Summer League Standouts & Other Thoughts

Raphielle Johnson
Rotoworld

The 2019 NBA Summer League has been going on for a week now, with the top eight teams advancing into the playoff rounds that begin Saturday night. The approaches to young players varied, with many allowing their new additions to play while others sat their rookies for various reasons. 

Minnesota (Jarrett Culver) and Phoenix (Ty Jerome and Cameron Johnson) both sat their rookies after they were finally signed thanks to the league moratorium, with Atlanta (Cam Reddish), Boston (Romeo Langford), Cleveland (Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr.) and Memphis (Ja Morant) among the teams that held out rookies for injury reasons. And in the case of New Orleans, prized addition Zion Williamson appeared in just one game before being sidelined by a knee injury. For those teams there will be even more questions to answer when training camps open in September. 

With many of the teams playing one last consolation game before heading home, this is a good time to take a look at some of the top performers in Las Vegas. Below are some of those names, with the rookies and returnees being separated. 

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Rookies 

Tyler Herro, Miami: Herro played well in Miami’s tune-up games in Sacramento, and that production carried over into the games in Las Vegas. Selected 13th overall in last month’s draft, Herro has shown off the ability to make shots both off the catch and off the dribble. The Heat have been able to run the former Kentucky standout off of pindowns, and there have even been moments where he was allowed to initiate things offensively. Defensively he’s been solid, and overall Herro has been one of the top performers in Las Vegas. 

It was reported in the days leading up to Oklahoma City trading Russell Westbrook to Houston that Miami was also an option, with the names of Herro and Bam Adebayo coming up on the other end. The Heat weren’t willing to part with either young player, and in the case of Herro he’s shown exactly why that was the case. Miami ranked 21st in the NBA in three-point percentage last season (34.9%), and with Jimmy Butler in the fold helping him out by getting more shooting on the court will be key. Herro can provide that, but his offensive game is about more than just being able to shoot from the perimeter. 

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans: Zion Williamson making his debut (before being shut down), and teammate Jaxson Hayes having the highlight of the summer league with his emphatic dunk over Mychal Mulder have been the biggest talking points when it comes to the Pelicans. That’s certainly understandable, but Alexander-Walker’s play throughout the week should not be overlooked. The rookie out of Virginia Tech missed the Pelicans’ first two games thanks to the NBA’s trade/free agency moratorium, but he played well  in each of his first two appearances of the week. Alexander-Walker shot 53% from the field in those outings, posting averages of 24.5 points, 7.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. 

At 6-foot-5 he has good height for a combo guard, and the perimeter shooting ability will be useful in a backcourt that boasts two veterans (Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball) who shot less than 33% from three last season. Given how much perimeter talent New Orleans added to its roster via the Anthony Davis trade (Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart) and free agency (JJ Redick), finding minutes for Alexander-Walker early on could prove difficult. But he’s certainly a name worth keeping an eye on, especially for the future. 

Rui Hachimura, Washington: Hachimura’s selection with the ninth overall pick was one that raised some eyebrows on draft night, but he played well in Las Vegas. In three games the former Gonzaga standout posted averages of 19.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 50% from the field. Hachimura isn’t much of a perimeter shooter, but during summer league action he did a good job of getting to spots on the court where he can be most successful. 

The signing of Davis Bertans likely means the rookie will be coming off the bench, but the two players offer different skill sets to the Wizards. Bertans was a 42.9% shooter from three last season, but he accounted for just 3.5 rebounds per game. For that reason Hachimura should see rotation minutes at the power forward spot, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to have an impact worthy of his being included on fantasy rosters. 

Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters, Boston: Due to the play of the rookies in Las Vegas, it’s looking as if the Celtics did a good job in the draft when it comes to adding young pieces that could potentially turn into legitimate NBA players. While one of the two first-round picks (Romeo Langford) has yet to play as he recovers from thumb surgery, Grant Williams has been solid and second-round picks Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters have also played well. Edwards averaged 18.0 points per game on 52% shooting from the field in Boston’s four wins. His combination of athleticism, toughness and scoring ability should come as no surprise, and that’s been on display as Boston earned the top seed in the upcoming tournament. If there’s a concern fantasy-wise it’s the lack of production in the assist department, as he averaged just 1.5 per game in Boston’s four wins. 

Waters picked up the slack from a distribution standpoint, as he accounted for 5.3 assists per game to go along with his averages of 10.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per. He shot just 39% from the field, and the fact that he’s on a two-way contract likely kills his fantasy value early on. Edwards’ contract situation also bears watching, as he and the Celtics have yet to come to terms on a deal. Boston’s perimeter rotation is headlined by new signing Kemba Walker and holdovers such as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward, so these rookies face a tough battle to earn rotation minutes in the fall. But both Edwards and Waters have shown themselves to be solid developmental options for Boston. 

Daniel Gafford, Chicago: The center out of Arkansas was available when Chicago made the 38th overall pick in last month’s draft, and the Bulls may have gotten themselves a steal. Through four games Gafford shot 64% from the field, posting averages of 13.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 0.8 assists and 0.8 steals per game. He plays with high energy, runs the floor and also moves well laterally on the defensive end, and the former Razorback doesn’t need to have much run for him offensively. Chicago signed Thaddeus Young during free agency, but the center position took a hit with the departure of Robin Lopez

Add in the fact that both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. (who recently underwent core surgery) had their 2018-19 seasons end prematurely due to injury, and Jim Boylen may be in a spot where he has to find minutes for Gafford. Given how well he’s played in Las Vegas, even if the Bulls’ returning bigs are healthy Gafford shouldn’t lack for opportunities to contribute as a rebounder and shot blocker. 

Five others: Devontae Cacok (Lakers), Terence Davis (Raptors), Jaxson Hayes (Pelicans), Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann (Clippers)

Veterans 

Chris Boucher, Toronto: When it comes to veteran players, the hope is that they play well enough to make it look as if they’ve got no business playing in summer league. Boucher looked the part, averaging 22.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in his three appearances (not counting Friday’s consolation round game). He’s obviously well-known within the Toronto organization, as last season he spent some time with the team and also won G-League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors as a member of Raptors 905. 

Because of his mobility and comfort level on the perimeter he can be used at either the four or the five. The question now is whether or not he’ll get a shot at carving out a place for himself in the Raptors rotation. 

Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio: Walker is in a difficult spot when it comes to the Spurs rotation, as Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli both provide the perimeter shooting that’s needed by a team led offensively by DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. But after appearing in just 17 games as a rookie, Walker had the appearance of a player ready to make a greater impact on his team next season. 

The second-year guard out of Miami appeared in two of San Antonio’s first three games, shooting 58% from the field and averaging 30.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per outing. Walker could make for an interesting late-round option, as he brings an ability to attack defenses off the dribble that the Spurs don’t really have with that second unit. 

Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., Portland: With Seth Curry signing with the Mavericks there are some second-unit minutes available in the backcourt, and the young tandem of Simons and Trent Jr. will look to claim them. For that reason this was a big week for both, and each had positive moments in Las Vegas. Simons was one of the best guards in Vegas, as he shot 56% from the field and averaged 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game. As for Trent, he averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals per. 

The former Duke guard didn’t shoot the ball as well as he’s capable of, making 40% of his attempts, but he’s capable of putting up higher percentages especially when playing off of the likes of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Rodney Hood’s return means that he’ll be a factor in the rotation, but the opportunity for Simons and Trent to earn more minutes is there. And their play in Las Vegas was a step towards doing that. 

Robert Williams III, Boston: With Al Horford (76ers) and Aron Baynes (Suns) both leaving the team, this sets up to be a big season for second-year center Robert Williams III. The bouts with immaturity that he had as a rookie need to be a thing of the past, and if his play in Las Vegas is any indication he’s headed in the right direction. The “Time Lord” averaged 11.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, and he shot 56% from the field in three games played. 

Daniel Theis returns and the Celtics signed Enes Kanter, but defensively Williams adds a dimension that neither of those two veterans do. Of the veterans on this list Williams has the best fantasy prospects, due to his abilities as a rebounder and defender and the fact that he fills a need with the departure of Horford. 

Mitchell Robinson, New York: After he put up some ridiculous per-36 averages as a rookie, and DeAndre Jordan left via free agency, Robinson doesn’t stand to last too long in most fantasy drafts this fall. In Vegas he had the look of a veteran who really didn’t need to be playing, posting averages of 12.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 0.8 steals per game. Robinson’s offensive game still consists primarily of shots around the basket, but he’s good enough to get into the spots where he needs to be in order to average double figures in points. Add in the rebounds and shot-blocking ability, and you’ve got a second-year big who is one of the top fantasy centers heading into the 2019-20 campaign. 

Five Others: Jarrett Allen (Nets), Tony Bradley (Jazz), Bruce Brown (Pistons), Frank Jackson (Pelicans), Cam Payne (Mavericks). 

Other Thoughts 

  • RJ Barrett saved his best for last after a slow start: Knicks lottery pick RJ Barrett wasn’t the best shooter during his lone season at Duke, and that carried over into summer league. But as the week progressed he had a greater impact offensively, due in large part to his willingness to not settle for jump shots. In his first four games Barrett averaged 14.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 steals per, but he shot just 30% from the field. His best outing was the fourth, a 21-point, ten-rebounds, three-assist effort in New York’s win over the Lakers on Wednesday.

    While he shot 6-of-17 from the field he put up ten free throws, and for a player who struggles with his shot getting to the charity stripe is key. That’s the kind of player Barrett will need to be as he continues to work on his accuracy. Teammate Kevin Knox had his moments offensively but is still a work in progress, as he shot 41% from the field in his four games. With the Knicks signing so many veterans this summer, it will be interesting to see how David Fizdale divvies up the minutes as the season progresses. Especially if the Knicks are well out of contention for a playoff spot when the trade deadline approaches.
     

  • Jacob Evans and Jordan Poole have solid weeks: Golden State’s rotation underwent some significant changes earlier this summer, as Kevin Durant signed with the Nets, Andre Iguodala (Memphis) was traded and Shaun Livingston waived. Without a lot of money to add to the rotation Golden State will need some of its young players to step forward when the season begins. First round pick Jordan Poole and second-year guard Jacob Evans both had productive weeks in Sin City, with the former posting averages of 17.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.8 assists per game and the latter finishing with a line of 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 4.8 apg.

    Golden State added D’Angelo Russell (sign and trade) and Glenn Robinson III (free agency), but with Klay Thompson set to miss time as he recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in the NBA Finals there will be opportunities for one of the young holdovers in the backcourt.
     

  • Aaron Holiday scored plenty, but he needs to be more efficient: Indiana two point guards this summer, with Darren Collison retiring and Cory Joseph moving on via free agency. Add in Victor Oladipo still working his way back from the ruptured quad tendon he suffered in January, and the Pacers are going to need more than just new signings Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell and Jeremy Lamb once the season begins.

    Second-year point guard Aaron Holiday put up some impressive scoring numbers in Las Vegas, averaging 22.3 points per game, but he did so on just 30% shooting in three games. Last season he shot just under 41%, and that was with an average of 5.9 field goal attempts per game. He’ll have more chances to produce this season, but the fantasy value takes a hit if he makes shots at a higher rate. Versatile forward Alize Johnson averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds per in the first four games, and there may be room for him to grab some minutes with Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young both leaving via free agency. 

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