The Stars of Summer: Las Vegas

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It is quite fitting that the major showcase of the NBA summer is annually held in the gambling capital of America. It provides the perfect metaphor, as teams send their young draftees whom they have taken a – sometimes large – gamble on to help their franchise. It’s also the place where players on the fringe of their teams roster compete against those hoping to make a roster; in affect betting on themselves.

Sam recently recapped the Utah and Orlando Summer League’s, but the majority of the action was in Las Vegas, where 24 teams competed, and the Lakers were ultimately crowned Champions. There was so much talent on show from the new rookies, second plus year players, undrafted gems and a few ‘wait, they’re still playing’ guys competing (remember Ike Diogu and Julian Wright?). I’ve broken down some of the guys who caught my eye.

THE ROOKIES

JAYSON TATUM – BOSTON CELTICS
Stats: 17.7 PTS, 41 FG%, 75 3P%, 8 REB, 1 AST, 2.3 TOS in 31.3 MINS / 3 GAMES.
Best Game: 27 PTS, 47.4 FG% (9-19), 3PT (1-1), 8-8 FTs, 11 REB, 1 BLK, 1 TO @ LAL

Quick Spiel: At the end of pre-tournament play, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman had asked numerous players who impressed them the most at Vegas. The answer was apparently almost always Jayson Tatum. Tatum proved he can flat out score; from the perimeter, off the bounce, from the low post, off screens, in transition and many other ways. His career is in the infant stages, and there is a long way to go and a lot of wing depth in Beantown with Gordon Hayward coming on-board, but trading back to three may prove to be the right decision for the Celtics. His offensive versatility will provide flexibility for Brad Stevens’ squad, and hopefully that translates into significant minutes for a team contending for the first overall seed in the East.

DONOVAN MITCHELL – UTAH JAZZ

Stats: 28 PTS, 36 FG%, 27.5 3P%, 2.5 REB, 1.5 AST, 6STL, 4 TOS in 32.5 MINS / 2 GAMES.
Best Game: 37 PTS, 47.7 FG% (10-24), 3PT (3-10), 14-16 FTs, 3 REB, 8 STL, 5 TO @ MEM

Quick Spiel: Donovan Mitchell only participated in two games at the Vegas Summer League after destroying it in Utah, but you couldn’t help but be impressed with his play; especially defensively. The Jazz gave up pick 24 and Trey Lyles for Mitchell’s services, and with George Hill and Gordon Hayward both leaving, there will be an opportunity for playing time; especially as a potential defensive stopper going into next season. Mitchell will have to compete with both Joe Johnson and Alec Burks for court time, but even after losing Hayward the Jazz’s young core are exciting!

DENNIS SMITH JNR – DALLAS MAVERICKS

Stats: 17.3 PTS, 47.5 FG%, 34.6 3P%, 4.8 REB, 4.2 AST, 2.2 STL in 25.8 MINS / 8 GAMES.
Best Game: 25 PTS, 57.1 FG% (8-14), 60% 3PT (3-5), 6-9 FTs, 8 REB, 4ASS, 4 STL, 1 BLK @ PHX

Quick Spiel: For the entirety of the Vegas Summer League, almost no one could stay in front of the 9th overall pick from the 2017 draft. Smith got to the rim almost at will, but what was more surprising for me was the amount of times he demonstrated true floor-general potential. Mark Cuban was right when he said that he makes the game look easy, a key reason being that he makes the right decision (which is most often the simplest) at the right time. The Dallas Mavericks will hand Smith the keys to the team this upcoming season, and whilst there will no doubt be some lows, a core around Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Smith is a step in the right direction.

LONZO BALL – LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Stats: 16.3 PTS, 38.2 FG%, 23.8 3PT%, 7.7 REB, 9.3 AST, 2.5 STL, 1 BLK 3.8 TOS in 32.5 MINS / 6 GAMES.
Best Game: 36 PTS, 54.5 FG% (12-22), 30 3PT% (1-3), 9-12 FTs, 8 REB, 5 STL. 2 BLK, 6 TO @ PHI

Quick Spiel: As the most polarizing personality from the incoming draft class by virtue of his father, Lonzo Ball’s Summer League performances were always going to be under the most rigorous scrutiny. He basically laid an egg in his first game, going for 5 points on 2-15 shooting, yet finished the Vegas Summer League as MVP. Of the 6 games he played, he finished with two triple-doubles, and a mammoth 36 points, 8 boards, 11 dimes, 5 steals and 2 blocks against the Sixers. Of some concern may be the two games he missed due to injury – against Sacramento in Fox v. Ball III match-up (groin) and the Championship game (calf strain) – and whether or not there are durability issues that will manifest itself over an 82 game season where he is set to see some significant playing time. Regardless, by virtue of Lonzo Ball, the Lakers will be fun to watch this coming season.

CALEB SWANIGAN – PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

Stats: 15.4 PTS, 43.8 FG%, 27.3 3P%, 10.6 REB, 2.2 AST, 2.8 TOS, 1.4 STL in 30.8 MINS / 8 GAMES.
Best Game: 25 PTS, 44.4 FG% (8-18), 33 3PT% (2-6), 7-8 FTs, 12 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL @ LAL

Quick Spiel: With the 26 pick of the draft, the Blazers added another big man to their roster, after trading up and taking Zach Collins at pick 10. With a glut of big men on the roster (including Jusuf Nurkic, Noah Vonleh, Myers Leonard and Ed Davis), Swanigan seems to already know his place as a high-energy/ junkyard dog type player. His Summer League performance will go a long way to seeing some playing time next season, and his saving-the-best-for-last performance against the Lakers no doubt will stay in the minds of Terry Stott’s and his coaching staff in preparation for the upcoming season.

JOHN COLLINS – ATLANTA HAWKS

Stats: 15.4 PTS, 59.3 FG%, 9.2 REB, 1 AST, 0.6 BLK 1 TOS in 23 MINS / 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 25 PTS, 73.3 FG% (11-15), 100 3PT% (1-1), 2-3 FTs, 9 REB, 1 BLK, 1 STL @ NOP

Quick Spiel: After trading Dwight Howard for Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli (i.e. nothing), and opting not to make an offer to Paul Millsap, the Atlanta Hawks are clearly in rebuild mode. They would have to be buoyed by the early play of John Collins and how he can help define the organisations next chapter. Over 15 points and 9 rebounds a game are very good for a big in Summer League play, as generally the format doesn’t favour the tall timber. Equally impressive is how this was achieved in only 25 minutes a game. Collins has an old-school big man game, but showed huge athleticism (highlighted by this savage dunk), and a penchant for the boards. Collins should have the opportunity to play some big minutes next season for the Hawks, and if we can draw one thing from his Summer League play, it’s that that is not a bad thing.

KYLE KUZMA – LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Stats: 21.9 PTS, 54.4 FG%, 48 3P%, 6.4 REB, 2.7 AST, 2.6 TOV, 1.4 BLK, 1.1 STL in 32 MINS / 7 GAMES.
Best Game: 30 PTS, 68.8 FG% (11-16), 60 3PT% (6-10), 2-4 FTs, 10 REB, 2 STL 1 BLK, 4 TO @ POR

Quick Spiel: I thought Kyle Kuzma was a reach for the Lakers at pick 27. I could understand the attraction, 6’9, 225lbs with a demonstrated ability to score as a face-up power forward, and some range on his shot, but I would have taken three or four guys ahead of him. But boy was I wrong. Kuzma proved to be a great link up with Lonzo Ball, running in transition, spacing the floor and knocking down open shots. In the Championship game, missing Ball, it was Kuzma who put the Lakers on his back, carrying them with a 30 point, 10 rebound game, and rightly being crowned the MVP of that final game. Kuzma faces stiff competition for playing time in LA with Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, Larry Nance and Ivan Zubac all potentially ahead of him, but Kuzma has enough offensive versatility that Coach Luke Walton – and Lonzo Ball – can put to good use.

JUSTIN JACKSON – SACRAMENTO KINGS
Stats: 16.7 PTS, 38 FG%, 24 3PT% 3.3 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.3 BLK, 0.3 STL, 1.8 TOV in 32.3 MINS/ 6 GAMES.
Best Game: 29 PTS, 40.9 FG% (9-22), 37.5 3PT% (3-8), 8-10 FTs 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, @ PHX

Quick Spiel: On a squad that featured this years fifth overall pick, last years sixth and 13th overall pick and Skal Labissiere; last seasons second half revelation for the Kings, you’d be forgiven for not being overly excited to see Justin Jackson perform prior to the Vegas Summer League. But Sacramento fans are surely rubbing their hands together after Jackson’s 6 game sample. His long ball wasn’t falling, but his array of finishes around the rim and his ability to play out of off-ball screens made up for that offensive hiccup. But it will be Jackson’s defensive versatility after demonstrating the ability to guard multiple positions in Vegas that may be his most translatable attribute for this coming season.

THE SECOND ROUND SURPRISES

JONAH BOLDEN – PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Stats: 8 PTS, 36% FG, 24% 3PT, 3.3 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.8 STL 0.8 BLK, 1 TOV in 22.9 MIN/ 5 GAMES
Best Game: 11 PTS, 71.4 FG% (5-7), 33 3PT% (1-3) 10 REB, 2 STL, 2 BLK @ GSW

Quick Spiel: We just have to give some Aussie love! Bolden was a stat-stuffer for the Sixers over the course of both the Utah and Vegas Summer League’s. He may not have dominated one singular aspect of a box score, but he demonstrated an ability to be the face-up/ stretch four man. In the Ringers ‘Way-to-Early 2017 Redraft’, Bolden came in at 13 in part as a result of his Summer League play. The Sixers’ are a little stacked in the front court at the moment, so despite his surprising play Bolden will likely find himself stashed overseas with negotiations with Maccabi Tel Aviv currently on-going. But keep on eye on this kid for the 2018/19 season.

SINDARIUS THORNWELL – LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Stats: 14.3 PTS, 39 FG%, 15 3PT% 3.5 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.8 STL 1.8 TOV in 32.3 MINS/ 4 GAMES.
Best Game: 26 PTS, 46.2 FG% (6-13), 0 3PT% (0-4), 14-18 FTs 5 REB, 2 STL, 3 TOV, @ LAL

Quick Spiel: Sindarius Thornwell was up and down in his four games for the Clippers during Vegas, scoring in double figures twice (26 against the Lakers and 18 against the Bucks) and two games below 10 points (4 against the Jazz and 9 against the Heat). But his play on both ends has already earned him the nickname of ‘pitbull’ from the Clippers’ coaching staff. The Clippers – despite losing Chris Paul – will be well in the hunt for the playoffs in the West, and Thornwell will likely have to patient for minutes in the upcoming season. At the very least however, he will keep grinding away until that time comes like his nickname suggests.

JORDAN BELL – GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Stats: 5 PTS, 60 FG%, 9 REB, 1.6 AST, 2.6 BLK, 2 STL, 2.6 TOV in 21.6 MINS/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 5 PTS, 100 FG% (2-2), 1-1 FTs 11 REB, 5 AST, 6 BLK, 5 STL 3 TOV, @ MIN

Quick Spiel: When the reigning Champs buy into the second round to select one player, you can’t help but take notice. The chances are slim that Bell will see significant minutes for the Warriors, but when he does see the floor, his role will be the same that was displayed in Vegas; simply rebound and defend. Bell’s 5×5 game was one of the highlights of the Vegas Summer League competition, and Bell himself tweeted that he was ‘just trying to be like Draymond.‘ Maybe the tweet was partially in jest, but what is for sure is that if he is called on by Steve Kerr to play a defensive role Bell has the skill set to meet it.

I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE – BEST 2ND PLUS YEAR PLAYERS

CHEICK DIALLO – NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Stats: 18.6 PTS, 56.2 FG%, 9.8 REB, 0.6 AST, 1.6 BLK, 0.6 STL, 1.6 TOV in 30.2 MINS/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 27 PTS, 61.1 FG% (11-18), 5-5 FTs 10 REB, 1 AST, 3 TOV, @ TOR

Quick Spiel: The Pelicans haven’t made any major moves in Free Agency outside of re-signing  Jrue Holiday and (bizarrely) signing Rajon Rondo. This means that aside from improvement that comes with a better understanding between DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, a large push for the Pelicans to make the playoffs in the West will have to come internally. To that end, Cheick Diallo is a bright spot after his Summer League play. He demonstrated a bigger frame than last season and the same high motor, but also consistently made the mid-range jumper which will be vital should he wish to see a more prominent role handed to him and any success the Pels will have next season.

MALIK BEASLEY – DENVER NUGGETS
Stats: 19.4 PTS, 40 FG%, 41 3PT% 504 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.8 BLK, 3.6 TOV in 30.8 MINS/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 29 PTS, 40 FG% (12-30), 25 3PT% (3-12), 2-5 FTs 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TOV, @ HOU

Quick Spiel: The one thing that the Denver Nuggets have going into the 2017/18 season is wing depth. Gary Harris leads the charge, with Wilson Chandler and Will Barton not too far behind, and we can add both Jamaal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay to the mix on – at the very least – a part time basis. The future of the Nuggets wing collective is unknown, as is where Malik Beasley fits in to the wing rotation. In Vegas, Beasley was the Nuggets’ prime wing option, and used that platform to demonstrate his aggressiveness getting to the rim. Also worth mentioning is his long range shooting, going at over 40% from the land of plenty. Whether Beasley demonstrated enough in Vegas to earn more minutes in Year 2 is unknown, but those scoring instincts are still there from his days at Florida State.

RASHAD VAUGHN – MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Stats: 16 PTS, 52 FG%, 30 3PT% 3.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.4 BLK, 1 STL, 1.8 TOV in 25.3 MINS/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 31 PTS, 72.2 FG% (13-18), 42.9 3PT% (3-7), 2-6 FTs 8 REB, 2 AST, 2 BLK, 2 TOV, @ BKN

Quick Spiel: Former first round pick Rashad Vaughn really hasn’t done much thus far in his career with the Bucks. That may change this upcoming season with Milwaukee lacking true depth on the wings, a need to improve from within and Vaughn’s Summer League play. Vaughn averaged 16 points on a highly efficient 51.7% from the field, and demonstrated an increased offensive game. Milwaukee has yet to make any major moves this off-season (although talks that Derrick Rose is interested keep popping up), and should the Bucks make that next step, it will be on the back of the improvement of their young core, including Vaughn.

CARIS LeVERT – BROOKLYN NETS
Stats: 16 PTS 48% FG, 17% 3PT 5 REB, 2 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK, 2.4 TOV in 25.9 MIN/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 23 PTS, 57.1 FG% (8-14), 50 3PT% (2-4), 5-5 FTs 1 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, @ LAL

Quick Spiel: I love Caris LeVert, injuries and all. His basketball IQ is off the charts, and he reminded me of it almost every time his fingers touched a ball in Vegas. Sure, he’s not the marksman that the Nets would like him to be, and trading for both DeMarre Carroll and D’Angelo Russell may see him start less than the 26 times than he did in his injury riddled rookie year, but his IQ makes up for a lot of faults. LeVert provided a subtle reminder of the versatility and play-making ability that he brings to the Nets for Coach Kenny Aitkinson; the only NBA Head Coach who coached in the Vegas Summer League.

BRYN FORBES – SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Stats: 26 PTS, 40% FG, 34 3PT% 2.8 REB, 3.4 AST, 1 STL. 0.2 BLK, 3.6 TOV in 29 MIN/ 5 games.
Best Game: 35 PTS, 42.3 FG% (11-26), 54.5 3PT% (6-11), 7-7 FTs 5 REB, 4 AST, 5 TOV, @ POR

Quick Spiel: Bryn Forbes is a stereotypical  San Antonio Spur. He worked his butt off in Vegas to create space for himself to get his shot off – whether off the ball or with it in hand – and when he did get his shot off, it tended to go in. The Spurs decided to relinquish the rights of last seasons breakout star, Jonathon Simmons, and there will surely be some hope internally that Forbes can go along a similar path to becoming an impact player just as Simmons did. Remember, in the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Vegas Summer League, it was Simmons’ play that got him onto the Spurs’ roster (2015) and heavily into the Spurs’ rotation (2016). Gregg Poppovich will always find playing time for those that earn it.

WAYNE SELDEN JNR – MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Stats: 22.7 PTS, 45% FG, 33% 3PT 3.8 REB, 3 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.3 BLK, 3 TOV in 30.5 MIN / 6 games.
Best Game: 28 PTS, 50 FG% (10-20), 66.6 3PT% (4-6), 4-7 FTs 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 3 TOV, @ WAS

Quick Spiel: Wayne Selden Jnr proved to be a man among boys at times during the Vegas Summer League. Whilst he isn’t a seasoned vet going drafted after three years at Kansas before finding his way on to the New Orleans then Memphis roster after a stint in the D-League, he showed a veteran like game for the Grizz going for over 20 points a game over 6 games. The Grizz seemed to have made a concerted effort to get younger, allowing both Vince Carter and Zack Randolph to walk to Sacramento and Tony Allen remaining unsigned. It’s difficult to know where Selden will sit in the Grizzlies rotation next year, but he has demonstrated that he should be ready to go if called upon.

Honorable Mentions: Brandon Ingram – Los Angeles Lakers, Jakob Poetl – Toronto Raptors, Patrick McCaw – Golden State Warriors, Wayne Baldwin IV – Memphis Grizzlies.

TAKE A BET ON ME – BEST NON & 2 WAY CONTRACTED PLAYERS

TROY WILLIAMS – HOUSTON ROCKETS
Stats: 22 PTS, 45% FG, 33% 3PT, 3.2 REB, 1.6 AST, 2.2 STL 0.6 BLK, 2.6 TOV in 26.9 MIN/ 5 GAMES.
Best Game: 29 PTS, 53.3 FG% (8-15), 57.1 3PT% (4-7), 9-12 FTs 2 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 4 TOV, @ DEN

Quick Spiel: Troy Williams went undrafted in 2016, played in the D-League, then joined the Memphis Grizzlies  before finding himself back in the D-League to eventually get picked up by the Houston Rockets. His Rockets contract ended, and in Vegas he was playing for a new one. With the Rockets signing PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, there would be doubt’s on a new deal, but his Summer League play reaffirmed his value to the Rockets. Williams was the leading scorer for Houston, showing speed and aggression in transition – albeit sometimes like a runaway train – and an ability to consistently knock down the triple ball. He has since been rewarded with a three year contract from the Rockets.

MIKE JAMES – PHOENIX SUNS
Stats: 20.5 PTS, 54% FG, 43% 3PT, 5.2 REB, 5 AST, 1.8 STL, 3 TOV in 33.1 MIN/ 6 GAMES.
Best Game: 32 PTS, 58.8 FG% (10-17), 37.5 3PT% (3-8), 10-11 FTs 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 3 TOV, @ MEM

Quick Spiel: When I found out that Phoenix has signed guard Mike James before Summer League, my first thought was ‘hasn’t that guy retired?‘ Turns out it was another Mike James with an extremely interesting history. On a Suns Summer League squad that boosts three of the five possible starters for the upcoming season (Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender) certainly showed he belongs. He will likely enter the season as the third string point guard depending on how the Suns see Brandon Knight, who can flat out score the ball. An experienced guard on a cheap two way contract seems to be a savvy move from the Suns brass, although there are already rumours that James will see a full time contract shortly.

ANTONIO BLAKENEY – CHICAGO BULLS
Stats: 16.8 PTS, 48% FG, 64% 3PT, 5 REB, 0.5 AST, 0.8 STL 1 TOV in 26.7 MIN/ 4 GAMES.
Best Game: 27 PTS, 41.2 FG% (7-17), 50 3PT% (2-4), 11-17 FTs 11 REB, 2 STL, 2 TOV, @ POR

Quick Spiel: Bulls fans would likely not be to pleased with the Summer League play of Cameron Payne and Kris Dunn; compensation for the Bulls’ two major trades in the last 6 months. However, Antonio Blakeney – an undrafted rookie out of LSU – shone and earned himself a two way contract from #GarPax. Blakeney is more of a shooting guard, but when Dunn and Payne left Vegas for personal reasons, Blakeney demonstrated that he can impact running as the primary guard. Blakeney was aggressive, getting to the free throw stripe 24 times in 4 games, and was very effective going downhill. Expect Blakeney to see some time suiting up for the Bulls (as well as fellow two way contracted player David Nwaba) as they pivot towards a full rebuild.


The caveat on Summer League is that it is, after all, the Summer League. How much stock we can put in the good performances translating into a good upcoming season is an endless debate. Yet, it is better to have performed well than to have performed poorly, and at the very least, the players who do perform may give themselves that little bit of a boost to impact the season proper.

Stay tuned for the inaugural Four Point Play Rookie Ladder out shortly!

Thanks to GD’s Latest Highlights, The Pick and Roll and FreeDawkins for the videos.

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