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.

DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded in parking lot of Jack-in-the-Box

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As if eating Jack-in-the-Box in your car at midnight was not depressing enough already…

That’s when and where DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded from Toronto — the city and franchise he was all in on — to the San Antonio Spurs. The trade sent DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

DeRozan opened up to Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report about how he learned about the decision that rocked him to his core.

DeRozan found out about the trade after getting out of a screening of The Equalizer 2, featuring Denzel Washington. Upon leaving the movie theater in Los Angeles late into the night, he checked his phone. “[I] was wondering why I was getting missed calls,” he says.

He was hungry, so he went to get something to eat at a Jack in the Box. In the parking lot, he got the call telling him he had just been traded to San Antonio. “It just caught me off guard,” he says. “I sat in the Jack in the Box parking lot for, like, two hours just trying to process it all, like just trying to process the whole thing, and it just tripped me out honestly, just trying to figure it out, but that’s how I found out. Midnight, sitting in the Jack in the Box parking lot for about two hours till I went home.”

It’s a trade that Toronto felt it had to make, in the same way it felt it had to move on from Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. The Raptors were enjoying their best run of basketball success in franchise history, having won 59 games the season before, but come the playoffs their system and personnel were just a little too predictable, and they could not reach the next level. Plus LeBron James was in the way.

Except now LeBron wasn’t in the way, and the Raptors decided to swing for the fences. Early on Toronto looks very good this season, but the real test of Leonard and the new-look Raptors starts in April. We’ve seen the good regular season Raptors before.

DeRozan is averaging 25.2 points per game this season and has been more efficient as a shooter because the Spurs have asked him to play to his strengths — the midrange jumper. DeRozan is taking fewer threes in a league that has gone three crazy. The Spurs are 9.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, with most of that help on the offensive end. More than that, DeRozan has found a new home, a new comfort level.

But there are still a few scars from how all of it went down.

Nets: Caris LeVert dislocated foot, will return this season

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Caris LeVert‘s injury last night looked so severe, his Nets teammates cried and the Timberwolves prayed.

Thankfully, that all turned out to be an overreaction. (Or, if you believe, the compassion and prayer worked.)

Nets release:

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert returned to New York with the team last night and was evaluated today by Nets’ Team Orthopedist Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Following the evaluation, LeVert was diagnosed with a subtalar dislocation of the right foot.

“Fortunately, tests performed this morning revealed that there are no fractures and only moderate ligament damage,” said Dr. O’Malley. “While the optics of this injury may have appeared to be more severe, surgery will not be required. Caris will begin a period of rehabilitation with the Nets’ performance staff, following which he is expected to return to full strength and resume all basketball activities without any limitations this season.”

This is fantastic news. LeVert is one of the NBA’s up-and-comers and well-liked by nearly everyone who knows him. People all around the league wished him well in the wake of this injury.

It’s still unclear how much time LeVert will miss. A dislocated foot is a small matter only relative to the feared severity of LeVert’s injury. This will probably derail his Most Improved Player campaign.

But LeVert returning to the court this season will be a joyous occasion on its own.

PBT Podcast: Lakers’ talk with Eric Pincus (plus Butler, Carmelo news)

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia.

Carmelo Anthony is in Houston, but not for much longer.

And the Lakers have Tyson Chandler and a three-game winning streak — there is never a dull moment in the NBA. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports welcomes in Eric Pincus, who covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report plus is a salary cap expert you have seen on NBA TV, to talk about it all. The pair talk about what the Sixers need to do next to capitalize on their window with Butler, are there landing spots for Carmelo Anthony, and then a deep dive on the Lakers: What is the team doing right? Does Lonzo Ball fit with LeBron James? What about Brandon Ingram? And who is the next big star the Lakers will be able to add to their mix?

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlen no longer speaking, let alone working together

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Markelle Fultz has had few more vocal backers than Drew Hanlen, who trained the 76ers guard over the offseason.

Hanlen said Fultz would be an All-Star this season if 100%. With Fultz still struggling to shoot, Hanlen said Fultz wasn’t fully healthy.

But Fultz contradicted that, calling himself generally healthy. Fultz also rebuffed Hanlen’s assertion Fultz had the yips, as Fultz stressed his problems were due to injury.

Apparently, they became even more divided.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:

Hanlen brought himself plenty of fame through his work with Fultz. This moves Hanlen back closer to the anonymity of most trainers.

More importantly, it suggests Fultz needs yet another plan for fixing his shooting form.