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NBA Summer League: Opening Week Standouts

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

The round-robin portion of the Las Vegas Summer League officially wrapped up Tuesday night, which means it’s time for tournament play.

For the first time ever, all 30 NBA teams fielded an entry in Vegas, and all 30 teams will have a chance to capture the tournament title, which currently resides with the Lakers. As you’d expect, each team is seeded based on its initial round performance, and the Lakers lead the way as the top overall seed. Led by Josh Hart, Mo Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk, LA was one of five teams to finish round robin play with a 3-0 record, and they’ll have a bye into Round 2. The Trail Blazers earned the No. 2 seed, and they’ll also receive a bye.

Each team is guaranteed at least two more games. The tournament is single-elimination, but a loss in Round 1 or Round 2 results in a single-game consolation matchup on Friday against another losing team.

The two teams that eventually meet in the title game on July 17 will have played as many as eight games, depending on whether or not they earned byes in Round 1.

Here are the summer league winners and MVPs since the league initiated the tournament format in 2013:

(League MVP, Championship MVP)

2013: Golden State Warriors (Jonas Valanciunas, TOR; Ian Clark, GSW)
2014: Sacramento Kings (Glen Rice, Jr., WAS; Ray McCallum, Jr., SAC)
2015: San Antonio Spurs (Kyle Anderson, SAN; Jonathon Simmons, SAN)
2016: Chicago Bulls (Tyus Jones, MIN; Jerian Grant, CHI)
2017: Los Angeles Lakers (Lonzo Ball, LAL; Kyle Kuzma, LAL)

Shoutout to Ray McCallum, who I was 100 percent certain would be a starting NBA point guard someday. There’s still time.

Anyway, before tournament play begins, let’s look back at which players turned heads during the first week summer league play:

Trevon Bluiett, Pelicans: Bluiett went undrafted after returning to Xavier for his senior season, but he’s shown why he was one of the better scorers in the country last season. Bluiett averaged 21.0 points on 61% shooting through the Pelicans’ first three games and added 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 rebounds in less than 24 minutes per game. He also leads all players in -- extremely small samples size alert -- summer league PER. As an older prospect who doesn’t profile as an overly special athlete, Bluiett may not be in high-demand, but he’ll almost certainly earn a training camp invite, which could potentially turn into a two-way or partially guaranteed deal -- whether it's in New Orleans or elsewhere.

John Collins, Hawks: About three possessions into the Hawks’ first game last week, it was clear Collins didn’t belong in Vegas. The second-year forward had 30 points in a dominant 30 minutes against the Knicks and followed up with 18 points and nine boards in 25 minutes Sunday against Portland. Collins was held out of Monday’s game to rest but should be back on the court for Wednesday’s tournament-opener against Indiana.



Malik Monk, Hornets Monk was near the top of the list of players I was looking forward to watch in Vegas. To be fair, he mostly held up his end of the bargain, putting up 23 points -- including 11 in a row at one point -- two assists, two steals and a rebound in Charlotte’s first game. Buuuut, Monk injured his finger late in the game and was ruled out for the remainder of summer league. It was initially deemed a fracture, but there appears to be some contention as to whether or not Monk’s finger -- his right thumb, to be exact -- is actually broken. Either way, we won’t see Monk again until the preseason.

Josh Hart, Lakers: Nothing is more encouraging than when a player who is supposed to look out of place in summer league looks very much out of place. That’s been the case for Hart, who leads Las Vegas in scoring (23.3 PPG) among players who participated in all three opening-round games. The second-year guard is shooting 48% from the field, while adding 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Ante Zizic, Cavaliers: Turns out the Cavaliers won the Kyrie trade after all. One of the physically largest players in Vegas, Zizic put up 16 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in the Cavs’ opener and went for 25 points and 11 rebounds in Game 2 before being rested for the opening-round finale Monday. The 21-year-old only logged 214 NBA minutes as a rookie but could see an expanded role if/when the Cavs fall out of playoff contention this season.

Kevin Knox, Knicks: In the lead-up to the draft, there was no escaping the who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell? question. Of course, not every draft features a future-superstar in the back-end of the lottery. Most, in fact, do not. Knox (probably) isn’t going to step in and average 20/4/4 next season, but if you’re looking for a player who profiles similarly to Mitchell in terms of summer-league-performance-relative-to-expectations, Knox is the closest thing. He came out and abused the rim in the Knicks’ first two games and got hot from three in Tuesday night’s opening-round finale, draining 5-of-7 attempts and finishing with a game-high 29 points. Heading into the tournament, Knox is averaging better than 23 points per game, and while he’s shooting below 40% from the field, the 18-year-old’s confidence and assertiveness on offense (summer league-high 57 FGA) has been refreshing.



Willy Hernangomez, Hornets: Hernangomez had a disappointing sophomore season and was probably underutilized in both New York and Charlotte. He’s been among the most consistent players in Vegas, averaging 18.3 points and 11.7 boards and notching a double-double in all three games. Hernangomez struggled from three over the first two contests (1-8 3PT), but he hit both of his attempts in Monday’s matchup with Boston, while adding three blocks and a pair of steals in 27 minutes. Charlotte parted ways with minutes-eater Dwight Howard, but the center position is still a bit of a logjam, with Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Bismack Biyombo all in contention for playing time.

Jake Layman, Trail Blazers: Layman has been lost in the shuffle in a deep Blazers rotation over the last two seasons, but he’s quietly put together another strong summer league. His standout game came Sunday against the Hawks, when he upstaged Trae Young and John Collins with 23 points, including four three-pointers. Unfortunately for Layman, with Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Pat Connaughton still in Portland, he'll likely labor through another year of mostly mop-up duty.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers: Armed with an array of hesitation moves and a deadly pull-up jumper -- albeit one that lives mostly in the mid-range -- Gilgeous-Alexander has looked every bit the part of a lottery pick. He capped a stellar first three games with 25 points Monday night, and he heads into tournament play with averages of 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 block per game. The Clippers have a ton of guards so it’s unclear how much of a role Gilgeous-Alexander, who ranks second behind Kevin Knox in summer league field goal attempts, will have right away, but his two-way potential is tantalizing.


Aaron Holiday, Pacers: While Holiday has struggled from the floor (36% FG) -- not uncommon in summer league -- he’s been arguably the best all-around rookie performer. Holiday is averaging 15.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists to go with 2.7 steals in 30.3 minutes per game. Don’t be surprised if Holiday ends up pushing Cory Joseph for minutes behind Darren Collison this season.

Svi Mykhailiuk, Lakers: The second-round pick had a rough shooting night (3-12 FG) in Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, but all three of his field goals were three-pointers, and he drilled a combined six threes over the Lakers’ first two games. With good size and a quick release, Mykhailiuk profiles as somewhat of a three-point specialist at the NBA level, and the Lakers have already inked him to a three-year rookie deal that will pay him roughly $1.5 million in 2018-19.

Jonathan Isaac, Magic Isaac has certainly had his stretches of dominance, but he’s still looked a bit uncomfortable at times and is shooting only 35% from the field heading into tournament play. Still, his 14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game provide plenty of reason for optimism. If all goes as planned, the Bamba-Gordon-Isaac trio will be among the league’s best defensive frontcourts in a few years.



Mo Bamba, Magic: Orlando has been hesitant to fully unleash the No. 6 overall pick, who averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game during the initial round. He’s attempted only 20 field goals, including just four in Monday’s showdown against Deandre Ayton and the Suns. Bamba did have five blocks in that game, however, and he knocked down a three-pointer in each of his first two contests. Perhaps most encouraging is that Bamba has been able to avoid foul trouble, for the most part. He picked up only three combined fouls over his first two games and while he did have five in 22 minutes against Phoenix, that’s a relatively pedestrian total by summer league standards.

Wendell Carter, Bulls: The No. 7 overall pick has looked as good as advertised, putting up 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, the most among players who’ve participated in three games. Carter’s best all-around performance game in Game 1 against the Cavs, when he went for 16 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals in 29 minutes. If the outside shooting Carter flashed at Duke translates to the next level, he could be among the more valuable rookies in fantasy basketball.

Wade Baldwin IV, Trail Blazers: The ex-Grizzlies cast-off has played in only 40 NBA games over the last two seasons after going 17th overall in 2016. Through three contests, Baldwin ranks second in Vegas in assists and first in assist rate, to go with 14.3 points per game on 56% shooting. The Blazers already committed to Seth Curry as the replacement for Shabazz Napier, so Baldwin could be available to the highest bidder -- or the best basketball situation -- if Portland doesn’t guarantee his contract for next season by July 18.



Justin Jackson, Kings: Jackson got off to a rocky start at the California Classic, but he’s been much better in Las Vegas, putting together averages of 18.7 points and 3.3 rebounds. Nonetheless, it’s been a relatively disappointing summer league for the Kings, who are 1-2 in Vegas despite fielding a roster with a number of projected NBA rotation players next season.
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