This week, 21-year old Phoenix Suns forward/center Jalen Smith was named to the First-team All-Vegas Summer League, along with (weirdly) six other players. Usually, there’s only five players on an all-tourney team because only five can play on a court at one time, but voting ties are ties and Jalen got in so we’ll take it.
Smith becomes only the sixth Sun ever to achieve First-team honors. He led the tourney in rebounding (12.5) and led all big men in three-point attempts (7) per game. Having those two traits in a single player who measures 6’10” with a 7’1” wingspan is exciting and should translate to a true NBA player.
Mayyybe. Let’s take a historical look at what’s happened with the best Vegas Summer League players.
Most Valuable Player
The seven Vegas Summer League Most Valuable Players from 2013-2019 boast 0 All-Stars, 3 regular starters (Lonzo Ball, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson), 3 role players (Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, Josh Hart) and 1 player out of the league (Glen Rice Jr.). Rice Jr. probably needs to get signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, who somehow put four of these seven players in their 2021 rotation on their way to the 8th seed in the West. Alternately, Rice could try to hook on with the Pelicans, who rostered the other two.
The Suns have never had an MVP of Summer League. I’m just breaking down the difference between ‘great in SL’ and ‘great in the NBA’.
Let’s widen the field a bit and circle it all the way back to Jalen Smith’s First-team honor.
35 players made First-team All-Vegas SL from 2013-2019. Just one of those is an All-Star (Ben Simmons) and only three other players are sure-fire unquestioned NBA starters (Jonas Valanciunas, John Collins and T.J. Warren). If you’re scoring at home, that’s an 11% chance a First-team All-Vegas player develops into an unquestioned full time NBA starter.
On the bottom end of the spectrum, a full 10 of those 35 players are either out of the league (like Alan Williams) or lucky to get their name called on a given night. 10 of 35 is 29%.
After making First-team All-Summer League, you’re almost three times as likely to be out of the league/rotation than a sure-fire starter.
But there’s a Bright Side!
Stix has a 71% chance (25 out of 35) to stay in the league and play regularly in an NBA rotation for several years. There’s over 400 players on Vegas Summer League rosters, so if you’re named as one of the top five (or seven), that’s a good indicator of future success.
Note that Alex Len (5th overall, 2013), Dragan Bender (4th overall, 2016) and Marquese Chriss (8th overall, 2016) never made all summer league team at all, despite participating multiple years.
Others of note who didn’t make All-SL: Devin Booker played one full SL schedule as an 18-year old rook (2015). Cameron Johnson (2019) did not play at all. Deandre Ayton made Second-team All-Vegas in 2018. Ayton and Mikal Bridges only played in the one SL.
One of the 25 First-teamers who are still a regular in an NBA rotation is Josh Jackson, who made all First-team All-Vegas after being taken 4th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2017 NBA Draft. Jackson has had a very up and down career, but has grown into earning a regular rotation spot for the Detroit Pistons on a mid-level sized contract.
T.J. Warren (2015) is the high-end comp you’ll want Smith emulate going forward. Amare Stoudemire made First-team in 2006 while rehabbing his microfractured knee. Deandre Ayton made Second-team in 2018
The comps you do NOT want him to emulate are Alan Williams and Gani Lawal, or even Tyler Ulis and Ron Slay.
Historically, some of today’s Phoenix Suns made all-tourney teams when they played in SL:
- Jae Crowder made All-Tournament team in 2012 (they only had one all-tourney team)
- JaVale McGee made First-team in 2010
- Chris Paul made Second-team in 2005
And there’s some one-time Suns who made all-tourney for other teams:
- Cheick Diallo made Second-team in 2017
- Kelly Oubre Jr. made Second-team in 2016
- Jordan McRae made First-team in 2016, Second-team in 2014
- Seth Curry made First-team in 2015
- Alan Williams made Second-team for HOUSTON in 2015
- Aaron Brooks made First-team in 2007
- Shannon Brown made Second-team in 2006
- Ronnie Price made Second-team in 2006
- Sebastian Telfair made Second-team in 2006
- Channing Frye made Second-team in 2005
What does this say about projecting Jalen Smith’s NBA future based on being good in Summer League? It says there’s not a direct correlation, but at least he should (71% chance) be a good rotation player in the NBA.
Smith does have a lot going for him that should help him become part of the 71%. He’s got all the measurables — height, wingspan, quick second jump — and some of the most important basketball skills.
- high motor and stamina. He just doesn’t take plays off.
- ball hawk on rebounds, even playing alongside another big man.
- no-hesitation quick-twitch release on threes.
Everything else in between is a work in progress. Which makes that first trait a very important one.
Don’t coronate Jalen Smith as the future of the Suns, but don’t dismiss his Summer League performance either. He reminded everyone what skills got him to the NBA.