Summer League and the Rookie of the Year race


Ben McLemore wasn't very impressive in this year's Summer League. What, if anything, does that tell us about how his rookie season will go?

Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore, still carrying a chip on his shoulder from falling to No. 7 in June's NBA draft, went on the record saying his goal for the upcoming season is to win Rookie of the Year, according to Gary Bedore of

While it seems like a reasonable goal for a rookie — you know, to be the best rookie — McLemore didn't do much during the Summer League schedule to indict the six teams that passed on him.

He struggled during his five games in Las Vegas, especially early on. He finished with 15.8 points per game (he shot 33.3 percent), 5.0 rebounds and no assists. In five games, he had zero assists. SB Nation's Mike Prada ranked McLemore 30th of 61 rookies who played in Orlando and Las Vegas, noting that over half of his points came in three quarters of play and, in turn, noting the dearth of the other 17 quarters. From Prada:

Why was he so streaky? Because he spent the entire time seeking low-percentage jump shots. It was an out-of-body experience, to be honest. As one official from another team told me, if you never saw McLemore play in college, you'd think he was one of the worst gunners in the league. It's telling that McLemore didn't have a single assist -- not one! -- in any of the five games. Assists are an incomplete measure of playmaking, but I didn't see McLemore succeed with many dribble-drives during the tournament.

One could argue that it's good to see the normally passive McLemore be so aggressive, but I think there's a difference between aggression and chasing shots.

Of course, McLemore wasn't playing with DeMarcus Cousins or any of the other veterans he'll play with during the season in Sacramento, so taking Summer League stats and analysis are only worth so much. Still, the Summer League is a rookie rite of passage in the NBA. Is it usual for an eventual Rookie of the Year to struggle during the summer, or do they come in ready-made ahead of their peers?

Looking at the last 10 Rookies of the Year, the results are mixed.


2013 ROY Damian Lillard: 26.5 points per game, 5.3 assists per game, 4.0 rebounds per game, 43.8 field-goal percentage

2012 ROY Kyrie Irving: 2011 Summer League cancelled due to lockout

2011 ROY Blake Griffin: Did not play in 2010 Summer League due to injury*

2010 ROY Tyreke Evans: 19.2 ppg, 4.2 apg, 6.3 rpg, 40.3 FG%

2009 ROY Derrick Rose: 9.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.0 rpg, 29.4 FG% (Only played in two games)

2008 ROY Kevin Durant: 24 ppg^

2007 ROY Brandon Roy: 19 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.4 rpg, 64.7 FG%

2006 ROY Chris Paul: 11.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.3 rpg, 37.0 FG%

2005 ROY Emeka Okafor: Did not play in 2004 Summer League due to Olympics

2004 ROY LeBron James: 15.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 7.3 rpg

*Griffin was MVP of the 2009 Summer League before suffering the broken kneecap that forced him to miss the 2009-10 season.

^Stats are incomplete because the NBA's 2007 Summer League database seems to have automatically erased all references to the Seattle SuperSonics; the team was deleted from the standings table, and all player stats linked to the SuperSonics from that season lead to empty links.


Looking at the last 10 Rookies of the Year, you can find a little bit of everything regarding Summer League performance. Last summer, Lillard dominated Las Vegas. He was the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, and there wasn't a particularly close second. Roy was particularly impressive compared to his Summer League class, and though Randy Foye won the summer's MVP award, Roy was widely considered the runner-up. Evans was the best rookie in his Summer League that played that season; as noted above, Griffin dominated the 2009 Summer League before an injury in the Clippers' final preseason game pushed his rookie season back a year.

As impressive as Rose was in his rookie season, he struggled in a Summer League stint ended early due to tendinitis. He shot 29.4 percent from the floor in two games, though it's difficult to put much stock in those games retroactively since it was clear he was playing injured. Paul was all right in 2005, making the Summer League's all-tournament second team.

Okafor's decision to play in the 2004 Olympics meant he appeared in two games of record in Athens, accumulated no counting stats and won a bronze medal on Team USA's most infamous team to date; thus, there was no extended look at him against equal peers leading up to his Rookie of the Year season in 2004-05.

It wouldn't seem McLemore's quest to win the 2014 Rookie of the Year has already been derailed. The 2013 Summer League MVP was Jonas Valanciunas, and he played 62 games for the Toronto Raptors last season. And even if Prada ranked 29 rookies ahead of McLemore, that was based strictly on Summer League play and not regular-season rookie potential. Many of the rookies Prada put Nos. 1-29 are international players who won't make it to the states for a few years.

More often than not, Rookies of the Year play somewhere between well and very well the summer before winning the award. There are exceptions, obviously, and with such a small sample size—referring both to the five-game maximum among Summer League schedules and to the 10 Rookies of the Year chosen for analysis (reliable summer stats don't extend much further back)—McLemore is like any among the analysis: He could do anything as a rookie and in comparison to his Summer League showing, it wouldn't be all that surprising.

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