Bad Summer League Debuts for 10 NBA Stars

With the 2022 Summer League in full swing in Las Vegas, each year there are reactionary takes on a player’s performance. For example, if a highly touted player doesn’t perform to standards, they might be ripped apart by media outlets as not being good enough for the NBA. The same can be said when a player exceeds expectations. We saw this with Carsen Edwards who averaged 19 PPG on 53/48/60 and a ridiculous TS% of 69.2% through his first 3 games. He was rewarded with a 4-year contract for his Summer League effort, but then barely played any minutes in the NBA.

We take a look at some players who had bad Summer League debuts but grew into stars or exceptional role players in the NBA. The players on this list qualified by making the biggest jump from their Summer League debut to their current status in the NBA and were then ranked 1-10. Below are the rankings from top to bottom along with their Summer League Debut stats.

Player

Team

Games Played

MIN

PTS

FGM

FGA

FG%

3PM

3PA

3P%

FTM

FTA

FT%

OREB

DREB

TREB

APG

SPG

BPG

TOV

PF

Nikola Jokic

DEN

5

21.0

8.0

3.4

7.4

45.9%

0.4

1.4

28.6%

0.8

1.4

57.1%

2.4

3.8

6.2

1.4

0.8

1.4

3.0

4.6

Andre Drummond

DET

5

24.3

7.4

3.4

6.8

50.0%

0.0

0.0

0.00%

0.6

2.4

25.0%

1.20

4.20

5.40

0.4

1.2

2.0

0.6

4.0

Fred VanVleet

TOR

5

16.0

6.2

2.0

4.8

41.7%

1.2

2.2

54.5%

1.0

1.2

83.3%

0.4

2.6

3.0

1.6

1.2

0.0

0.6

1.6

Rudy Gobert

UTH

5

21.3

5.4

2.0

3.8

52.6%

0.0

0.0

0.00%

1.4

2.0

70.0%

2.4

3.8

6.2

1.0

0.2

2.4

0.2

1.8

D'Angelo Russell

LAL

5

30.1

11.8

4.6

12.2

37.7%

0.4

3.4

11.8%

2.2

3.2

68.8%

0.2

5.0

5.2

3.2

1.0

0.2

5.2

3.67

Serge Ibaka

OKC

5

17.9

5.4

2.2

6.6

33.3%

0.0

0.2

0.00%

1.0

1.4

71.4%

2.8

2.4

5.2

0.0

0.4

0.2

3.0

3.0

George Hill

SAS

3

31.0

3.5

0.0

8.0

0.00%

0.0

2.0

0.00%

3.5

5.0

70.0%

0.5

6.0

6.5

4.0

0.5

0.0

3.5

4.0

Christian Wood

HOU

4

14.6

6.5

2.5

7.25

34.5%

0.0

1.0

0.00%

1.5

2.25

66.7%

1.75

2.25

4.00

0.75

0.5

0.75

0.5

1.25

Marcin Gortat

ORL

4

14.5

4.8

2.0

3.5

57.1%

0.0

0.0

0.00%

0.8

0.8

100.0%

0.8

1.5

2.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.5

4.3

Patrick Beverly

MIA

4

24.7

5.8

2.0

5.8

34.8%

0.0

0.3

0.00%

1.8

2.5

70.0%

1.0

3.8

4.8

1.8

2.3

0.5

3.3

3.8

1. Nikola Jokic

Summer League Stats: 21 minutes, 8.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, on 46/29/57 shooting
Career Stats: 30 minutes, 19.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 6.2 APG, on 54/34/83 shooting

Rarely does a two-time, back-to-back, MVP has a bad summer league debut. But we saw that from Nikola Jokic. While he wasn’t abysmal by any means, you would expect more dominance from someone who would become an MVP just 5 years later. He has by far made the biggest leap from his summer league debut to where he is now as a player. The most notable step up in his game was his playmaking. Even coming into the league he had a flashiness to him, but he wasn’t able to display his true playmaking skills until he proved himself in the league. We can see that through his assist numbers increasing each year, getting up to 7.9 in 2021.

Despite the slow start in Summer League, Nikola Jokic found his stride in his rookie season, starting 55 games and finishing the season on an efficient 10.0/7.0/2.4 stat line. The rest is history and he is a walking highlight each and every night. Goes to show that you can’t count a player out due to a mediocre Summer League debut, because who knows maybe they turn into a Nikola Jokic 😉

2. Andre Drummond

Summer League Stats: 24 minutes, 7.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, on 50/0/25 shooting
Career Stats: 30 minutes, 13.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, on 54/13/47 shooting

One of the best rebounders of the 21st century, Andre Drummond, had a considerably bad Summer League debut. There wasn’t anything that he excelled at during his 24 minutes per game for the Detroit Summer League team. He was inefficient and contribute 4 fouls a game. In Drummond’s sophomore season he snatched up his career rebounding average at 13.2 rebounds/game. So why wasn’t he able to dominate these young guys on the glass in his professional debut? For one it takes time for NBA bigs to adjust to the quickness and athleticism of the NBA. I think we saw that with Drummond who needed time to figure out how to out-rebound everyone.

Regardless of his bad summer league debut, Andre Drummond has been a staple starting center in the NBA for about a decade and continues to make an impact on the glass each year. Coming into 2022, he is on the Chicago Bulls looking to relieve Vucevic. He should be the backup center that the Bulls need and will make an impact right away.

3. Fred VanVleet

Summer League Stats: 16 minutes, 6.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, on 42/54/83 shooting
2021-22 Stats: 38 minutes, 20.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, on 40/38/87 shooting

Fred VanVleet is a stud. The 6’1 point guard for the Raptors is breaking out to the NBA producing career bests in 2021 and getting an All-Star nod as well. Fred had a long road to get to this point and it started with a bad summer league debut. While he shot well from 3 and free throws he didn’t take many, making those numbers very fragile. If he was to miss one of those 3’s his % would have dropped a lot. Nonetheless, he was efficient, but he didn’t get a lot of production from it which you can see with his counting stats of 6.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 1.6 APG.

Ever since then he’s been earning every minute he gets by working hard. I still remember watching a video showing how even end-of-the-bench players in the NBA will still cook really good hoopers and the end-of-bench player in the video was Fred VanVleet. Can’t find the video now, but if you look hard enough I’m sure you can find it. Fred is looking to be a household name in the NBA, hoping to get an All-Star nod again this year.

4. Rudy Gobert

Summer League Stats: 21 minutes, 5.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, on 53/0/70 shooting
Career Stats: 30 minutes, 12.4 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, on 65/0/64 shooting

Rudy Gobert, the 3x NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner, tied for second-most in NBA history. He is a four-time All-NBA Team member, six-time All-Defensive First Team member, and three-time NBA All-Star. With this type of resume, you’d expect some dominance against fringe NBA talent. We didn’t see that in his Summer League debut in 2013. He had very poor counting stats in his debut, although he did average 2+ blocks which are more in line with his defensive dominance. Gobert didn’t develop his offensive and rebounding parts of his game until he learned from playing real NBA talent.

Rudy Gobert could have easily been top-2 on our list for the type of player he is now compared to how he performed in his debut. But stats usually don’t tell everything for Rudy’s game. A lot of it goes uncounted and for that, we give him the benefit of doubt that he was impacting the game well enough in the Summer League.

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5. D’Angelo Russell

Summer League Stats: 30 minutes, 11.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, on 38/12/69 shooting
Career Stats: 29 minutes, 17.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.6 APG, on 42/36/78 shooting

Another current Timberwolf, D’Angelo Russell had a very bad summer league debut. While his production was okay-ish, his efficiency was awful. Any three of those numbers would be considered way below average in today’s NBA, especially the three-pointers, where he was tossing up 3.4 a game. Not to mention he had over 5 turnovers a game as well. Lakers fans were collectively nervous about how the #2 pick would translate to the NBA. After a few seasons in the NBA, he was able to iron out his efficiency, but there were definitely wrinkles to his game initially.

Coming into 2022, D’Angelo is being paired up with Gobert and will look to have his most efficient year yet in shooting numbers and should also have career-highs in assists. With his name being bounced around the trade market, expect him to be going all out this year to prove his value to the Timberwolves.

6. Serge Ibaka

Summer League Stats: 18 minutes, 5.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0 APG, on 33/0/71 shooting
Career Stats: 27 minutes, 12. PPG, 7.2, RPG, 0.8 APG on 51/36/72 shooting

Similar to Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka is known for his defensive and blocking prowess, averaging nearly 2 blocks in his career. In his Summer League debut, he averaged 0.2 blocks per game in 5 games and on top of that, averaged 3 fouls a game as well. Clearly not someone you would expect to become a 2x block leader and 3x first-team All-NBA defense. Along with his disappointing defense, his shooting left a lot to be desired. Ibaka later developed a good jump shot and became one of the best 2-way forwards in the league for a time.

Ibaka the past few seasons has jumped from team to team, looking to make an impact on a championship contender. Nowadays being a steady veteran piece off the bench brings a consistent production.

7. George Hill

Summer League Stats: 31 minutes, 3.5/6.5/4.0 on 0/0/70 shooting
Career Stats: 30 minutes, 10.7/3.0/3.1 on 46/38/81 shooting

One of the more bizarre shooting splits you’ll ever see. George Hill didn’t make a single field goal in his Summer League debut despite averaging 31 minutes in 2 games. All of his points came from Free Throws. He averaged solid rebounding and assists numbers for Summer League games, but those shooting numbers are atrocious. To not make a single field goal from 16 shots is ridiculous. This seemed to be the statline only in Las Vegas games and he had a better performance in Salt Lake City. Nonetheless, if I was advocating for George Hill on draft night and he didn’t get a single bucket in 62 minutes and 16 shots, I’d be sweating for my job security.

8. Christian Wood

Summer League Stats: 15 minutes, 6.5/4.0/0.8 on 35/0/67 shooting
2022 Season Stats: 31 minutes, 17.9/10.1/2.3 on 50/39/62 shooting

A common theme we are seeing in this list is that big men start slow in this league. This rings very true for Christian Wood. Wood is a recent breakout in the league averaging nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds last year. He had a slow start to his career and had to grind his way to the top. We saw that in his bad summer league debut with the 76ers. He had a hard time producing meaningful stats and on top of that, he had an awful shooting split. Known for his scoring bag, he definitely didn’t display those skills in his debut.

Now on the Mavericks, this will be Christian Wood’s biggest test to date. Expectations to perform are at an all-time high. If he fails we will see Wood quickly fall down the big man echelon. If he succeeds and brings success to Dallas, we will more than likely be hearing Christian Wood’s name for years to come.

Click here to read 2 key offseason moves for the Mavericks

9. Marcin Gortat

Summer League Stats: 15 minutes, 4.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, on 35/0/67 shooting
2022 Season Stats: 25 minutes, 9.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, on 55/15/68 shooting

The Polish Hammer, aka Marcin Gortat, the unproven European center came into the NBA and played like an unproven center. In 4 games with the Orlando Magic Summer League team, he didn’t have a lot to show for it. That translated to his first 3 seasons of his NBA career, although that can be expected when you are playing behind prime Dwight Howard.

He didn’t make a splash until his season with the Phoenix Suns where he averaged 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block per game. After that Gortat was a solid, steady center for the Phoenix Suns and then the Washington Wizards where he helped contribute to their first playoff series win. Gortat’s NBA career is now over and he received American citizenship recently.

10. Patrick Beverly

Summer League Stats: 25 minutes, 5.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, on 35/0/70 shooting
Career Stats: 27 minutes, 8.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, on 41/38/76 shooting

Mr. 94 Feet, aka Patrick Beverly, didn’t make his starting debut in Houston for a few years after he was drafted. This could be attributed to his bad Summer League debut where he averaged 5.8 PPG and 1.8 APG and shot 0% from 3. As an undersized point guard, those aren’t promising numbers to get minutes in the NBA. But as most NBA fans know Patrick Beverly doesn’t make his impact on the stat sheet. Known for his hound-like on-ball defense, Beverly was given a starting role in 2012 with the Rockets and ran with it.

Beverly recently got traded to the Utah Jazz from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Time will tell if he will stay there or be shipped off to a contender team as he brings intangibles. The Timberwolves got a taste of what he brings to a team this past season, making the playoffs for the first time since Jimmy Butler was on the team.

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