Each year during the NBA Summer League, there are a handful of players who seem too good to be participating in the event. While it may seem like a waste of time for NBA rotation players to compete against training-camp bodies, sometimes Summer League is just as important for these individuals. The players increase their confidence, build chemistry with their fellow young teammates and gain more experience in their coaching staff’s system. If all goes as planned, the player will thrive and be able to build on their summer success in training camp and the regular season.
One of the best examples of this was when the Chicago Bulls handed Jimmy Butler the reins to their 2012-13 Summer League team in Las Vegas. Butler was the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft and, due to the NBA lockout, hadn’t played Summer League before. As a rookie, he averaged 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 0.3 steals in 8.5 minutes while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three-point range.
Prior to his Summer League debut, Chicago’s coaches told Butler that they already knew what he could do on the defensive end, but they wanted to see him take over as a No. 1 option offensively. Butler didn’t disappoint, averaging 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.8 steals while shooting 43.1 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 89.7 percent the free-throw line. These days, this doesn’t seem like a shock since Butler is a three-time All-Star and one of the NBA’s best two-way players, but it was a surprise back then and marked the start of Butler exceeding expectations.
This year in Las Vegas, Atlanta Hawks swingman DeAndre Bembry was one of the individuals who turned heads and made people around the NBA wonder if he’s poised for a breakout season. His presence was felt on both ends of the court and he made everything look so easy – like the star senior who crashed a JV pick-up game and wreaked havoc.
As was the case with Butler, Bembry’s coaches met with him prior to Summer League and said they wanted to see him shine. After appearing in just 38 games and averaging 9.8 minutes as a rookie, Bembry knew this was his chance to show that he’s ready to take on an increased role.
He took full advantage of the opportunity, averaging 17 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals during Summer League play. Perhaps most impressive was the 23-year-old’s efficiency, as he shot 56.5 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 81.2 percent from free-throw range. Bembry led all Summer League shooing guards in PER (28.8) and ranked second in Win Shares (.7).
“I just tried to show my overall talent and the reasons why they drafted me,” Bembry told HoopsHype when asked about his approach to Summer League. “I’m a two-way player, I’ll always try to guard the best player on the other team and I’ll do my best score the ball, facilitate and run the team. I feel like I’m a great leader and I tried to show that. I wanted to be aggressive and win some games.”
The Hawks’ coaches were pleased with Bembry’s play. He did exactly what they asked and they loved his energy, leadership and aggressiveness.
“I just wanted to separate myself from the other Summer League players and show why I belong in a real NBA game,” Bembry said. “I feel like I did that by making the right plays, scoring the ball and doing exactly what we’ll need next year. We lost a lot of pieces, so we’ll definitely need some people to step up.”
As Bembry mentioned, the Hawks will enter this season with a new-look team. Ever since he was selected with the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft, he’s watched the roster change drastically. Right after he was picked, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll left via free agency. Jeff Teague was traded to the Indiana Pacers shortly after, and then Kyle Korver was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers several months into the season. This summer, the Hawks shipped Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets and agreed to sign-and-trade Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets. Other veterans such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott also signed elsewhere in recent weeks. Bembry quickly learned that the NBA is a business and that every player must “be ready for anything and everything.”
Only three players remain from Atlanta’s 2014-15 squad that won 60 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals: Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala – all of whom were reserves and just starting their respective NBA careers. The Hawks’ recent moves seem to suggest that the team is shifting their focus to developing their young players. It also seems clear that there’s a chance for Bembry to earn significantly more playing time and he’s excited about that possibility.
“My goal next season is to play more minutes,” Bembry said. “I just want to get out there. I feel like that’s all I really need – a chance to get out there – and then I’ll be able to show what I can do. I know I need to be ready so I can make an impact when my name is called.
“When I did play heavy minutes this past year, I feel like I did pretty well and that definitely helped my confidence – knowing I could compete at a high level against these guys. I got to play against guys like LeBron James and James Harden, and I think I gained the trust and confidence of my teammates and coaches with some of those games where I did get to play more.”
While Bembry didn’t play a ton of minutes as a rookie, there were still plenty of opportunities to learn throughout the season. Being on a veteran-laden squad may have limited Bembry’s playing time, but it gave him the chance to learn from experienced players who have had a lot of success in the NBA.
“When you join a team that has been to the playoffs for 10 straight years, pretty much everyone on the team is a veteran,” Bembry said. “The team was loaded with vets and I tried to learn from all of them, taking bits and pieces from each. They have a ton of experience – going to the Finals or advancing deep in the playoffs or what it’s like being in a worse situation – and you can learn a lot. The veterans definitely helped me a lot throughout my first season.”
When he wasn’t soaking in knowledge from his teammates, he was doing his best to learn from Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.
“He’s really down to Earth, he will say how he feels and he definitely has a winning mentality,” Bembry said of Coach Budenholzer. “You can tell that he’s always been around winning, and that helps all of us have the right mindset. I really like his professionalism and the way he carries himself too. That’s definitely something I’ve tried to learn from him.”
There’s no question that being around so many veterans and a respected head coach helped him. With that said, Bembry said it was also nice to have a fellow rookie in Taurean Prince on the roster. Bembry and Prince are the same age and they were drafted nine picks apart last June. They became close throughout last season, especially since they were dealing with similar highs and lows.
“I think it’s important to find someone who you can bond with, someone who you can go through the ups and downs of the season with, and it was great having Taurean here with me,” Bembry said. “We live in the same building and we’re very close. It was a lot of fun, and it was also helpful since we were experiencing similar things.”
This summer, Bembry has been working hard to improve his jump shot. He insists he’s a much better shooter than he showed during his rookie year, when he shot just 1-18 from three-point range. He’s hoping to be more of a threat from beyond the arc as a sophomore, and his 50 percent shooting from three during Summer League is a good sign.
“The biggest thing I wanted to work on this offseason was my jump shot, just being more consistent with it,” Bembry said. “I feel like I was a much better shooter growing up and I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted to in the minutes that I played this past year. I’m definitely working on that and getting a lot of repetition in. I took one week off after the season and I’ve been working out every day since then. I wanted to get right back in the gym and that’s what I’ve been doing here in Atlanta all summer.”
That hard work was evident during Summer League; only time will tell if this is the start of Bembry’s coming-out party.
Hawks, Atlanta Hawks, Top, Al Horford, DeAndre Bembry, DeMarre Carroll, Dennis Schroder, James Harden, Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Taurean Prince, Tim Hardaway Jr, Atlanta Hawks