By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
There are only 450 roster spots in the NBA each season. Most of them are taken up by veterans with signed contracts, proven free agents who will soon commit and rookies with newly signed deals. For many unsigned players, the Summer League provides the best opportunity to prove their worth to NBA front offices.
There were numerous standouts this summer, but eight players clearly separated themselves from the competition to greatly increase their odds of being offered a regular-season contract.
Malcolm Thomas, Chicago Bulls:
Breakdown: The big man out of San Diego State went undrafted during the 2011 NBA Draft and has played the last two seasons in the NBA Development League, with a quick stint in Israel as well. In Las Vegas he dominated the glass, averaging 15 rebounds a game while chipping in 11 points and 1.7 blocks a game during a three-game run with the Bulls. Thomas is now 24 years old, so his thin frame has matured to the point where it appears he is ready to handle the physical grind of a full NBA season. The Bulls recently let go of his rights for salary cap reasons, but it seems unlikely he will stay unsigned for long.
Best Case Comparison: Amir Johnson
Best Team Fit: The Boston Celtics would be a great place for Thomas to develop as the team rebuilds.
Vander Blue, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies:
Breakdown: Many people questioned Blue’s decision to leave Marquette University early to enter the NBA Draft. When he went undrafted, those people seemingly were proven correct. But he played played for the Rockets in the Orlando Summer League and the Grizzlies in Las Vegas, averaging 11.5 points per game in Orlando and 11 a game in Las Vegas, including a 24-point outburst in Vegas in one game. He showed explosiveness and playmaking ability rarely seen from undrafted players. Don’t be surprised if some team takes a flyer on a player with so much potential.
Best Case Comparison: Gerald Henderson
Best Team Fit: Staying with the Grizzlies would be a great fit for Blue, who would give the team some needed depth at guard.
Dominique Jones, Milwaukee Bucks:
Breakdown: Jones is a veteran of the Summer League. It showed during his play for the Bucks. Jones averaged 11 points, two steals and seven free-throw attempts per game to impress the scouts. He seemed stronger than most other players on the court and his ability to finish at the rim looked transferable to regular season gameplay.
Best Case Comparison: A smaller Corey Maggette
Best Team Fit: The Bucks should not let him walk away, especially as they attempt to replace the playmaking ability of Monta Ellis.
Ian Clark, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors:
Breakdown: The Las Vegas Summer League Championship MVP quickly made a name for himself when he made seven 3-point shots and scored 33 points in the championship game. The guard out of Belmont University is known for this ability to shoot, but his limited athleticism and 6-foot-3 frame make him a tough fit at shooting guard. But he can defend, which has reportedly piqued the interest of the Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.
Best Case Comparison: Anthony Morrow
Best Team Fit: The Jazz would be a nice fit for Clark, who would fit well with rookie Jazz point guard Trey Burke.
Andrew Goudelock, Chicago Bulls:
Breakdown: It’s always surprising when Goudelock continues to appear on lists like this one. The former D-League MVP out of the College of Charleston has done plenty to interest NBA teams. This summer in Las Vegas he continued to impress, averaging 19 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for the Bulls. Goudelock was selected with the 46th pick of the 2011 Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Last season he received some playing time with the Lakers after Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon injury. It would be a shock if Gouedlock is not on an NBA roster this season.
Best Case Comparison: C.J. Watson
Best Team Fit: Goudelock could be used well on the Philadelphia 76ers as they rebuild their roster and attempt to replace Jrue Holiday.
Samardo Samuels, Los Angeles Clippers:
Breakdown: Samuels went undrafted out of the University of Louisville in 2010. He impressed during that offseason’s Summer League and signed a 3-year, $2.3 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played sporadically for the Cavaliers before they waived him early last season and now he’s back to prove himself again. In Vegas, he averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in only 22 minutes per game. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound center should be able to find a team for whom he could be a third big at the end of the bench.
Best Case Comparison: Carl Landry
Best Team Fit: The Heat could use Samuels’ physical presence as an insurance policy off the bench.
Stefhon Hannah, NBA D-League Select:
Breakdown: Hannah has spent the last three seasons bouncing between the NBA Development League and overseas after going undrafted out of the University of Missouri. This summer in Las Vegas he led the D-League Select team to a 4-1 record while averaging 13 points and 2.6 assists a game. He played solid defense throughout the tournament, but his lack of a dominant skill and small size may hurt his chances of making a roster.
Best Case Comparison: Luke Ridnour
Best Team Fit: The Lakers could use Hannah’s youth and energy off the bench and in practice, especially if Kobe Bryant isn’t healthy to start the season.
Jack Cooley, Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets:
Breakdown: The undrafted rookie out of the University of Notre Dame was dominant for the Grizzlies in Las Vegas as he averaged 15 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game on 52.7 (39-for-74) percent shooting. He displayed an impressive midrange jump shot and an ability to hold his ground in the paint. This combination of skills make him an interesting offensive weapon.
Best Case Comparison: Reggie Evans
Best Team Fit: The Indiana Pacers may be a good place for Coole, who could help replace some of the hustle and offensive skill lost when Tyler Hansbrough signed with the Toronto Raptors.