Summer League Showcases the Intangibles

Gorgui Dieng at 2013 NBA Summer League

Shahbaz Khan
Social Media Associate

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NBA Summer League is an exciting time for many reasons: it's the first look at draft picks in action for their respective teams, it's an opportunity to see returning players showcase their improvements and it's a time where fringe players can prove that they're NBA-ready. Given these positives, it's easy to get overly excited for Summer League—especially since fans have been anticipating the return of Timberwolves basketball since the middle of April.

Although it's undoubtedly an exciting time, here are some things to keep in mind about Summer League: first, the things that tend to carry-over accurately to the NBA are the things that don't show up on the stat sheets. While points, steals, field goal percentage and more are generally viewed as the exciting pieces, the things that Summer League best showcases have no statistical presence. The most important takeaways from Summer League rarely happen to be players’ scoring rates and their efficiency. The competition in Summer League is much different than an NBA regular season—let alone playoffs—and an offensive outburst or something of the sort is not indicative of the ability to do the same throughout an NBA season. At the same time, a poor offensive performance should not be frowned upon given that the Summer League squad has had little time to form any team chemistry.

Instead of focusing on the stat lines, Summer League provides a great stage for young players to show some intangibles, like willingness to learn, the ability to adapt on the fly and relentlessness on both ends of the floor.

Take Gorgui Dieng, for example. Dieng took the opportunity during Summer League to showcase his famous defense that earned him Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors at Louisville, and how those skills would translate to the NBA.

Gorgui showed his ability to defend the lane very well off the pick and roll, a skill seen time and time again during his rookie year.

On the offensive end, look at Gorgui's tendencies after setting a pick. In the first Summer League games last year, Gorgui nearly always popped out to the elbow for a mid-range jumper after setting a pick. During the last few games, Gorgui rolled off a pick towards the lane when the defender doubled the ball-handler. It's a very small and simple adaptation, but one that shows how quickly Gorgui learned and was able to adapt from his coaches’ advice. It was evident that the same held true throughout the NBA Season for Gorgui, as he continually added to his game.

Lastly, Gorgui showed that he was relentless on each play, never giving up on a play and fighting for loose balls. Again, it's not something that shows up on a stat sheet, but it's that type of play that allowed Gorgui to eventually earn minutes on the squad. Going into this year's Summer League, it will be interesting to see how Gorgui has added to his post game after his experiences last season and in the offseason.

Shabazz Muhammad's Summer League Highlights also show two notable offensive tendencies he was able to convert to the NBA as a rookie: cutting into the lane and left-box post-ups. As Summer League starts this week, coaches and fans will be looking to see if Shabazz has developed better off-ball movement and an improved defensive focus.

Zach LaVine, the Wolves’ 2014 first round draft pick out of UCLA, is widely touted for his athletic abilities and shooting touch from 3-point range. That being said, in order to become a complete NBA player, LaVine will have to show his abilities to get into the lane along with proving that he can defend at an NBA level. At 19, he's the youngest player on the Wolves Summer League roster, but by showing his ability to play solid defense and get to the basket, he could earn himself much more playing time when the NBA season begins in October.

Glenn Robinson III, the Wolves’ second round pick, is another athletic player known for his slashing abilities and high field goal percentage—shooting 53 percent from the floor in two years at Michigan. For Summer League though, it will be important for Robinson III to play well off the ball defensively.

Alexey Shved will be on the Wolves Summer League roster this year, and although he's going into his third NBA Season, it will be important for Shved to prove that he's able to distribute the ball from the point guard position without turnovers. In his rookie season with the Wolves, Shved averaged about four assists per game. Last season, that number dropped to just one. For him to stay on the court during the NBA season, Shved will need to show that he's able to adapt to being a primary ballhandler once again.

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