BRACE yourselves NBA fans, winter is coming. We are about to embark on the quietest two month period in the league until training camps open, meaning relevant NBA news will be hard to come by. The noteworthy free agents all signing deals (sorry Clint Capela) and Kawhi Leonard has a new home, symbolising the end of the major player movement and the last of the known NBA personnel have now left Las Vegas after 11 days of Summer League competition. Throughout those Summer League contests, we got our first glimpse at the future of the NBA and some stepped up to the challenge more than others.
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BEFORE I dive into the big headlines from the basketball played in Sin City, let us remember this is Summer League. A magical place that NBA hopefuls flock to in an attempt to revive or kickstart their pro careers. Sometimes, players get hot and have four good games making them look like a steal of the draft or a forgotten player reminding everyone that he can play. On the other hand, players are going to shoot 38% and struggle to adapt to the different pace/style of play. So, take a few of the statements I’m about to make with a grain of salt.
Starting at the end of the tournament and working my way backwards, one of the biggest, let’s say standouts from Vegas was Lakers sophomore Josh Hart. The former Villanova Wildcat claimed MVP honours after he averaged 22.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists through seven matches. It was the second straight year that a Laker claimed the MVP award after Hart’s draft peer Lonzo Ball took home the trophy 12 months prior. Hart looked like a poised veteran out there, clearly demonstrating that he was above the level of competition. The new-look Lakers will undoubtedly rely on his two-way play more next season.
HART isn’t the only one who deserves credit for the Lakers run at Summer League. His backcourt running mate Svi Mykhailiuk turned his own fair share of heads, especially during his performance against Cleveland in the semi-final. The Ukrainian born 21-year old poured in 31 points in said game, making six treys and helping steer Los Angeles to an overtime victory. However, not everyone was watching the Lakers in that match. In fact, a large portion of NBA fans would have been watching Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers newest young gun.
SEXTON offered us a look into what we can expect next season from the Cavs rook. There’s no doubt that the guy affectionately known as ‘Young Bull’ will come in and compete from day one. His infectious energy and relentless competitive spirit is what saw his vault up draft boards throughout the entire process and Cleveland wasted no time spending the 8th overall pick on Sexton.
FOR all the positives around Sexton’s game, he still has a lot to learn. Like any rookie, familiarising yourself with the in’s and out’s of NBA life takes time and there will definitely be speedbumps in Sexton’s development. One of my biggest fears is that he will burn out trying to compete at such a high level for an entire 82-game slate. You can expect Sexton to approach each game with the same mindset regardless of if it’s a January night game against Orlando or a Game 7 in Cleveland. Fingers crossed this doesn’t lead to him unravelling.
ALSO while I’m on the topic of the Cavs, quick shoutout for Cedi Osman, who looked stellar at Summer League. He is more than ready for a larger role and with LeBron James no longer clogging up minutes, he will be forced to take on a heavier workload right away. A few other veterans had good showing’s in Vegas as well. Christian Wood has failed to find a reliable home in the NBA, but after averaging 20.4 points and 10.8 rebounds for Milwaukee, his search might have come to an end. John Collins (Atlanta), Malik Monk (Charlotte) Wayne Selden (Memphis) and all shone in their brief cameo’s at Sin City as well.
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NOT everyone experienced smooth sailing through their first Summer League experience though. The haters were quick to voice their opinions over Trae Young, who struggled with his shot during his first few games as a Hawk. By no means do I think Trae Young is a bust, quite the opposite, I think he is one of the most talented players in the draft. He still has a slight frame and that will see him struggle in season one with plenty of 2-13 shooting nights on the way. But, if you aren’t going to sit through them, then you won’t get to enjoy the 11-15 nights when he goes off for 30. It’s going to be a process Atlanta fans, practice patience.
HE wasn’t the only high pick who struggled to make an impact. DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley were seemingly ready to tear Summer League a new one. However, while they were on the court we didn’t see as many spectacular moments that reminded us why they were the first pair drafted a month ago. Call me greedy, but I wanted to see more from the dynamic duo. Ayton (14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in 26.8 minutes) and Bagley (8.7 points on 31% shooting with 5.3 boards) will probably come out guns blazing when the real competition gets underway. Still, I would have liked to see more.
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IN my opinion, though there were two players who outshone everyone in Summer League. Taken one after the other in June’s Draft, both Wendell Carter Jr for the Bulls and Kevin Knox for the Knicks had stellar performances in Las Vegas. Carter might be that guy who impressed me the most throughout the tournament, flashing his athleticism and versatile skill-set. Some though (myself included) that Carter was a safe, low-risk pick, however, it might turn out that he just didn’t have an opportunity to shine at Duke. Chicago got themselves a good one.
KNOX was capturing plenty of headlines of his own with his scoring prowess. He showed at Kentucky that he isn’t afraid to jack up shots and his ability to score in a variety of ways saw Knox average over 21 points during his four contests. If he can continue to find some consistency in his jumper and develop into a go-to scorer then New York might have a serious winner on their hands. Special shoutout to Knox’s Knicks teammate Mitchell Robinson as well. Blocking four shots a game (a Summer League record) while shooting 67% and averaging a double-double gives Knicks fans a lot of hope about their youth movement.
ONE last quick shoutout to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen and Antonio Blakeney as some other noteworthy contributors. Now the real work begins for the 17 guys I have discussed though. This Summer League experience is a great way for an NBA hopeful to catapult their dreams into reality, but more times than not, things end up going pear-shaped. After spending nearly two weeks around some of the best and most influential NBA personalities, coaches and players time will tell who soaked everything up like a sponge and is ready to go and who will be back next year, praying for another chance.
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