanes and stop easy baskets. There were times where his lack of athleticism stood out. Against the Chicago Bulls he found himself lining up against Wendall Carter Jr., and was forced to step outside of the paint. Carter Jr. was able to get a step on him and get to the basket with ease. This is a concern, due to the amount of defensive switching and perimeter defence big men are required to do these days in the NBA.
With a lack of touches in the low post compared to what he is used to, the next evolution of Landale could be one who can roll off after setting picks, or popping off flare screens to look for an outside shot.
The challenge Landale faces moving forward, is the lack of versatility and the lack of love the NBA holds for big men with a back-to-the-basket game. The NBA favours players with versatility, especially those who can plug two or three positions on defence and offer solid contribution on offence.
If a call doesn’t come across over the next few weeks for a call up to an NBA team’s training camp, does he head off to Europe or even the NBL to work on his outside game, so as to reshape himself to fit the NBA better?
To next year
With so many Australians and ex-NBL stars playing in the past two weeks, many of us will be watching with interest to see what is next for many of these budding stars. They showed the competitiveness that we all expected them to show, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone next year to see more Aussies fill the rosters, in an attempt to make an impact on basketball’s biggest stage.
Until next time, Vegas.