As Vegas Summer League concludes, let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers.
Recently concluded, the Las Vegas Summer League gave us our first look at future All-Stars and potential franchise messiahs, and fans were quick to label them as such. As with years previous, hyperbole abounds, and fans and pundits are rushing to project the future of these prospects based on a handful of Vegas exhibitions. That said… some teams should feel more optimistic about their draft selections than others.
Winner: The New York Knicks’ Youth Movement
While it is expected that the Knicks will most likely be destined for the lottery once again in 2018-19, the performances of the Knicks’ young players have generated enormous amounts of hype, namely for Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Knox has made a number of highlight reel plays (mostly dunks) that have Knicks fans buzzing about his potential on both sides of the ball. In four games, Knox averaged 32.3 minutes, 21.3 points (fourth-highest average), 6.5 rebounds, and a steal per game en route to being named to the All-Summer League First Team. The only knock on Knox right now is his inefficiency — he only shot 35% and was streaky with his jumper — but it shouldn’t prove a serious issue moving forward.
Top 5 prospects in the 2018 #nbadraft class in PER @nbasummerleague (min. 3 GP / 20+ MPG)— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) July 16, 2018
1. Mitchell Robinson (35.0) @nyknicks
2. Wendell Carter (26.8) @chicagobulls
3. Svi Mykhailiuk (26.6) @Lakers
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (25.7) @LAClippers
5. Jaren Jackson (23.2) @memgrizz pic.twitter.com/7r5rvu6C04
The Knicks also seemingly picked up a steal in second rounder Mitchell Robinson. As a result of opting out of college ball and skipping the draft combine, the former McDonald’s All-American fell to the Knicks at 36. Despite his break from organized basketball, Robinson lit up the Summer League; in five games, he averaged 13.0 points on 67% shooting while pulling down 10.2 rebounds and putting up four blocks a game (a Summer League all-time high). If he can stay out of foul trouble and withstand the physical challenges of an 82-game season, Robinson should see regular minutes backing up Enes Kanter.
Loser: The Phoenix Suns
DeAndre Ayton and third-year player Dragan Bender were expected to play well for the SL Suns, but that wasn’t to be. While it may be too much to label Ayton’s Vegas SL showing a ‘failure,’ the number one overall pick did little to distinguish himself from other bigs in the class. In four outings, Ayton averaged 26.8 minutes, 14.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and a block per game. These numbers aren’t shabby, and they aren’t a far cry from his stats at Arizona, but fans typically expect number ones to show out more than Ayton did. Outside of Devin Booker and fellow rookie Mikal Bridges, the Suns are starved for talent, so Ayton will be given time to grow into a starring NBA role. But when his stats are virtually the same as his fellow lottery bigs and even Mitchell Robinson…Suns fans may be left wanting more from Ayton.
Think after two days the guy I am most concerned about is Dragan Bender. He has played at a level commensurate with the question “Should we actually pick up his fourth year option?”— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) July 8, 2018
Even worse than DeAndre Ayton’s pedestrian debut was the unremarkable play of 2016 pick Dragan Bender. Once compared to the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, Bender has not played up to the level expected of a fourth overall selection. Though still just 20 years old, Bender failed to impress in the third Summer League of his young career. In five games, Bender mustered just 6.6 points on 37% shooting, along with 5.2 rebounds, and 0.4 steals and blocks. Like Ayton, Bender has the benefit of trying to find his way on a squad with no expectations this season, but he had better sort out his game if he hopes to continue his NBA career.
Winner: Lakers’ Josh Hart
On a Los Angeles Lakers’ roster in upheaval following the acquisition of LeBron James, sophomore Josh Hart has all but secured his future in LA. En route to being named SL MVP, the Villanova guard averaged 24.2 points on 47% from the field, 5.2 assists, and 2.3 assists. As the LA roster is increasingly retooled to fit James, Hart’s plus effort on both sides of the ball should play well alongside LeBron. While the second-year player is perhaps better than most of his college-age competition, Hart’s excellent play should still be able to turn some heads come the regular season.
Loser: Kings’ Marvin Bagley III
The Sacramento Kings’ second overall selection Marvin Bagley III finds himself a ‘loser’ simply because he did not receive a chance to really showcase his talents in Vegas. In his lone game, Bagley tallied 15 points and seven rebounds, but he only managed to shoot 39% from the field. He left Vegas with a pelvic injury after his one outing. He had played in three games in the Kings’ Sacramento Summer League and averaged just 8.7 points on 31% and 5.3 rebounds. Bagley’s scoring ability has proven suspect thus far, and it will be interesting to see how the Duke big carves out a role in Sacramento. If Bagley continues to struggle, the Kings will almost certainly be a bottom-three team in the NBA.
It’s worth emphasizing again: none of these ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ are set in stone, and it would be foolish to pass any final judgment on these prospects based on five-plus exhibition games. Any negative press these players have garnered in Vegas can easily be reversed come the preseason and regular season. Summer League only grants a window into the future for some teams, and the promise of what could be long, impressive careers in the league. Like the Draft, Summer League breeds endless speculation and hype, so today’s losers could very well be tomorrow’s winners.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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