Las Vegas Summer League: Top 5 NBA D-League Storylines
More than 100 players who've appeared in the NBA D-League are listed on Summer League rosters, and most of them aren't just playing for exposure or experience; they're playing for their jobs.
Here's what to watch for over the next two weeks in Vegas:
Fifteen days after what turned out to be a historic Draft Night for the NBA D-League, the two prospects will take the court as NBA players for the first time.
Hairston, the first 1st-round pick the league has ever produced, joins top-10 picks Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller on a Hornets team that will be run by Hairston's former Texas Legends teammate, point guard Mickey McConnell. Antetokounmpo needs to leave a lasting impression to convince the Knicks that their 51st overall pick is worthy of a roster spot from Day 1.
Both have already handled the type of competition they'll face in the Summer League, so it will be interesting to see whether they're a step ahead of their fellow rookies.
Mr. Mad Ant Ron Howard, electrifying young sidekick Tony Mitchell and head coach Conner Henry turned the Fort Wayne Mad Ants into a feel-good story as the NBA D-League champs in April. Now they'll take their show on the road as they guide the NBA D-League Select Team in Vegas.
The squad -- a minor-league all-star team assembled for the Summer League -- went 4-1 against NBA teams last year. Howard, the NBA D-League's version of Crash Davis, averaged just 7.6 points in those games and will surely come out swinging after a banner season (in which he also became the league's all-time leading scorer and its co-MVP) ended yet again without an NBA Call-Up.
Look for Mitchell, an elite athlete by any standard, to try to take over games the way he took over the NBA D-League Finals. Teammates Josh Akognon, Devin Ebanks and Travis Hyman are other candidates to break out with the Select Team.
These 11 days in Vegas will represent another chapter in the amazing story of Kiwi Gardner. The 5-5 guard has risen from Oakland high school sensation to Santa Cruz Warriors spark plug and all the way up to Golden State's Summer League team. You can bet that no one appreciates the opportunity more than Gardner, who's reaction to being chosen to participate -- like many of the things he does -- was a hit on the internet.
You can also bet that no one will be as entertaining, even if he doesn't play a minute of game time. With Santa Cruz, Kiwi doubled as the NBA D-League's best bench cheerleader when he wasn't injecting the team with instant offense.
The offseason is often a tipping point for NBA players, when they finally have ample time to sharpen specific aspects of their games. And Summer League offers a preliminary look at who's making the most headway entering the 2014-15 season.
Any one of the draftees assigned to the NBA D-League for seasoning over the past year -- with Dallas' Ricky Ledo, Golden State's Nemanja Nedovic, Houston's Isaiah Canaan and Phoenix's Archie Goodwin leading the pack -- could be ready to step in as a major contributor in October.
The NBA D-League season gives NBA hopefuls nearly six months to catch the eyes of big-league decision-makers. But making a splash at Summer League can provide an instant boost to a prospect's stock.
Last year it was James Nunnally, Malcolm Thomas and Jeremy Tyler who parlayed strong showings in Vegas into NBA Call-Ups during the 2013-14 season. A number of NBADLeague.com's Top Prospects have a shot this time around. Kevin Murphy, Seth Curry and DeAndre Liggins are three of the most intriguing players to watch.