Tomorrow, the Indiana Pacers start their annual Summer League games in Orlando, continuing to prefer the more intimate atmosphere without fans over the Las Vegas Summer League.
The Summer League is made up of players trying to prove something whether it’s a young player with an NBA contract trying to show they deserve playing time when the real games start (like Glenn Robinson III last year) or an NBA hopeful just trying to catch the eye of some team that will give them a shot in the league (Willie Reed dominated Summer League for a couple of years before finally getting a contract from the Nets).
This is often the first time fans get to see their new draft picks play with their NBA team and get excited with their potential (Myles Turner, Paul George, Lance Stephenson).
It’s important to remember that you can’t overreact to anything that happens in these ultimately meaningless games. These are a group of guys that got thrown together a week prior and it often looks like bad pickup basketball. Some players will play great in Orlando against these young hopefuls, but struggle once the regular season starts (Joe Young). Others won’t take these games seriously and look like they don’t belong in the NBA at all, but once the regular season starts, they start to show their value and abilities again (Solomon Hill).
With that said, there’s still value in these games (otherwise, why keep doing it every year?). Here’s a look at the Pacers roster and what the Pacers will be looking for out of each player:
Joe Young: In Young’s third Summer League, his experience should make him one of the best players on the court at all times. The Pacers will be looking at how well Young can run an offense as a point guard and how well he defends on the other end. Kevin Pritchard gave Young a vote of confidence in his press conference saying he could potentially play off the ball with Lance Stephenson running the point, but Young’s clearest path to a consistent role in the NBA is if he can play at the point guard position.
According to Spotrac.com, Young’s contract becomes guaranteed tomorrow for next season, so Joe should be on the roster next year. But this may be his final season to prove he’s an NBA player as 2018-19 is a team option for the Pacers.
Georges Niang: Niang played very well in the Summer League last season, showing off his high basketball IQ and scoring ability. It’s still a surprise that Niang was never given an opportunity last year as a stretch four especially with limited spacing coming from the bench units, but Nate McMillan must have been too concerned about Niang’s defense. The Pacers will be watching Niang on that end of the court this week as he has showed in the past that while his basketball IQ gets him to the right spots, his limited athleticism gives him problems on that end.
Rakeem Christmas: For the second straight summer, Christmas is playing to keep his contract. Last year, Christmas beat out Shayne Whittington. This year the Pacers have a load of centers already on the roster: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Kevin Seraphin, Christmas, and second-round pick Ike Anigbogu. The Pacers did decline Lavoy Allen’s team option.
Christmas will have to show that he’s worthy of keeping around. He showed his value in a brief stretch in February as an energetic big off the bench that sets screens and rebounds. The problem Christmas had was defending without fouling. Seeing a theme yet? He’s another player to watch on the defensive end.
TJ Leaf: The Pacers first-round pick will miss Saturday’s game to be the best man at his brother’s wedding, but when he comes back, the Pacers will get their first look at Leaf in an NBA setting. Leaf shot the 3-pointer well for UCLA but on limited attempts so it’ll be interesting to see if his range goes out to the NBA 3-point line. Leaf shows off some great athleticism in finishing some dunks at the rim, but defensively he needs a lot of work, especially in the pick and roll. How well the 19-year-old rookie plays on that end will likely determine how much playing he can get this year.
Leaf’s fellow draft picks Ike Anigbogu and Edmond Sumner will not play due to injury.
Ben Moore: Moore, who the Pacers signed to a partially guaranteed contract, has been described as a potential undrafted success story by the Ringer and is seen to have potential defensively as a modern big man that can switch everything on screens. The key for Moore making a place for himself in the NBA will be on the offensive end where he didn’t show much ability to shoot at SMU.
Augusto Lima: Lima is Brazilian and is under contract with Real Madrid currently, but he could be bought out by an NBA team. He’s a 6’10” center that runs the floor well and can make some phenomenal rim protections plays. He went undrafted in 2013, but the Pacers had been scouting his progress in Europe since then.
Jordan Loyd: Loyd played at the University of Indianapolis and last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He averaged 15/4/4 with Fort Wayne last season and was getting some NBA attention at the end of the season. He’ll also play in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Raptors.
Isaac Hamilton: Hamilton joins his UCLA college teammate Leaf in the Summer League. The guard averaged about 14 points and shot 38% over his three seasons with the Bruins.
Naz Mitrou-Long: One of three former Iowa State players on the Summer League squad. He improved his scoring average every year with the Cyclones and finished at 15 points per game in his final season.
Bubu Palo: Another former Cyclone, Palo averaged 16.1 points and 5 assists for Sioux Falls Skyforce in his third season in the D-League.
Jarnell Stokes: This power forward has played 28 NBA games in his career over the past three seasons with the Grizzlies, Heat and Nuggets. He was a D-League All Star two years ago averaging over 20 points and 9 rebounds per game.
Chris Johnson: Johnson has nearly 150 NBA games on his resume after playing for six teams in four seasons, but spent last year in the D-League, averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Travis Leslie: Leslie, a 6’4″ guard, played for the Mad Ants last season averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Trey McKinney-Jones: Another member of the Mad Ants last season, McKinney-Jones has spent three of the last four years with Fort Wayne. Last year, he averaged 16.6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.