Vanderbilt alums made a big impact with their new teams this weekend as the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League kicked off on Friday. John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, and Jeffery Taylor all reeled off impressive performances in their first action as professional athletes.
Jenkins, who was drafted 23rd overall by Atlanta, got things rolling on Friday by leading the Hawks to a 102-82 win over Washington behind a team-leading 19 points. The two-time SEC scoring champion answered questions about his ability to get his shot off against tougher defenders with a 4-5 performance from long range. He also contributed four assists - a total that matches his career high at Vanderbilt.
His follow-up performance wasn't as strong, but helped to show off his scoring range on the court. Jenkins missed all three of his three-point attempts, but still managed to score 13 points thanks to a 6-11 showing inside the arc. However, he failed to fill the stat sheet otherwise (zero rebounds, one assist), which will give his something to work on for the rest of the week.
Jeffery Taylor also showed off his shooting range, starting his summer league with a 17-point, 7-10 mark from the field. Taylor started the first game of his pro career alongside fellow rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a modified three-forward set for the Bobcats, and the pair did not disappoint in a blowout win over the Kings. The duo combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists as Kidd-Gilchrist carried much of the weight for his new team in the win.
Taylor couldn't keep up the pace in Charlotte's second game, but put together a stronger performance on the boards for a Bobcat team that lacks big men. He pulled down six offensive rebounds to help offset a disappointing 5-15 shooting night for the 'Cats.
Festus Ezeli didn't have the benefit of a big opening game like his former teammates did. The former All-SEC center started slow with the Warriors, but showed signs of life in his team's second contest last week. The big Nigerian scored only three points and had two rebounds in 18 minutes in his summer league opener before putting together a solid performance in Saturday's contest. Ezeli had 11 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in his quest to prove that he can be a role-filling big man behind Andrew Bogut in Golden State this year.
The trio still has a full week of games to make their mark as impact rookies for the 2012-2013 season. While all three should have a pretty firm grip on a roster spot - Jenkins and Ezeli especially due to their guaranteed contracts - each is working to state their case for significant playing time in the NBA. Jenkins is working to move into the shooting guard spot that Joe Johnson left behind when he was traded from Atlanta to the Nets. Ezeli will need to prove that he can be a spot starter right away behind an injury-prone Bogut. Taylor is in the middle of a massive rebuilding project where no one has earned a starting spot across the Charlotte's lineup.
All three have at least an outside chance to enter the NBA as starters, and each should be a contributor from the opening tip. First, they'll have to prove that they can supply the intensity that they brought to the Commodore lineup to a NBA roster. That began last Friday and it'll continue this week. Though it may not mean much to their coaches in the long run, strong performances in the summer will go a long way for these players when it comes to endearing themselves to the message-board crowd in each fanbase. If Ezeli can rattle home some rim-bending dunks and Jenkins can keep hitting threes, they'll earn plenty of goodwill that should help carry them into successful rookie campaigns.