Oh summertime, the best season of the year! You have your warm weather, sandy beaches, and wonderful vacations. The only thing that summertime lacks is basketball and for someone who enjoys watching basketball year round, the summer can cause an enthusiast of the game to become a little stir crazy waiting the season to start. Luckily, we have the NBA Summer League to give us solace from the lulls between seasons.
The Summer League always reminds me of NCAA all-star games just because we see all these names that we recognize from college. The only difference is that these recognizable names are not out to just put on a show for the fans, but to put a show on for the GM’s and coaches that loiter the seats at the Summer League games in hopes to play basketball in the best league in the world. This year, the Duke Blue Devils are represented by a number of great young players who filled the hearts of Duke fans everywhere with their hard work and determination.
We will start with Duke’s 2013 first-round pick, Mason Plumlee. In June, Mason was selected as the 22nd pick of the NBA Draft to the Brooklyn Nets. In July, Mason was picking up where he left off at Duke except in a Nets jersey. He started off very strong with the Nets and by strong I mean jaw-dropping. In his first game, Mason threw down a dunk over Piston’s guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that was highly Twitterized (so impressive you have to make up words). That was the beginning of a successful summer league where we saw him average 13.2 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, and 2.4 assists per game in 29 minutes per game. Plumlee will be a very adequate back up in the front court for the Nets and with Kevin Garnett, as a veteran on the team, it will create a great situation to learn from one of the better big men in the game.
Mason’s older brother, Miles, was a pivotal part of the Indiana Pacers summer league team. Miles will be looking to make a regular appearance in his squad’s rotation as opposed to the NBDL team that he frequented in the 2012 campaign. He made a great impression in the summer league this year on the defensive end where he averaged 3 blocks per game. Along with that, he averaged 10 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. While defense is definitely his strength at this point in his career, he is making strides on the offensive end as well.
Next up, we have the debut of the New Orleans Pelicans, formerly New Orleans Hornets, who are represented by a duo of former Blue Devils. Lance Thomas, who has appeared in 101 games in the past two seasons for the Pelicans, sees himself looking to impress GM’s at the summer league with the recent news of his waiver from the Pelicans. At this point in his summer league efforts, Thomas has 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 29 minutes per game. Most notably was his performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he had 14 points on 5-5 shooting and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. Anyone who has followed Lance Thomas in his career knows that his game has never been about the numbers but about his defense, his leadership, and the team. Those things are why Thomas has played in the NBA and hopefully will play this coming season.
Thomas’ teammate, Austin Rivers, is the last of the Duke players that played an extended time in the summer league so far. Austin has impressed so far with his offense and his 17 points per game along with 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33 minutes per game. He is clearly still developing his game and has weaknesses, but let’s be real, what 20 year old doesn’t have weaknesses. Rivers will be looking to find some minutes on a very loaded Pelican backcourt that has seen some renovations this offseason with the additions of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. With his confidence there is no doubt that Austin will find some minutes on the team as long as he continues to learn and work hard.
There are other Blue Devils that are looking to make a spot on final rosters after training camp, but due to circumstances were unable to play in the summer league. Nolan Smith was one of them and he was looking for a new start with the Boston Celtics and new coach Brad Stevens, but he was injured in the first 4 minutes of the first summer league game and didn’t play the rest of that game or any game. Smith started out strong, however with 4 points and a steal so hopefully he can come back from that and show the rebuilding Celtics that he belongs on that team. Ryan Kelly was also seen at the summer league but on the bench. The second round draft pick for the Lakers is still recovering from his April foot surgery.