What to Watch For in 2014 Summer League
When the 2014 NBA Draft wrapped up about two weeks ago, fans across the globe were left searching for something to latch on to, something to satisfy the NBA fix. And even though the regular season may seem like an eternity away — 113 days until opening night to be exact —the NBA Summer League slate in Las Vegas is right around the corner. While the Summer League spectacle in Sin City doesn't feature the major faces of the NBA, the 10-day exhibition pits some of the league's untapped potential against one another in the same venue. That makes for an entertaining week-and-a-half of competition, and is enough to give even the biggest basketball junkies a little fix of the NBA action.
Summer League is more than a scene for the fans—it's also a chance for rookies, second-year guys, and fringe NBA players to make a lasting impression. That's not to say a good showing in Summer League guarantees a roster spot, but in years past many players have made a name for themselves throughout the event.
The Wolves, in particular, face many questions entering Summer League. It's been a crazy first month of the offseason, to say the least, with the NBA Draft, Flip Saunders being named head coach, and other swirling questions. That said, Summer League gives fans an opportunity to focus solely on basketball while taking a quick glimpse into the potential future of the team.
This year's Summer League roster for the Wolves features three players with actual NBA experience, two picks from the 2014 NBA Draft, and a host of players vying for a roster spot. There's a chance the Wolves lineup could feature some of the most talented players in the Las Vegas circuit, but there are also question marks throughout the lineup. Minnesota’s three preliminary round games are July 12 against the Dallas Mavericks (5:30 PM CT), July 13 against the Washington Wizards (9:30 PM CT), and July 15 against the Chicago Bulls (3:30 PM CT).
Here's are a few storylines to keep an eye on throughout the showcase:
Is Shabazz Muhammad Ready To Take The Next Step?
Shabazz Muhammad was a coveted prospect heading into UCLA, and he had major success in his first and only year with the Bruins. Muhammad didn't have the same type of immediate impact during his rookie season with the Wolves last year, averaging 7.8 minutes per game — partially because Rick Adelman rarely gave rookies much floor time— and 3.9 points. Muhammad only saw action in 37 games last season, but he showed glimpses when he did get his chances. His best game of the season came against the Phoenix Suns when he dropped 20 points and was crucial down the stretch in a 110-101 Wolves win.
Muhammad gave fans a taste of what he can do at points last year, and now it's time to see what the offseason did for his development.
The Wolves encouraged Muhammad to drop some weight during the offseason, a move designed to make him quicker on the hardwood. This year’s Summer League will show just what Muhammad did in the offseason to keep in shape. He scored a lot of his points slashing through the paint last season, and shedding a few pounds could give him a quicker first step.
Muhammad’s health will also be a question. He doesn't have a history of injuries, but was plagued by a knee ailment toward the end of last season. While his weight and health will be a topic of discussion, his development is what everyone is waiting to see.
Can Gorgui Dieng Dominate In The Paint?
It's no secret that Rick Adelman shied away from playing rookies during his tenure in the NBA, but when Nikola Pekovic suffered an injury in the middle of last season, his hand was forced with Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng didn't disappoint, though, hauling in rebounds, protecting the paint with vicious blocks, and contributing on the offensive end. His stats weren't flashy, but if his production was expanded to 36 minutes per game, he would have averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. It's easy to see why Dieng garnered a number of votes in the Rookie of the Year race, even though he only started 15 games.
Now that Dieng has been exposed to the style of play in the NBA, he hopes to dominate the Summer League circuit. He has already made an impact in the NBA against some of the bigger names, so it will be interesting to see the way he handles being one of the top players in Las Vegas. Dieng definitely won't back down from a challenge, as he's shown throughout his first year with the team, but Wolves fans will be looking for a little more than a gritty attitude this time around.
How Will First-Round Pick Zach LaVine Fair?
Zach LaVine could be the most interesting player on the Wolves roster during Summer League. LaVine has ridiculous bounce with a 46-inch vertical, but his biggest question mark is whether his skill set will translate to the NBA.
LaVine only started one game at UCLA last season, and averaged 9.4 points per game and 37.5 percent shooting from 3-point land. Those numbers don't pop off the stat sheet, but LaVine did jump off the TV screen at times last season. That athletic ability is the reason Flip Saunders selected him with the thirteenth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
This will be LaVine's first chance to make an impression on the Wolves’ coaching staff, his teammates, and the rest of the NBA. He's still just a 19-year-old kid and will be playing against some players with years of NBA experience. It will also be interesting to see if he can compete physically, as he weighs in at 180 pounds. He'll no doubt have to put on some weight before the season starts, but Summer League will show where he stands physically against other wings throughout the NBA.
The Wolves will also get a chance to see LaVine's prowess on the defensive end. He will start at shooting guard in Las Vegas and will get a chance to guard some of the more athletic players in Summer League. He was a capable defender at UCLA last season, but the Saunders is looking for a solid two-way player at the shooting guard position going forward.
Who Will Coach The Team? How Will The Team Jell?
David Adelman will coach Summer League roster again this season, but this go around will be a little different as Flip Saunders — not Rick Adelman — is at the helm for the Wolves. David Adelman is the only returner from last year's coaching staff, and assistant coaches Sidney Lowe, Sam Mitchell, and Ryan Saunders will join him in Las Vegas.
Those four guys will split coaching duties throughout Summer League, and it will be exciting to see the way the group works together. This is a different era for the Wolves with Saunders in charge, and though he won't work with the Xs and Os during Summer League, it could be a telling week to see the way players respond to the revamped coaching staff. That said most of the questions with the coaching staff won't be answered until the regular season begins.
What Did Alexey Shved Do To Improve In The Offseason?
Though fans will likely be ogling over Zach LaVine during the Las Vegas circuit, Alexey Shved might have the most to prove during the 10 days.
He took the NBA by storm during his rookie campaign, getting into the fire as a plethora of injuries plagued the Wolves two years ago. He proved to be a viable role player that season, but took a step back during his sophomore year. Shved's numbers dropped across the board, and his confidence level along with them.
This will be a crucial season for Shved, and it starts with Summer League. He will be the Wolves starting point guard in Las Vegas, a position where he's likely going to have to find his niche to remain in the NBA. Shved is a combo guard of sorts, but lacks some skills needed to play as a shooting guard in the NBA. If he can prove himself as a competent point guard in Summer League, he will have an important role backing up Rick Rubio next season. If he can't he could find himself on the bench again next season.