After a brief hiatus, there are a ton of reasons why the basketball world was glad to have Las Vegas Summer League back on the schedule.
While summer league was unfortunately canceled in 2020, the even took place once again this year. Fans have already seen star rookies such as Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green make their pro debuts. They have also seen LiAngelo Ball play particularly well for the Charlotte Hornets.
But as noted by Derek Murray, one of the main benefits of summer league is that NBA teams can allow their younger role players to get more reps on the ball. Players who are typically off-ball shooters or slashers may get the nod to initiate offense for their squad.
Summer League is for testing which of your secondary creators can run point.
— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) August 13, 2021
Below, we have outlined some of the players around the league who have made the most of their opportunity as the primary creator for their teams in summer league action.
Although these players may not be afforded such looks during NBA action because they’re surrounded by more star power during the regular season, it is incredibly helpful for their long-term development and gives teams a sense of what these players can eventually become.
Note that all player roles are defined by their play-type usage based on the offensive archetype definitions provided by BBall-Index.com. All stats are pulled from Synergy Sports Tech unless specifically noted otherwise.
Patrick Williams (Chicago)
Previous role: Athletic finisher
He had limited opportunities as an on-ball creator during his one-and-done campaign while coming off the bench for Florida State, though there were encouraging signs of efficiency in limited sample sizes.
Once he turned pro, only 10 percent of his scoring attempts were out of the pick and roll. He averaged 0.74 points per possession, which ranked in just the 27th percentile among all NBA players.
Patrick Williams continues to develop as a ball handler and shooter, here hitting the deep pull-up three over Trey Murphy. Still only 19 years-old. pic.twitter.com/zVMJfRkKjW
— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) August 9, 2021
That rate doubled to above 20.0 percent in summer league, however, as he often rejected the screen to score after running high pick and rolls. He hasn’t been afraid to take on his opponent one-on-one in isolation, either.
In addition to shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and recording a plethora of rebounds, Williams showed some excellent flashes. Overall, he was far more aggressive than ever in finding scoring chances for himself and he also excelled as someone who can drive-and-kick it out to teammates on the perimeter.
Here is what Chicago’s summer league coach Damian Cotter had to say about the task (via Basketball News):
“He gets a chance to lead. He missed out on that last year … It’s a different mindset, a different responsibility. I think it’s wonderful. Coaching instituted sport teams back home and when you’ve got young teams like this, things can go wrong really quickly. And to have guys that are forced to lead — Pat’s response from yesterday to today for the consistency of the game was a big step forward for him.”
Though he was Chicago’s primary scoring option, he showed he can thread the needle as a passer as well. All things considered, it wasn’t shocking to see Williams shut down and put on ice after three games in Las Vegas.
But if this continues into the season, it will be fantastic news for his role on the Bulls as virtually everyone in their starting lineup (e.g. Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic) will be able to initiate the offense at times.
Desmond Bane (Memphis)
Previous role: Movement shooter
During his rookie season, the sharpshooting Desmond Bane finished nearly half of his possession shooting off the catch. When the Memphis Grizzlies ran plays for him, it was typically just a dribble-handoff assisted by big man Jonas Valanciunas.
He was the ball handler on pick and rolls on less than ten percent of his possessions and he wasn’t particularly efficient on these opportunities. Bane averaged 0.63 points per possession on ball screens, per Synergy, which ranked in just the 10th percentile among all NBA players.
These reps Desmond Bane is getting as a primary facilitator are going be massive for his development as a secondary/tertiary playmaker. He's going to be a very good starting shooting guard soon
— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) August 9, 2021
Bane, who otherwise had a fantastic rookie campaign and earned NBA All-Rookie Second-Team consideration, recently spoke about the areas that he wanted to improve during his time in Las Vegas Vegas Summer League (via Commercial Appeal):
“They put me on the ball a little bit more, gave me a little more responsibility for playmaking and making plays for teammates and myself. You know, just getting reps at that, getting more comfortable in that setting.”
Fortunately, he did exactly that, showcasing his impressive skill sets as one of the best lead options in the tournament. Not only was he a primary scorer who averaged 21.5 points per game but he did an excellent job finding spot-up shooters to maximize the productivity of his offensive output.
Considering how well he played, shooting 50.0 percent on three-pointers on more than six attempts per game, it wasn’t surprising to see he was sidelined with a “DNP – Coach’s Decision” after four games in summer league. He had shown everything he needed to prove during the exhibitions.
Naji Marshall (New Orleans)
Previous role: Stationary shooter
The main draw for 6-foot-7 wing Naji Marshall will always be his lock-down defense, which is what got him this far in his basketball career.
Since his time in college at Xavier, he had shown signs of improved playmaking, especially out of the pick and roll. But the on-ball scoring hasn’t come along yet during NBA action.
Marshall finished 10 percent of his scoring possessions on-ball screening actions for the New Orleans Pelicans (and 10.4 percent in the bubble playing for the Erie Bay Hawks in the G League) and the results weren’t pretty. He averaged 0.55 points per possession, which ranked as the seventh-worst among the 247 NBA players who recorded at least 25 opportunities on this play type in 2020-21.
But it’s been a whole different story in Las Vegas as Marshall has shown why he was afforded the chance to play on-ball. Watch the insane crossover he had on Charlie Brown Jr., boasting a truly nasty handle before a wild dunk attempt:
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 12, 2021
Meanwhile, ball screens are now Marshall’s most-used play type, coming with a 37.0 percent frequency. Despite the massively increased volume, fortunately, his efficiency has also been above average.
He has still been a bit too turnover-prone, which is expected for someone getting used to a new role. Considering he has also recorded at least three steals in two of the four games he has played in Las Vegas, overall, Marshall’s performance has been exactly what you want to see from someone in the summer league environment.
Caleb Homesley (Washington)
Previous role: Athletic finisher
Caleb Homesley, who is 6-foot-6, predominantly played at the four in his collegiate tenure at Liberty.
That continued while playing for the Erie BayHawks during his bubble season in the G League. He was mostly used as a spot-up shooter and on the rare occasions that he was asked to play on-ball, he looked to pass out of the pick-and-roll twice as often as he looked to score.
In fact, less than 10 percent of his scoring attempts came out of the screen and roll. Nearly half of those looks ended in a turnover and only one was a converted scoring attempt.
As such, it’s particularly noteworthy to see that now more than 40.0 percent of his scoring attempts have come from ball screen actions. But what’s even better is his efficiency has been above average in the process.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 15, 2021
Even though the numbers look good, the reality is that it looks even better on film. Watch the clip above. Homesley sprints to the perimeter then he dribbles behind his back before he squares up to face the basket against Jordan Nwora.
He then hits Nwora with an effortless spin move and barrels his way to the rim, where even though he misses, he springs up for the easy offensive board and putback dunk.
Homesley was waived by the Washington Wizards on Aug. 5 after the Russell Westbrook trade sent a surplus of players back to the nation’s capital. But he should get some serious looks for playing time in the NBA based on what he showed in Las Vegas.