SI's 2016 All-Summer League awards: Simmons, Booker among Vegas stars
- Ben Simmons and Devin Booker starred at Summer League, but several under-the-radar players also turned heads, including MVP Jordan McRae.
LAS VEGAS — The 2016 All-Summer League selections cover every corner of the NBA universe: from No. 1 overall pick to undrafted rookie, from untested players to a world champion, from Minnesota to California and from South Sudan to Australia, from teenagers to a 25-year-old, and on and on.
That’s exactly how it should be. Summer League is an annual celebration that pits the NBA’s developing stars side-by-side with fringe players. This year, three 2016 lottery picks—Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Milwaukee’s Thon Maker—were among the All-Tournament selections, while the other seven spots were filled with promising sophomores and D-League journeymen alike.
The NBA named Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones the Summer League MVP on Sunday after the 2015 first-round pick averaged 19.4 PPG and 6.3 APG while leading Minnesota to Monday night’s championship game against Chicago.
Here are the rest of the All-Tournament selections.
All-NBA Summer League MVP: Tyus Jones (Minnesota)
All-NBA Summer League First Team: Tyus Jones (Minnesota), Jordan McRae (Cleveland), Bobby Portis (Chicago), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia), Alan Williams (Phoenix)
All-NBA Summer League Second Team: Jaylen Brown (Boston), Thon Maker (Milwaukee), Kelly Oubre Jr. (Washington), Norman Powell (Toronto), Tyler Ulis (Phoenix)
As in years past, SI.com filled out an official ballot, which was submitted Sunday after the event’s semifinal games. Here’s a full rundown of SI.com’s ballot selections. Note that players needed to appear in at least two Summer League games to be included on SI.com’s ballot. Bonus points given to players who appeared in more games and to those whose teams performed well in the tournament format.
MVP: Jordan McRae, Cavaliers
McRae, a 2014 second-round pick and Summer League veteran, is a pure bucket-getter. At 25, the 6’6” Cavaliers guard is older and more accomplished than the vast majority of the Las Vegas field, and something tells me he will cherish his 2016 NBA championship ring a little bit more than his All-Summer League honors.
Nevertheless, McRae made the most of his experience and natural attack mentality, living at the free-throw line over the last 10 days while leading Cleveland to the tournament’s semifinals. Although his outside shot was hit or miss at times, McRae poured in 30+ points in back to back wins over the Celtics and Lakers, showing a nice mix of decisions in pick-and-roll situations. He found points getting all the way to the rim, rocking into step-back jumpers and pulling up from the mid-range, and he looked more than comfortable attacking defenders one-on-one after spending the last two seasons paying his dues in the D-League.
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Given his age and his difficulty cracking Cleveland’s rotation last season, it’s best not to get too carried away in celebrating McRae’s play in Las Vegas. Still, he made a strong case that he should be on the roster as Cleveland pursues its title defense next season and an even stronger case that he’s probably ready to retire from the Summer League circuit.
All-Summer League First Team
Jordan McRae, Cavaliers: In seven games, McRae averaged a Summer League-leading 24.3 PPG (minimum three games played), five rebounds and two assists. Fatigue appeared to catch up with him in a semifinals loss to the Bulls, as he scored 16 points on 16 shots and committed five turnovers in his fourth game in five nights.
Norman Powell, Raptors: For the second straight Summer League, the 23-year-old Powell (19.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.4 APG) stood out from the crowd thanks to his solid overall skillset. Powell is just so inherently trustworthy: you expect him to knock down his open jumpers, you expect him to finish layups against Summer League interior defenders, you expect him to force a turnover or two with his natural instincts, and you expect him to play with effort and focus on both ends every single game.
A 2015 second-round pick, Powell managed to play more than 700 minutes for the Raptors as a rookie, including real minutes throughout the playoffs. Even with both DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross re-signing long-term contracts over the last 12 months, it will be hard to keep Powell, a strong 3-and-D wing with a little extra pop to his offensive game, off the court. Remarkably, Powell will earn less than $1 million next season, making him one of the NBA’s best bargains.
Devin Booker, Suns: The 2015 lottery pick was only left off the official All-Tournament team because he shut down his Summer League stint early. Booker, 19, looked so good in scorching performances against the Blazers and Celtics that there wasn’t anything else to prove. Known primarily for his shooting stroke, the 2015 lottery pick was a one-man offense in this format, scoring off the dribble and from beyond the arc while also repeatedly setting up his teammates for easy looks by drawing significant attention. Booker also impressed with his confidence and command, seeking out one-on-one matchups and carrying himself like a veteran.
Thanks to its youth and recent roster turnover, Phoenix appears to be in the “two years away from being two years away” category. Booker’s high ceiling and quick progress should provide long-term hope and short-term excitement to Suns fans stuck waiting on the franchise’s return to respectability.
Ben Simmons, Sixers: Las Vegas didn’t produce a truly definitive or transcendent performance from the 2016 No. 1 overall pick: Simmons’s shooting was mediocre, his shot selection was worse than timid, and he occasionally chased highlight plays to the detriment of his team.
Those faults acknowledged, Simmons was still very effective and very fun in Vegas. His court vision drew unanimous rave reviews, he displayed the handle and temperament to serve as the lead initiator of a (near-) NBA level offense, and he found ways to attract load of attention when he was used as a high screener and as a post-up threat. Simmons (12.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.5 APG) should be racking up triple doubles in Philadelphia in the not-too-distant future thanks to his rare combination of size, strength, fluidity and basketball intelligence.
Bobby Portis, Bulls: Portis, Chicago’s first-round pick last year, is everything the 2016-17 Bulls were supposed to be: young, hungry, competitive and athletic. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how he fits into a muddled picture following the offseason swapping of Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah for Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez.
The 6’11” Portis (15.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG) still butters his bread with physicality and energy, but he also displayed a newfound proficiency and comfort from beyond the arc in Vegas. With Rondo and Wade set to bring utility-closet cramping to Chicago’s backcourt, a little reliable spacing from Portis at the four would go a long, long way for coach Fred Hoiberg.
All-Summer League Second Team
Tyler Ulis, Suns: Go ahead and start the League Pass cult following right now. Listed at 5’10”, Ulis (14.5 PPG, 6.3 APG) looks significantly shorter than that, and yet he had no problem tearing through defenses all week long. The Kentucky product played with poise, good pace and control, doing well to get to his favorite spots for mid-range shots and generate good shots in the basket area despite his size limitations.
Although he struggled with turnovers, his shot, and his one-on-one defensive responsibilities in a semifinals loss to the Timberwolves, Ulis’s strong overall body of work proved that he could hang with the professional competition in Las Vegas. Phoenix has a lot of backcourt bodies, as always, but Ulis should make a push for some back-up minutes in what should be a rebuilding season.
D’Angelo Russell, Lakers: What a difference a year makes. Russell, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, probably deserves the “Most Improved Player” tag for Summer League. At his best, Russell plays cocky, threading tough passes, stepping into three-pointers and running the pick-and-roll with flair. That version of Russell was missing last summer, when he looked lost and couldn’t hit a shot.
This summer, Russell (21.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4 APG) played like a point guard who was ready to inherit the Lakers franchise from Kobe Bryant, knocking down a game-winning three at the buzzer and presenting all sorts of challenges for defenses with his playmaking. While his progress on the defensive end has lagged, Russell’s growth gives new coach Luke Walton something tangible with which to work.
Trey Lyles, Jazz: Another 2015 first-round pick who appeared in just two games before shutting it down, Lyles continued his strong play from the Utah Summer League in Las Vegas. The 6’10” stretch forward was too much for both the Blazers and Wizards, draining threes and getting to the line at will.
The Jazz have enjoyed something of a dream summer by filling major rotation holes with veterans like George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, but Lyles’s consistent pick-and-pop shooting and productive rebounding stands as the icing on the cake. Stretched by injuries last year, Utah should be one of the West’s deepest teams in 2016-17.
Larry Nance, Jr., Lakers: L.A.’s second-year forward had one heck of a week: he stole the show with his dunks during the much-hyped matchup between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, he nearly suffered a broken wrist during a game against the Cavaliers, and he finished in Summer League’s top 10 in both steals and blocks thanks to his nonstop energetic play. Nance is just always up to something, whether it’s running the floor in transition, challenging plays above the rim, or diving hard on pick-and-rolls with D’Angelo Russell. If Luke Walton is serious about instituting a Warriors-like up-tempo attack, the hyper-athletic Nance will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Jaylen Brown, Celtics: Although 2016’s No. 3 pick started slow in Las Vegas, he came on strong over his final three games to finish with quality numbers (16 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.8 SPG). While Brown’s lacking jumper and hit-or-miss finishing both leave much to be desired, he made his presence known by consistently attacking defenders hard off the dribble and by consistently forcing turnovers with his active, physical defense. At 19, Brown never looked overmatched from a physical standpoint against older competition; on the contrary, he was often successful bulling to the hoop through traffic and he wasn’t dissuaded by taking contact while in the air.
Honorable Mention: Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Tyus Jones, Timberwolves; Kris Dunn, Timberwolves; Terry Rozier, Celtics; Cheick Diallo, Pelicans; Alan Williams, Suns; Denzel Valentine, Bulls; Justin Anderson, Mavericks; Jonathon Simmons, Spurs; Kelly Oubre, Wizards.