The Summer League has risen in popularity over the last few years, primarily because bloggers have been given unique access to the event and thus have poured their hearts and souls into covering it as if it were their the NBA Finals. Though some think that the Summer League is slightly above a waste of time, I've found it to be a nice indicator of what to expect from many young talents at the professional level.
Then again, when watching these players in Summer League action, you have to be careful not to come to any definitive conclusions... about anything. The Summer League is about dropping hints. Last season, Chase Budinger showed flashes of brilliance of the catch-and-shoot variety. Otherwise, he disappointing when in isolation and didn't exactly appear to be a shutdown defender. But when evaluating these players, you must take into consideration A) Their current competition, and B) The specific role they will play on their NBA team. Budinger may not have been very good in isolation, but that's okay, because he was never going to be asked to do that for the Rockets in the first place.
On the other hand, guys like Anthony Randolph absolutely dominated the Summer League, because that's what players of his talent are supposed to do. Randolph's 30-point performances in Vegas didn't transfer to the NBA, and rightfully so. Clearly, his numbers were indicative of weak competition. But many scouts saw some random things about Randolph that they liked -- a crisp jump shot from the wing, or a clever post move on the block, or a quick step towards the lane to prevent a driving guard from reaching the basket. The Summer League is all about finding the smallest of details in a performance and projecting how that detail will transfer to the NBA.
The Rockets have seemed to benefit as much as anyone from using the Summer League to evaluate young players. David and Raheel mentioned this in their video preview: for the past couple of seasons, a single player's Summer League performance made a major impact on the professional roster. Last season, Budinger made a major impact and was instantly slotted into the rotation. A year prior, Donte Greene wowed critics and later encouraged the Sacramento Kings to acquire him in exchange for Ron Artest. And in 2007, rookies Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry showed signs of potential, enabling each to make the roster and see immediate playing time.
This year, the Rockets will show up to Vegas with a 13-man roster, featuring current Rockets such as Budinger, Jermaine Taylor and Jordan Hill, rookie Patrick Patterson, as well as many young players who either went undrafted in 2010 or have been playing in the D-League for the past few seasons. You can find the official roster here.
Quickly, here are five dudes who you'll want to keep an eye on come this evening (our first game is at 5:00 p.m. CST).
1. Patrick Patterson
He's the rookie, so you'll want to watch to see how he adjusts to the first level of professional ball. Look for him to be a monster on the boards and work on his post-up and face-up game. Perhaps we'll see flashes of his perimeter ability as well.
2. Jordan Hill
This will be Hill's first time to be officially listed as a center. We'll see how he has improved his post game and his defensive ability. Should be focusing on defense and rebounds, much in the way that Joey Dorsey did last season. But you'll see some good shots here and there, simply because Hill is pretty high above his competition.
3. Gary Forbes
Forbes has always appeared to be a strong, fundamentally sound player. He's a little like Jermaine Taylor in that he can drive effectively and uses his balance and skill set morse so than his athleticism. He is also working to improve his outside shot and could be a dark horse to receive a call-up later this season assuming he plays well.
4. Blake Ahearn
The pride of Missouri, I can tell you first hand that Missourians are shocked Blake has not found a permanent home on an NBA roster. The kid can flat out shoot. Can he play defense? Probably not, but from the sound of things he's capable of doing just about anything else. Perhaps we can safely say that he's Steve Novak in a guard's body?
5. Jermaine Taylor
Jermaine will be fighting to make the final roster this season. He's currently stuck between "great D-leaguer" and "suspect NBA talent." That said, Jermaine did show signs of vast improvement from the start of last season to its conclusion, so I expect big things from Vegas this year. He'll have to put on a show to have a definite shot at making the roster.
Friday July 9, COX Pavilion
Houston vs. Phoenix, 5 PM
Saturday July 10, COX Pavillion
Houston vs. Denver, 9 PM
Sunday July 11, COX Pavillion
Portland vs. Houston, 5 PM
Tuesday July 13, Thomas & Mack
Houston vs. Toronto, 5:30 PM
Wednesday July 14, COX Pavillion
Denver vs. Houston, 3 PM