As Steve McPhereson of Grantland noted yesterday, Summer League isn’t exactly the most reliable place from which one should form long-term judgments or project the career paths of the unestablished. The list of Summer League standouts that haven’t panned out in the regular season is long and enlightening—it serves as a cautionary tale to temper expectations, lest you want to feel the disappointment that accompanied the second-acts of Anthony Randolph, Donte Green, and Adam Morrison.
We’re reminded constantly that this is Summer League, and that we should take what we see, the level of play from both a team and individual standpoint and how that pertains to the course of the regular season, with a grain of salt. Most of these guys are, after all, unlikely to make a final roster come October.
But that doesn’t mean it’s foolish to get excited and that doesn’t mean that we should dilute the value of what we see and what we deem translatable at the next level.
These cautionary tales often stem from the same type of players: the slow guard, the undersized post player/ rebounder, the lanky "take-a-chance-on-me" big with perimeter skills, and the athletic but motorless enigma.
When a player from one of the above categories breaks out for 30 in a Summer League game, then it’s fair to question how they will capitalize similarly at a level where the guards are faster, the rebounders are longer, the bigs are stronger, and everyone else is committed with similar athletic abilities.
None of the Hawks rookies display those red flags, however. None of the Hawks rookies have truly dominated a game either, but that’s okay, that’s the way it should be. And it’s right, in our case, to be excited about the future of the Hawks with what we’ve seen. Schröder and Nougeira have shown flashes that make a future of pick-and-rolls, afros, and smiles easier to imagine by the day, but they’ve also shown weaknesses, but fixable ones.
So with that in mind, somewhere around halfway through Summer League play, let’s address the hype of the guys who have generated the most buzz from the Hawks in Vegas: Dennis Schröder, Lucas Nougeira, John Jenkins, and Mike Scott.
Dennis Schröder (7.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG):
Where to start? Well, there’s the innate feel for the pick-and-roll and the already developing chemistry with his fellow 2013 first round pick, Lucas Nougeira.
Dennis is patient coming off screens, always scanning the defense to see how they react. His speed usually forces a hedge from the opposing big, allowing for the screen-setter to have a higher percentage of finding himself open in the lane. And even if he’s open for just a moment longer than he'd normally be, Schröder has already shown that he can squeeze the ball into a tight window in that brief span.
His passing as an entity of itself is also worth lauding. He can throw a precise and crisp one-handed pass across the court or penetrate the defense and find the open big before the defensive rotation is able to help, although he’s yet to do the latter consistently thus far. Nonetheless, it’s impressive to see the way he directs traffic, so to speak. He’s definitely in control of the entire floor when he’s got the ball in his hands—he’s a floor general, in the truest sense of the term.
It’s impossible not to notice his speed when he’s darting down the court after every outlet pass. He has an explosive first step and tight handle that seems to only accentuate his quickness.
He is able to showcase that speed often because of his huge and fast hands, which have generated several steals and have allowed him to run in the open court. He can be a bit touchy defensively, but his long arms allow him to disrupt the passing lanes and he has solid instincts that accompany his ball-hawking pressure, which of course enables him to force a lot of turnovers.
There’s also communication. And granted, this one may be a bit subjective because I’m not in the huddle or in the locker room, but you can see him discuss mistakes and plays with Nougeira on his way to the bench, you can see him bark out instructions on the court. He’s not afraid to communicate and talk, and as a conductor of an offense, that’s a positive attribute.
Despite his effective command of the floor, Schröder has yet to score efficiently in Summer League play. He's shooting only 28.6% from the field, a percentage that can be attributed to questionable shot selection and an inability to finish at the rim.
The shot selection isn't as much of a problem-- he seems to fall in love with the three for short stretches, and he's yet to prove he can hit that shot consistently, but otherwise, he seems to have relative restraint; in other words, he's not a chucker.
His inability to finish in traffic seems to be the larger problem. Schröder can get into the lane almost at will, which just from a penetration standpoint is huge as it forces the defense to rotate, but he's developed an affinity for a scoop layup that may have worked in Germany, but won't work in the NBA. He's been blocked going to the hole on numerous occasions, and it's primarily because he isn't approaching the shot correctly.
As Peachtree Hoops' own Robby Kalland noted on twitter, it would greatly behoove Schröder to develop a usable floater.
I've already mentioned how his giant hands have proved to be a boon for the team's defense, but it's important to consider that Schröder has amassed 13 personal fouls in three games. He loves to reach and go for the steal, and while it's worked several times, it's also put him in regular foul trouble. Schröder needs to learn how to pick his battles on defense-- how to capitalize when the ball is exposed, instead of forcing the issue and creating too much contact with the opposing offensive player.
There have been a few instances of him forcing passes, but it's not entirely worth expounding on as it's too early to discern whether there was just some confusion on the court it whether it will be a recurring issue.
He could stand to bulk up a bit, but that seems to be the case with most incoming rookies.
Lucas Nougeira ( 8.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
The first thing that stands out when you see Nougeira, aside from the afro, is his length. He has a huge wingspan, which allows him to contest shots defensively, battle for rebounds, and rise up for lobs. He's been doing all three of those acts in stretches, but while he may not be dependable in all those aspects, he definitely has the raw tools to become dependable.
Arguably even more impressive than his length, however, are his reliable hands and his sweet touch around the hoop. His activity and success on the offensive glass is largely due to the fact that he can tip balls to himself or tip them in the basket in traffic-- his deftness at playing the ball off the rim is impressive and has led to several putbacks. He can catch the most difficult of lobs and can finish over anyone.
His passing was an underrated feature of his game in scouting discussions around the NBA Draft. He's executed a few give-and-gos perfectly and has even been crafty around the hoop.
Lastly, what makes everything Nougeira does doable is his relentless motor. Even when he's struggling, he's always going full speed, always active, always hustling to strengthen the team's collective effort. If Schröder is a vocal leader, Nougeira is a leader-by-example (not to say that Schröder isn't)-- he's always playing hard and always changing the game on both ends of the floor.
Playing center in the NBA means banging with some big bodies down low, and Nougeira doesn't have the frame for that sort of physicality yet. He needs to improve his strength and gain weight before he'll be ready to shoulder any sort of consistent defensive load.
Those two issues seem to be at the root of the rest of his problems. His one-on-one post defense is flawed because he can be easily backed down, and his defensive rebounding isn't as strong as it could be because he's often moved out of position by a stronger body, even if he had the right positioning to begin with.
The one place where he can definitely improve regardless of strength or weight is help defense. He's played some great help defense in Summer League, and he's played some not-so-great help defense in Summer League, so the good news is that he's already progressing and already learning.
He has a tendency to let the attacking offensive player get in front of him, because he likes to block from behind-- he likes to try and smack the ball off the glass. What he needs to do is cut off the driving lane and either just raise his hands or jump straight up. Altering shots can be just as, if not more effective than blocking shots.
If Nougeira can consistently play strong help defense, he may find some early playing time.
John Jenkins (19.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 APG):
Jenkins is a familiar face, so we might have known, more or less, what to expect.
He still has the same excellent shooting form that we fell in love with last year, and he has an unquestionable swagger to his game in Summer League thus far that exudes confidence in his role with the team once the regular season comes around; he knows he's a potential starter.
His footwork and explosiveness coming off screens and curls has improved and it's created more open looks for him. He hasn't been hesitating to take advantage of those open looks, and that stands to reason why he's averaging just under 20 points per game.
Another thing that is easy to notice when you're looking for it is how active Jenkins is without the ball. Part of this is coaching and part of it is player instinct-- Jenkins is always moving and always trying to position himself for a clear shot. He definitely has the mindset of a scorer.
Jenkins has undoubtedly been a little trigger-happy, taking any shot where there's even a sliver of separation between him and his defender. This isn't always a bad thing, but at times he seems to be forcing the issue.
His on-ball defense has been solid throughout, but his perimeter rotations have been an issue in the first three games, allowing for opposing teams to generate some open threes of their own. This was especially evident in the game against San Antonio, in which he was late closing out a shooter on a few instances.
Mike Scott (16.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
Scott has been an efficient workhorse for the Hawks in Summer League play, and it's worth noting that against the Spurs he set a 2013 LVSL high of 27 points.
His mid-range and face-up game have been the driving factors in his efficient offensive play, as he has an impressive touch on fall-aways and 15-footers.
But what has been potentially the most important strength in Scott's game has been his aggression. He's not afraid to bump bodies or create contact, and that's led to quite a few trips to the free throw line. He's been converting those freebies too, going 14-16 from the stripe in his three games (13-13 against San Antonio).
Despite his position and aforementioned aggression, Scott is averaging only 4 rebounds per game.
He's not active enough on the defensive glass, but he's also slightly undersized for his position.
Moreover, Scott hasn't shown he can do anything well and efficiently other than score the basketball, and that wouldn't be a bad thing if people thought he'd be able to score even marginally as well as he's done so far in an actual NBA game. He's a one-trick pony, but one that might not be able to perform his trick as consistently at the next level.
Some of Scott's game will still translate into regular play, especially his mid-range jumper, but it will be difficult for him to carve out a niche in this league as a reliable scorer with the strength of interior defenders and his relative size.