Top 10 standout players from NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — For NBA teams, Summer League is less about whether a young player is good or not, and far more about benchmarking where they are and seeing what areas that player needs to work on going forward. It’s a first step.

But some of those first steps are more impressive than others.

After watching a dozen days of Summer League games — in person in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — here are 10 players who stood out to me. This list is not all-inclusive by any means — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen, and Trae Young would get an honorable mention here — nor is it just a list of the best players I have seen. Instead, this is a list of players that turned my head, or those of scouts/team executives that I spoke with, because of their success and what they have shown in Summer League. It’s a list of guys who caught my eye.

Here is my Top 10 for 2018:

1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies). From the minute he stepped on the court in Salt Lake, he looked like the future of the NBA five — he can drain threes, runs the court, is strong and physical inside, and can get up and block shots. In Utah he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night. Interestingly, through much the summer games the Grizzlies tried to pair him with a true center, seemingly getting him used to playing the four next to Marc Gasol come next season. Jackson looked a little tired and struggled some in Las Vegas — especially the night he battled Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba on his fifth game in seven days — but he worked hard and still made plays. The Grizzlies may have something special with him.

2) John Collins (Atlanta Hawks). Everyone already knew he was  good — he made NBA All-Rookie second team and averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game shooting 57.6 percent last season. However, after watching in Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he has shown the potential to be a future star, his game is improving. He’s averaging 24 points and 8 boards a game in Vegas, playing good defense in the paint, but more importantly he has shown improved three-point stroke and handles. He’s done for the summer, but in limited games he showed he should be on this list.

3) Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). Yes, the No. 1 pick should be good, but he has looked like a man among boys going up against some of the other rookie big men in Las Vegas. Ayton pushed Bamba around all game long, for example. He’s averaging 16 points a game on 67 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a contest, and he’s got versatility to his game. There’s work to do on defense and passing, but he has the potential to be special.

4) Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). He’s looked like a rookie at points, he’s blown everyone’s doors off at others. Tuesday’s game against the Lakers was the perfect example: He started 0-of-6 from the floor and finished the night with seven turnovers. He’s got work to do. However, he finished that Laker game with 22 points and was 5-of-7 from three, he’s got the athleticism to get by guys with a first step and he can finish. And he’s just 18. The Knicks may have another crucial rebuilding block with Knox.

5) Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic). He was a roll of the dice at No. 6 in the 2017 draft, a guy with a lot of potential but a project, then he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. Nobody seemed exactly sure what Orlando had. In Vegas he has turned heads with his play —14.3 points and 7 boards a game, he’s physically a lot stronger and his shooting stroke is smooth. He has banged inside and held his own with Memphis’ Jackson, and has just been a better athlete than everyone he’s gone up against. Pair him along the front with Bamba and Aaron Gordon, and that is an interesting team in Orlando. And when was the last time we said that?

6) Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers). He might be the MVP of Summer League so far, averaging 23.3 points per game and just running the team like a pro. Which he is — he showed he could do this with the Lakers last season, but asked to take on more of a scoring role in Vegas he has stepped up. Bottom line, there’s a reason every time a team talks to the Lakers about a trade they want Hart thrown in the mix. He’s got a lot of fans around the league, and that has only grown this summer.

7) Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls). I will own it: I was not high on Carter Jr. coming into the draft, but he has impressed in Las Vegas. As expected, he has a versatile and polished offensive game with a nearly unstoppable turnaround from the post, ability to score with either hand, range on his jumper, plus he is a surprisingly good passer. The book on him coming into the draft was defensive questions, but he has been better on that front than expected — he works hard and is athletic enough to be disruptive. We will see how he fares against NBA-level competition on that end, but the work ethic and tools are there.

8) Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings). He was a low-risk gamble pick by the Kings at No. 20 in 2017, a guy who was maybe the top player in his class as a high school sophomore until the injuries hit (ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee, plus another surgery on his right knee). The Kings took him and red-shirted him last season, but in Vegas he has been impressive and solid (12 points and 7 rebounds a game in Sin City). He looks like he could be a rotation NBA big man (at least, the Kings think he can be more than that), someone Sacramento can count on besides Marvin Bagley III. Giles has been a pleasant surprise.

9) Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors). He’s only on this list for one reason. Yes, he’s looked good in limited Summer League run — the guy was playing serious minutes in the NBA Finals a month ago, of course he looks good going against a bunch of non-NBA players. What got him there was this one moment against the Jazz.

(To be clear, Bell and Donovan Mitchell are tight, and Mitchell thought this was funny.)

10) De'Anthony Melton (Houston Rockets). He could end up being a second-round steal for the Rockets. Melton didn’t play last season at USC (he was the guy at the heart of the FBI probe) so he slid down to 46th overall. In Vegas he has looked like a quality rotation guard, averaging 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals a game. Guard minutes are tight to come by on the Rockets this season, but he’s going to make the opening night roster and will get his shot.

After four-dunk game, Klay Thompson texts former teammate Zaza Pachulia to call him out

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Klay Thompson had 31 points and was 5-of-8 from three Tuesday night in Golden State’s thrashing of Denver to take over the top spot in the West.

Thompson’s destruction of the Nuggets’ defense was so complete he had the very rare four dunk night.

Last season, Thompson had a bet with former Warriors center Zaza Pachulia about which of them would dunk first on the season (and which one would have the most dunks). That came up again Tuesday — and Thompson texted Pachulia during the middle of his media scrum to say he is now up 11-1 in the dunk race this season.

The Warriors were back to having fun Tuesday night, and when they play with that joy they are unstoppable.

Kelly Oubre misses two FTs as Pacers fans chant ‘John Wall hates you’ (VIDEO)

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The Washington Wizards are a dysfunctional organization with a roster that doesn’t seem to like each other very much. They’ve made some changes, including sending Kelly Oubre to the Phoenix Suns exchange for Trevor Ariza.

Meanwhile, John Wall is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a Haglund’s deformity and an Achilles tendon injury in his left heel. That’s somehow left the Wizards in better shape, with guys like Bradley Beal netting triple-doubles.

But for Oubre? It’s not been so great.

On Tuesday as the Suns got set to take on the Indiana Pacers, fans in the Hoosier State decided to troll Oubre while he was at the free-throw line.

Via Twitter:

Oubre is a career 78 percent free-throw shooter, so him missing two in a row is a bit of an anomaly. Even further, that Oubre let the crowd get to him is pretty wild.

Hopefully he can move on from the Wizards’ stink, although playing for the organization in Phoenix might not be the best way to do that.

Three Things to Know: Any questions? Warriors take over first in West after routing Denver

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Any questions? Warriors take over first place in West after scoring 51 points in the first quarter, routing Denver. Injuries. A lack of depth. Infighting. Disinterest that has led to them dropping big games on national television. These Golden State Warriors are not the same, they are in real tr…..

Oh, forget it. They are who we thought they were.

Despite all of the drama and fixation — bordering on obsession in some quarters — on what is wrong in Golden State this season, the team is 30-14 and has taken over first place in the West with an emphatic thrashing of the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night, 142-111.

That win included an NBA-record 51 point first quarter with the Warriors shooting 10-of-14 from three (and putting up an offensive rating of 212.5 (points per 100 possessions).

The Warriors didn’t slow down much the rest of the game, check out this shot chart.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had 31 points, Kevin Durant added 27.

When the Warriors hit some early threes, get a few easy buckets, and get to play downhill and have fun, it becomes an unstoppable avalanche. That’s what rolled over Denver Tuesday. When you look back at the Warriors’ high profile losses — to the Raptors on national television, to the Lakers on Christmas Day — the games were more of a grind, a slog, they felt more like work and the Warriors just get bored with that in the regular season. They don’t care, and it shows.

But when they care, they remind everyone who has the Larry O’Brien Trophy and how hard it will be to take it from them.

The Nuggets contributed to their own demise, this was not a team that looked ready to defend with energy from the first tip. In transition, the Nuggets were slow to match up. When Curry would make a cut to the corner, defenders were a couple of steps slow going with him and we all know what happens when Curry has space. Denver’s defensive switching was sloppy. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in the last 10 games. Denver is in a defensive rut and that will come back to bite them against more than the Warriors if they don’t turn it around.

2) How did that Jimmy Butler trade work out? Sixers rout Timberwolves in the first meeting of teams since the trade. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been better without Jimmy Butler — they have gone 17-13 with a +3.7 net rating since former coach/GM Tom Thibodeau finally realized Butler’s antics were destroying his team and shipped the All-Star off to Philly. Karl-Anthony Towns has led the resurgence, returning to his All-NBA level of play.

You would know none of that if you watched the what Butler’s Sixers did to the Timberwolves Tuesday night.

On a night the Timberwolves should have shown up with some fight, they rolled over. It made what Butler said as he torpedoed the Minnesota season look prophetic.

While Butler’s return was the storyline coming it, it wasn’t what keyed the win. Joel Embiid owned KAT, scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while holding Towns to 14 points, leading Philly to a 149-107 destruction of Minnesota. Embiid was trash talking after the game on social media.

So was Butler, who had 19 points on the night and said after the game “It was everything that I thought it would be.” Butler helped spark an 83-point first half from the Sixers, this game was over early. For all the questions about the fit of Butler, Embiid, and Ben Simmons, things looked a lot better in Philly than they did when Butler was calling out Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Minnesota played terribly, particularly on defense where they looked like they had never seen a dribble hand-off before. You can say it was a flat outing, something that happens over the course of 82, but they looked more like a team that was intimidated. They made Butler look right.

Ryan Saunders needs to figure out how to get his guys back on track and back in the playoff chase in the West, where the Timberwolves remain 2.5 games out of returning to the playoffs with a lot of work to do.

3) Atlanta continues it’s improved play, routs Oklahoma City 142-126. While nobody was looking, the Atlanta Hawks have been playing pretty good basketball — they are now 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch (not great for most teams, but a vast improvement for the Hawks).

They capped off that run of good play Tuesday with a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young had 24 points and 11 assists, and he has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter, who finished with 17 points of his own.

The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the last five games that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). Teams have bad stretches over the course of 82, but the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for this run to last much longer.

Jimmy Butler posts Instagram trolling Andrew Wiggins after Sixers beat Wolves by 42

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Jimmy Butler is nothing if not petty. The Philadelphia 76ers guard scored a whopping 19 points As they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. The Sixers beat Minnesota, 149-107, in a historic beatdown.

Of course, Butler left the Timberwovles under inauspicious circumstances in late 2018, and the narrative has long been that the 29-year-old star has thought Minnesota’s young stars were soft. That included Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, who appear to be doing a sight better now that both Butler and Tom Thibodeau is out of Minneapolis.

Still, the big win over his former team was something Butler couldn’t shy away from relishing on social media immediately after the game. In a post to his Instagram, Butler captioned a photo of him looking through a blurry Wiggins with the caption, “Looking right through the past.. to the future!”

Via Instagram:

Oof.

Things aren’t much clearer for Butler in Philadelphia given some rumored conflict between him, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid, but his entertainment value remains through the roof.