NBA Summer League: Standouts and Takeaways from Las Vegas

NBA Summer League: Standouts and Takeaways from Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Summer League concluded Monday night with the Memphis Grizzlies hanging on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the title. Both teams made impressive runs through the round-robin and tournament rounds, with Memphis' first-round pick, Brandon Clarke, taking home both league and championship game MVP honors.

While a summer league title is a nice achievement, it doesn't necessarily hold implications for the upcoming regular season -- especially considering the Grizzlies' two most intriguing players, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr., didn't even play in Vegas.

What's more significant than the championship game is what's transpired in the weeks prior. Though many top rookies sat out summer league, several first-year players were on the floor in Vegas, as were a number of veterans who will be on the fantasy basketball radar in 2019-20. 

Here's a look at some of the players who made an impact in Vegas:

Rookies Sitting

One of the themes in Vegas was a lack of star power from the 2019 draft class. For a variety of reasons, several high-level rookies didn't take the floor. Lottery picks Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Jarret Culver, Cam Reddish, Cameron Johnson, and PJ Washington sat out altogether, while Zion Williamson and De'Andre Hunter saw limited action. A number of other first-rounders also did not play. Williamson was, of course, the headliner, and all indications are that he would've continued to play had he not been involved in a knee-to-knee collision early in the Pelicans' first game.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Pelicans

With Williamson playing all of nine minutes in Vegas, the attention quickly shifted to another one of the Pelicans' three first-round picks. Drafted 17th overall, Alexander-Walker averaged 24.3 points per game -- best among players who played at least four games -- to go with 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 steals. The Virginia Tech product shot just 41 percent from the floor, but that includes a rough, 5-of-23 effort from the field in Sunday's semifinal loss in overtime to the Grizzlies.

That game aside, Alexander-Walker, who was named to the All-Summer League First Team, absolutely looked like he belonged, and he'll present the Pelicans with a high-upside option at both guard spots behind Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday. It might take another Ball injury to free up the necessary minutes, but Alexander-Walker's potential as a four or five-category contributor should land him on the fantasy radar -- especially in deeper formats.

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

Despite the limited action, Williamson still managed to put together a better highlight reel than 90 percent of the league. The No. 1 pick took nine shots in his nine minutes of action -- with all four of his makes coming via (extremely violent) dunks. Williamson also got to the free throw line four times and pulled down three rebounds to go with maybe the most celebrated steal in summer league history.

The only true criticism of Williamson's debut is he launched a pair of ill-advised threes off the dribble -- one of which was easily blocked by Mitchell Robinson. At this point, concerns over Williamson's flat, side-of-the-head release are fair, and it's likely he'll do most of his damage from three -- which will probably be limited early on -- in the pick-and-pop.

RJ Barrett, Knicks

Given Williamson's circumstances, Barrett was the biggest name in Vegas for most of summer league. The No. 3 overall pick faced few limitations, averaging 30 minutes per game over five contests and finishing with averages of 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists. As anticipated, Barrett suffered through some rough shooting nights (34% FG overall), but -- also as anticipated -- he was undeterred, hoisting more than 15 field goal attempts per game.

Come the regular season, Barrett will have more talent around him after the Knicks signed every available veteran power forward. But New York's summer league entry featured at least four players who will be in the rotation next season, so it was a decent gauge for what to expect from Barrett's rookie season. Fantasy-wise, he'll almost certainly be a significant drag on percentages, but his rebounding and assists could keep him afloat as a lower-tier option. For that to be true, Barrett will have offer more defensive production than his combined 1.4 steals/blocks per game in Vegas.

Coby White, Bulls

Like Barrett, White struggled with his shot (34% FG) for most of summer league but still managed 15.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. The counting stats are encouraging -- White also added 1.4 steals -- but he hit just three of his 30 attempts from beyond the arc. It's only summer league, and White shot the three fairly well at North Carolina, but his adjustment to the longer NBA line will be something to monitor when the preseason rolls around.

Miles Bridges, Hornets

A returnee to Vegas, Bridges provided arguably the best single play of summer league, parlaying a well-timed eurostep into a windmill dunk -- a combination I truly did not know was possible. Freakish athleticism aside, Bridges showed well in fairly limited (24.8 MPG) action, putting up 13.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting. He also added 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals. With how the Hornets' roster is shaping up (read: very poorly), Bridges is poised to start on the wing. Whether he's ready for that remains to be seen, but someone has to score points and grab rebounds in Charlotte, so there's some bad team/good stats potential here.

Carsen Edwards, Celtics

High on the list of players to watch purely for entertainment purposes, Edwards showed out in five games, leading the Celtics in scoring (19.4 PPG) while hitting 48 percent of his field goals and 47 percent of his threes. Edwards didn't add much else -- 3.8 RPg, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG -- but that's not a huge concern for an accessory player who Boston will utilize as instant-offense off the bench.

Tyler Herro, Heat

Following an encouraging debut at the California summer league, Herro was even more impressive in Vegas, putting up 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in just under 30 minutes per game. Herro scored 25, 23, 16, and 15 points in four games, and while he shot only 33.3 percent from downtown between California and Las Vegas, he took more than eight threes per game.

More importantly, Herro reminded everyone that he's not just a shooter. He's more Devin Booker-lite than Kyle Korver, equally comfortable taking his defender off the dribble as he is catching and shooting in transition. Herro got to the line 10 times in an early-round win over Orlando and nine times in 23 minutes in a blowout win over Team China. A 94 percent free throw shooter at Kentucky, Herro figures to challenge for the league lead in that category on a perennial basis.

Understandably, Miami is enamored with the No. 13 overall pick -- he was reportedly unavailable in Russell Westbrook trade talks -- and there's a chance Herro could start on opening night, especially if Miami pairs Justise Winslow with Jimmy Butler at the two forward spots.

Chris Boucher, Raptors

Heading into his third year, Boucher is yet to find consistent opportunity in Toronto, but he looked like one of the better players in Las Vegas. Watching in-person on Tuesday, Boucher was the clear standout in a win over the Knicks, as he finished with 23 points, including a pair of threes, to go with seven rebounds and two blocks. Named to the All-Summer League Second Team, Boucher turned in overall averages of 23.0 points and 9.8 rebounds across four games.

Anfernee Simons, Trail Blazers

I'm not sure there's ever been more hype for a player who scored 75 total points as a rookie. But 37 of those 75 came in one game, offering a brief glimpse at the offensive package that has Portland so high on its 2018 first-round pick. Simons will still be stuck behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for the foreseeable future, but the All-Summer League Second-Teamer is expected to push his way into the regular rotation next season.

In three games, Simons averaged 22.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, hitting 56 percent of his field goals and going 14-of-22 from beyond the arc. The 20-year-old was responsible for arguably the best individual performance in Vegas, when he dropped 35 points (13-18 FG, 6-7 3PT) on the Jazz in 30 minutes.

Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies

Considered a potential lottery pick on draft night, Clarke fell all the way to No. 21, where the Grizzlies struck a deal with the Thunder to move up and grab the Gonzaga product. Memphis may very well have picked up the best player in Vegas, as Clarke took home both the Las Vegas Summer League MVP Award, as well as the championship game MVP.

In six games, Clarke posted 14.7 points (55% FG), 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.8 blocks, leading the Grizzlies in three categories. In Monday night's 95-92 win over Minnesota, Clarke finished with a 15-point, 16-rebound double-double, while adding four assists, three blocks and a steal.

Already an elite athlete, Clarke has some questions to answer about his jumper and offensive versatility, but he projects as a high-level defender who could play three positions as a rookie.

Rui Hachimura, Wizards

Washington pulling the trigger on Hachimura inside the top-10 was viewed by some as a reach, but the ex-Gonzaga star looked every bit the part of a lottery pick in Vegas. He played in only three games, but Hachimura averaged 19.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting, flashing improved range and a smoother-looking jumper. Hachimura also added 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 31.7 minutes per contest.

As a late bloomer, Hachimura may face a stiffer adjustment to real NBA competition, but the Wizards don't have much up front, so there's a real chance he could end up starting at some point as a rookie. Even if Washington goes with Thomas Bryant and Davis Bertans up front, Hachimura would be looking at a first-big-man-off-the-bench role right away.

Kevin Knox, Knicks

Nearly as interesting as getting a first look at rookies is getting a second look at returnees to summer league. Knox burst onto the scene with some big games in Vegas a year ago -- he was an All-Summer League First Team selection -- but his return to the desert was mostly a disappointment. Knox put up nearly 17 points per game in five contests, but he handed out only 2.0 assists and barely cracked 40 percent from the field. While playing alongside another ball-dominant young player in Barrett may have been a factor, Knox looked more like a rookie than a veteran.

Jarrett Allen, Nets

Allen was named to the All-Summer League First Team and was also a unanimous selection to the Why-The-Hell-Is-This-Guy-Even-Playing-In-Summer-League All-Decade Team. Returning to Vegas for his third go-around, Allen, who as you may recall started 80 games for a playoff team last season, looked the part of a man among boys, averaging 16.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in just 26.6 minutes.

Again, I don't know why Allen played. It's a question he was asked repeatedly in Vegas, and his answer was cryptic, at best:

"I don't expect everybody to know why I'm playing here," Allen said. "Everybody has a different perspective. But I think inside the organization we know why."

Read into that what you want, but the insinuation, at least from my perspective, is that Allen is well aware that he's battling to hang onto his starting spot with the arrival of DeAndre Jordan. Is the 21-year-old Allen a better player than the 31-year-old Jordan? Probably. Did the Nets hand Jordan $40 million to come off the bench for the first time in nine years? Probably not.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks

Allen playing in his third summer league was ridiculous, but Robinson looked even more out of place. The league's best per-minute shot-blocker last season saw fairly heavy minutes in Vegas and averaged 13.8 points per game on a comical 85 percent shooting (29-34 FG). Robinson also added 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in just over 25 minutes per game.

There was a lot of this:

And this:

For reasons unknown, the Knicks added a ton of veteran frontcourt depth this summer, but Robinson should still be among the league-leaders in blocks.

Jarred Vanderbilt, Nuggets

We saw fewer than 70 minutes of Vanderbilt as a rookie last season, but he looks like a player ready to contribute off the bench for arguably the deepest team in the league. In four games, Vanderbilt averaged 11.8 points on 56 percent shooting, adding 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks. The former Kentucky standout will be in the mix at both forward spots this season, but his opportunities will again be limited after Denver picked up Paul Millsap's team option and traded for Jerami Grant -- not to mention the expected return of Michael Porter, Jr.

Other Notes

Lonnie Walker IV, Spurs:  He played just two games for the Spurs, scoring 32 and 28 points, respectively, before being held out of the final two games for rest purposes. 

Frank Jackson, Pelicans: The third-year guard -- he missed his entire rookie season -- went for 30 points in 24 minutes in The Earthquake Game before departing with a bruised quad. Not taking any chances, the Pelicans held him out of their remaining contests. Jackson showed some flashes of his scoring ability after the All-Star break, but he'll take a backseat this season to Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday -- and probably Nickel Alexander-Walker, as well.

Chris Clemons, Rockets: Undrafted out of Campbell, Clemons showed up at summer league and picked up where he left off in college. The 5'9" point guard led the nation in scoring last season (30.1 PPG) and quickly emerged as the Rockets' main attraction. In five games, Clemons averaged 20.8 points in 27.4 minutes, adding 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists. Most notably, though, was Clemons' 43.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The 21-year-old is on track for at least a training camp invite, and while his road to minutes at the NBA level will be a difficult one, Clemons at least has the attention of Daryl Morey.

Tony Bradley, Jazz: Quickly forgotten after the Jazz made him a first-round pick in 2017, Bradley re-emerged to lead Vegas in rebounding (11.3 RPG). He also added 19.7 points and 2.7 assists, though it's unclear how much he'll be able to push Ed Davis for backup center minutes.

Kendrick Nunn, Heat: A big-time scorer at the college level, Nunn spent most of his rookie season with the Warriors' G League affiliate at Santa Cruz before signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Heat in April. After averaging 21.0 points, 6.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals in Vegas, Nunn will likely get serious consideration for one of Miami's final roster spots come the fall.

Jaxson Hayes, Pelicans: An All-Summer League Second-Teamer, Hayes showed off the athleticism and rim-running ability that made him a top-10 pick last month. He finished his four games with averages of 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while hitting 63 percent of his field goals. The Texas product is still quite limited in terms of his overall offensive package, but he moves extremely well for his size and excels at catching and finishing through traffic.

Mo Bamba, Magic: Between being stuck behind Nikola Vucevic and a season-ending injury, we haven't seen a ton of Bamba since he was drafted sixth overall last summer. That was the theme again in Vegas, as Bamba saw action in only one game before succumbing to what the team called "general soreness." While the Magic were likely just limiting the workload for a seven-footer coming back from a stress fracture, it was nonetheless disappointing to only see 25 minutes out of one of the game's most intriguing young big men. 

Daniel Gafford, Bulls: The second-round pick went for 21 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the Bulls' opener and went on to finish with averages of 13.8 points (68% FG), 7.8 boards and 2.8 blocks. Chicago may have found its backup center behind Wendell Carter.

Ignas Brazdeikis, Knicks: A big-bodied wing who can play-make, Brazdeikis is an odd combination of skill and measured aggression. Whether that will translate to actual NBA games remains to be seen, but he showed well in Vegas, putting up 15.4 points per game on 51 percent shooting.

Troy Brown, Jr., Wizards: After being glued to the bench for most of the year, Brown was turned loose for the final month of his rookie season and averaged 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.9 made threes over his final 15 games (27.5 MPG). Back for his second summer league, the 2018 lottery pick shot a relatively disappointing 41 percent from the field en route to 12.0 points per game over three contests. At this point, Brown shouldn't be on most fantasy radars right away, but he'll battle C.J. Miles for minutes on the wing, and there's a decent chance he'd move into a larger role if the Wizards cave and trade Bradley Beal.

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Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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