After NBA Summer League, many are ready to place a Wendell Carter Jr. statue next to Jordan’s. Premature? Duh. But was his flaming hot NBA Las Vegas Summer League performance indicative of big things to come when the games start to matter in the fall?
For ESPN insider (subscription required), Kevin Pelton got super nerdy to try to find out the answer to this question. Here’s how he did it:
Thanks to RealGM.com’s database, I’ve collected summer league stats on all players dating back to 2004. I also have player projections from my SCHOENE projection system since the 2009-10 season, allowing us to look at which players have most exceeded expectations in summer play. Setting the minimum at 150 minutes played, here are the biggest summer surprises in terms of player win percentage (the per-minute version of my wins above replacement player metric):
Carter Jr. exceeded his SCHOENE projection in LVSL (in terms of player win percentage as mentioned in the quote above) by .363. The difference between his projected player win percentage and his actual player win percentage in LVSL was the fifth highest among all LVSL players this summer.
Is this significant?
Since 2004, eight of the ten guys on the all-time list of NBA Summer League overachievers (those with huge gaps in the positive direction between their NBA Summer League performance and SCHOENE projection) also exceeded their SCOENE projection during the regular season their rookie year. On the flip side of the coin, the 10 players who underperformed the most in terms of their projected SCHOENE versus their NBA Summer League performance also underperformed during the regular season their rookie year.
This is good news for Carter Jr., at least to start off his career.
But, it doesn’t guarantee that Carter Jr. is destined for a long, fruitful NBA career. Among the top 10 over performers were Armon Johnson and Wayne Selden Jr. (exceeded projections during their rookie season but have done nothing since) and among the underperformers were Robert Covington and D’Angelo Russell (were below projections rookie year then became good players after).
Carter Jr. has an impressively refined skillset for a 19-year-old kid. Coupled with his maturity and the data outlined by Pelton, signs point to him exceeding projections during his rookie campaign and following that up with a long NBA career.
But like everything, there are outliers. You just never know.