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A handful of NBA prospects will use summer league to prove themselves, either to teams who passed on them, their own coaching staffs or media and fans questioning their potential.
Of course, undrafted players will always have more to prove, though two stood out more than others based on the specific concerns raised and their level of media exposure.
Overall, these five will be playing to build confidence from their coaching staffs or support from their fanbases.
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Cameron Johnson shouldn’t have to prove himself this early, but the Phoenix Suns put him in position for the fans to turn if he starts slowly.
The forward was considered by most the surprise pick and reach of the 2019 draft at No. 11 overall. Already 23 years old with an injury past, below-average athleticism, zero muscle definition and no creation to his game, the 6’9″, 210-pound Johnson was pegged as a late-first to second-round talent by many NBA scouts.
It wouldn’t be an encouraging sign if Johnson struggles in Las Vegas, given his age and draft position.
He’s undoubtedly one of the class’ top shooters. The questions are how well he’ll handle the NBA’s physicality and athleticism and whether he’ll be a consistent-enough shooter to offset the fact that he won’t add value in any other department.
Phoenix just traded Josh Jackson and is expected to waive Kyle Korver, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning the team’s lottery pick could be thrown into the fire early. Playing well in Las Vegas could serve as a valuable confidence-booster heading into the regular season.
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All of the undrafted players have more to prove, but Naz Reid specifically stands out.
He was a McDonald’s All-American in 2018. Enough questions popped up during his one year at LSU. He developed a reputation for showing poor awareness and defensive effort.
Reid then had the highest body fat percentage at the NBA Scouting Combine, where he also skipped scrimmaging—either a sign of fear of being exposed or overconfidence caused by the idea that he’s in another tier compared to those participating in five-on-fives. Scouts were not thrilled with Reid’s lack of participation after an unconvincing season.
However, there is no questioning Reid has talent for coaches to unlock. And it comes in the form of a player type valued in today’s league. At 6’9½” with a 7’3¼-inch wingspan, Reid has the skill to create shots out of different situations, plus the touch to make threes (28-of-84) in rhythm.
His 85 turnovers to 29 assists highlight weak basketball IQ that’s just been tough for scouts to get past. On 118 post-up possessions, he also generated just 81 points (37.3 percent), good for the 27th percentile.
Reid has a lot to prove in summer league in terms of his ability to execute, read the game better and raise his sense of urgency. Otherwise, teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, could start solidifying their opinions on Reid’s general approach and his chances of being a pro.
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Summer league is Fall’s chance to prove he’s not just a gimmick and that he can effectively use his 7’7″ size and unprecedented 8’2¼-inch wingspan against 2019 draft picks and top G Leaguers.
More than anything, the Boston Celtics (and other potential suitors) will be focused on his movement and his fluidity. At nearly 289 pounds, he isn’t the most graceful, often looking choppy in the post and heavy-footed when running, jumping or sliding.
Shutting down the paint defensively will also be a priority for Fall, who’ll want to convince a team that he can add value (in short spurts) just by standing around the rim.
Boban Marjanovic, who’s 7’3″, 290 pounds, recently agreed to sign a two-year, $7 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, and he has similar limitations as Fall. There could be a speciality niche for the 23-year-old UCF product. Showing some surprise touch and a little more nimbleness could help Fall expand NBA teams’ imaginations.
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Darius Bazley made headlines by decommitting from Syracuse and then backing out of the G League. Not everyone agreed that the path he chose was best for his development.
The Oklahoma City Thunder went ahead and drafted him at No. 23 overall anyway. And now there is a report from The Oklahoman‘s Erik Thorne that Bazley may not even play in Las Vegas.
It would be in his best interest to suit up, though. Bazley will want to prove that OKC made a worthwhile gamble and that his decision to skip college to train will be equally effective in preparing him for the next level.
He was up and down at the NBA combine, where he flashed the talent and skill that made him a McDonald’s All-American but also a rawness that showed on certain shot-creation moves and missed jump shots.
Last year, Mitchell Robinson did the same thing by passing up college and the G League before the draft. He then went on to lead summer league in player efficiency rating (minimum 50 minutes). Heading into his first NBA season, Bazley could similarly ease worries about his development by showing out in Las Vegas.
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Nassir Little will presumably feel like he needs to prove over 20 teams wrong. He slipped to No. 25 in the draft after spending the season coming off the bench at North Carolina, despite being viewed as a potential top-five pick.
Questions surfaced in 2018-19 concerning Little’s skill level and feel for the game. On the other hand, he wasn’t featured or given much freedom to play through mistakes.
The narrative on Little has changed throughout the past year. Now it’s all over the place.
If Little struggles in summer league and shows minimal ability to create his own shot or convert open threes, then head coach Terry Stotts could feel reluctant to give him early minutes.
Playing well by shooting and defending better than he did in college and by causing matchup problems with his strength, quickness and athleticism could incentivize Portland’s coaching staff to experiment more with Little, particularly after the team traded forward Maurice Harkless.