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NBA Offseason: Summer League Fantasy Takeaways - Part I

Juan Carlos Blanco

Winner of the FSWA 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award, Juan Carlos Blanco has been playing fantasy sports for close to 20 years and covers NBA, MLB, and the NFL for, including serving as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' beat writer. He has previously written for and remains an avid season-long and daily fantasy player in multiple sports.

With the Las Vegas Summer League wrapping up earlier in the week, it’s time to take a look at which players made headlines, for better or for worse.

Part I of RotoWire’s Summer League recap will focus on notable rookies who could have an impact in your fantasy leagues next season. Part II, coming later this week, will take a look at the Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues more broadly, highlighting veterans who stood out.

Lonzo Ball, G, Lakers: No player, including first overall pick Markelle Fultz, carried as much intrigue into summer league than Ball, who delivered by garnering MVP honors and averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. While a calf strain kept him out of the title game, the 19-year-old’s passing prowess was on full display throughout the tournament. After a nightmare debut, Ball put up a pair of triple-doubles, as well as a 36-point effort against the Fultz-less Sixers. While his 38.2 percent success rate from the field left plenty of room for improvement, there’s no denying Ball’s raw talent, and any questions about whether his passing would translate to the next level were answered in the affirmative. Clearly, Ball’s effort did nothing to dissuade the notion that he’ll be among the best first-year fantasy players in a deep rookie class.

Dennis Smith, Jr., G, Mavericks: Smith’s Summer League accomplishments may have been overshadowed to an extent by those of Ball and Fultz, but the No. 9 pick showcased his athleticism, pick-and-roll skills and ability to attack the basket throughout the Mavs’ run to the Las Vegas Final Four. Smith finished Summer League play with averages of 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game, while flashing jaw-dropping athleticism and playing with the confidence of a more-experienced player. Smith’s 45.7 percent shooting was encouraging and left both fans and the Mavs organization alike chomping at the bit to see how his strong showing will translate to the big stage.

Bam Adebayo, C, Heat: The former Kentucky Wildcat got off to a fine start at the Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 blocks in 30.8 minutes per game, at times looking like the best player on the floor. Adebayo found continued success in Las Vegas, averaging 15.7 points, 8.7 boards, 1.3 assists and 1.7 steals in three games. While he’ll likely face an uphill climb for playing time as a rookie, Adebayo is viewed as more of a high-upside, long-term project who will have value in dynasty leagues.

Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics: Like Adebayo, Tatum excelled in multiple locales this month, averaging 18.7 and 17.7 points, respectively, in the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues. The third overall pick was a force on the boards in Salt Lake City, where his 9.7 rebounds per game in three contests ranked second only to teammate Jaylen Brown in the tournament. A 50 percent shooter at Duke in his only college season, Tatum certainly brings some offensive chops to the table, but it remains to be seen at whose expense his minutes might come during his rookie campaign. Free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward has reign over the small forward spot, and Brown certainly showed enough in his rookie campaign to slot in as the primary backup. Utilizing Tatum as a small-ball four remains an option, though Jae Crowder and another talented newcomer, Marcus Morris, stand ahead of Tatum for the time being. If Tatum were in virtually any other situation, he’d be among the top five fantasy rookies. At this point, however, his rookie campaign looks like it could play out much like Brown’s did last season.

Markelle Fultz, G, Sixers: As Ben Simmons did last summer, Fultz teased fans with a brief Summer League cameo before bowing with an injury. Fortunately, his was nothing more serious than an ankle sprain. Fultz struggled with his shot during his 15 minutes of Las Vegas action (3-12 FG) but finished with a respectable eight points, two rebounds and one assist. However, his play in Utah is what initially turned heads. In two games, Fultz averaged 20.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 blocks, shooting 46.9 percent and looking every bit the part of the all-around threat he was at Washington. Training camp and preseason will provide much more insight into where Fultz is in terms of NBA readiness, but the one certainty is that he’ll play a prominent role in the Sixers’ fortunes.

Kyle Kuzma, F, Lakers: Picking up Championship Game MVP honors was a fitting way for Kuzma to wrap up a spectacular Las Vegas Summer League showing. The former Utah standout averaged 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals over seven games, while taking a whopping 111 shot attempts, which ranked behind only Blazers’ first-rounder Caleb Swanigan in the tournament. The word on Kuzma coming off of a solid, three-year college career was that he’d need to develop more consistency as a shooter, and he certainly took a step forward in that regard. Kuzma impressively drained shots from all over the court, hitting better than 51 percent of his attempts, including 48.0 percent from beyond the arc on more than seven attempts per game. Julius Randle and Larry Nance will open training camp slotted ahead of Kuzma on the depth chart, but Kuzma’s all-around game and ability to play both forward spots could eventually allow him to force his way into the rotation as a rookie.

De’Aaron Fox, G, Kings: After a solid freshman season at Kentucky (16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals) Fox had a decent showing in Las Vegas, averaging 11.8 points, 3.0 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals across four games before sitting out the Kings’ finale with a minor ankle injury. Fox is expected to step into the starting point guard role from the jump for the rebuilding Kings, with veteran free agent signee George Hill spending most of his time off-ball. Coming out of college, Fox faced questions about his shooting, and he provided mixed results in Vegas, shooting a respectable 44.4 percent from the floor, but just 12.5 percent from behind the arc. The minutes should be there for Fox as a rookie, but the question is whether he’ll play efficiently enough to return more than modest fantasy value.

Justin Jackson, F, Kings: In Vegas, Jackson made solid, albeit somewhat inefficient scoring contributions, averaging 16.7 points per game on 37.9 percent shooting.. The 21-year-old does come into the NBA with plenty of big-time college experience, having averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists across 29.1 minutes in three seasons (118 games) at North Carolina. As a result, he’ll likely step into a bench rotation role right away for a Kings squad that won’t hesitate to give a talented corps of young players all the minutes they need to develop, even after adding some veterans in free agency.

Josh Jackson, F, Suns: The Suns gave the 20-year-old forward a ton of run over five games in Vegas, as Jackson averaged a tournament-high 35.0 minutes per contest. He parlayed the opportunity into averages of 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks and Second Team All-Summer League. The 6’8” rookie can be deployed at both the three and the four and should be a strong, switchy defender at three positions. Incumbent small forward T.J. Warren showed some promise last season, while 2016 eighth overall pick Marquese Chriss brings a well-rounded if still somewhat raw skill set at power forward. So Jackson may not be gifted a starting spot, but it’d be a surprise if the No. 4 overall pick isn’t in the lineup alongside Devin Booker on opening night.

Caleb Swanigan, F, Trail Blazers: Swanigan certainly gives Blazers brass something to think about heading into training camp after averaging 16.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals across 30.9 minutes in eight games. In other words, it was the same Swanigan who punished the Big Ten for most of the last two years. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year played only two seasons at Purdue but was unapologetically aggressive in his first exposure to NBA competition, putting up a league-high 112 shot attempts. Fellow Blazers big man Jake Layman also generated an impressive body of work in Vegas, but the Blazers already have a solid mix of youth and experience -- Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh -- at power forward, so training camp and preseason should go a long way toward painting a clearer picture of Swanigan’s potential opportunity as a rookie.

John Collins, F, Hawks: Collins opened eyes with averages of 15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists across 23.0 minutes over five games in Vegas, numbers that served as an extension of his breakout sophomore campaign at Wake Forest. The trade of Paul Millsap to Denver leaves a cavernous hole in the Atlanta frontcourt, one that Collins could be immediately expected to fill with his 6’10” frame and considerable rebounding prowess. If Atlanta is content to bottom out this season -- and that certainly appears to be the case -- Collins could be among the dark horse fantasy rookies.

Donovan Mitchell, G, Jazz: Mitchell may have only appeared in five games between the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, but he made the most of his opportunity. The Louisville product, who the Jazz traded up to grab with the 13th pick, averaged 15.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals in three games in Utah. Mitchell topped that performance in Vegas, putting up 56 points and 12 steals, punctuated by a few highlight-reel plays, in just two games. While the Jazz are set at both guard spots for the time being with Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood, Mitchell’s rather uninspiring competition for minutes off the bench will be Dante Exum and Raul Neto, leaving open the possibility that he could make a leap up the depth chart at some point. Labeled a combo guard coming out of Utah, Mitchell’s ability to play and defend both guard spots will only help him at the next level.

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