Small sample size. Avoid. Small. Sample. Size.
I have heard SSS being mentioned around statistical analysis forever. Not that it lacks importance, though. But we are here for the fun, and uh oh have we got some of that during the past couple of weeks with all of the off-season NBA frenzy.
Out of the signings and trades around the Association, other much less coveted players (at least for now, although some carry oozes of hype) have been battling around the nation in three Summer Leagues.
That of Vegas, the most renowned one, is the one I wanted to look at a bit.
I knew I was going for a tough task when I decided to perform an analysis of players’ performances in Vegas’ games. We have tons of stats available for in-season games, even pre-season ones. But Summer Leagues? Nope.
I googled “summer league stats” and well, I got a few results. I didn’t waste much time getting to the very own NBA’s web, where I found a lower-than-101 level table of stats that incredibly included a FG% column! Quite a feat considering it only tracks the most old-school metrics ever conceived (blocks are in! yay!)
So I pulled the data and put it in a spreadsheet and tried to get something from it. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I guess.
(A Few) Heavy Work-Loaders Meet Vegas
Meet Aaron Holiday, Minutes-Per-Game warlord. Indiana wasted no time giving Holiday all he could get and then some. After playing 50 games for the Pacers last season, in which he averaged 12.9 MPG, Indiana put him on the court for a staggering 35 MPG in Vegas, which made him the MPG-leader of the tournament while playing three games with the Pacers.
On a second tier, Lonnie Walker IV, Allonzo Trier, Frank Jackson, and Rui Hachimura all surpassed the 31 MPG-mark, although the two in the middle did it while playing just one game. Talk about our beloved small sample size.
The most interesting thing to get from this, though, is that from the full set of 491 players to appear on the NBA’s stats page only 17 of them logged 30+ MPG, and of those only 15 did it while playing more than one game. Not that big a group.
Shoot Your Shot, Young Fella!
You never know how much time you’ll be part of an NBA organization. It doesn’t matter if you come to the Summer League as a sophomore under contract, or as a rookie with all but certainty ahead of you. So if there is something you must do, is shoot your shot.
The plot ahead of the previous paragraph includes every player with at least one minute of playing time during the Vegas SL. Some poor souls missed the occasion to shoot (you won’t believe a total of four players didn’t even try!) while others definitely shot even their shoes toward the rim.
Marcquise Reed, Detroit Pistons player, saw the court on two different occasions while logging 2.5 MPG and didn’t even attempt a shot. Props to him though, as he left Vegas with an assist to his name. The other three players without a field goal attempt: Kaleb Johnson, Brandon Gilbeck and Martin Kampelj. Shame on you.
On the other hand, Gary Trent Jr. (87 FGA) edged Tyler Harvey (86) on top of the FGA-leaderboard. What you don’t know yet is that he did it while playing four fewer games (!)
The dot I highlighted in yellow up in the chart? RJ Barrett, and I did it just for fun. Much has been said about how Barrett is a volume shooter with not-so-good percentages that can shoot you out of any given game. Turns out he indeed sht a hell of a number of shots while not putting them in most of the time.
Only 14 players attempted 15+ field goals per game during the Vegas SL. Holiday, being the guy with the most minutes per game, led again by a mile. His accuracy is another whole story, though. Lonnie Walker IV put on a real show scoring at a 58% clip, while Kendrick Nunn was close to his numbers albeit on a much lesser number of attempts (yet playing four games to Lonnie’s two).
Barrett, highlighted here too, shot more than 15 shots per game to the tune of a 34% percentage. Time to level up, young blood!
Snatch The Ball, Share The Ball
Although I wasn’t expecting a lot from the NBA’s stats page, I kinda hoped turnover numbers would be there. They were not. Welp.
But no problem! We can look at the positives, as it seems the NBA is doing with its data, and turn our eyes to assists and steals, both good things to happen to a player if he can pull them while on the court.
I decided to plot both those numbers for each player with at least one APG and one SPG during their time in Vegas. A total of 134 players (29 percent of the 463 to play in at least a game) met the criteria, which isn’t bad at all.
You can probably name two weirdos out of the chart above. Shaquille Harrison and Kevin McClain averaged five and four SPG respectively during their games. The problem is they played two games combined, which means each played just one. Small Sample Size calling again!
If we don’t take them into account, the next best SPG-mark belongs to Jordan Loyd (3.3), followed by John Konchar (3), making it four players to surpass the 3 SPG-mark.
In terms of assists, there are no true-outliers out there leading the pack. Even if the chart may lead you to believe there should be something weird going on with Bruce Brown logging more than eight dishes per game (he leaves Vegas with a SL-leading mark of 8.3 APG), there is not. Brown played four games, averaging 28.3 minutes per, so his numbers are pretty solid and reliable. Chris Chiozza ranks second (6.4)) almost two assists behind Brown, and Kendrick Nunn, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Codi Miller-McIntyre were the only other players to average at least 6 APG during the length of the summer tourney.
Bring The Big Boys In
The NBA’s trending toward versatile big men. We all can agree on that. The better their shooting, the bigger their chances to make it to the court. The more space they open, the best.
Yes, all that is true. But what truly makes a big player good? Good old rebounds and blocks.
Here I present to you the only players to log at least one BPG and seven RPG during the Vegas SL. There were 19 of them. 19 out of 463. Were we to assign them to NBA teams, we would run out of players a little over halfway to our goal. Insane!
I think the most encouraging thing to have into consideration while discussing or reading those players’ names is that none of them got to those numbers in just one game. All of them played at least two, and while Rui Hachimura and Chris Boucher stayed on the court for 31+ MPG giving them more chances to bulk their numbers, they are the only ones to play more than 29 MPG. Actually, removing them from the group yields an average of 24 MPG of playing time for the other 17 players to make the cut.
As you can see in the plot, New York’s last successful story (that of Mitchell Robinson) was a blocking machine in Vegas. He stopped 3.4 shots in the air, and only Omari Spellman got remotely close to him blocking three shots per game (although in just two games to Robinson’s five.)
Robinson was also a best on the boards, getting 10.6 RPG, although he couldn’t surpass Utah’s second-year man Tony Bradley who finished the summer circuit at 11.3 RPG. While Robinson has more pro-playing time (66 games last season for the Knicks), Bradley is about to enter his third pro-season and has already played in the playoffs. No surprise he led the pack (maybe?)
You Better Raise The Stock
Just as a quick final note: you already know I didn’t have much stuff to work with. But I still wanted to exploit the data as much as possible. So to finish my work I remember something Bill Simmons created back in the day, “Stocks” (SPG+BPG). I calculated the field for every player and plotted them in a list ordered by its value along with the number of games they played.
These are your Vegas SL leaders. Make what you want of it.