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A Summer League MVP Award Doesn’t Mean Anything

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Getty Images

We know the future is incredibly bright for the Minnesota Timberwolves: No. 1 overall picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns look like budding superstars, Zach LaVine is a freak of nature, and Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the game. Now we can add Tyus Jones to this list. On Monday, the second-year Duke product was named summer league MVP, a highly prestigious honor that virtually guarantees that Jones will accomplish great things in the NBA. Or does it?

It probably doesn’t. In the last five seasons of summer league (since the 2011 lockout, when summer league was canceled), the MVP award hasn’t always translated well to the more important seasons of fall, winter, and spring. Actually, that’s putting it mildly: When it comes to predicting future NBA success, the award is woefully inadequate.

The 2012 winners of the honor, co-MVPs Lillard and Selby, went on to enjoy vastly different NBA careers. Lillard stands as a rare success story, having been named Rookie of the Year in 2013, making the All-Star Game in 2014 and 2015, and showing promise as a rapper. That’s pretty good! Selby, however, is toiling away for Socar Petkim of the second-tier Turkish Basketball 1st League, which isn’t even the most competitive pro hoops league in Turkey. Clearly, winning the summer league MVP didn’t predict how his 38-game NBA career would fare.

2013 brought us an international summer league MVP: Valanciunas, the pride of Lithuania and the Raptors’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. The 7-footer averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds in four summer league games, earning plaudits from the Toronto media for “manhandling the opponents.” Against Vegas summer league players who couldn’t match up with his newfound girth, Valanciunas looked like the next Shaq for a hot second, but alas, while Big Science has become a dependable NBA center, he hasn’t been the dominant force we saw in Las Vegas:

Rice and Anderson took home summer league MVP honors in 2014 and 2015, respectively, which remains the apex of each player’s professional career. Rice last played for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2015, but a subsequent marijuana possession charge and a regrettable appearance on The Real Housewives of Atlanta have since put his hooping days on hold. Meanwhile, Anderson has developed into a solid rotation player in San Antonio, but he hasn’t come anywhere close to his 2015 summer league averages of 21 points and six rebounds per game. If Slow-Mo can’t become an adequate Boris Diaw replacement this season, at least we’ll always have 2015, when Anderson and Spurs summer league coach Becky Hammon became the Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich of Vegas.

The summer league MVP seems to reward a certain type of player: former blue-chip high school recruits entering their second season in the NBA. Unlike the rookies, these dudes aren’t coming off the notoriously arduous pre-draft process, and their year of professional experience makes the summer league games much less of an adjustment. Notably, only one rookie made this year’s All-NBA Summer League 2016 First Team (yes, that’s a real thing): no. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, who might be the most talented player to hit the summer league circuit since Kevin Durant conquered Vegas in 2007.

So, yes, things are looking up for the Timberwolves. But Jones’s summer league MVP — which really should be named the Nate Robinson Award — isn’t among the reasons why, although maybe the trophy will keep him warm. After all, the third-string point guard will need all the help he can get warming the bench next season.