While Summer League in the books, we take a look at sophomores on the rise who weren't in Las Vegas.

By Ben Leibowitz
July 21, 2015

Fans keeping their eyes on 2015 NBA Summer League took notice of Las Vegas MVP Kyle Anderson, Seth Curry’s scoring chops, and the impressive performance of former No. 4 overall pick Aaron Gordon—who averaged 21.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in three outings for Orlando.

It will be interesting to see whether Gordon and Anderson can carry their summer success into their sophomore seasons—and if Steph Curry’s younger brother will earn a full-time NBA gig somewhere. Meanwhile, a handful of young upstarts who didn’t compete in Summer League will now be put under the microscope.

Unlike guys earning acclaim despite the finicky nature of Summer League (remember: notorious draft bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili averaged 25.7 points in 2004), the following players have already carved out key roles on their NBA rosters. They’ll be depended on to make great strides forward in 2015-16, which is exactly why fans should monitor their growth and development in the coming months.

• MORE NBA: Summer League winners, losers | Towns under KG tutelage

Otherwise known as the “Stifle Tower,” 7'1" French center Rudy Gobert blossomed like a fleur-de-lis during his second year as a pro. After being buried on the bench by former coach Tyrone Corbin (earning fewer than 10 minutes per game as a rookie), Gobert was granted a much longer leash by first-year head coach Quin Snyder.

Obviously the youngster would post superior numbers with nearly triple the amount of minutes he had received previously, but he was also far more efficient on the court. He converted 60.4% of his field goals compared to just 48.6% the season prior, and he limited his fouls to 2.1 per game—allowing the big man to stay on the court longer.

The raw numbers are great, and an early sign that Gobert can become an All-Star-caliber player. But where he truly hangs his hat is on the defensive end of the court, where advanced stats help tell part of the narrative.

When Gobert was patrolling the paint in Utah’s defensive schemes, the Jazz were a far superior defensive unit. Additionally, opponents converted just 40.4% of their shot attempts at the rim against Gobert, according to NBA.com. That mark was better than noted rim protectors Andrew Bogut (41.4%), Roy Hibbert (42.6%), and Nerlens Noel (45.4%).

Gobert only finished fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, but that was due in part to the fact that he started in just 37 of 82 games. A second-half surge from the towering center (and the Jazz as a team) wasn’t enough, but you can bet he’ll be eyeing the award in his third year as a pro.

Even though the Milwaukee Bucks had a pretty darn good point guard in house via All-Star snub Brandon Knight, the organization opted for additional seasons of leeway. By trading the soon-to-be restricted free agent in a three-team deal, Milwaukee netted a cheaper option in Michael Carter-Williams (under contract through 2015-16 with a team option for 2016-17).

In a head-to-head comparison, most basketball minds would take Knight. He’s a superior shooter, two months younger, and has more experience at the NBA level (four seasons versus two). That being said, MCW is a far better rebounder, dishes out two assists more per game, and has greater defensive potential as a result of his 6’6” frame and long arms.

It will only be natural for fans to compare the careers of these two players against one another moving forward, given that they were swapped in the same deal. However, the key comparison for Carter-Williams may very well be to his coach: Jason Kidd.

When Kidd began his career back in 1994-95 with the Dallas Mavericks, he was also a very poor shooter. However, he was able to impact the game in other ways by rebounding at an elite level for a guard, swiping steals, and dishing out assists. Perhaps he can mold Carter-Williams to do the same in the short term, and who knows, maybe MCW can develop a three-point stroke like Kidd did later in his career.

In any case, this is a player-coach relationship that’s worth watching closely.

• MORE NBA: All-NBA Summer League team | Smith upgrades Clipper bench

With Greg Monroe on his way to Milwaukee, it's now clear that Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit Pistons will build around young center Andre Drummond.

The UConn product slipped to No. 9 overall in the 2012 draft, but he made an impact immediately by averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in just 20.7 minutes per contest. He built his résumé from there with averages of 13.5 points (on 62.3% shooting) and 13.2 rebounds in his second year, but the year-to-year offensive improvement didn’t continue last season.

Instead, Drummond’s field goal percentage fell more than 10 points down to 51.4%. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s pretty easy to decipher why the big man’s conversion rate from the field fell so drastically.

In addition to dabbling more with shots outside of the restricted area throughout his third season—attempts he wasn’t very effective at converting—his percentage inside the restricted area (53.1%) was down significantly from the 63.9% he posted on the interior the season prior.

Detroit needs Drummond to be a dominant force now that he’s becoming the face of the franchise. The best five-man and four-man combination lineups for Detroit last season by net points per 100 possessions (minimum 100 minutes played) included both Drummond and freshly re-signed guard Reggie Jackson, according to Basketball Reference. Perhaps that’s a rosy precursor for Drummond’s career arc.

Last year’s No. 2 overall draft choice, Jabari Parker, suffered an ACL tear just 25 games into his professional career. The Duke product has spent the offseason focusing on his physical condition. The road to a full recovery won’t be easy, but the 20-year-old forward showed promising signs in a small sample size last year.

Aside from three-point territory, where Parker made four of just 16 attempts, he was efficient from every distance. His ability to spread the floor with midrange shooting will be even more valuable now that Monroe has been added to the fold to score in the paint.

Combine the injury questions with Parker’s upside, and his 2015-16 campaign will be one of those most intriguing for fans to follow.

•​ MORE NBA: Former college players proving mettle at Summer League

Throughout a five-year career, Ed Davis has been a per-minute analytics darling. The former lottery pick has averaged 12.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 55.6% from the floor. That may be a moot point, provided that Davis would have to stay out of foul trouble and start hitting his free throws to be an asset throughout a larger minute allotment, but the 26-year-old former Tar Heel certainly has potential.

Whether he’ll reach said potential remains to be seen. But unless the Trail Blazers look to play Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard simultaneously, Davis projects as the starting power forward to replace the San Antonio-bound LaMarcus Aldridge.

Those are definitely some big shoes to fill. And while we’re not suggesting Davis will suddenly morph into an All-Star like Aldridge, he could be a candidate vying for the league’s Most Improved Player award by season’s end.

Davis may be more qualified for a “veteran” moniker than a “youngster” label at this point, but after signing his three-year, $20 million deal with Portland, he may have finally found a place where he can thrive.

More from Ben Leibowitz:

Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team’s Offseason

Ranking the Best (and Worst) 2015 NBA Free-Agent Signings

The Most- and Least-Improved Teams of NBA Free Agency

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