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Does NBA summer league matter? What can history tell us about Johnny Davis?


What’s the common denominator of each NBA lottery pick? The team behind the choice hopes the player turns right into a star.

The word lottery is apt because every NBA franchise hopes they hit jackpot on their pick…and it’s removed from certain they may. Where the lottery metaphor starts breaking down is that where a lottery is only luck, the NBA draft involves the skill and expertise of the choice makers.

It’s fair to say that through the years, the skill and expertise of Washington’s decision makers has been somewhat lacking. And, the early returns on this 12 months’s pick — Johnny Davis — haven’t generated much confidence that the Wizards are holding one in every of the winning tickets.

The team will turn to the usual consolation every team uses when their prized rookie disappoints in July — it’s only summer league.

But is it?

There are players who looked pedestrian in these showcases who changed into productive NBA talents. Conversely, we’ve seen players (taking a look at you, 2014 SL MVP Glen Rice Jr.) look like superstars in the summertime and be out of the league inside the same 12 months.

How often does a foul summer league performer change the narrative and grow to be the star of their teams’ dreams? That’s the query we’ll try to reply here by revisiting the primary summer league runs for standout guards and wings from recent drafts


  • Five-year sample size of rookies from the 2015 to 2019 NBA drafts. 2020 didn’t have a summer league and the jury’s still out on 2021.
  • Only draftees outside the highest five. Talent level and expectations are greater at the highest of the draft.
  • Sample of three high-level players from each draft that loosely share similarities to Davis. For instance, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is comparable to Davis when it comes to construct and college midrange game while Miles Bridges is a bulky, highflying penetrator.
  • Data includes stats from all summer leagues, including Las Vegas, Orlando, Salt Lake City, and the California Classic.

Johnny Davis – Final Line

Age 20 | 3 GP | 8.3 PPG | 9.7 FGA | 27.6 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 4.0 RPG | 1.7 APG

Davis played just three of the five Wizards summer league games, missing the ultimate two because of a minor back injury.

He was dead last amongst 2022 lottery picks in per game scoring, being the just one among the many 11 who played to average lower than double-figures. He was 71st overall in scoring amongst all qualified rookies. And he was 185th out of 196 in field goal percentage.

He finished eighth on his own team in scoring and ranked 14th out of 15 in field goal percentage, just beating Pierria Henry’s 27.3%.

Davis led the team in turnovers with 2.7 per game. While that could possibly be a product of playing probably the most minutes per contest, the playing time gap wasn’t as wide because the turnover margin.

Does any of this matter? Let’s have a look.

Devin Booker thirteenth, Phoenix Suns

Age 18 | 7 GP | 15.3 PPG | 13.1 FGA | 40.2 FG% | 40.0 3P% | 4.9 RPG | 1.7 APG

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander eleventh, LA Clippers

Age 19 | 4 GP | 19.0 PPG | 18.0 FGA | 45.8 FG% | 25.0 3P% | 4.8 RPG | 4.0 APG

Donovan Mitchell thirteenth, Utah Jazz

Age 20 | 5 GP | 20.4 PPG | 18.2 FGA | 39.6 FG% | 31.4 3P% | 2.4 RPG | 2.6 APG

Dejounte Murray twenty ninth, San Antonio Spurs

Age 19 | 6 GP | 12.5 PPG | 13.5 FGA | 37.0 FG% | 29.4 3P% | 5.8 RPG | 2.3 APG

*Jamal Murray seventh, Denver Nuggets

Age 19 | 5 GP | 19.6 PPG | 17.4 FGA | 42.5 FG% | 27.6 3P% | 5.0 RPG | 2.4 APG

One thing that stands out is that elite guys made their presence felt in NBA Summer League from the get-go. They took plenty of shots and guzzled possessions prefer it was their birthright. All five of those players who went on to be All-Star caliber were among the many leaders in summer league field goal attempts per game.

Davis didn’t even average double-digit attempts, rating much closer to a hundredth than the highest 20. His poor shooting percentage probably dissuaded him from taking more shots, but he didn’t act as alpha on a team with out a star sophomore and even one other NBA rotation player. That doesn’t evoke confidence that he has the makings of a future All-Star.

Davis was touted as a creative shot-maker from the midrange, but that was non-existent when he took the court. Compare that to Booker, a lower lottery pick who flexed his full bag of tricks as an adolescent younger than Davis during these games.

Is that this comparison definitive? Obviously not. But the boldness eye test does matter to some extent — especially with regards to projecting stars — and it’s just not there so far.

*Not the closest comps, but Caris LeVert and Malik Beasley didn’t play summer league in 2016.

High Impact, High Upside

Tyler Herro thirteenth, Miami Heat

Age 19 | 6 GP | 22.8 PPG | 16.0 FGA | 39.6 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 4.3 RPG | 3.8 APG

Jordan Poole twenty eighth, Golden State Warriors

Age 20 | 6 GP | 14.5 PPG | 13.3 FGA | 35.0 FG% | 22.0 3P% | 3.0 RPG | 1.7 APG

Keldon Johnson twenty ninth, San Antonio Spurs

Age 19 | 5 GP | 12.2 PPG | 9.2 FGA | 45.7 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 4.0 RPG | 0.4 APG

Mikal Bridges tenth, Phoenix Suns

Age 21 | 5 GP | 6.2 PPG | 4.4 FGA | 45.5 FG% | 43.8 3P% | 2.6 RPG | 0.6 APG

Jalen Brunson thirty third, Dallas Mavericks

Age 21 | 5 GP | 6.8 PPG | 8.8 F GA | 22.7 FG% | 30.0 3P% | 2.8 RPG | 4.4 APG

The variance is way greater with regards to the subsequent tier down — which is a tier fans can more realistically hope Davis reaches. He had the alternative summer league experience as Tyler Herro, who set summer league on fire during his rookie season. He burst into the NBA consciousness as a rookie within the Orlando bubble. The person never lacked confidence.

Keldon Johnson had a comparatively nondescript stat line, nevertheless it’s arguable that his volatility was more preferable to Davis’ consistently ho hum displays. Johnson had a worse first game than Davis, with just 4 points and two rebounds in his debut. But he bounced back with 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting in his next game. It’s the glimpses of potential you’re after in these meaningless affairs. Johnson also sank a one-footed buzzer-beater from beyond half court. Couldn’t we’ve got had even only one flukey Davis highlight?



— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) July 3, 2019

Mikal Bridges had a rough summer league in 2018, nevertheless it seemed more because of lack of opportunities relatively than poor play. That Phoenix team featured first overall pick Deandre Ayton, and the fourth overall picks from 2016 and 2017 in Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson absorbing the shots for the Suns. (Why are Corey Kispert and Deni Avdija not playing?)

Bridges has changed into arguably the perfect 3-and-D player within the NBA, with a complementary skill set that doesn’t translate to summer league. While Davis projects as a plus defender, it’s hard to assume him turning right into a lockdown artist like Bridges given his wingspan is 4 inches shorter. Bridges was also a significantly better shooter.

Perhaps there’s more optimism to take from the opposite top Villanova product that season — Jalen Brunson, who struggled on a Dallas Mavericks team that saw Luka Doncic sit out. Amongst everyone on this list, he’s arguably the just one who had a worse stint than Davis. Possibly there’s a glimmer of hope that Johnny turns right into a $104 million man?

Good, Not Great Role Players

Josh Hart thirtieth, LA Lakers

Age 21 | 2 GP | 10.0 PPG | 10.5 FGA | 38.1 FG% | 11.1 3P% | 4.0 RPG | 0.5 APG

Dillon Brooks forty fifth, Memphis Grizzlies

Age 20 | 6 GP | 12.2 PPG | 9.7 FGA | 46.6 FG% | 35.3 3P% | 3.7 RPG | 1.7 APG

Malcolm Brogdon thirty sixth, Milwaukee Bucks

Age 23 | 5 GP | 10.2 PPG | 12.8 FGA | 34.4 FG% | 16.7 3P% | 5.0 RPG | 4.4 APG

Terry Rozier sixteenth, Boston Celtics

Age 20 | 8 GP | 12.3 PPG | 10.4 FGA | 34.9 FG% | 40.0 3P% | 3.0 RPG | 3.9 APG

Josh Richardson fortieth, Miami Heat

Age 20 | 5 GP | 11.3 PPG | 10.3 FGA | 38.8 FG% | 38.1 3P% | 2.8 RPG | 1.6 APG

Some see Davis with the potential to grow to be a Josh Hart-type player. Hart’s stats were nothing to jot down home about in 2017. But he was on a fully stacked team that featured fellow rookies Alex Caruso, summer league MVP Lonzo Ball, summer league Finals MVP Kyle Kuzma, and a temporary appearance from an Brandon Ingram who casually dropped 26 points in his lone appearance. They unsurprisingly won the title.

The Lakers 2017 summer league roster must be the best ever assembled:

– Brandon Ingram
– Lonzo Ball
– Kyle Kuzma
– Ivica Zubac
– Alex Caruso
– Josh Hart
– Thomas Bryant
– David Nwaba pic.twitter.com/zaY6LFH08w

— The Lead (@TheLeadSM) July 15, 2022

With Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball gone the next season, Hart then went on to grow to be summer league MVP in 2018 while averaging 22.4 points on 45% shooting.

A 23-year-old Malcolm Brogdon had a lousy summer league in 2016. He’s much like Davis in that he isn’t quick off the dribble, he showed moderately decent ball-handling skills in college, and neither possessing above-the-rim athleticism. Brogdon then went on to win Rookie of the 12 months in what was a reasonably weak rookie class.

Davis has near zero probability of pulling off a ROY miracle with this current crop, but there’s a reality where he can emulate Brogdon’s rookie production off the bench after a troublesome summer league start.

Final thoughts

NBA Summer League often gets dismissed since it’s not a precise barometer to measure how players will perform at the subsequent level. The schemes are different. The roles allotted to players are undefined or different apart from elite players just like the Paolo Bancheros and Cade Cunninghams of the world.

Nevertheless, it’s arguable that the idea applies more for the overachievers relatively than those at the alternative end of the spectrum. It’s easy to dismiss a breakout summer league superstar. Success could possibly be small sample hot shooting, or perhaps their kind of play is healthier suited to the disorganized summer league. The Josh Selbys and Von Wafers of the world didn’t amount to much within the league despite outstanding stints.

But, put a bona fide NBA talent in a setting where a majority of players are never going to smell an NBA roster, and the skill gap ought to be evident — no less than among the time. If that gap doesn’t flash, it’s concerning. Even a string of outstanding plays or a crunch time takeover ought to be enough.

But if you happen to didn’t know the players on the Wizards summer league roster, it will be difficult to inform Davis from the remainder, let alone discover him as this 12 months’s lottery pick.

Davis should absolutely not be written off after three bad summer league games, nevertheless it’s probably a secure bet he doesn’t turn right into a true star. As posited to start with, if every NBA franchise hopes to hit the jackpot with their lottery picks, then it’s hard to feel confident that Washington will find yourself as one in every of the large winners.

All Wizards fans can hope for is that Davis proves all of his naysayers — and any projections based on summer league — unsuitable.

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