Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Last July in Las Vegas, we got our first glimpse of a few youngsters that would go on to exceed expectations during the 2017-18 regular season. Kyle Kuzma surprisingly led all rookie in scoring, averaging 21.9 points, to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 treys, while shooting over 51% from the floor. Donovan Mitchell poured in 37 points and added eight steals in a breakout performance vs. Memphis. Lonzo Ball was named MVP after recording two triple-doubles.
The 2018 Las Vegas Summer League, which wrapped up last week, also had its fair share of impressive performances. Listed below are a handful of players that turned heads.
Wendell Carter Jr., Bulls:
Carter Jr. played in the shadow of the Marvin Bagley III last season at Duke. However, WCJ has served notice that he’s capable of making an immediate impact in the league. Carter Jr. was terrific on both ends of the floor in Las Vegas. Offensively, he was effective and efficient, averaging 14.6 points while shooting 55.1 percent from the field. He also made a significant impact defensively, pulling down 9.4 rebounds and blocking 2.6 shots per contest. The Bulls likely won’t compete for a playoff berth next season and should be motivated to give their young players plenty of experience. There is a chance Carter starts at center ahead of veteran Robin Lopez, who is in the last year of his contract.
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Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers:
Most draft pundits expected Sexton to be able to handle himself defensively, but were concerned about his ability to score. While his jumper still needs plenty of work (he shot just 23.1 percent from downtown and 42.9 percent overall), Sexton was able to take advantage of his blazing speed by penetrating into the paint to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He ended up averaging 19.6 points. If the Cavs commit to a rebuild and trade George Hill, Sexton could be looking at plenty of playing time.
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks:
Knox was one of the youngest players drafted last month. As a result, it was assumed it would take a while for the 18-year to acclimate himself to playing against pros. Surprisingly, Knox often looked like a seasoned vet in Vegas and created plenty of buzz. He was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s All-NBA First Team after averaging 21.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 3-pointers and 1.0 steals in 32.2 minutes. While at Kentucky, Knox’s game was limited by the Wildcats offensive system. The Knicks coaching staff let him play which much greater freedom, and the results were awfully encouraging. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined for at least the first three months of the season, field goal attempts will be up for grabs in New York. Knox could crash the starting lineup and should have the chance to put up plenty of shots.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks:
Knox wasn’t the only Knickerbocker to raise eyebrows in Las Vegas. Heading into summer league play, Mitchell Robinson hadn’t played in an organized, 5-on-5 game in over 14 months. He was a top-10 recruit as a high school senior but sat out his freshman season to train for the 2018 NBA draft. As a result, Robinson was a major wildcard and slipped into the second round. The Knicks expected him to extraordinarily rusty as he worked his way back into shape. However, Robinson was a revelation, outperforming even the top picks in the draft. He averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and a league-leading 4.0 blocks, while shooting a scorching 66.7 percent from the field. The blocks were an all-time Summer League record, as were his 6.2 offensive boards per contest. Robinson was expected to spend the early part of next season in the G-League, but he looked ready for NBA-level competition. If the Knicks waive Joakim Noah via the stretch provision in September, as some anticipate, that will open minutes at center, especially with Kyle O’Quinn signing with the Pacers in free agency. It’s possible Robinson serves as Enes Kanter’s primary backup right out of the gate.
Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers:
Hart was lights out in Vegas, becoming the second straight Laker to take home summer league MVP honors. He averaged a league-leading 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in six games, while 47.1 percent shooting from the field. Hart played well as a rookie for Los Angeles last season as well. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the odds-on favorite to start at shooting guard, but if Hart can unseat KCP and work his way into the starting lineup, his fantasy value would skyrocket, playing alongside LeBron James. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the preseason.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Jackson Jr. made a significant statement in his very first contest in the Utah Summer League, pouring in 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting and knocking down eight 3-pointers. He would go on to average 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over three games in Utah. In Las Vegas, JJJ struggled to find consistency on the offensive end, but tallied 3.8 blocks and 8.2 rebounds per contest. Not only is he capable of protecting the paint, he is also able to stay in front of perimeter players when he gets switched on to smaller guards and wings up top. Memphis assistant Greg Buckner said JJJ has a “chance to be a Defensive Player of the Year-type guy.” His versatility on both ends of the floor increases the likelihood of him seeing consistent minutes next season. He can play center with the second unit, but may also see some time at power forward alongside Marc Gasol.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers:
Gilgeous-Alexander only appeared in four summer league games, but Clippers fan are already excited about this kid’s potential. He did it all for L.A.’s summer league squad, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals, finishing with averages of 19.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 2.2 steals. With a rare combination of length (he measures in at 6’6”) and athleticism for a point guard, SGA finds ways to stuff the stat sheet. The Clippers have remarkable depth at guard, with established veterans Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Avery Bradley and Lou Williams on the roster. Thus, it will likely be difficult for SGA to earn consistent playing time as a rookie. However, if either Beverley or Teodosic are sidelined by an injury (which certainly wouldn’t be shocking), Gilgeous-Alexander would be a popular pickup off the waiver wire.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets:
After being forced to sit out last season due to an NCAA scandal, Melton surprisingly slid all the way 46th overall in the 2018 draft. The Rockets happily scooped him up, and it seems they may have landed one of the steals of the draft. Melton developed a reputation as an elite defender in college, but showcased an impressive offensive arsenal in Vegas as well. Over five games, he averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.4 treys and a league-leading 3.0 steals. That’s the type of all-around production that fantasy GM’s are intrigued by. The Rockets three star guards (Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon) will obviously get all the playing time they can handle. However, it’s possible Melton could earn a spot in the rotation as the second guard off the bench, or even see some time on the wing. He’s an enticing late-round flier in deep leagues.
Willy Hernangomez, Charlotte Hornets:
Hernangomez was one of only four qualified players to average a double-double in summer league action. He appeared in four contests and averaged 18.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 blocks. It was also very interesting to see that Willy attempted 13 3-pointers, knocking down five. If he can add a 3-point shot to his arsenal, Willy could develop into an intriguing fantasy option. The Hornets traded away Dwight Howard this offseason, but also traded for Bismack Biyombo. Hernangomez will be competing with Biyombo and Cody Zeller for playing time at center in 2018-19.
Others players that performed well in Vegas: Deandre Ayton (Suns), Trae Young (Hawks), Christian Wood (Bucks), Wade Baldwin IV (Blazers), Svi Mykhailiuk (Lakers), Harry Giles (Kings), Jonathan Isaac (Magic), Aaron Holiday (Pacers), Justin Jackson (Kings), Trevon Bluiett (Pelicans), Antonio Blakeney (Bulls), Cheick Diallo (Pelicans).