Summer League begins Saturday in Orlando, and so does the climb for many of its players.
Most of the second-rounders drafted last Thursday will play at the Magic facility or the larger Las Vegas gathering next week at two UNLV sites, except for prospects nursing injuries or staying overseas. Many of the 30 picked without the certainty of a guaranteed contract will stick on opening-night rosters in the fall, even if most of their real action will come in the D-League. And some will even build full careers as real contributors, more than riding the bubble from season to season.
The buildup was true and the 2014 draft turned out to have the kind of depth that could produce legit players, not just sparring partners for practice, in the second round. It was the draft where several prospects being mentioned beforehand by front offices as first-round possibilities fell into the bottom 30, making those players sleepers to make an impact.
The five with the best chance to last:
1. K.J. McDaniels, 32nd pick, 76ers
The concern is that he is slightly undersized for a small forward at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds. The counter is, though, what an athlete. He’s a player being able to jump over an opponent — any opponent. Beyond the physical gifts, the Clemson product can be, as SMU coach Larry Brown suggested, a human stat sheet — not putting up flashy numbers any one place but piling up points, rebounds and blocks in a way that means a contribution in several different areas. Some teams believe he can develop into a defensive presence against small forwards, shooting guards and even some point guards.
2. Glenn Robinson III, 40th pick, Timberwolves
It’s about the attitude. If Big Dog’s son has the same passive approach that cost him the chance to take over at Michigan following the departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., his ceiling is role player at best. If GRIII learns to play with intensity, though. the small forward will have a better career than a lot of players picked 15 or 20 spots higher. Especially if he also adds range to his shot.
3. Jarnell Stokes, 35th pick, Grizzlies
Drafted by Utah and traded to Memphis, Stokes can become an inside presence, a power forward who will generate rebounds, especially offensive boards, with strength and also make passes from the post. He is coming off a leading role on Tennessee’s run to the Sweet 16 and as a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the under-19 world championships, part of a trajectory that indicates a player that continues to improve.
4. Cameron Bairstow, 49th pick, Bulls
The other Australian in the Dante Exum draft. Bairstow will be dependable and solid on several fronts, a power forward-center with a nice mid-range shot, an improving post game and a drive to get better. And he will do it with a motor constantly running in the red. That’s a lot of possibilities. If he proves he can defend NBA bigs, he has a nice future.
5. Walter Tavares, 43rd pick, Hawks
Tavares is a project — a 22-year-old, 7-foot-3 center who has only been playing since 2009 — worth the ride to the end. A 7-9 wingspan and some teams rating him in low-to-mid 30s is convincing like that. He has already progressed to being a shot blocker and general defensive presence. Imagine if he becomes more comfortable on offense. Imagine what even a single season of NBA practices and conditioning program will do. Just imagine.
A few others: Semaj Christon, 55th pick, Thunder. A wild card, emphasis on wild, who can be something if he harnesses the great speed and cut down on ball-handling mistakes. … Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 51st pick, Knicks. Not the level of prospect of younger brother Giannis, but a possible versatile defender. … Spencer Dinwiddie, 38th pick, Pistons. It’s tough to get a read on where he is after knee surgery kept him from workouts and will sideline him from Summer League, but the Colorado guard would have been a strong candidate for the first round if healthy.