The Las Vegas Summer League is right around the corner, and with it a multitude of drafted and undrafted rookies, overseas journeymen and long-tenured veterans looking to show onlooking NBA teams that they belong in The Association. The common fan usually pays little attention to the amateurish basketball being played, but team fanatics and basketball junkies like myself look to the Summer League to eye out the next Draft sleeper or imported surprise.
The Knicks have finalized their Summer League roster, and will kick off their 2013 campaign tomorrow against New Orleans. Whether you’re the type who thinks Summer League wholly unnecessary, or if — like me — you’ve longed for live professional basketball since the Finals came to a close, I give you a look into the Knicks’ past Las Vegas Summer League seasons, to see how meaningful the men playing in these glanced-over contests have been to the New York Knicks.
2007: Nate Robinson took home the LVSL’s MVP award in 2007 as a member of the Bockers, and went on to play the third-most minutes on the team in the following regular season. Robinson solidified himself as an NBA-level spark plug, utterly dominating the lesser competition in Vegas with averages of 19 points, 6 assists and — shockingly — 3.5 boards a night on 48% shooting.
Alongside Robinson was the young Wilson Chandler, who began his journey from raw athlete to one of the more versatile role players in basketball in Vegas. Chandler put up 13 points and five boards a night on 50% shooting, showing glimpses of a three-point stroke that would one day become quite formidable — he hoisted just 10 treys, but made four. Other recognizable names are Renaldo Balkman and Randolph Morris, however their careers as NBA players never panned out as they hoped.
2008: Although he played in just one contest, this was where Knick fans who weren’t able to catch Danilo Gallinari play across the Atlantic finally caught a look at the sixth overall pick. Gallo struggled early, but after putting down a two-handed putback slam, went on to score 14 points, grab 6 boards and shoot 45% from the field. Unfortunately, he left the game with an injury and was unable to compete in the final four games of the 2008 LVSL. His rookie season was plagued by injuries, but he eventually developed into quite the impressive player for New York and, currently, Denver.
There were other bright spots this summer as well, with Chandler once again coming in and showing off his potential — hi 16 points and nearly eight boards a game were both team highs. The following year Chandler started in 70 games, playing 33 minutes a night and averaging 14 points a contest.
The other was Anthony Roberson (if you remember this name, we should be very good friends), a 6’2” sharp-shooter who was the second-leading scorer in the 2008 Summer League, later signing with the Knicks but rode the bench until he fell off the face of the NBA world in a mid-season trade.
2009: Ah yes, the birth of Toney Douglas. Oh yeah and that nobody Jordan Hill. Back in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Knicks went for the highest-valued player at their 8th overall pick after their golden boy — Stephen Curry — was picked just before them. (Hate you, Golden State.) They settled on Jordan Hill, and then went on to buy the 29th overall pick from the Lakers and drafted guard Toney Douglas. Hill was the highly-anticipated big man prospect while Douglas was the “I just hope he’s decent” prospect. In the 2009 LVSL, it was actually Douglas who got Knick fans excited and Jordan Hill who made us wheeze.
Both shot extremely poorly but Douglas hounded opposing ball handlers with such energy and effectiveness he found a huge role with the team for the next three seasons, even being named the team’s starter with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire at the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2012 season. As for Hill, he was traded for Tracy McGrady in his rookie season in a move to create cap space for 2010. (Side note: WHY, WHY did we have to trade Hill in this deal? Well, GM Donnie Walsh didn’t want to at the time, but Jim Dolan in all his excellency pushed Walsh to succumb to Houston’s demands and ship him to complete the swap. Sure he was pretty bad in his rookie year, but big men don’t develop as quickly as wings or guards in this league. Knicks fans who relished this guy being traded, you should know he put up an efficient double-double per-36 minutes with the Lakers this season.)
2010: Now this was a fun Summer League season. Second-round picks Landry Fields and Andy Rautins took to the floor and the Stanford wing set the stage to become a full-time starter for the brand spanking new Bockers in his rookie campaign. (The two also shared their own mini-series show type deal when the regular season began, which was actually enjoyable.) Fields averaged 15 points and just under 5 boards a night on 52% field goal shooting, and went on to be named a starter for the Knicks, even receiving two Rookie of the Month awards. Rautins got his own website: DidAndyRautinsPlayLastNight.com. That was an actual thing.
Toney Douglas was back at it, this time with improved shooting percentages and in return, a bigger spot in the Knicks’ rotation despite it not being filled with a boat-load of scrubs for the first time in years. We also met Bill Walker, who found himself to be a full-time Knick after being drafted by their rival Boston Celtics and traded to New York. Walker was a three-point shooter with the ability to dunk on fools with ease, and actually grew into a rotation player with the Knicks for two years before fading into obscurity. Also on the Knicks roster in this season of Summer League ball was the tall, raw, lanky and raw center Jerome Jordan, who the Knicks traded for as a second-round draftee and will actually return to the Knicks’ LVSL roster this year as he still strives to find his path to the NBA. Did I mention he was raw? Jordan averaged 14 points and 9 boards on over 60% shooting per-36 minutes in his first Summer League campaign.
Finally there was Marcus Landry. Oh, Marcus Landry. His story was heart-warming, coming to New York with his own cash as an undrafted rookie with no place to stay, all in hopes of cracking the Knicks roster at a tryout. The brother of NBA role player supreme Carl Landry, Marcus got his spot as a Knick but was traded to the Celtics in the aforementioned deal sending Walker to New York.
2011: LVSL cancelled due to the lockout. Damn it, Stern.
2012: Just one name you really need to know. Chris Copeland. The legend of Cope actually began here in the Summer League, when he led the team in scoring at 13 points a game on 47% shooting and was invited to training camp. The rest of course, is rather recent history. We also saw Jerome Jordan back yet again, but he was unable to sign a contract with the Knicks because of being traded to Houston barricading his return with a one-year mandate.
Finally, we were given JR Smith’s little brother, Chris Smith. Or rather, we were given the reason as to why he wasn’t drafted and why Knicks fans were enthused that he didn’t step on the court this past season. “Little Pipe” (dubbed by our Mike Kurylo) displayed no effectiveness on the defensive end, an undersized frame and bad JR Smith’s shot selection with 2013 Playoffs JR Smith’s scoring ability. Chris shot a meager 29% from the field and dished out less than 2 assists a game despite playing a lot of point guard. Oh, and he’ll be playing for the Knicks’ LVSL team this year! Woo-hoo!
All of this is to say, Las Vegas Summer League games shouldn’t be treated as if they mean nothing. I’d advise close examination by fans who would usually skip or skim through the contests in previous years this time around, especially with the roster the Knicks have put together this year. Iman Shumpert will be playing and it would be tough to bet against him winning the league’s MVP award. Newly-drafted rook Tim Hardaway Jr. will look to make his name, as well as the undrafted C.J. Leslie, who has impressed many with his ridiculous athleticism and has recently signed with the Knicks. Jerome Jordan and Chris Smith are making their returns, both looking to prove they have NBA-level games. These names won’t be making any headlines in May, but some could very well help the team make it that far.