By: Justin Lynch
Lynch breaks down the Summer League's most under-the-radar performances.
Wood went undrafted in the 2015 draft despite many projecting him as a worthy risk in the second round. He signed on with the Sixers and spent his year travelling back and forth from Philly to Delaware, where the 76ers D-League affiliate operates. After last season, the Sixers did not extend him a qualifying offer, making him play for his basketball life in Summer League.
Wood did not disappoint. In six games, he averaged nearly 16 points and six boards on 56% shooting (34% from deep), despite playing under 18 minutes per game. His per 40’s roughly translate to 36 points, 13 rebounds, and over two blocks. That kind of performance would be eye-opening in any fashion, but Wood’s style and skill set foreshadowed what could be a real NBA career. No one is saying Wood will be an all-star, and players with NBA experience should thrive in year two of summer league, but for a player who was touted as a project, it is certainly good to see him start to put the pieces of his game together.
Of course, Wood, 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan, may have just spent a few weeks feasting on the lowest tier of the NBA. He sometimes dribbled too much and did not see the floor well, which was reflected in his assist-turnover ratio (nearly 1:2). But the Hornets frontcourt features Frank Kaminsky, Roy Hibbert, Cody Zeller, and Spencer Hawes. Wood will likely not have much of an impact this season, but his ceiling may be higher than his frontcourt companions, and he is a worthy risk for the Hornets to take.
Diallo was highly touted entering Kansas, even winning the McDonald’s game MVP. But questions about his size and shooting ability, as well as his inability to get much playing time in Lawrence, dropped him on many draft boards. After a draft-day trade with the Clippers, Diallo found himself in New Orleans, a team with Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca locked up for at least three years a piece.
Still, Diallo made his best pitch as to why he should be playing alongside AD in NOLA. Diallo averaged 11 points, nine rebounds, and over two blocks per game. But what stood out to me most was the nuances in his game.
Still very raw, Diallo had a nose for the ball, tipping it back outside for extra possessions on offense and finding a way to retrieve 50/50 balls in no man’s land. He had touch around the basket, and even looked good finishing with the left. He also shot the ball from 15-18 feet with confidence. I don’t expect Diallo to ever become a three point threat, but I don’t think that’s where he is best. With a mid range jumper he can provide some semblance of spacing, while still being close enough to attack the offensive glass and duck in for layups.
He provided solid rim protection in summer league, but Tyrone Wallace attacking the basket is a lot different than Russell Westbrook. Yet, his length and quickness off the floor have me feeling good about backing him before the draft. Hopefully he can carve out some playing time in a bumper-to-bumper frontcourt. If not, keep an eye on him in the D-League.
Luwawu was nothing extraordinary in summer league, but I felt it necessary to check in on him after being a personal favorite in this year’s draft. Luwawu averaged eight points on 37% shooting and 31% from deep. Despite lackluster counting stats, Luwawu showed the promise that had us at The Breakdown fawning over his potential.
He worked hard and slid his feet well defensively. He will need to adjust to the speed of the game, and he allowed his thin frame to get picked too easily, but with time he should be a solid, if not even better, defender. Luwawu’s sweet shooting stroke was on display (even if is percentages don’t show it), and his ability to catch and shoot square to the basket without dipping the ball even an inch will do wonders for him being able to get his shot off at the pro-level.
Luwawu also had a maturity to his game that I did not expect. He rarely forced it on offense, but knew when he needed to take charge. He attempted 12 shots, the most of any of his games this summer, in the game that Ben Simmons sat out. And when Simmons was in, he was always on the lookout for open lanes to cut and sleeping defenders, knowing Simmons would find him.
Luwawu also made a habit of driving off side ball screens and attacking in the paint, Evan Fournier-style. The more I watched Luwawu, his game really did start to remind me more and more of Fournier, except for, you know, Luwawu plays defense.
At 21, Luwawu still has a lot to improve, but the Sixers stink. And they will stink again this season. Embiid, Saric, Simmons, and Luwawu are a promising core, but they have logged a grand total of zero NBA minutes, and it will surely be fun watching them grow together starting this season.
Zubac was the cherry on top of the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram summer league sundae. My first thought of Zubac was how big he was. And then he starting throwing everyone’s shot into the first row.
Zubac averaged 11 points, seven rebounds, and over 2.5 blocks in just 23 minutes of action per game. His per 40’s translate to about 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks. He even showed a decent mid range jumper and hit over 80% of his free throws. At 7’1”, 265 pounds, the big center was most comfortable in the paint, tipping in putbacks or using his length to contest shots, but he was more mobile than I imagined. He certainly will not be switching onto the perimeter, but he moves his feet versus Christian Wood on the perimeter here.
If he can stay in front of bigger guys on the perimeter, he will not be a liability against the more skilled centers we see rising in today’s NBA (Towns, Anthony Davis, Kristaps, Boogie, etc), and his length will make it a bear to finish over him near the basket, as Christian Wood found out.
As a pick-n-roll man, he does not put much fear into the opposing team. He isn’t much of a jumper, and doesn’t have the acceleration to scream down the lane for easy buckets. He also posted just one assist in his five games in Las Vegas. Even so, you can’t just ignore someone that big, and as long as he is quick enough in his roll into the paint, he can cause issues.
Yabusele entered the summer league as the Celtics’ biggest question mark, and after no-showing his first game, it seemed clear that Yabusele was another long-term project. But then Yabu came to play in game two of the Celtics’ summer league tour and he never looked back. On a summer league roster littered with talent, Yabu proved to be among the best of the bunch, though his counting stats, eight points and six rebounds per game, may suggest otherwise.
At 6’8”, 260 pounds, Yabu is big, but he moves well. He showed promise defending on the perimeter, and even made some plays as a weakside shot blocker. He posted one of each steals and blocks per game as well. Yabu also plays with a level of ferocious intensity that has become a staple of the Celtics.
Offensively, he shot the ball with confidence. He does not have three point range quite yet, but he did hit a few from deep and was much more consistent from 18 feet. He attacked off the dribble and more often than not scored or found himself at the free throw line. Also, his 0.94 points per possession was fifth among 2016 first rounders in this year’s summer league, per Synergy Sports. He had a nose for the ball and used his strength to wrestle down 20 offensive boards in his eight summer outings.
Unfortunately, we will likely have to wait another year before Yabu starts rocking the Garden, as he will reportedly remain overseas barring a trade that clears roster space.
Juan Hernangomez/Petr Cornelie
Hernangomez had a solid showing in Las Vegas, averaging 10/8/1 on 55% shooting. Hernangomez has a knack for securing offensive rebounds, even if his lack of athleticism was apparent. He also showed a soft touch around the rim, contorting his body to avoid would-be shot blockers.
Hernangomez always seemed to be around the ball, whether it be on the glass or in the passing lanes, where he showed solid anticipation, despite being a step slow to complete the steal. He didn’t have a great shooting performance in Las Vegas, but he has a smooth release, and I imagine the speed of the game combined with the deeper three point line caused his shots to go array. I wouldn’t worry about his shot in the long-run.
Cornelie was nearly the complete opposite. An uber-bouncy, 6’11” center, Cornelie averaged eight points, seven rebounds, and one block per outing. Like Hernangomez, Cornelie is 20 years old, but Cornelie is especially raw. He patrolled the paint decently, but left his feet often, making him primed for shot fakes.
But you can see the potential there. He’s big, quick, and mobile. He has the beginnings of an outside shot, and will be a major threat diving in the pick-n-roll. After hitting home runs on Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, the Nuggets may have found themselves another pile of foreign gold in Hernangomez and Cornelie.
McCullough, the second year product from Syracuse, showed more signs of development in Vegas this summer. Once a potential lottery pick, McCullough dropped to 29th overall and only started to get minutes towards the end of last season. Still, he will likely get big minutes on the lowly Nets this year.
McCullough is only 6’9”, but the development of his outside game has breathed new life into his fledgling career. After only taking one three his entire college career, McCullough has become more comfortable from deep, making three out of 12 threes in his five summer league outings. Making one out of every four from deep is less than ideal, but his willingness to shoot from distance is a step in itself.
McCullough has also proven to be tough on the boards, bringing down nearly eight rebounds in under 25 minutes per game. His quickness off the ground has turned him into something resembling a shot blocker, and he seems to have enough quickness to hang with shifty guards on the perimeter as well.
His ability to block a shot and then beat everyone down the floor in transition is unique, and though he isn’t quite a playmaking or a stretch four at this point, a Nets team in dire need of some hope would be remiss not to give McCullough big minutes this season.