The 2018 NBA Summer League is a wrap. There were 94 Summer League (SL) games across Las Vegas, Utah, and Sacramento, and I would know, because I watched every single one of them.
I’ve grown to love Summer League with all its quirks and ridiculousness. It may be NBA Comic-Con in person, but it’s just hoops on my TV. It’s a chance to see NBA prospects compete against equal talents, even if they’re playing a sport that isn’t actually basketball much of the time. Still it’s fun watching these guys develop each summer, and it’s a chance to see the future of the NBA unfold right before your eyes. And I watched it all — for you.
Below, you’ll find 20,000 words about every team in the NBA and my analysis of their key players’ summer performances. I don’t hold back, so you’ll get my honest opinion — bearing in mind that these kids are 19 to 21-years-old and that my opinion of them can grow and change over time, just like their games.
Let’s get right to it.
How to Read This Thing
Honestly, do it however you like.
Just take in the overviews, if you want. Read a few teams or sections at a time. Cherry pick your favorite players (Control+F). Scroll through to guys you never got to see in March Madness. Take an hour-long dump with a full battery and read it straight through. It’s a choose your own adventure, really.
Thank you for reading. I’d sincerely appreciate it if you took a minute to share it with others who might like it too.
By all means, please clap and share and highlight away. This is my biggest project of the year.
Some Notes on Methodology
Feel free to skip ahead to the good stuff if you don’t care to see how the sausage was made. Just wanted to give a few notes behind the scenes if you’re interested.
- This is not meant to be awesome writing. Think of it as a written podcast. I’m not going to spend much time editing and didn’t focus on writing style. It’s informational. It takes me 80 minutes to watch one game. You get all 94 games in the same amount of time.
- I really did watch all 94 games. Not always the entire thing, and not always closely at every moment, but I watched until I saw enough to get a sense of each key player.
- These are my opinions and mine alone. My draft prep was heavily influenced by The Stepien and Ringer teams, The Flagrant 2, Michael Margolis, Jake Paynting, Evan Zamir, and others, so that set a basis for many of these players, but everything here is my own observations. Nobody needs a parrot, and I don’t mind being proven wrong. This is just what I am seeing, and I am growing in my ability just like these players grow in theirs.
- I focus on what I see instead of looking for what I don’t. Summer League is about the flashes of skill sets, the moments more than the outcome. Process over results. I care more that you made a good pass than that your teammate fumbled it, more that your shot looks crisp and confident than that it rimmed out, etc.
- This isn’t always real basketball, and it certainly isn’t always team basketball. These guys are competing for each others’ jobs, so hero ball often prevails. Team defense is not a thing worth evaluating much. True player value comes in a team context, but we can mostly only evaluate individually here.
- Age matters, like a lot. I’m pretty forgiving with rookies, who basically got a couple days of practice and got thrown into the fire. Sophomores should stand out more. Rookies that are 22 already are basically NBA juniors. They better stand out, or they’re already behind. Rookies that flash at age 19 are really worth noticing. Athleticism and big man skills translate quickly. IQ, handling, and shooting can be more of an acquired skill.
- Beware the gunners and runners, who always look better in Summer League. Energetic big men play harder and rack up rebounds and easy points. Scoring guards take a ton of shots and put up 20 points like it’s nothing but it’s inefficient and any of these guys can score if they shoot a bunch. Gunners and runners post faux SL. Bryn Forbes, Malik Beasley, Wayne Selden, and Cheick Diallo come to mind from 2017. They posted huge SL numbers but it didn’t mean much when the real ball started.
- Stats can matter, a little. Some stats translate better to the NBA. Steals, blocks, and rebounds translate best, along with turnovers and fouls for big men. So do free throw and three-point attempts. It matters less that they make them and more that they take them. Stats don’t tell all, especially on a small sample, but they can help point us in the right direction.
- Confirmation bias is real. I try to go in with fresh eyes and remain open to new opinions, but SL is not played in a vacuum and I already have thoughts on most of these guys. I try to look for new things, try to learn about the players. But I also don’t throw out everything I already knew previously. Again, process over results.
- This is not science. Some opinions will be wrong. Some we won’t know about for years. Heck some opinions may be right in theory but a player will get injured or get traded or have personal issues and we’ll never know. Basketball is complicated. I’m doing my best, and you’re welcome to disagree. I welcome your questions and criticisms in the comments below.
- I’m blunt. There’s not room to sugar coat after 20,000 words. I want all these guys to succeed, but some of them are just better than others and I prefer to tell it like I see it.
- Except for Henry Ellenson. For him, it’s personal.
- One last time: process over results. A good reminder because last year’s manifesto process was better than some of its results. Alright, let’s do this.
We’ll start with some All-Summer teams along with a way-too-early 2018 redraft and a re-ranking of the last three drafts. Then it’s each team alphabetically with thoughts on anything and everything about the notable players.
All Too-Good-to-Be-Here Team
G De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento
G Josh Hart, L.A. Lakers
F Jonathan Isaac, Orlando **MVP**
F John Collins, Atlanta
C Jordan Bell, Golden State
This is a Summer League staple — the upperclassmen who show up, flash their skills for a couple games, remind everyone how much growth they’ve had as a real NBA player, then watch the rest of the games from the stands. And this year’s team was loaded.
Fox played only one game. Collins and Bell stuck around a little longer and clowned a few opponents with highlights. Hart played the entire summer. Derrick White could have made the list too, except that he barely played as a rookie. Jarrett Allen and Cedi Osman didn’t flash but got the job done quickly. But Isaac is the one who stood out. If Summer League was one giant schoolyard pick’em, he would’ve been the #1 pick.
All Make-It-Stop-Already Team
G Tyler Dorsey, Atlanta
F Wesley Iwundu, Orlando
F Dragan Bender, Phoenix
F Henry Ellenson, Detroit **MVP**
C Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City
Watching 94 Summer League games is a labor of love, and some players are a lot more labor than love. Guys like Jack Cooley could come back every year and I’d root them on. But I’ve seen enough Henry Ellenson to last an eternity. I wrote a whole piece on these guys I wouldn’t mind never watching again.
All Steals-of-the-Draft Team
G DeAntony Melton, Houston
G Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia
F Josh Okogie, Minnesota
C Mitchell Robinson, New York **MVP**
C Harry Giles, Sacramento
You’re going to see these names a lot so there’s no need to get into them here. I thought Melton and Robinson were shocking second-round picks on draft night, and they’re already showing why. Harry Giles is a Ben-Simmons rookie so he gets included here too. You could add Wendell Carter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the list, but lottery picks are supposed to be really good and they were never supposed to go too much higher.
All Surprising Team
G Aaron Holiday, Indiana
F Kevin Knox, New York
C Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago
C Harry Giles, Sacramento **MVP**
C Moe Wagner, L.A. Lakers
These are the five guys who all showed a lot more than I ever expected based on all my draft prep and analysis. Carter managed to surprise me on both ends of the court, and Holiday and Wagner are two guys I didn’t have first-grades on that seem to belong. Knox was a theoretical player I couldn’t talk myself into but seems a candidate to be this year’s Donovan Mitchell, a late-rising prospect I didn’t have access to the reasons for the buzz.
All of those guys surprised, but Giles was a genuine shock. I didn’t have much belief in him last summer (though I didn’t mind the Kings taking a swing), and I was blown away by his abilities. That was quietly one of the stories of the summer, and his fit could save Marvin Bagley’s value on the Kings.
All Lived-Up-to-the-Hype Team
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, L.A. Clippers
G Josh Hart, L.A. Lakers
F Josh Okogie, Minnesota
F Jonathan Isaac, Orlando **MVP**
C Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia
This is the corollary to the All Surprising Team and a chance to toot my own horn a bit. These are the players that lived up to the hype but didn’t exactly surprise me because I was one of the ones hyping them.
I had Zhaire and Shai in my top seven ahead of some of the marquee bigs, and they looked awesome. Hart is a guy I talked up all last season and he finally showed why. I thought Okogie should’ve been a lottery pick, and he looked the part. I could have also thrown DeAnthony Melton or Mitchell Robinson in here, though I had barely seen either play and relied on others’ analysis for my belief there.
But the guy that got me the most excited was Jonathan Isaac, who looked like a real genuine two-way star. He had a rough rookie campaign but has a new body and a whole new polish to his game. He’s going to be a stud defender, and the offense is already further ahead than most thought possible.
All Disappointing Team
G Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas **MVP**
G Josh Jackson, Phoenix
F Jonah Bolden, Philadelphia
F Caleb Swanigan, Portland
C DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix
Not everyone can impress. Rookies aren’t supposed to be great right away, so they can’t be too disappointing. I wasn’t particularly impressed with guys like Chandler Hutchison, Jerome Robinson, or Jakob Evans, but they’re learning the ropes so we’ll be patient. Number one picks don’t get as much patience, especially in a draft that seems so loaded.
The others on this list are players I would’ve expected to be pretty good this summer, sophomores who should’ve stood out in a setting like this. Bolden was the most personally disappointing, but Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson were the two marquee names that came up short. Others like Dragan Bender, Tyler Lydon, D.J. Wilson, and T.J. Leaf were worse but not exactly surprising.
G DeAnthony Melton, Houston
G Josh Okogie, Minnesota
F Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia
F Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis
C Wendell Carter, Chicago
It’s silly to have a Summer League team that has anything to do with defense, but these guys were just that brilliant and entertaining on defense. Imagine trying to score on that squad. Whew. Add in Jonathan Isaac and some highlights from Mo Bamba and you might pitch a shutout.
All Summer League Teams
G Josh Hart, L.A. Lakers **MVP**
G Derrick White, San Antonio
G Wade Baldwin, Portland
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, L.A. Clippers
C Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago
G Aaron Holiday, Indiana
G DeAnthony Melton, Houston
G Collin Sexton, Cleveland
G Kobi Simmons, Memphis
C Christian Wood, Milwaukee
G Monte Morris, Denver
G Svi Mykhailiuk, L.A. Lakers
F Devin Robinson, Washington
C Cheick Diallo, New Orleans
C Mitchell Robinson, New York
Note that these are not the most impressive players or the guys with the most potential. This treats Summer League like a real NBA season and awards guys that put in the time and earned it. Players like Collins and Isaac didn’t play enough to be eligible, and rookies like Trae and JJJ looked great at times but wouldn’t deserve a summer-long recognition. These are the 15 guys worth recognizing across Vegas, Utah, and Sacramento leagues.
You can read a morsel about them in my All Summer League article or get the full meal below on each below.
All Summer Crush Team
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, L.A. Clippers
G DeAnthony Melton, Houston
F Josh Okogie, Minnesota
F Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia **MVP**
C Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago
Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, Harry Giles, Kobi Simmons, Shaq Harrison, Josh Hart, Malik Monk
This is my favorite list to put together and speaks for itself. When you watch 94 Summer League games, you need some players to hang your hat on, guys that get you excited to come back game after game. These are my guys. These are the guys I was excitedly texting my friends about while watching.
Not a lot of surprises among the starters here if you’ve been reading above, and it’s fascinating that everyone in my crush starting five is oozing with defensive potential. Maybe it’s a strong defensive draft or maybe I’m just more cultured these days. Perhaps a little more aware that Summer League scoring bursts should be taken with a great of salt too.
Summer Crush emeriti include Jonathan Isaac, John Collins, Jordan Bell, and Zhou Qi, so those guys were ineligible this time around or they’d all have probably made it again. I already let myself go 12 deep and build out a whole roster. I even fell in love with Kobi and Shaq. Who saw that coming?
Way-Too-Early 2018 Redraft
1 Luka Doncic
2 Trae Young
3 Jaren Jackson Jr.
4 Zhaire Smith
5 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
6 Wendell Carter Jr.
7 Marvin Bagley
8 Mo Bamba
9 Michael Porter Jr.
10 DeAndre Ayton
11 Josh Okogie
12 Mitchell Robinson
13 Kevin Knox
14 DeAnthony Melton
This actually wasn’t that difficult because it’s not immensely different from my initial rankings. Summer League shouldn’t sway things too far.
Trae Young remains #2 but drops a tier, or JJJ catches up to him, either way. Marvin Bagley is a hedge since I still like his gifts but know he’s stuck on the Kings so we may never see them developed. Wendell Carter makes the most significant jump, ahead of the other bigs. Kevin Knox moves into my lottery.
That quartet in the 7-to-10 range are the four guys I’m most concerned about right now: Bagley, Bamba, Porter, and Ayton. It’s too early to worry, and big men often underwhelm at Summer League, but it feels like that’s the group that will have two or three busts when all is said and done.
Top 25 NBA Prospects from the Last Three Drafts
1 Ben Simmons (last year: 4)
2 Luka Doncic
3 Jayson Tatum (15)
4 Donovan Mitchell (12)
5 Markelle Fultz (2)
6 Trae Young
7 Jonathan Isaac (5)
8 Jaren Jackson Jr.
9 Jaylen Brown (28)
10 Brandon Ingram (7)
11 Lonzo Ball (3)
12 Zhaire Smith
13 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
14 Wendell Carter
15 Marvin Bagley
16 Mo Bamba
17 Harry Giles (NR)
18 Michael Porter Jr.
19 DeAndre Ayton
20 Jamal Murray (26)
21 John Collins (27)
22 Josh Okogie
23 Mitchell Robinson
24 Kevin Knox
25 Malik Monk (11)
This is an exercise I do every year, and it was excruciatingly difficult this time. Last year’s draft was absolutely loaded, and this year’s feels just as deep. Remember how bad the 2015 and 2016 drafts were? They’re history now. There is a huge influx of young talent ready to grab the next NBA mantle. Some interesting notes about the list above.
- Pay more attention to the tiers than the rankings within. The second tier was particularly hard to order. I don’t necessarily think Spida and Tatum will end up that high, but they’re both so good already that it’d be silly to take them any lower. I’ve been all in on Fultz and Trae, so I can’t give up on them this quick. Meanwhile Isaac and JJJ could easily end up the two best players from the tier, but they both have the longest way to go.
- The numbers in parentheses are my rankings from this exercise a year ago. I whiffed on both Mitchell and Tatum in 2017 draft prep, and I hated Jaylen Brown the year before. The Celtics development program is killing me, a helpful reminder that team fit is everything.
- Remember the awful 2016 draft? Only four of the top 25 are from 2016 (top three picks Simmons, Ingram, and Brown plus Murray). I’m not sure anyone else would have made a top 30 or 35 either. The next pick is probably Malcolm Brogdon or Fred VanVleet.
- There are 14 rookies in my top 25. Part of that is certainly recency bias. It’s always more fun to not know about these guys than to already know so many shortcomings. Besides, a list of players like this is always about upside more than anything else. Players like Brogdon and FVV are undoubtedly better than some of the names above, but will they be in five years? You’d never draft guys like that with this upside available.
- The cut-off at 25 was brutal. Kyle Kuzma led the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring as a rookie and didn’t make the list. De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t make the list. Stud defenders OG Anunoby and DeAnthony Melton didn’t make it, nor guys like Josh Jackson or Lauri Markkanen. By contrast, take a look at some of the names that were in last year’s top 25: D’Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Thon Maker, Dragan Bender, Skal Labissiere, Frank Ntilikina, Patrick McCaw, Jonah Bolden, and Jordan Bell. Whew. Is there any one of those nine guys you’d even think about taking ahead of the 34 above? Goodness. The NBA youth movement. It’s coming.
Alright then. I suppose 3000 words worth of previews and All-Something-or-Other Teams is just about enough of a preamble. Let’s get to the teams and analysis…
Well, we’re certainly starting out with a doozy. Trae Young could probably have had an entire article, but we’ll try to keep it to 1000 words. I’m already a little exhausted with all the Trae banter. Everyone’s got an opinion because ESPN ran this guy into the ground. Personally I love Trae Young. I had him #2 on my draft board behind only Luka Doncic, and I think he could be the best player in the draft. I think the Steve Nash skill set comparison is apt, and I think he fits the modern NBA offensively as well as anyone. I think Atlanta thinks so too, because they built their draft plan and team around Trae’s abilities. But I also think rookie point guards are usually bad and this is going to take some time, with some bumps along the way.
So I was not surprised when Young posted horrifying numbers out of the gates. At Utah he averaged 13 points and 4 assists on 23% shooting, and all the naysayers were out. I actually thought he did fine early. Young certainly has a quick trigger finger, regardless of whether he’s open and/or five feet behind the arc, and he had some rough results early including a few ugly air balls. Obviously he’ll need to improve shot selection. But for Summer League, I’m fine with him shooting those, especially because he didn’t hang his head after a miss and didn’t get yanked by his coach, who by the way was one of a couple real head coaches doing SL.
Young’s game is to stretch and bend the defense. When he had a catch-and-shoot or even just an open look, he shot really well. He hit 39% of his threes in Vegas, and he was a knockdown shooter when he took time and stepped into it. I’m fine with him jacking long threes now because it sends a message, and the message is come out here and guard me or you’re going to pay for it. And when they come out, teammates will be open and Young will find them. This was about establishing gravity and scheme. Houston’s summer players all switched on defense and shot a lot of threes, even when the results weren’t there. That’s what the Rockets do. Well this is what the Hawks do now. Dorsey, Collins, and Spellman shot a bunch of threes too.
Did you know that Trae Young does more than shoot jumpers? It’s true! We can talk about other parts of his game too.
Let’s talk about Trae Young’s passing, which was far better than anyone else this summer. His IQ and vision are outstanding. Young finds terrific passing angles and sees the whole court well despite his size, and he consistently makes quick terrific decisions, even if his teammates don’t always convert. Just in the first half of game one alone, Young made four or five WOW passes out of a double team or coming off the pick-and-roll. Young passes accurately with both hands and snaps the pass consistently to the open corner three. He was by far the best passer at Summer League, and he’s such a high usage player that he’s constantly making decisions, usually good ones unless he’s jacking another contested three. Young is deadly in transition. He pushes well off a make or a miss and keeps his eyes up, and he’s got that Steph Curry transition ability. But the passing is more Nashian.
Now Young needs to learn how to play inside the arc like Curry and Nash. He isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t always create much separation, but his handle and shooting gravity help him find space and get to the rim consistently. He almost always looks better when he’s attacking the rim, because he’s so good at finding open shooters when defenders dive at him. But he can’t finish near the basket right now, making only 38% of his twos. He’s drawing a lot of fouls so that helps, but he’s too sleight to beat guys at the rim so he needs to work on that floater, a key overlooked Curry skill. He’s getting that look often, just not hitting them.
Young got better as Summer League went on, which is not a surprise for a player with such great instincts. He played with more confidence and self-control and didn’t seem to be pressing as much, and he showed a lot of improvement even over two weeks. He also got more comfortable playing off ball and flashed a deadly ability to score off the pass. Those are more efficient looks than the contested threes he takes himself, and he literally had two catch-and-shoot threes the entire season at Oklahoma.
Some of the other presumed bugaboos were not as bad as expected. Young averaged under four turnovers a game. That’s actually pretty good for a rookie with his frame with a sky-high summer usage rate. He also wasn’t terrible on defense. We’ve learned the last few years how far IQ can take a player on defense, along with a little more effort where it wasn’t required of them in college. Young still won’t be a good defender in the NBA, but it looks like maybe he won’t be the worst either.
It’s going to take some time with Trae Young, and based on the last couple weeks, it’s going to be exhausting. He’s not going to win Rookie of the Year. He’s going to hit eight threes one night, then go 1-for-14 the next. But look past the shooting numbers. Watch for that IQ. Watch for the passing and playmaking. Watch to see how the gravity bends the opponent. Young doesn’t have much help in Atlanta yet and he’s going to have some ugly rookie stat lines, but keep your eyes up like Trae and something good might be coming.
Only 987 words on Trae Young! We did it, fam.
We won’t need as many words for John Collins because there aren’t as many flaws. Dude is just really good. We already saw Collins have a monster summer last year. He has athleticism and highlight dunks for days plus good footwork and a nice spin move in the post. He was deadly diving on the pick-and-roll and, surprise!, now he has a jumper too. His shot looks confident and consistent, and he can make the mid-range or all the way out to the arc. That’s a huge added weapon, especially with his rim diving ability. Collins just finds the ball, and he scores so many easy points. He’s an offensive machine, and he’s still only 20.
Now Collins just needs to play some defense. He’s pretty bad right now. He got roasted by Jaren Jackson Jr. in the opener, consistently struggling to remember to get out to the perimeter to guard him (when JJJ hit 8 threes), and he had that problem later too. He also crashes the glass and doesn’t get back in transition, and that led to at least five freebie Kevin Knox scores. Collins doesn’t move his feet well on defense, and he tends to overpursue angles on the pick-and-roll. For as polished as Collins’s offensive game is, he doesn’t seem to have any defensive instincts. That could be a problem playing with Trae Young. But if Collins is Amare’ with a jumper and Trae is Nash 2.0, Atlanta will probably try to find a way to make it work.
We didn’t get any Kevin Huerter this summer to injury, and that meant we were stuck with Tyler Dorsey instead. Dorsey has a loose dribble and can score the rock but he never passes like ever ever ever. Young played much better with other back court mates, and he’ll be far better with Huerter.
Omari Spellman fits his role well. He gets to really smart positions on offense, and he can certainly shoot. He has surprisingly good hands on defense but isn’t quick enough to cover guys in space. I’m not sure Spellman was a first-round pick, but I think he’s more about establishing the Atlanta spacing and system than about long-term fit.
I had high expectations for Boston after they starred in the last few summers, but they ended up being kind of a dud. First-round pick Robert Williams played only seven minutes before picking up an injury, and Kadeem Allen didn’t do much before getting cut, presumably in favor of Jabari Bird who showed some nice handling and driving en route to 17ppg over four games.
The two main attractions were Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele. Ojeleye was easily the best Celtic, no surprise for a guy that played real playoff minutes. He’s such a strong physical player who is always alert and tough on D. Offensively, his dribble and shot are improving but still need work. His shot is inconsistent and doesn’t have much lift. As long as he can hit an open jumper, Ojeleye’s D will make him valuable. Yabusele was better than last summer but still has a ways to go. He’s a thick dude but seemed a little more in shape this year, reminiscent of Big Baby the way he’s big but has nimble feet and soft hands. Yabusele struggled against bigger size and still feels a bit slow overall. He got the Draymond comp because of his size, but there’s not really a position he can defend, and he still plays lazy. He’s a long ways from contributing to that roster.
Jarrett Allen still looks like a steal for the Nets. He plays straight up on defense and creates a lot of problems, and he is good rolling to the rim. He can even dribble a bit. Theo Pinson plays hard, tough defense. Dzanan Musa and Ridions Kurucs never suited up. The Nets were the only team that went winless this summer, and they couldn’t have been less interesting.
Malik Monk came out firing and racked up 11 points in the first four minutes of summer, finishing the game with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. Unfortunately he also got hurt again so that was his only game, but boy did he look good. That shot is so wet, and Monk certainly isn’t lacking in confidence. He has a good first step and nice body control, and I like his change of pace dribbling, but I was not impressed with Monk’s passing ability. He has good intentions but a lot of his passes were off target. Monk looked like a guy who might have been one of the stars of the week if he’d stayed healthy. I’m not giving up on him yet.
Instead, Charlotte fans got to watch a lot of Miles Bridges trying to dunk the ball into oblivion. Dude is certainly athletic. Bridges has lost 20 pounds since the college season and his athleticism is clear, but it doesn’t always make a huge impact. Miles is the sort of player who should stand out at Summer League with his athleticism and good instincts, and he really didn’t, settling instead for occasional highlight dunks. It’s discouraging that Charlotte played Bridges mostly out on the perimeter as more of a wing, much like Michigan State did. His size is more appropriate there, but the athletic advantage isn’t as strong.
Bridges’s shot looks inconsistent and he has a little hop stepping into it, so I wonder if the range isn’t there yet. He shot 20% on 30 threes, and I don’t like the % or the volume. I like Bridges much better cutting without the ball and playing near the rim on both ends. His best game of the summer came against a bunch of Raptors scrubs he’s more athletic than. I was worried about the fit with Miles Bridges, and the early returns have not allayed my concerns. That time he tried to alley oop himself off the backboard in game was fun though.
Willy Hernandez posted nice numbers with 18 points and 12 boards a game, but they look like faux summer numbers. He looks slow processing the game on both ends and has an ugly inconsistent shot, falling away on his jumper in a way that wastes his size. He’s a good rebounder and might be a rotation big, but there’s a reason he’s not getting NBA playing time.
Devonte’ Graham was fine, about what you’d expect. He has excellent vision and made some nice passes, and he’ll be able to run a bench offense. But he’s already 23.4 and he’s now behind Kemba and Tony Parker, so I’m not sure what the point of using a high 2nd rounder on him was. Dwayne Bacon scored a bunch of points in the mold of a classic summer gunner. He averaged 18ppg but didn’t stand out, mostly just got hot on some jumpers. We got only 34 minutes of Arnoldas Kulboka, whose body isn’t ready yet. But the shot looks as good as advertised.
Wendell Carter Jr.
I wasn’t prepared as a Chicagoan to fall in love with the Bulls #7 pick, but here we are. I tried all draft season to talk myself into Wendell Carter Jr. but couldn’t do it. He seemed like a guy with a high floor but a low ceiling. All the draft guys whose opinions I trust like Jackson Hoy and Cole Zwicker tried to convince me otherwise, and I saw him as high as top three on some draft boards, and now I see why. He really is the perfect modern big man.
Carter is a lot better than I expected on both offense and defense, which is pretty hard to pull off that quickly. As Doris Burke and others pointed out repeatedly, he really got the shaft at Duke this year. He was slated to be Duke’s star big until Marvin Bagley reclassified, and it appears now that that led to him using his versatility to take on a very different role (a skill, it should be noted, that Bagley probably doesn’t have). As the lone big playing on a team with space and vaguely competent defending around him, Carter was an entirely different animal.
His defensive instincts are off the charts. He’s so much fun to watch on defense. Carter’s feet are always moving, and he’s always stepping into space and putting himself into the right spot defensively. He never switches off mentally. I was worried Carter would be a bit lead-footed on defense but he’s anything but that. He’s nimble on his feet and has great movement, and he’s a literal block party when guys get anywhere near the rim on him. Carter told Cassidy Hubbarth he doesn’t like to get scored on, and he plays like it. He’s got a mean streak and plays really aggressively on D, using verticality to defend smartly and racking up blocks. Carter swallowed Ante Zizic whole on one play with a two-hand block from behind. He smartly keeps blocks in play too, instead of swatting them for a highlight.
It’s Carter’s defensive instincts that really separate him from the crowd. You watch guys like Ayton and Bamba and they’re always processing and often a half step slow to react. WCJ is a split second ahead. He doesn’t think, just reacts. That’s the mark of an elite defender, and he can close down space on defense so quickly. Carter also spent plenty of time switched onto guys like Trae Young and Collin Sexton in the pick-and-roll, and he stuck with them just fine, so that’s a great sign. One of my favorite weird summer things was watching the Bulls and noticing that something felt off and then realizing it was because WCJ had subbed out. He just changes everything on defense.
Carter is a bit quieter on offense, though the tools are there. I love his screens. He just sets physical mean screens, and he has nice instincts rolling off the screen too. I see the Al Horford comparison on offense, where the offense plays through WCJ in the high post, and he has a nice shooting stroke and looked comfortable on a few threes. Nearer the rim, Carter plays through contacts and draws a lot of fouls. He doesn’t score a lot, but he scores efficiently. He’s a voracious rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. I’m not sure whether he’ll be the best big man in this class in five years, but he is by a mile right now. He reminds me of Al Horford on offense and Joakim Noah on defense. That seems like a pretty good player.
I was far less impressed with the Bulls other rookie Chandler Hutchison. Hutch may have actually been one of the least impressive first-round picks. He just didn’t stand out often, taking only eight shots a game, and that’s a worry for a guy that’s already 22 (classic Bulls). Hutchison is comfortable dribbling but needs to keep his eyes up better. He’s a really poor decision maker with the ball. He’s either slow deciding or has already made up his mind without seeing how the play develops, and he consistently made sudden passes that surprised teammates in a bad way, leading to turnovers. He looks frustrating to play with. A couple commentators compared Hutchison to Scottie Pippen. Long limbs and small school are about the only similarities there. I liked Hutchison’s upside pre-draft and he’s super athletic but looks raw and that’s tough for an older player. I thought he was outplayed by Donte Ingram much of the time, who showed a nice stroke and pesky hands and length on defense.
The Bulls just signed Antonio Blakeney to a deal, and he earned the spot. He scored 21ppg but did so as a classic summer gunner, taking almost twice as many shots as any other Bull. He is always looking to attack and score and was the G League rookie of the year, though he’s going to need to learn how to play with other talented teammates and down down the aggression and selfishness. Blakeney looks good when the jumpers fall. He might provide some scoring punch off the bench as a combo guard, but he looks more like a prototypical AAAA overachiever.
The Cavs are looking to the future for the first time in a while, and surprisingly things look pretty good. Collin Sexton is the Cavs first lottery pick since LeBron’s return, and he showed out earning first-team All-NBA Summer League. His scoring was never in question, but he impressed with high numbers, never outscored by more than one teammate. The main complaint about Sexton’s game is his decision making, and that deficiency was on full display. His talent can get him out of tough situations, but ill-advised shots and passes led to a number of turnovers and empty possessions. Sexton’s drive and skill set seem primed to drive him to success, but the development of his decision making will decide his ceiling.
Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic made two appearances each, but after a year in the NBA both were a little too good to stay there. Cedi looks like the well-rounded cerebral player that was advertised. He showed flashes of what he was capable of in the regular season and proved that wasn’t a fluke this summer. Cedi’s ceiling may be low, but he’s an NBA caliber player in just about every facet of the game and makes good decisions with the ball. Zizic showed solid development. His offensive game seems much more polished than most big men. Scoring from the post comes easy, and he’s working on the spot-up mid-range to complete his offensive package. Zizic will always be slow-footed and largely unathletic on defense, but at least he seems to know his rotations now instead of looking entirely lost as he did much of the season.
Five-star recruit Billy Preston proved his worth. His defense is the most polished part of his game. It took some time for the rust to fall off of his shot, but eventually he hit it with with some consistency and nailed a key double-clutch three-pointer in the semis. He could be valuable if he finds some consistency offensively. Okaro White and John Holland both seem like one-trick ponies. Holland can score and White can rebound and defend, but neither have done much to convince anyone they can do those things on the NBA level. Marcus Lee showed impressive athleticism and good teamwork. He could be a two-way candidate if it’s not Holland or White.
Editor’s thoughts: Sexton was exactly as advertised, explosive on drives, fiery competitive, and instant offense. He needs to fight harder on defense rather than relying on a few highlight moments, and his defensive “competitiveness” often turns into fouls. Sexton had 24 fouls, 24 assists, and 23 turnovers. Those ratios need work. Sexton drew free throws better than any prospect in the draft and had 50 in six games, best of anyone this summer. He was unstoppable going left, and when the jumper starts falling, look out. We’ll see if he can keep drawing fouls and playing to his strengths in the NBA. For now he seems like a would-be Russell Westbrook. That’s not a bad comparison and certainly a fun watch, but it only works if you’re a supernova athlete and talent.
Dennis Smith Jr.
No player disappointed me more at Summer League than Dennis Smith Jr. DSJ was excellent last summer and posted a nice but inefficient 15/4/5 line as a rookie, and I was expecting him to be one of the stars of the summer, or at least for a couple games until it was clear he belonged on the Too Good To Be Here list. Point guards take a long time to develop in the NBA, but Smith’s supernova athlete archetype doesn’t. Russell Westbrook posted 22/5/8 and led OKC to the Western Finals as a 22-year-old. Derrick Rose made the All-Star team at 21, then led the Bulls to 62 wins and an MVP the next year. This is Smith’s age 21 season, and if he’s going to be the super athletic scoring guard everyone expects, we should know very soon.
Smith’s lack of size really stands out. He was really bothered by any length on defense, like Josh Jackson who is relatively small for a wing. Smith also didn’t affect the game off-ball, which is fine for most point guards but not in Dallas where Rick Carlisle routinely plays multiple handlers and just drafted Luka Doncic (who didn’t play at Summer League). Smith’s highlight moments came with the ball in his hands attacking in transition or playing one-on-one, but otherwise he didn’t pop much. Smith’s outside shot still needs plenty of work. He was forcing the three instead of looking to take it, though he was much better off the catch and shoot. I also didn’t love Smith’s effort. He played like someone who didn’t feel like he should be at Summer League, and right now, he should be.
Jalen Brunson was the better player, all things considered. Brunson’s play was a stark contrast to DSJ. He looked comfortable getting everyone on the offense involved, and he has a natural and easy shot. He also never switches off and plays hard all the time, like when he made a diving steal to seal a game in the final seconds. Brunson is the modern day Mark Jackson, right down to the post ability and the craftiness. We already know that, and it translated just fine. He passes out of the post and is so intelligent. One of my favorite sequences of the summer was when Brunson got Dragan Bender switched onto him. He immediately backed off a few steps and beat Bender to the rim easily, then didn’t get switched on defense but hounded Bender on the perimeter and forced him into an embarrassing travel. That’s Jalen Brunson. He’s going to play hard and win a game some night in January when no one else shows up.
Unlike Smith, Brunson will thrive in a system where he plays both on- and off-ball. Though he made only 23% of his summer field goals (17% twos!!), we already know he can shoot, and he uses his wile to get into space and cut well off the ball. He’s going to be a real weapon in Dallas. It’s certainly too soon to give up on Dennis Smith already, but it’s easy to see a world where Dallas is better with Brunson and Doncic together in the backcourt and Smith providing scoring pop off the bench in a sixth man role. That’s good for Brunson but not what Dallas envisioned getting from Dennis Smith.
I liked what I saw from late second-round pick Ray Spalding. He’s really long and played with good energy, and he shows some good switchability defending both inside and out on the perimeter. He’s also got a nice crisp jumper. There could be something there down the road.
The Nuggets were one of the least interesting teams in Vegas. Monte Morris was a clear standout. He’s an older point guard who carried the team at times with a nice dribble attack to the rim and good off-ball movement. He was one of the top players at SL and could develop into a backup point guard in the NBA. He plays within himself and knows his game well. He had a 5.2 assist-to-turnover rate.
Malik Beasley was one of last summer’s gunners, and he did more of the same. He’s strong and has a score-first mentality but I haven’t seen a whole lot else yet. Denver has some wing minutes available this year, but Beasley will have to beat out Torrey Craig’s more rounded game to get them. Tyler Lydon is meh. He made seven shots all summer and appears to be a tall but unathletic shooter. Remember when Denver traded the #13 pick last year for Trey Lyles and the Lydon pick? Utah does. They got Donovan Mitchell.
We didn’t get to see any Michael Porter Jr. He could take an injury red shirt.
I have seen enough Henry Ellenson to last me a lifetime. I dislike watching Ellenson so much I wrote an entire piece on the Make It Stop Already All Stars with Ellenson as the MVP. Ellenson doesn’t look athletic, can’t dribble to save his life, turns it over a lot, and jacks up shots more shamelessly than any gunner I remember watching at Summer League. He shot under 30% but took 97 shots anyway and led SL with 23 turnovers. But at least he tried to dribble on a fast break once and I got a good laugh out of it.
I was hoping to see more from Khyri Thomas. He plays with high energy but doesn’t seem to have a great feel for the game, at one point failing to get a shot off down three with two seconds left, and he plays a bit out of control. I liked fellow second rounder Bruce Brown much better. He has a nice driving ability and can kick to teammates as well, benefiting from his time playing out of position as a point guard at Miami. Brown made only 29% of his shots and had some ugly turnovers, but he had enough moments to look like a real sleeper now that he’s finally getting healthy again.
Golden State Warriors
Jordan Bell was one of the stars of last summer and he was back for more. We already know what Jordan Bell is: an intelligent passer with a versatile offensive game and an absolute menace defensively. Bell is everywhere on defense and he thrives in chaos and as a help defender. He crashes the rebounds hard and is such a smart passer. He really is Draymond Lite. Bell averaged 5 points, 7 boards, 5 dimes, and 5 stocks in his four games. Golden State really missed an opportunity to sign him to longer than two years.
The Warriors’ actual first-round picks have been disappointing. Jacob Evans really didn’t show much. He was supposed to be a high-floor 3-and-D wing, and SL isn’t really the place for those guys, but he was invisible most of the time. He looks a little small and doesn’t look super comfortable dribbling or with the ball in his hands, and he made just 12 buckets all summer. It may be time to pull the plug on Damian Jones. He has a nice face-up game in flashes but is a step late on defense and slow with the ball in his hands, and he got hurt again too. Jones lost his center minutes now and may not get picked up for his fourth year. Evans will have a longer leash and will win a ring this year, but the rest of the league can thank their lucky stars the Warriors took him instead of Mitchell Robinson or DeAnthony Melton.
I was excited to watch a lot of guys on the Rockets this summer, but I ended up spending all my Houston time with DeAnthony Melton. He is an absolute menace defensively. He’s crazy long and the best defensive instincts I’ve seen in a guard prospect in a long time. Dude is absolutely everywhere. In the first half against the Cavs, he must have had ten plays where he deflected, stole, or blocked a shot. His feet are constantly moving and his hands are so active, and his length allows him to hold his own when switched onto bigger players — which, you know, is kind of valuable in the Houston system. Watching Melton on defense is an absolute joy. He just gets after it, and he knows where the offense is going before they do half the time. He had my single favorite play of the summer against the Cavs. He drove to the lane and contorted for a layup, falling to the ground. Then as his team jogged back on defense and while he was still on the ground Melton leapt up in front of the inbounds pass and deflected it instinctively, chasing it down for a steal in the corner. Just bonkers instincts and a wildly annoying defender.
Offensively, Melton is fine. His dribble is not great for a point guard and needs some work, and he needs to cut down the turnovers. Melton’s a little small but is at his best driving, where he uses a deadly change of speed to attack the rim constantly and has good body control to finish. He’s a good passer on the move, again with his instincts helping him to read and react quickly. The big thing with Melton was his awful shot, but you’d never know it from SL. Melton’s form looks good and he is confident in his jumper, actively looking for it. He was top five in 3PAs per game. Again, kind of important if you’re a Rocket. Melton was the ultimate if-he-can-shoot guy, and he might be able to shoot now. He doesn’t pop on offense, doesn’t have that elite burst, but looks like he can run the offense and succeed off ball next to a wing creator that needs help on defense. Someone like James Harden.
Melton is just so instinctive and crafty. He feels like Patrick Beverley or a homeless man’s Chris Paul. He’s absolutely going to be one of those guys making heady plays in May for a playoff team while NBA nerds like me freak out on Twitter. He plays smarter not harder. He’s the perfect Rocket, and he’s going to be so gloriously annoying to watch.
My favorite 2017 summer crush Zhou Qi looked about the same as last year. He’s bigger but still super thin and I’m not sure his frame can handle much more. His shot is really pretty for a dude so big, though a bit slow and low on release. Zhou blocks a lot of shots and affects even more, though he racked up 24 fouls in four games. He can really rebound, and his dribble and shot are astounding for his size, but he remains an intriguing project.
Isaiah Hartenstein is a lead foot on defense, and he got repeatedly roasted because of Houston’s insistence on switching everything and leaving him on an island against guards. He has a soft touch on offense but racked up fouls on defense. There are flashes and he’s barely 20, but he’s a ways off.
I hoped to see more from Vincent Edwards and Gary Clark. Clark didn’t play at all. Edwards showed some quality dribbling and back cuts but looks too small to defend big guys and that’s his best role. Trevon Duval might be the former #1 point guard prospect and he has his moments with a quick first step driving to the rim, but he had only eight dimes in five games.
I was not high on Aaron Holiday heading into the draft and thought he was a reach in the first round, but he was one of the more NBA-ready rookies at Summer League. We already know Holiday has one of the best shots in the draft, and he looks mentally ready and plays with a good sense of control. Like his older brother, Holiday is short but long and has quick hands and a nice dribble, and he uses that length to get into opposing point guards. His height leaves him struggling to finish around the rim at times, like it did in college, and I’m not sure there’s a starting point guard here, but he should do well running the second unit. The size also leaves him unable to finish passes he wants at times, and his 5.5 turnovers per game (most in SL) are a big problem and one he had in college. Kevin Pritchard said Holiday was top 12 on Indiana’s board, and he posted 15/5/7 with three steals a game and looks ready for real minutes this year. That could free Indiana to trade Darren Collison or Cory Joseph as the season moves along.
Last year’s top pick T.J. Leaf is another UCLA product, but Indiana will not need to create playing time for him anytime soon. Leaf has a stilted upright run and doesn’t look comfortable with the ball. He’s slow making reads and isn’t a great rebounder. Another one of those tall shooters. Edmond Sumner could catch on long term with the Pacers. He has NBA size and his shot looks good, and he’s finally looking healthy with some explosion back in his legs. I still like him as a long-term piece if he can maintain health.
Los Angeles Clippers
There may not have been a more complete rookie performance this summer than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It was a big man’s draft, but SL is for the guards, and with Doncic still in Europe and Trae Young finding his way, it was SGA that leapt forward as one of the biggest stars of the week.
Gilgeous-Alexander looks like a star. He doesn’t leap off the page as a conventional elite athlete, but his huge length and subtle athleticism makes a huge impact. Shai is immediately benefiting from all that extra spacing he never had at Kentucky. With the extra space, that long stride, and a deceptive change of pace ability, it feels like Gilgeous-Alexander can get to the rim anytime he wants. He slithers under and through guys on his drive and looked good in the pick-and-roll, and he can get to any spot on the court, an incredibly valuable skill for a point guard. SGA has that Harden type of athleticism, with the change of pace and direction, the elite start-stop ability that always keeps defenders on their heels and keeps him moving downhill. He also keeps his dribble alive and often away from his body to create space and deception. He looks totally in control and comfortable with the ball and is continuing to improve as he did later in the year at UK.
All that length is finally being put to use on defense too, where Gilgeous-Alexander absolutely hounds opposing point guards at times. He has almost the same size as Frank Ntilikina, and he looks sometimes like a mini-Giannis with his Euro step driving ability. Of course the big question with SGA is his shot, and it still needs work but is improving. The three-pointer arc is a bit off, so that range may not be there yet, but Shai’s pull-up jumper looks crisp and confident off the dribble. He looks like he’ll be an easy 20ppg scorer and his 46% field goal percentage is actually pretty good for a summer guard. SGA had the single most impressive performance of the summer against two elite defenders in DeAnthony Melton and Zhou Qi, slicing up the Houston defense with an array of moves. The Clippers found themselves a star.
I was much less impressed with the other L.A. lottery pick Jerome Robinson, who was so quiet at times I had to leave his jersey number in my notes so I remembered to look for him out there. Robinson’s jumper looks good, and he can certainly score but not in an explosive way that guys of his type often take over SL with. He took two free throws all summer. Robinson looks small and doesn’t have an explosive first step or pop for someone that is supposed to be really athletic and was compared by some to Donovan Mitchell. Yeahhh, no. He looks more like a long-term Lou Williams replacement.
Sindarius Thornwell is a Swiss army knife that does a bit of everything. He’s thick and strong and provides toughness and defense, and his offensive game is evolving. His three-pointer is much improved, and he flashed some nice passing and vision. The Clippers have about 10 guards on the roster, and Thornwell might be worth chasing if another team is willing to give up a pick.
Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron really is a magician. Dude just signed two weeks ago and already he has this team losing finals. It’s like he’s been there for years.
Josh Hart was the Summer League MVP. He played with the confidence of a guy who knows everyone’s there to see him and he can do anything he wants. He made big plays in crunch time, and he shredded other teams early. He was too good to play much at Summer League but then played the whole time anyway because doggone it, he’s competitive and that’s kind of what makes him Josh Hart. Hart looked like an adult playing with kids — mostly because he is, at age 23. He’s mature and intelligent and played the game at a different speed than everyone else at SL. He was the Lakers emotional leader, even down to getting himself ejected late on two separate occasions to make a point to the team. Hart said in an interview that the coaches challenged him to play with more confidence. No one at Summer League played with more confidence. Hart is always in control of his game. He knows exactly what he can do and exactly how to do it. That’s basketball IQ defined.
Hart flashed the whole array of skills. He is very comfortable shooting either off the catch or dribble or on a step-back jumper, and he’s terrific driving to the rim. He has a smooth dribble and attacks downhill, absorbing contact and finishing with either hand, with a nifty Euro side step to create space if needed. Hart drew a lot of fouls, and he was aggressive in pick-and-roll reads and made good decisions. Off the ball, Hart shows excellent movement and cutting. He knows how to get into space and find cracks in the defense. He led all scorers at 22.4 points per game.
Simply put, Hart is the exact sort of guy someone like LeBron James will love playing with. I’m not sure anyone on the Lakers is a better fit next to LeBron. He’s confident, instinctive, and smart, can play on or off the ball, and is an excellent rebounder and strong defender for his size. He’s a gamer. You want that guy on your side, not on the opponent. There was a little summer gunner and some stat inflation against inferior opponents, and Hart isn’t going to be a regular season star, but he proved himself very valuable.
I always expected good things from Hart, but I did not expected to be so impressed with Moe Wagner. I didn’t have a first-round grade on Wagner but he looks like an NBA player. Wagner is a lot more athletic than he seemed at Michigan. He runs the court well and especially surprised on defense, where he racked up four stocks a game. We already know Wagner can shoot as a stretch big, but he showed a nice feel around the basket and might be able to contribute some defensively. Add in his brash energy and he feels like a Laker and a guy LeBron will want to play with.
I liked Wagner as a pick a lot more after the Lakers signed LeBron, and the same was true for Kansas sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk, whose name I can finally spell without looking. We already know Svi can shoot the lights out of the gym, but we didn’t know he could create his own shot a bit and shoot off the dribble as he did at SL. Svi is smallish and isn’t a good dribbler, and his size and lack of athleticism cost him on breaks or trying to finish at the rim. He’s still mostly just a shooter. But the Lakers don’t have many of those. Svi scored 16.6ppg and hit 41% of his threes, second in SL in total points.
Isaac Bonga is fun. He’s crazy long, just all arms and legs, and it’s incredibly raw. He was the youngest player in the draft and is still learning how to dribble and handle, like a fawn that was handed a basketball. He got called for traveling several times in one game, and he can’t shoot. How’s that for a project?
Summer League cult hero Alex Caruso was also present. I don’t feel the need to evaluate him.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
JJJ started out with a bang, knocking down 8 threes in his first game with John Collins struggling to guard him out on the perimeter and adding a few highlight blocks, and just like that the #hottaeks were flying. Jaren Jackson was the #1 pick and everyone else had already blown it. Turns out it takes more than one game, and Jackson ended up being pretty inconsistent over the summer but still flashing that upside and million-dollar smile that made everyone fall in love. He has the look and feel of a star, a Chris Bosh type. He has a big personality and seems a likable teammate and locker room presence.
The offense comes and goes. Jackson had the green light to shoot early and often on pick-and-roll pops, and he made a lot of shots but has a weird shot motion even when it goes in. Later some of those shots missed, and even all those makes were mostly bad defense. JJJ also tries a little too hard to draw the shooting foul on jumpers, kicking his leg out repeatedly when he should just get the right motion. That stuff will go away in time but you’d like to see a more consistent shot pattern. Results in the post were mixed. Jackson has a long drop step that creates room, and he showed nice interior passing and can pass with both hands, but he can’t really score or do much in the post. The IQ and feel are there but the polish is not. How much will that inside game develop as Jackson grows stronger? Right now he tends to float offensively much of the time.
Not so on the defensive end. There Jackson is already a star. His instincts are out of this world for an 18-year-old, and he’s super active and affects so many shots. Jackson moves well on defense and always gives himself a chance, and he takes excellent positioning on rebounds and blocks. And oh those blocks. JJJ had a few highlight reel blocks every game to the point that the crowd would see it coming and start buzzing. Jackson is electric on defense, energizing the entire team. He just has a way of finding the ball, helped by his athleticism and instincts, and he can block with both hands so he has a huge defensive range. Next up Jackson will need to add some strength so he can hang with bigger guys he was more muted against, and he still needs to cut down on fouls in a big way. He averaged 3.8 blocks a game in Vegas but 3.8 fouls too. Defense will always be Jackson’s calling card, and he already looks elite. How far he gets offensively will determine if he can be a star.
I loved the Jevon Carter fit in Memphis just because he seems like such a classic Grizzlies player, but I wasn’t impressed with a guy who was supposed to come in with a lot of polish. Carter looks small and is awful finishing at or near the rim, and he’s really underwhelming physically, which was a surprise. He’s a pit bull defensively and really bothered some guys physically with pressure, but his defense in space left more to be desired. Trae Young isn’t super quick but repeatedly lost Carter or goaded him into reaching and fouling. The defensive instincts are there obviously, but the body didn’t always comply, and he’s not exactly out there for offense. He found his way better off-ball later in Vegas against lesser athletes but underwhelmed overall for a guy with his age and experience.
Honestly, I’d be a lot more excited about Kobi Simmons as a backup Memphis guard. Simmons was one of my favorite summer watches, this year’s best and most effective gunner. He’s just a scorer at heart, with a nifty dribble, a quick jumper, and a shake and explosive first step that can get by anyone. Simmons has great athleticism and an NBA body and looks like he learned a lot in his first season in the league. He has a floater that looks a lot like Mike Conley, and his game reminds me a lot of De’Aaron Fox with a jumper.
Simmons is uber confident and made big plays every game, and his 140 points for the summer were third most among all players, and on pretty efficient scoring. I have some caution on Simmons after watching Wayne Selden tear up Summer League last year for the Grizz before disappearing once the season started, so maybe Memphis just has a good summer system for score-first guards, but the kid looks good. He just turned 21 and flashes lottery ability at times, a combo scoring guard off the bench with the athleticism and upside for more. I’m keeping my eye on Kobi’s development. Honestly, he was only a 6-for-24 finals performance away from being MVP.
Speaking of Wayne Selden, dude is just a bucket getter. He makes quick reads and is a quick scorer, and he could get to the rim at will. He’s at least an AAAA guy, but he was great last summer too and it hasn’t translated to the big league yet. I liked what I saw from Ivan Rabb more than Deyonta Davis, and apparently Memphis agreed since they’ve since shipped Davis out. Rabb attacks the boards and plays with good energy. Davis looked thick and fouled a lot and just didn’t stand out. He was a sleeper for me a few years ago but it looks like that ship has sailed.
The Heat were not a particularly interesting summer team. The star of the show was big man Bam Adebayo, and Miami put the ball in Bam’s hands a lot and asked him to make some plays. Adebayo has an impressive dribble but not a ton of body control. He wasn’t that good as a point center except off a few rebound-and-go fast breaks, but this was probably good for his development. Adebayo is a definite NBA big man, but is he a starter? He might need to do more of some of these things offensively to get there.
Heat fans should get excited about Derrick Jones Jr. It seems like a long time ago that Jones was the pick to win a dunk contest before missing his moment and crashing out of the league, but Jones is still just 21 and looks like he’s starting to translate all that athleticism and zip into game. Jones averaged 21 and 7 and shot 51% at Utah League before getting an injury, but he was Miami’s first free agent signing of the summer. He’s still raw and picked up a ton of fouls, but it’s always good to have a young wing with great athleticism and upside that’s starting to figure it out.
The Bucks have quietly had one of the more frustrating pairs of drafts over the last two summers. In two deep loaded drafts, they’ve come away with D.J. Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo, and neither looks ready to contribute this year. Wilson was really unimpressive. He’s a big man that doesn’t play big with a presumed shot that doesn’t look good. He has an odd form with his butt out and a little hop before the shot. He scored and shot better as the week went on but didn’t show a lot of awareness. DiVincenzo played only 27 minutes because of injury but managed to score just one point on 0-for-8 shooting, forcing the action when he had the ball. He didn’t pop at all. Is Milwaukee scouting before March Madness? That remains to be seen.
They may have found a keeper in Sterling Brown though. Brown took on a bigger summer role and looked good. He has big broad shoulders and looks strong and physical, and he really bothers guys on defense and has excellent defensive awareness. The Bucks put the ball in Brown’s hands more on offense and he seemed comfortable enough with it, creating some looks and showing an improved dribble, and the shot is solid. Brown will always be a defender first, but he looks like a good 3-and-D wing with some offensive upside if he keeps developing.
The other standout Buck was Christian Wood, a classic energy big man, the sort that usually stands out at places like Summer League. Wood just played a little harder than everyone else and racked up big numbers. He’s an excellent rebounder and a pest on defense, using his size and athleticism to block shots and bother a lot more of them. Wood was always good for Philadelphia too, but he remains unsigned. He averaged 20 points, 11 boards, and 3 blocks a game and looks like a useful bench big.
I liked Josh Okogie a lot heading into the draft, liked him even more as a Minnesota fit once they drafted him, and love him now that I’ve seen him at SL. Okogie is an absolute playmaker defensively. He was a defensive highlight reel to the point that I could not take my eyes off of him. It genuinely felt like he made a big defensive play every three minutes or so, and he averaged two blocks and two steals a game. Okogie is best as an on-ball or help defender, where he uses his athleticism and instincts to swarm the opponent. He has absurd athleticism and that gives him a quick closing step recovering on defense and sets him up well for a chase-down block or an energizing steal. Okogie plays with a ton of energy. He flies in on the glass and gets to so many loose balls. A lot of NBA players are elite athletes, but Okogie’s athleticism pops in a way that shows he knows how to use it well.
Offensively, Okogie will be a work in progress. He tries to do a little too much at times, a product of taking too big a role at Georgia Tech. Okogie’s biggest offensive strength is getting to the rim and drawing fouls. That’s the athleticism again plus a slipperiness, but he needs to work on his finishing once he gets to the bucket. The jumper looks fine but has inconsistent results, often wide to one side of the rim. Minnesota needs him to hit an open jumper. He shot only 30% for the summer, scoring 44 points on 47 shots even with the many free throw attempts.
Thibs is notoriously tough on rookies, but he also loves guys like Okogie who play tenacious defense with endless energy. Okogie is cut right out of the Jimmy Butler mold. Like Butler started, he’s just a top on-ball defender right now that needs to work on his instincts and his offensive polish. But if Okogie learns to shoot or finish, watch out. There’s big time potential here.
NBA Twitter seemed to love what Keita Bates-Diop did, and I liked him as a value pick in the mid-2nd, but I thought he was just fine at SL. He is who we thought he is — a dude with really long arms that has a nice looking shot. His length definitely bothers opponents on defense, but he also over-relies on the length and reaches and fouls a lot. KBD has a classic stretch four skill set. His shot is nice and I think he’ll be able to score on second units but nothing really jumps out that makes him flash huge upside. Bates-Diop hilariously led all summer players at 33.8 minutes per game, with Okogie just behind him. At least these two will be ready for Thibs.
I was actually more impressed with Amile Jefferson, a versatile big that looks like a perfect fit in the modern NBA. Jefferson led Vegas in rebounding, averaging 16 boards per 36 minutes, and he is always around the ball on defense. He has good switchability and did just fine in pick-and-roll guarding smaller guys on the perimeter. On offense, Jefferson has good movement and is comfortable dribbling but really struggles to finish, even at the rim. Jefferson is currently unsigned, but now that he’s healthy, he feels like the sort of big man any team could use, a poor man’s Jaren Jackson type.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans haven’t made a first-round draft pick since Buddy Hield, and they haven’t kept a first rounder since Anthony Davis. But they got a first-round value last year in Duke point guard Frank Jackson, who missed last summer and season hurt. This year he made it a whole 12 minutes into his NBA career before going out injured, but I liked what I saw. Jackson improved his body a lot and showed excellent defensive promise and IQ. He was good in transition and had a confident pull-up and a nice finish. It felt like Jackson played under control, which is impressive for a guy that waited so long. Jackson just turned 20 two months ago. He’s got plenty of time and, thankfully, this year’s injury was to his other (healthy) foot.
Cheick Diallo asked his way back to Summer League, which is the sort of thing you do when you lose your job to a guy that had been out of the league for five years (Emeka Okafor). I like Diallo and he always puts up SL numbers, but he is what he is. He’s a high energy big and an awesome rebounder, but he can’t put the ball on the floor and offers nothing in the post. I don’t want the ball in his hands unless it’s a rebound or a dunk. Diallo averaged his usual 20/10 but also racked up turnovers and fouls. He’s getting into better positions and making some good decisions, but he’s still a bench big at best.
The Pelicans will hope they found something in Trevon Bluiett, who was on fire all week in Vegas. Bluiett just couldn’t miss, scoring 18ppg on 57% shooting, most of it jumpers (54% on 28 threes!), and he earned himself a two-way contract, so good for him. Tony Carr wasn’t as impressive. He has good hands on defense but struggled to make an offensive impact and still can’t finish at the rim.
New York Knicks
Knicks fans are getting really excited after Summer League, and they should be with not one but two great young prospects. They’re most excited for top-ten pick Kevin Knox, a guy I was not high on at all. I was wrong, at least somewhat. I think Knox is better than I expected but still maybe not as good as all the hype either, but that’s New York for you.
Knox showed way more in Summer League than he ever did at Kentucky, starting with an athleticism that pops. That’s the sort of thing that shot him up draft boards after the combine. Knox threw down some monster highlight dunks and leaked out for a ton of transition points. He averaged 21ppg, and honestly like 15 of those points every game probably came on dunks and run outs. That’s nice but he’s also not going to get those points in a real game, and we already know Kevin Knox is a good theoretical basketball player. Even with all those easy looks, Knox shot just 35%. For a supposed knockdown shooter, it sure would be nice if we ever saw him make a bunch of shots. That was always the case in high school and college too. The shot looks good, and it’s going up quickly when he catches it, but why doesn’t it go in more often?
Knox has great length and natural ability and is still only 18. He’s a really gifted scorer, and the natural ability combined with his youth, athleticism, and size make him an obvious upside guy as a prototypical stretch forward. Knox is uber aggressive on offense and showed some good dribble drive ability we didn’t get a chance to see at Kentucky, but NBA defenses will catch on when he goes the same direction every time. It helps that he is drawing a lot of fouls and getting to the line. Can he play any defense? Can he show more consistency on offense instead of floating in and out? Knox might be good, but he might also be a summer star that benefits from the athleticism and gunner mentality. There’s a lot of potential here, but he reminds me of a bigger Jaylen Brown, another raw prospect I didn’t like. Now the question is whether New York can develop Knox like Boston did Brown.
It’s possible Knicks fans are enamored with the wrong prospect. Mitchell Robinson looks like the real deal. He looks every bit as talented as the other elite bigs from this draft class, a prototypical rim runner in the Capela mold. Robinson has those huge Embiid shoulders, and he’s almost as physically dominant and has the same natural shot-blocking ability. Robinson had a monster game against Boston, dominating guys he was just bigger and stronger than, with six blocks and only one foul (though he racked up fouls in every other game). That may seem obvious, but go watch Ayton play a game and see if he dominates the same way.
Robinson has great natural instincts. He seems like a guy who totally knows his role. On defense he mans the paint and affects a ton of shots. On offense, he is already excellent rolling to the rim, calling for the ball, and attacking. Robinson averaged 13 and 10 on 67% shooting, and I’m not sure New York ran one play for him. Robinson’s shot looks solid for such a big guy. His dribble needs work, and he has a ways to go with defensive positioning, and we already know he may need to come along slowly mentally, but there’s monster upside here. Not just lottery upside but maybe best big man in the draft — THIS draft — upside.
We didn’t see a ton of Frank Ntilikina, another physical freak. His length really bothered Trae Young early but then Young smoked him a few times too. Ntilikina’s dribble and shot are improving but both still need work. And remember, he’s only a month older than Kevin Knox and over a year younger than Robinson. That trio and Kristaps Porzingis are all under 23. Please excuse Knicks fans while they go take a cold shower.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder sure do have a type. Theirs just happens to be super raw athletic dudes they’ll develop into oblivion without ever getting much NBA production out of them. Dakari Johnson fits the mold. He’s what happens when you give someone an NBA body but forget the skill. OKC spent way too many possessions dumping the ball into Dakari into the post. He’s getting better there but it’s just not worth much.
Last year’s first-round pick Terrance Ferguson is still crazy thin and hasn’t added much strength, and he’s still quite raw. He got to play with the ball in his hands more and didn’t know what to do with it, running up his turnover count. Ferguson’s shot mechanics are inconsistent, and the shot is not smooth. OKC replaced Andre Roberson with this dude and Corey Brewer last year. Maybe we’re underestimating just how much of a loss that was.
Oklahoma City’s newest project is Hamidou Diallo, who was better than I expected. He’s strong and super athletic, and he’s starting to make some shots and dribble a bit, but he’s still pretty much just an athlete. OKC also played one of my favorite sleepers last year P.J. Dozier. Like everyone else on the Thunder, Dozier has a great physical profile, big for a point guard, but he’s not ready. He finishes pretty well and shot 52% but he has a loose handle. I like how he keeps his head up on drives. The most developed Thunder player was Daniel Hamilton, a star of the OKC G League team. He averaged 8/8/7 as a playmaking forward but doesn’t really pop and makes a lot of questionable decisions that lead to turnovers. He shot 30% and scored 39 points on 50 shots. He was basically a G League version of Russell Westbrook.
We already knew Mo Bamba was going to be a project. It’s impossible to describe how enormous Bamba is until you see him tower over a field of NBA players. All the size and length terrorizes opponents in defense… sometimes. Bamba swallows dudes whole on some blocks, and he forced four shot clock violations in one game. But he also goes for the block too often and needs to learn to go straight up on defense to limit fouls. With all that length, just reach straight up and that’s enough against 95% of the league. Bamba is also a step late recognizing and rotating on D. He’s going to have some highlight blocks, but he’s also going to be on the wrong end of some poster dunks too until he gets that timing down. Bamba doesn’t always see cutters on defense and is too often late in help. He affects a ton of shots just by being ginormous, but the defensive instincts still need a lot of work.
Bamba doesn’t really have an offensive game yet. Any ball near the hoop turns into a dunk, but again, that’s just being big. Bamba should be an absolute rim wrecker rolling off screens, but too many times he doesn’t seem to go hard to the rim and doesn’t always make himself available for pass. Dude, you’re always open, put your hands up! Bamba sets poor screens, not getting low enough to really impact outside of his size. He also needs to add muscle to that frame in a bad way. He’s not very physical on the boards and gets outmuscled against other stronger players like Ayton. The Magic tried to post Bamba up a few times, and it went about as well as you’d expect. He still feels less like an NBA center and more like a really tall, long human. Be patient.
That patience may pay off if Bamba develops anything like Jonathan Isaac. No player at Summer League looked as talented and complete as Isaac. He looks like a two-way star, and he’s come a long ways since last season’s injury-plagued campaign.
Isaac’s confidence is through the roof, and you can see it in his improved dribble and playmaking ability. He brought the ball up and ran the offense, and he attacks from the perimeter like a wing. Isaac has added a lot of strength and actually appeared to be taller than Bamba when they stood next to each other. He has a good first step and a crisp pull-up jumper, though I’d like to see him square up a bit better on his shot. That mid-range shot is new and opens up a lot of things for a guy with this size and athleticism. So does Isaac’s ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He had only two turnovers in three games. The offense has a ways to go, but we’re seeing a lot more potential now than just 3-and-D stuff.
The defense is far more than potential. Isaac was straight up harassing dudes out there. He has outstanding activity on defense, just all over the place with his energy and length racking up steals and blocks. He averaged 4 stocks a game and was constantly making plays on defense. He’s going to be a menace that can guard four or five positions. Orlando actually played him some at center, which is encouraging and fun. He struggled to guard Ayton in the post with the size difference, but he also roasted him on the other end of the court, so that’s the trade off.
Isaac might be a four or a center, or maybe he plays on the wing with Gordon at the four and Bamba in the middle. But all that talent is coming around quickly, and he’s a long ways ahead on offense from where he was a year ago in the draft. There’s real two-way superstar potential here, like top ten player in the league potential.
Whew. Outside of those two guys, Orlando’s other long wings disappointed. Wes Iwundu looks a bit like Isaac, but his game is far from it. He’s athletic but raw, with a terrible handle, slow shot, and low awareness. Melvin Frazier plays with good hustle and energy but doesn’t always use his size well. He made only eight summer buckets and shot 29%, and he must have air-balled one three by a solid five feet.
Isaiah Briscoe was more impressive. He was the best player on the court for a game against Brooklyn, which is damning with faint praise but still something for a guy that didn’t get drafted. Briscoe plays like a veteran point guard. He reads the game well and probes the defense with the ball, and he uses his physicality well on both ends and keeps a low center of gravity on drives. Orlando signed Briscoe mid-summer league, and it’s not a stretch to think he could be their best point guard by season’s end.
There are always a few surprising Summer League gunners, and Furkan Korkmaz was one of them, with an early 40-point game that ranks seventh on the all-time single game list for SL. Korkmaz is the Sixers’ Marco Bellinelli replacement, right down to the shot selection and the fact that you know that shot is going up the second he touches the ball. He’s a really streaky shooter and has some scoring equity. He made a lot of big plays, including a dribble drive and-one for the win in the playoffs, but he also disappeared for long stretches. A classic two guard gunner.
I don’t know if Zhaire Smith is a two or a three, or maybe a tiny-ball center or a future point guard, but whatever he is, I am here for it. Zhaire was my favorite watch of the summer. Maybe it was the bright shoes every game, but you just can’t take your eyes off of him. Smith is immediately one of the best athletes in the entire NBA, and he looks like a future dunk contest participant. He was his own summer highlight reel with at least three to five DAMN plays every single game, on offense, defense, transition, passing, blocking, or just making things up along the way. He’s just so much fun.
Zhaire’s defensive instincts are off the charts. Combine that with his nuclear athleticism, and Smith feels like he’s anywhere and everywhere on defense. Zhaire can be completely out of position and block shots anyway with his athleticism, even on bigger dudes. On one play he was guarding his guy on the baseline and blew up a pick-and-roll across the lane out at the arc, blocking a three pointer through a screen somehow. He has insane closing speed and incredible defensive anticipation. Smith’s athleticism also allows him to switch onto bigger guys and use his strength, length, and instincts to hold his own. Can he guard one to five in the NBA? We may find out. Smith is just one more mega-weapon for a Sixers team already loaded with defensive talent. Imagining him out there with Simmons, Covington, and Embiid is just unfair.
Offensively, Zhaire is a definite work in progress, but the flashes show a lot of talent, more than you’d think. His off-ball movement and cutting are elite. He has insane burst and change of direction on cuts, and he finds good spots on offense with his constant movement. If he gets even within a mile of the rim, he’s gonna try to dunk it on on someone, and he can contort his body to finish athletically at the rim. Smith is also a surprising passer, with good vision and some flair on his looks, offering crisp passes with some mustard and zip on them. He can drive and kick, and he can make the interior pass out of the post — benefits of a guy who played center in high school. We’ve seen NBA big men like Anthony Davis exhibit guard skills they used to have before a sudden growth spurt. Is Zhaire a big man that never grew and is now adding guard skills along the way? He looks surprisingly comfortable dribbling and makes nice reads, and he doesn’t seem uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. The jumper needs work. It looks nice enough but he needs better results. But he cuts and passes so well that it feels like a bonus more than a necessary trait.
I have no idea what position Zhaire is. Pick any of them and he could be it. His line of 8/2/3 per game on 32% shooting leaves a lot to be desired. But there’s so much athleticism and so many skills here that pop. Zhaire just jumps off the screen, quite literally. You take a guy like that 10 out of 10 times over Mikal Bridges, even without the extra pick thrown in. Philly got a good one.
On the other hand, Jonah Bolden was one of my bigger SL disappointments. Bolden was last year’s summer Philly crush, a springy athlete with a wet shot and a player that looked like a lotttery pick steal from the 2nd round. He didn’t stand out this year. He’s still very active on the boards, but he looked tired or injured, maybe the product of coming over after a long season in Israel. Bolden just didn’t have that extra 10% of energy he showed last summer. He got out-hustled at times, and it looks like he’s lost confidence in his shot or his game. With Bjelica heading to Europe, Philly might need to bring Bolden over this year. I’m a lot less excited about that now.
Philadelphia only got 12 minutes from Landry Shamet and nothing at all from Shake Milton. That was a bummer. They did get some minutes from a favorite 2017 sleeper of mine, Cam Oliver. Oliver is a monster athlete who can throw down some huge dunks, and he has a unique blend of shot blocking and three-point shooting ability. He’s another player with a skill set Philly needs now, so perhaps he’ll get a chance.
I’m trying. I’m really trying to like DeAndre Ayton. I tried all season at Arizona, and I tried all Summer League, and I just don’t see it. I don’t understand what makes everyone gush about him and think he’s the #1 pick and the next Shaq. Honestly, this is the last profile I’m writing in the entire manifesto. I spent 20,000 words talking about other dudes and still didn’t think of much I want to gush about with Ayton.
The raw skill set is there. Ayton has a nice soft touch on his shot, and he hit a nice turn-around jumper off the catch in a move that few NBA big men can do. That was sweet. When Ayton does stuff like that, you get those Patrick Ewing flashbacks on offense with the face-up game and the shot. Obviously Ayton is huge. His body looks like it was sculpted by the basketball gods. He drew double teams immediately within minutes his first game, which is pretty impressive. Theoretically that should mean someone is open, if he can post and get the ball and find that guy, and that guy could be Devin Booker in the NBA, but Ayton is slow to react. Orlando is one team that didn’t send the double team often, and Ayton overpowered Bamba and Isaac at times.
The stats certainly look good, on the surface. Ayton posted 15 points and 11 boards a game and made 60% of his shots. That sure looks like #1 pick of the draft stuff. But it didn’t feel that way watching. Ayton took only two shots in the first half against the Kings. Against Philly, I honestly thought he was sitting the game out until I finally noticed him mid 2nd quarter. It shouldn’t take 15 minutes to notice that dude. Sure 15/11 looks nice, but what about the 0 assists all summer? What about the meager one block per game against guys he should have dominated physically or the 3.8 fouls per game because he was always out of position defensively? Even the 15/11 never felt that way watching. So many times Ayton tallied a handful of easy buckets and boards in the dying minutes of a game that was already decided, turning a boring 6/8 game into yet another double-double. Hooray double-doubles! Efficient numbers are nice, but Ayton’s rarely felt particularly impactful.
For such a big dude, Ayton was rarely overwhelming from a physical standpoint. It sounds like a cliche, but it just felt like so many of his opponents wanted it more. Ayton got bodied in the post and on the glass by the immortal Jonathan Motley. At one point Motley just banged into him three times in the restricted area for a bucket and my notes read “show some pride, man!” I don’t see that competitive hunger from Ayton. Teams took him out of the game mentally with double teams. I wanted to see Ayton fight for his spot in the post, fight for some position. I wanted to see him go get the ball. I wanted to see natural competitive drive. I didn’t see it. Too often Ayton got pushed off his spot or stood waiting for the ball in the post while he let opponents fight around him to take it away.
Phoenix’s GM Ryan McDonough said they like Ayton’s mind and understanding of the game, but that’s the part I worry most about. Everything processes a split second slow for Ayton, and it especially kills him on defense. Time and again, Ayton gets stuck in no man’s land defensively because he doesn’t make the read in time or have the instincts to get to the right spot, and that sort of thing is going to get punished in the NBA against a real point guard or rim runner. Ayton lost his guy on the boards at times and allowed put-backs or ended up fouling over the back because he switched off mentally. He lost Bagley for a pair of wide open threes jogging back in defense and forgetting to get right into defense mode. On offense Ayton comes around a screen but doesn’t make himself naturally available on a dive to the rim when he should’ve been able to obliterate these guys physically. On one rare impressive defensive play, Ayton found around Giles to grab a steal… then immediately dribbled out of bounds when he hadn’t thought that far ahead. I find DeAndre Ayton incredibly frustrating to watch. I’m not sure he gets it. It feels like the mental part of the game is a long ways away.
Ayton’s physical profile is obvious, but the actual in-game stuff too often comes in little bursts. He feels very theoretical to me. It doesn’t feel great to look at an apparently consensus #1 pick and just not see it, but I just don’t see it. I don’t see the instincts and awareness to put that magnificent body and skill set to work.
NBA players and execs look at this dude and see Shaq. They see Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and the 90s. I don’t see it. It’s not the 90s anymore and we don’t dump the ball into the post 25 times a game and watch a giant try to put a tiny ball into a hoop. Ewing and Mourning are Hall of Famers because of their defense not their post-up game, and we now know post-ups are one of the most inefficient methods of scoring. Ewing and Mourning would’ve blocked double-digit shots a game at Summer League. Shaq would’ve dunked on dudes every time down the court. Those guys put their bodies to work.
Ayton isn’t Shaq. He wasn’t even the best Shaq on his own team this summer.
Summer League was never going to be the right place for Mikal Bridges to shine, and he wasn’t a major impact player. He scored only 6.2ppg. He’s fine dribbling the ball and keeps his head up, but it’s disappointing Phoenix didn’t ask him to do much more. Maybe there’s not much more he can do, but a true 3-and-D wing isn’t a guy you trade two picks for. The shot looks good, and the wing defense will be more impactful in a team setting. We’ll need to wait to see if he can do anything more.
It was a disappointing SL stint for Josh Jackson, who got the Too Good to Be Here treatment and sat out after three games but was poor while he played. Remember how Jackson posted 19/6/3 post All-Star break? All that presumed growth was missing this summer. He had only 7 rebounds and 4 assists total across three games and shot a miserable 24%. Jackson’s jumper looks better but still seems forced, not natural. He looks better with the ball in his hands and is good attacking with it, but it feels problematic that that may not be his role to develop in Phoenix with Booker and Ayton demanding touches. The athletic highlights are still there, but the rounded game is still missing. It’s too early to worry, but there are some Andrew Wiggins feelings here.
Actually Davon Reed looked like the best wing on the team most games, ahead of Bridges and Jackson. He missed last season injured but looks like another draft pick for the Suns (and a millionth wing). He’s an explosive athlete and has a crisp good-looking three, and I was impressed with a new awareness with the ball and playmaking ability. Reed was consistent and felt like the Suns’ most ready player at times. Hopefully he gets some time.
One guy I wasn’t expecting to enjoy watching as much or even notice at all was Shaq Harrison. I caught a few Shaq games watching late season Suns games because I’m a glutton for punishment, and he looks like an impact NBA player. He is a menace in defense. He absolutely hounds opposing guards and has length and hustle for days, so he is always making plays. Harrison looks like a Mike Bibby-fied Leandro Barbosa, right down to the jersey and game. He has super active hands and had 7 steals and 15 deflections in one game alone. Harrison has a quick dribble and can put his head down and get to the basket like Barbosa too. He slashed 12/5/7/2/1 in Vegas. A player with this hustle and effort will always look inflated in Vegas, but he looks like at least a third point guard.
And he certainly looks readier than Phoenix’s #31 pick Elie Okobo. Okobo has an explosive dribble and a sweet natural step-back jumper, but his game lacks polish and there’s not much else there yet. He made only 4-of-17 shots for the summer and looked like he maybe should have stayed in France for a year. Phoenix has so many young guys that it’s going to be hard to develop them all simultaneously. Okobo needs to have the ball in his hands and make mistakes and grow. He’ll probably have to do it in the G League.
He might be joined there by Dragan Bender. I loved Bender as a draft prospect and he’s still really young, but I am losing hope. He just looks lost out there. His awareness is too often missing, and there’s a distant look in his eyes that gets so frustrating at times. That’s especially true when he flashes the skill that got him drafted — the pretty face-up shot, the rhythm catch-and-shoot three, the back cut and occasional passing. Those skills are all there, but the NBA is about more than skill and the game just hasn’t come together yet. Bender still can’t dribble and had some laughable sequences (see Jalen Brunson section). He played 110 summer minutes and had 2 steals, 2 blocks, 1 offensive rebound, and 0 free throw attempts. Bender is only 20, sure, but he’s been in the league two years and doesn’t even look like someone that would be a lottery pick if he came out now.
It’s Summer League, so Jack Cooley was present as always. I hope he comes back every summer. All hail Summer Jack Cooley.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers won the Summer League title, largely because they wanted to. They had six NBA-caliber guys and played all of them all summer while many other teams shut their guys down.
The headliner was first-round pick Anfernee Simons, a guy most hadn’t seen play before. Simons is a little dude and looks like a Shabazz Napier replacement. He has a quick dribble and nice burst, and he’s good at creating and scoring on his own. He has a nice pull-up jumper. We don’t know if he can create for others yet because that wasn’t really his summer role and he had only three assists. He looks better individually than on a team for now and is probably a year or two away.
Gary Trent was the other draft pick, and Portland brass claims he was #2 on their board at 24. It’s really easy to see his NBA archetype: shooter. His shot looks as good as anyone’s, and he can do it off the catch or off a dribble. Trent flashed a little vision and an ability to create space and get a shot off that we didn’t see much at Duke. He felt like a college senior, and that’s a good thing for a 19-year-old at Summer League. I’m not sure there’s much upside there, but he feels like a guy who will carve out a long career.
Last year’s first-round bigs also saw heavy minutes. Zach Collins looked far better. He has really good instincts on both ends of the court and a nice feel around the basket. Collins has great footwork and is an excellent interior passer, which is important since it seems like he’ll play with another big a lot in Portland. Collins is a great post defender with strong awareness and a quick second leap, and he averaged three blocks a game but still fouls way too often. I loved seeing him talk and organize on defense. Personally, I’d start him over Nurkic — personally, I’d have started him and let Nurkic walk.
Caleb Swanigan was one of the more disappointing players. He looked thick and out of shape. He’s an outstanding rebounder, but we already knew that. He has a really awkward bad dribble and can’t play in space, has a slow cocked-back shot, and looks short-armed on defense. Swanigan is a big powerful dude that should dominate in a setting like this. It’s troubling that he didn’t. The name Thomas Robinson comes to mind.
The Blazers’ big summer find may have been Wade Baldwin IV (use the fourth), who earned his contract guarantee. Baldwin was a first-round pick for the Grizzlies just two years ago, and Neil Olshey talked about how Portland specifically brought in past washout guys to show their younger picks not to take anything for granted. Well Baldwin may not be a washout anymore. He has an NBA body now and the game has slowed down mentally. He is kind of solid at everything. He can drive the ball and absorb contact and finish, and he moves well off the ball. He got others involved well on offense, leading Vegas with 7.4 assists per game, and his on-ball defense is terrific. He might be the best backup point guard on Portland’s roster.
Jake Layman is a guy I’ve never loved, but the dude is crazy athletic and couldn’t miss a shot this summer. If his shot sticks, he can take the Pat Connaughton role. I laughed out loud when I saw Georgios Papagiannis on a Summer League roster. He is atrocious. He’s a ball stopper in the post and a tortoise on defense. But he’s also a Summer League champ now, even if the the Blazers waited approximately 13 seconds after before cutting him.
Marvin Bagley got dumped on a lot, but I wasn’t as disappointed as everyone else. Bagley was actually pretty good at the things he’s supposed to be good at and not very good at most of the others, so nothing was particularly surprising. He looked awesome out of the gates in the opener against the Lakers, with a monster lefty dunk in semi-transition and then stepping into a three that looked good. That was Bagley’s one game with De’Aaron Fox and that’s a bummer because he looked good running with Fox in transition.
When the game slowed down into the half court, Bagley struggled. He’s not very strong yet and got pushed off his spot repeatedly, and he has inconsistent footwork in the post. Bagley just doesn’t really self-create much at this point. The Kings gave him some chances to grow there but that’s not the player Bagley is meant to be, so it doesn’t bum me too much that he’s not good posting up unless that’s how Sacramento intends to use him. He needs to add strength in a bad way as he gets really out-physicalled right now.
With everyone focusing on what Bagley can’t do, they missed what he can. He has a really impressive handle for a guy his size, and he has nifty footwork on the move and is a nice interior passer. Occasionally Bagley grabbed and went off a rebound, and he can dribble through traffic in transition like a wing. He’s so gifted and comfortable around the rim, a natural scorer. The Amare’ comp is apt. But for all that athleticism, he will need to use it better. Bagley had a couple sweet spin moves, and one time he faced up Dragan Bender and used nifty footwork to beat him to the rim and make a reverse layup. That’s really great skill for a seven-foot 19-year-old, but I’d also rather just see Bagley dunk on someone there. He needs to put his athleticism to work.
One area Bagley did use all that athleticism in a surprising way was on defense, where he was much better than expected. Bagley has a good second leap and did a good job going straight up on defense, and his athleticism helps him recover from poor positioning at times. A couple plays against DeAndre Ayton were really impressive. On one, he fronted Ayton and got an athletic steal off a poor entry pass. Another time he fought around Ayton and stole it off of him, then dribbled the full length of the court and dished it off to a teammate for a lay-in. 19-year-old big men just dont make that sort of play.
Bagley needs help right now. He needs to play with De’Aaron Fox or another point guard that pushes the pace and gets him looks he can finish. He’s not good yet out of the post, but if that’s what you wanted from Marvin Bagley, you’ve got the wrong guy. You know how everyone was freaking out about how good John Collins was the last two weeks? Just remember that when you think about what Bagley might be some day.
The crazy thing is Marvin Bagley wasn’t even the best Kings big man. That would be Harry Giles, the guy we all forgot about. Sacramento’s #20 pick a year ago took a red shirt NBA year and barely played at Duke, and after a handful of leg injuries, most of us had long moved on from the former #1 prospect. That may have been a mistake, because Giles looks healthy and really good.
Giles looks like the whole package as a big man prospect. He doesn’t quite have elite size, but his body and game reminded me a bit of Chris Bosh. I didn’t know if the athleticism would ever come back with Giles, and he’s not particularly springy, but he’s really smooth and glides out there and he just looks and feels like an NBA big man. He has monster hands and a toned body.
I definitely didn’t expect such a developed skill set from Giles, who relied on his size and athleticism to overwhelm opponents in high school. In Vegas he flashed the whole skill package. He has a nice hook and a back shoulder fade, and he can pull up for a jumper and roll to the rim on PNR. Giles’s range extends out to the arc on the shot, and he consistently put himself in good positions on offense. He’s also a ferocious rebounder, attacking the boards and playing like a guy with second life. Harry Giles was the best and most polished big man by a mile in a game featuring Ayton, Bagley, and Bender. Giles impressed me on defense too. He has good hands and keeps his eyes up, and he has terrific defensive instincts and seems to be a pretty good rim protector. It’s easy to see why the guy was once the #1 prospect.
You can’t overreact to a handful of Summer League games, but from what we saw in Vegas, Harry Giles stacks up to all the other elite bigs that were just drafted. Remember how the Kings got killed on the Boogie deal? Boogie played only a year for the Pelicans, and the Kings walked away with Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, and Harry Giles who, by the way, just turned 20. We’re a ways away still, but the Kings might really have something in a Bagley-Giles frontcourt.
They also appear to have found a capable starting small forward in Justin Jackson. Jackson didn’t quite make it onto any of my special teams above, but he was close to a few of them. He’s not going to be a star, but he just looks pretty good at a lot of things. Jackson can put the ball on the court and create for himself or teammates, and he’s better with the ball in his hands as a point forward. He’s also a bit of a better shooter and scorer than we expected. It doesn’t sound super complementary, but Jackson is just realy competent. He can soak up a lot of wing minutes, and that’s valuable.
We only got one De’Aaron Fox game, but he made it count. Fox has added a lot of strength and looks great pushing tempo. Every trip down the court is semi-transition with Fox out there, and his dribble and quickness are as good as ever. Fox looks the part of the leader and culture changer he was drafted to be, and I thought he showed improved finishing technique around the rim. He’s also a lot more confident with his mid-range pull up jumper. He still needs to push the range out to the arc and learn to go right too, but it’s hard to complain about 23 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists on 60% shooting.
With Fox on the sidelines, Frank Mason ran point most of the summer. He was… fine. We know what Frank Mason is. He has a nice shot and is quick to read and react, and he’s a good passer, moving the ball along quickly. He can’t finish in the paint at all with his size, but he looks like a decent backup point guard, though the drop-off from Fox was clear.
San Antonio Spurs
A lot of people were buzzing about Spurs first-round pick Lonnie Walker, a guy I didn’t give a first-round grade to, and I still don’t see it. Walker has a really pretty shot, especially off the catch. He’s also a super athlete, though that doesn’t always translate into his numbers or defense but it did help him rack up some easy points in open court plays this summer. His athleticism also helps with a great first step on his drive, so he can create an open look for his jumper. The problem is he isn’t hitting them unless it’s on a catch-and-shoot. Walker scored 67 points on 82 shots this summer, shooting under 32%. Last year at Miami he went 18-for-70, making only 26% of his shots off the dribble. For a player whose jumper is his go-to skill set, that feels like a problem. Walker also sprained his ankle twice in SL games, and he’s had injury problems in the past. I’m not ready to buy in yet, but at least he’ll learn from a great prototype in DeMar DeRozan now. That’s not a compliment.
The better Spur by far right now is Derrick White, last year’s first-round pick. White was the MVP at the Utah League, easily the best player on the court in all three Spurs games. It felt like you plucked a veteran out of a Euro league and let him dominate a bunch of teens, and that’s not far off since White is 24 already and he headlined San Antonio’s championship G League team. White is very Spursy, so calm on the ball and a great decision maker. He was outstanding in pick-and-roll, able to create his own look and score or create for someone else. And that jumper just splashes. It’s so wet and confident, and he can pull up from anywhere. White averaged 23, 7, and 7 in Utah shooting 45% (which is pretty good for SL guards). He looks ready for real NBA minutes and could end up being the Spurs best guard this year. (I wrote that before the DeRozan deal… but I’m leaving it there anyway. Fight me.)
I wasn’t a fan of Jaron Blossomgame or Chimezie Metu before the Spurs drafted them, then assumed I was wrong since, you know, the Spurs drafted them. I barely noticed Blossomgame most games. He’s athletic and finally started putting up some numbers toward the end of SL once White sat, but there’s not much there yet. Metu is really springy with a huge vertical but it’s also rail thin and I don’t see him adding much muscle to a frame that will be hard to manage in the NBA.
You’ll notice that OG Anunoby was not in the Too Good for Summer League section. Anunoby got to play with the ball in his hands a lot, and while this was a nice chance to develop those skills, they’re still a long ways away. OG doesn’t make great reads and isn’t very fluid with the ball in his hands, though he got more comfortable and grew with his dribble drive as summer went on. Anunoby will always be a defender first, and his shot is still ahead of expectations, so Toronto won’t be too upset. Now he gets to learn from the perfect mentor in Kawhi Leonard. Oh boy.
I didn’t see much from Rawle Alkins or Malachi Richardson. Alkins looks more thick than strong. Richardson has a nice looking shot but didn’t make a big impact. We’ll see what those two can do in the G League now that Bruno Caboclo isn’t blocking all their minutes (RIP). Giddy Potts is a fun name.
I didn’t learn a whole lot about Grayson Allen, a player I’ve seen more than enough of to last a lifetime, but I have to admit he surprised me a little. Allen had the ball in his hands a lot and ran the point, rolling up some big but inefficient counting numbers. He slashed 13/7/6 over four games and missed a ton of shots, but we already know he can catch and shoot with that quick release. Allen is thicker than I recall but flashed some athleticism, and that was the case at the combine too. I’m still not a believer but maybe it’s just the Duke haterade.
Last year’s other first rounder Tony Bradley (aka not Spida Mitchell) looked better than last summer. He’s basically doing what folks expected, just with a thicker frame and a more ready body. Bradley is really active on the boards and shows nice footwork in the post, and I liked his movement offensively. He put himself into good positions. Nothing to get too excited about here, but Bradley may be ready to contribute as a rotation big.
Utah got good production from Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long, a pair of older former Iowa State guys. Niang and Mitrou-Long just make winning p lays, and Niang is versatile and puts up numbers when he gets time. I’m not sure either of these guys has much of a ceiling, but either could be useful role players if called upon.
Troy Brown Jr.
The guy everyone came to see for Washington was 18-year-old rookie Troy Brown Jr., a five-star guy who had a really rough freshman season at Oregon. Brown was about as expected, which is both good and bad. He’s a really good passer for a wing, and he always seems to be around the ball. He’s an okay dribbler but has a real cocked shot with a hitch that leaves some pretty wild results. That’s going to need a lot of work. Brown is long but doesn’t seem like an elite athlete, lacking burst to separate him from the defender. He doesn’t look physically ready for NBA minutes, so expect a red-shirt year.
Devin Robinson was the far better summer Wizard. Robinson is a pogo stick, both by leaping ability and by body type. He’s super skinny and really lacks strength, but his length and athleticism really bothers guys on defense. Robinson scored 20ppg on 52% shooting but a lot of his points came from sheer athleticism. He’s listed at 6'7 but plays more like he’s seven feet, a difference maker on defense.
It was fun to get a look at Issuf Sanon, the second youngest player in the draft. He’s long and has quick hands and hounds opposing point guards on defense, but he also racked up fouls trying to get after it on defense. He’s raw and a long ways away, and he’ll stay in Europe for now. Washington got some nice minutes from Thomas Bryant, a guy I liked out of Indiana last summer. Bryant’s body looks a lot more NBA-ready and he averaged 15 and 9 on 59%, a stretch big with an expanding skill set. He could turn into something.
That’s it! Please comment below with any questions or comments. Let me know if there’s anyone else you’re wondering about. You’ll never believe this, but this is the somewhat abridged version. 94 games is a lot.
If you made it this far, bless you. I recommend Preparation H. This represents about 160 hours of work. If you’d like to contibute to my well-being, I certainly wouldn’t stop you. You can find the rest of my work on NBA, NFL, fantasy sports, television, humor, and culture in my writing archives or at my Twitter.