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Las Vegas Summer League primer: NBA rookies and second-year players to watch, best games

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The 2022-23 NBA season is still three months away, but for the next 10 days, NBA fans will get a first look at the players recently drafted and how they'll fit with the team. There have already been two stops to Summer League in California and Utah, but all 30 teams will be in Las Vegas for the tournament, starting Thursday night. The Sacramento Kings won the whole thing last year, and they'll be a team to watch after drafting Iowa forward Keegan Murray with the No. 4 pick over Jaden Ivey.

Here's everything you need to know heading into Las Vegas Summer League.

Location: Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion (UNLV) in Las Vegas

Dates: July 7-17

Where to watch: All games will air on ESPN networks and NBATV

Top rookies to watch

Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

In his Summer League debut in Salt Lake City, Holmgren posted 23 points, six blocks (a SLC Summer League record), four assists and seven rebounds. He's made an early statement and all eyes will on Holmgren in Vegas as he faces tougher competition. There are glimpses of a strong team chemistry forming with Josh Giddey and Holmgren in the pick-and-pop and Holmgren running the lane in transition. There are still critics out there who doubt Holmgren's game can translate to the NBA with his 7-foot, 195-pound frame, but he's proven he can play at an elite level every step in his career and many will be tuned in to see if he can do the same thing in Las Vegas.

Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Banchero was the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft and there's always added pressure to perform right away, especially in the first couple of games at Summer League. The 6-foot-10 forward is comfortable with the ball in his hands and is always looking to run the floor off a missed shot. Banchero won't be playing alongside the same backcourt he will during the season with Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz all absent but look for him to be the primary ball handler in transition and be the do-it-all player for the Magic in Las Vegas.

Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Smith Jr. entered the draft as the best shooting forward, knocking down 42% of his 3-pointers last year at Auburn. The Rockets shot just 35% from deep last season and could use his 6-foot-10 size in the lane alongside Alperen Sengun and Kenyon Martin Jr. Smith Jr. will be coming in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after falling to pick No. 3 when many thought he was the consensus No. 1 pick.

Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Ivey made it very clear he did not want to go to Sacramento, who had the No. 4 pick, and was elated to be joining Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons after being selected fifth overall. Ivey is the best guard in this draft class and showed glimpses of Ja Morant during his sophomore season at Purdue. Both Cunningham and Killian Hayes are listed on the Summer League roster in what will be the most exciting backcourt to watch in Vegas.

Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers

Sharpe went No. 7 to the Trail Blazers and was the biggest mystery in the draft. He didn't play a single game at Kentucky, after joining the team midseason in January. Despite his time off, Sharpe is still a dynamic shooting guard who loves to play above the rim and is a consistent shooter from behind the arc. Sharpe could surprise a lot of people and show fans why he was the No. 1 player coming out of high school.

Best games

Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic

Thursday, July 7, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

This is the first game of the 10-day tournament and it features the No. 1 overall pick, Banchero, vs. No. 3 pick, Smith Jr. Leading up to the draft, Smith Jr. was thought to be the consensus No. 1 pick and when the Magic selected Banchero, it even surprised Banchero.

"I feel like I'm a great player and people are going to expect a lot out of me," Banchero told Yahoo Sports on draft night. "It's kind of been like that always so it's nothing I'm not used to. I'm also just going to let the game come to me. That's what I've been doing my whole life so I don't plan on changing anything."

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons

Friday, July 8, Midnight ET (ESPN)

Sharpe has not played a game since last October and he'll have a lot to prove his first game. There's no better test or matchup to kick off his NBA career than going head-to-head with No. 5 pick Ivey. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of Purdue was the top guard in this draft class. Both players love to get out in transition and finish above the rim and there will be no shortage of impressive dunks and finishes in this game.

Orlando Magic vs. Sacramento Kings

Saturday, July 9, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

This won't be a direct head-to-head matchup with No. 1 pick Banchero vs. No. 4 pick Murray, but it will give Murray a chance to continue to prove why he deserved to be a top-five pick. In his Summer League debut in California, Murray put up 26 points (10-for-14 from the field) and added eight rebounds. Last season, during his sophomore year at Iowa, Murray led the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 23.5 points per game.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

Saturday, July 9, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Anytime one of the big three from the draft — Banchero, Holmgren, Smith Jr. — steps onto the court and plays, people will be tuned in. When it's two out of the three squaring off, the arena is going to be packed. Holmgren and Smith Jr. haven't played against one another since the fall of their senior year in high school and both of their games cater to the NBA spacing on the floor.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Saturday, July 9, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

This will be a second look at Sharpe and he'll be facing the eighth pick in the draft, Dyson Daniels. Daniels played one season in the G League for the G League Ignite and grew two inches from the start of the season, now standing as a 6-foot-8 combo guard. Daniels is a great secondary ball handler off the wing and reads the defense well of the pick-and-roll option. Anytime Sharpe steps on the court, fans and NBA personnel will be watching to see if he's consistent and worth the hype of a top-10 pick who hasn't played in nine months.

Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Monday, July 11: 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

No. 1 vs. No. 2 pick. Chet vs. Paolo, Round 2. The first matchup was in November in Las Vegas in front of a sold-out crowd, and Banchero emerged as the better prospect on the court, putting up 21 points in the win. Banchero has the size advantage and Holmgren is the better rim protector. Both players have a grab-and-go style off a missed shot and can shoot the three in the pick-and-pop. This might be the best game and best big-man matchup of the tournament.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren runs the court against the Memphis Grizzlies during a Salt Lake City Summer League game on July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren runs the court against the Memphis Grizzlies during a Salt Lake City Summer League game on July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

Second and third-year players to watch

Last year it was Tyrese Maxey who showed up to Summer League and dominated the competition, playing only two games and averaging 26 points per game. He went on to be a breakout star in the 2021-22 season, posting 17.5 points and 4.3 assists in 35 minutes per game. Below are a few players to watch early (returning roster players rarely play past the first weekend) that could have a bigger role on the team this upcoming season.

Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets

Thomas was a breakout player at last year's Summer League and saw some rotational minutes with the Nets sporadically through the season. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving most likely leaving Brooklyn, the opportunity for a bigger role is available and Thomas could be that guy to step in and step up in his second year.

Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, Golden State Warriors

This duo were lottery picks last season and were NBA champions at 19 and 20 years old. There were glimpses of Moody's outside shooting during the season and Warriors fans got a taste of what Kuminga could bring offensively off the wing. With Gary Payton II gone, both Kuminga and Moody could have bigger roles next season. Coming into Summer League with an NBA title under their belts, expect both players to play with a lot of confidence.

Josh Primo, San Antonio Spurs

Primo was the 12th pick in the 2021 NBA draft and the Spurs stashed him in the G League to work on his development this past season. This could be Primo's breakout year and this Summer League Spurs team is going to be a fun to watch with Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley making their NBA debuts.