Come for recaps of the summer leagues in Orlando and Utah. Stay for the videos, player comps, and bad jokes.
That’s 26 basketball games, none of which really matter all that much in the big scheme of things. However, there is still a lot we can learn from this opening week of July. Each contest is highly competitive regardless of the score, as the vast majority of players in summer league are fighting tooth and nail to prove they belong in the NBA.
Without further ado, here’s a team-by-team breakdown of my observations on the Orlando and Utah Summer Leagues.
- Dennis Smith didn’t give it a go in Orlando, but he’ll be in Las Vegas. And so, opportunity knocked for feisty 28-year-old point guard Dwight Buycks, who poured in 28 points in the championship game. The old head picked up full court on defense and showcased his stamina, scoring, and playmaking. The Mavs have more than enough guards on the payroll even if they opt to renounce Devin Harris, but coach Rick Carlisle loves multi-guard lineups. Buycks is also on their Vegas roster.
- Don’t trust anyone with two first names, except on a basketball court. Brandon Paul (26), a 6-4 wing with a 6-10 wingspan, was among the best players in Orlando. Paul didn’t play in the finale, as he’ll be joining Cleveland in Vegas. If I were Mark Cuban, I would’ve signed him and told him to skip Vegas. For a Cavaliers team in desperate need of depth, a 3-and-D diamond in the rough should be snagged fast. It’s only a matter of time before this late bloomer gets his big break.
- Baylor big man Johnathan Motley (7-4 wingspan) saved his best showing for last in Orlando, blowing up for 18 points (7-14 FG, 4-5 FT), 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block in the championship game against Detroit. With undersized 23-year-old center Jameel Warney, who currently leads the summer league in PER, leaving for Las Vegas to suit up for the Los Angeles Clippers, Motley stepped to the forefront to help the Mavericks take the title. Having already signed a two-way contract with Dallas, Johnathan doesn’t project to play a lot of minutes right away, but his size, agility, and effort level makes him an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on as he gets used to the speed of the game at the next level and improves his awareness on both ends. Oh yeah, Motley also hit the game-winner with 0.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
- Luke Kennard cooked in Orlando, scoring 17.2 points per game while sinking 11-of-23 attempts from beyond the arc. My main concern about Kennard entering the draft was defense, but he was actually decent in these five games. He has good instincts that help make up for his less-than-stellar lateral quickness and lack of length (6-5.25), which is shorter than his height (6-6). Given that Detroit is acquiring Avery Bradley, Kennard is locked into a backup role at best entering his rookie campaign. Stan Van Gundy helped groom a young J.J. Redick into a solid overall player, and the alligator-armed fellow Duke Blue Devil is the most regular comparison for Kennard. Still, Redick never developed into much of a playmaker or passer off the dribble, something Kennard clearly enjoys doing. This is why despite Luke’s lack of size, I’m sticking with my Joe Ingles comp. Kennard is more athletic than Ingles, but both are crafty lefties, middle-class versions of Manu Ginobili.
- As per usual, Pierre Jackson was downright dominant on offense. It’d be a fun change of pace for the Pistons if Jackson were Reggie Jackson’s backup – but with Ish Smith in the fold and Langston Galloway set to sign a three-year deal, it seems unlikely that Detroit will be the team that grants Pierre a much-deserved NBA opportunity.
- Eric Moreland played well and earned a three-year, $4.8 million contract. It’s not guaranteed, but he figures to operate as the team’s third-string center behind Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic.
- Henry Ellenson struggled on defense, but he looked light years better on offense. From the post to beyond the arc, Ellenson looked much more comfortable than he did as a rookie, and it’s clear a year in the D-League did him a lot of good. With Marcus Morris being dealt to the Celtics in exchange for Avery Bradley, Ellenson could sneak his way into the rotation as a backup power forward. This will depend on Tobias Harris spending time at the 3 and whether veteran 4 Jon Leuer can fight Henry off. Nevertheless, Ellenson has made tremendous strides in his game, and he has high hopes to crack the rotation.
- T.J. Leaf looked good running the floor, but his lack of strength was evident. Like Jonathan Isaac and Bam Adebayo, Leaf is a player who loves to crash the offensive glass and hunt for put-back dunks, and he has the speed to recover when he comes up empty-handed. Unless the Pacers deal Thaddeus Young, Leaf will be locked into a backup power forward role at best. With that being said, T.J. probably won’t play that much or enjoy a lot of success until he bulks up quite a bit. He can become a more athletic version of Jon Leuer (with better instincts and ball-handling) if he puts the work in and all goes well. That’d be a player who projects as a pretty good fit alongside franchise cornerstone Myles Turner.
- At 25 years old, Joseph Young isn’t that young anymore, but he also hasn’t had much opportunity at the NBA level yet. After averaging nine minutes per night in 41 games as a rookie, he saw just over four minutes per in 33 games last year. But the former second-round pick wasn’t shy about letting his shot fly in summer league. Indiana waived Monta Ellis, signed Darren Collison, re-signed Lance Stephenson, and traded for Victor Oladipo. Each of those three current Pacers will be spending sufficient time with the ball in their hands, so it will be interesting to see if Young can earn some minutes as a backup point.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Josh Huestis looked much-improved overall, but most importantly he was making threes (nine-for-21, or 42.9 percent). He won’t be able to leapfrog his way into the rotation on a contending Thunder team unless he can prove this was no fluke. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say he has taken his game to new heights over the last few seasons. No. 23 overall pick Terrance Ferguson didn’t play, and unless the rookie sets fire to the training camp facility, he’ll likely spend the year in the G-League.
- After the Hornets let go of Ramon Sessions, Briante Weber should have received a chance to fill the backup point guard role. It’s still possible Briante will beat Michael Carter-Williams out for that spot, but Charlotte could’ve spent that money elsewhere and been better off. Weber is a dog on defense. It’s obvious he prides himself on that end. He is definitely not a three-point shooter, but he can make the mid-range jumper in the pick-and-roll when it’s given to him. To me, he just has more feel for the game than Carter-Williams, and deserves the chance to shine more than the former Rookie of the Year.
- When Rich Cho accidentally introduced n0. 40 overall pick Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade in the post-draft press conference, it wasn’t without reason. Sure, Bacon may never belong in the same sentence as Wade, but the Dwayne who spells his name correctly thrives in the mid-range (much like the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer). Bacon scored 29 points in the Orlando Summer League finale, and he did his work in the mid-range, the paint, and at the free-throw line. He also made 19-of-19 from the the free-throw line during the week. Charlotte’s roster features plenty of floor spacing, so there should be room for Bacon to operate in his comfort zone while he continues to gain confidence from the three-point line.
What does Dwayne have to show for his performance at the Orlando Summer League? Even more bacon than Arby’s advertised.
- Jonathan Isaac showcased the skill-set that had many (myself included) touting him as one of the top talents in the class. Wasn’t great in the first game, but he was sensational in the second before sitting out the rest of the week with a hip injury.
- I shouldn’t count any chickens before they hatch, but Derrick Walton Jr. seems likely to earn a spot on the Orlando Magic’s regular season roster. He just doesn’t make many mistakes, boasts a strong build for his height, and projects as an interesting complementary piece coming off the bench behind Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin.
- Wesley Iwundu mostly struggled, but the Swiss army knife is still a Frank Vogel player through and through. Given Orlando’s newfound depth along the wing, Iwundu will probably be assigned to the G-League for the majority of 2017-18.
New York Knicks
- With Frank Ntilikina sidelined due to an injury, Chasson Randle got the nod as the starting point guard. He went back and forth between the D-League and the NBA last year, enjoying stints with the Sixers and Knicks. Randle struggled to begin the week, but he seemed to find his groove by the end of it. New York has committed to Ron Baker, and Chasson’s contract is non-guaranteed. Given his inconsistent play, it’s tough to say whether he helped or hurt his chances of sticking in NYC.
- Damyean Dotson did his best J.R. Smith impersonation, dropping buckets and draining threes galore. He has stated his intent to improve defensively, and given the signing of Tim Hardaway, Dotson likely won’t be relied on heavily as a rookie.
- Luke Kornet received a two-way contract thanks to his size and shooting. He’s very brittle though, and not exactly young.
- Bam Adebayo was very up-and-down, struggling in the first half of the first game against Charlotte’s older and more mature Johnny O’Bryant. He showed a little bit of everything, but mostly he displayed an impressive offensive skill-set and phenomenal energy. On defense, Adebayo is far from a finished product, at least the Heat better hope. Like many youngsters, he’s not bad on-ball, but lacks the awareness of where to be when he’s away from the action. Far too often, he was caught out of position, clinging to a player who had no real business being clung to or giving space to one he shouldn’t. The addition of backup center Kelly Olynyk likely means Adebayo won’t be asked to shoulder a huge load as a rookie, which is a good thing since Bam could really benefit from extra development time in the G-League.
- London Perrantes is definitely a keeper for the Miami Heat. He plays with such impressive poise, has all the skills needed to survive at point guard, and he is as gritty and intelligent as they come.
- It was a rough week for Jazz fans, but adding the steal of the draft at no. 13 overall should help Salt Lake City sleep better at night. The former Cardinal guard is only 6-3, 211 lbs., but with a 6-10 wingspan and the heart of a lion, Donovan Mitchell is one of my favorite prospects from this deep draft class. Entering the draft, I built Mitchell up as a two-way version of Eric Gordon, and I’m sticking to it. Not only does Donovan possess elite explosiveness, good bounce, handles and a smooth release on his shot, he is also an extremely willing passer. Had the Jazz managed to acquire Jae Crowder from Boston, I’d be ready to call them a lock for the playoffs. Without Crowder, I still like their chances though. Mitchell and Dante Exum, who swallowed his pride and got some reps with the young guns, project as arguably the most intriguing backup backcourt in the NBA. If Rodney Hood suffers injuries like he did last year, Mitchell is my sleeper pick for Rookie of the Year honors, but eventually those two might even start alongside each other at the 2 and 3. Boston’s Jayson Tatum got what he wanted against the Spurs and Sixers in his first two summer league games, and it was the same story for the first half of Thursday’s finale versus the Jazz. Then Mitchell switched onto the bigger no. 3 overall pick and locked him up, including an incredible pick-pocket that should’ve resulted in a clear path foul. Mitchell gets after it on both ends and plays with a real zest for the game. He can help Utah forget all about Gordon Hayward. Tony Bradley won’t be playing much at the start unless the Jazz deal Derrick Favors, but he has been a bully, and could be a good backup if Favors signs elsewhere in the near future. Utah has too many point guards for Nigel Williams-Goss to stick.
- No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is living up to the lofty expectations, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is improving, Jonah Bolden is looking like a steal as an athletic, stretch big man, and Furkan Korkmaz made his much-antipcated debut. The regular season can’t start soon enough for Sixers fans.
- Jayson Tatum has deservedly garnered most of the attention, but Semi Ojeleye has had his moments too. Amid all the roster turnover, the C’s lost several of their grittiest players (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller). Ojeleye might not get many minutes as a rookie, but he has the 3-and-D skill-set and the intangibles to earn some time at the 4 right away.
San Antonio Spurs
- Derrick White isn’t built like George Hill, but the combo guard could be a quality defender and versatile two-way player in San Antonio’s machine. This may or may not be a hot take, but I think there’s at least a small chance he becomes the starting point guard for the Spurs. He is more mature and well-rounded than Dejounte Murray, and Patty Mills might remain in the backup role that he has thrived in for so long. White is a steady hand who makes sound decisions, and he might be more in line with what Gregg Popovich wants from his starting point guard in the post-Tony Parker Era (whenever that is). Bryn Forbes could also be a factor in San Antonio’s point guard rotation. He was a flamethrower throughout the Utah Summer League, sinking shot after shot from beyond the arc. He even drew back iron on a three-quarter court heave.
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