Scouting 'First Four' players
How Austin Rivers and others on rookie deals are playing in summer league
Summer league is often pitched as an opportunity to see the latest batch of rookies perform for the first time in a pseudo-NBA environment. There is a natural curiosity that makes us want to see how the Otto Porters and the Shabazz Muhammads of the world fare against a higher level of competition. But summer league isn't just about upcoming rookies showing their stuff; it is also a valuable training and experimentation ground for young players still on their rookie-scale contracts, or players in their "First Four," as I like to call them (first four years of their NBA careers).
For some, it's a chance to show that they've reached a level of development where they can contribute on a nightly basis to their teams. For others, it's an opportunity to work on underdeveloped aspects of their games, to experiment and push the boundaries of their talents.
Whatever the case, it's becoming increasingly valuable in today's NBA to have a firm and up-to-date grasp on the development and abilities of "First Four" players, because they represent subsidized talent (due to rookie-scale contracts for first-round picks, and what usually amounts to minimum deals for second-round picks). Here is a look at five such players and what they've shown so far in Las Vegas:
After a much maligned rookie season that ended with a wrist injury, Rivers has had an opportunity to absorb the criticisms levied prior to the start of the season and figure out how much of them were applicable to his abysmal performance in 2012-13. He was one of the least efficient players in the entire league, and struggled to justify the use of a lottery pick on him. I wrote about his "design flaws" at the beginning of last season, and questioned whether he had a realistic self-appraisal of his own abilities.
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