Summer League standouts: 11 players who caught my eye in Las Vegas

2022 NBA Summer League - Orlando Magic v Sacramento Kings
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Summer League basketball is pure fun. It’s entertaining.

It’s also chaotic, guard driven, sloppy, stylistically often resembles more of a pick-up game at the Y than an organized contest, and it’s not a great predictor of NBA success. Like Vegas itself, Summer League is entertainment lacking substance. The games are filled with open big men ignored by guards looking to pad their stats, and Vegas is home to the million-dollar move followed by the 5¢ finish. Some players struggle in Summer League because their games just don’t fit the style, while others thrive in the chaos but can’t translate that to an NBA court.

Yet, we do learn some things. Some players stand out in Summer League and look like their games will translate. After five days in the Las Vegas heat, here are 11 players who stood out to me this year, broken down into a few categories. (Note: This is not an exhaustive list, I didn’t see everyone, this is just some players I noted.)

PLAYERS WHO ARE TOO GOOD FOR THIS LEVEL

These are second-year players who got regular NBA run as rookies, were brought back to Summer League, and quickly showed their games had evolved past this level.

1. Cam Thomas (Brooklyn Nets)

He was a bucket getter in Brooklyn last season, and going against the less talented and far less organized defenses of Summer League, Thomas has thrived. Through three games, he leads the Vegas Summer League averaging 28.7 points a game — he can get to the bucket at will and finish, plus he’s gotten to the line an average of 13 times a game. The only issue of concern, he has not shown improvement from beyond the arc, shooting just 15.4% from 3.

2. Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)

He leads the Vegas Summer League in assists at 8 per game, plus he scored 13 a night in the two games he played. Giddey was on the court in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas to get reps with new Thunder big man Chet Holmgren. He got those reps but in the process showed he had evolved beyond the Summer League level.

3. Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)

There could be a lot more talent and competition at the two guard spot in New York this fall — although Grimes could be in Utah, where there will be less competition — but he showed in Las Vegas he’s ready for whatever comes next. Grimes has grown and evolved his game, adding some playmaking to go with his defense and shooting. He has averaged 24 points a game plus racked up rebounds and assists in Las Vegas, showing an impressive versatility to his game.

4. Moses Moody (Golden State Warriors)

The Warriors sent three players to Las Vegas that they need to lean on next regular season, with the team hoping to see signs the youngsters are ready for a bigger role. James Wiseman looked good in flashes (but questions remain), while Jonathan Kuminga seemed disinterested in his first outing but bounced back to dominate his other games with his athleticism.

Then there is Moody, who has been the best of this trio and looked too good for this level since he stepped on the Vegas court, averaging 27.5 points a game. He was polished and absolutely looked like he was ready to take on a role and keep Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson‘s minutes down next season.

5. Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)

The Pelicans will have plenty of firepower next season (especially if Zion Williamson is healthy), but Trey Murphy is going to demand minutes and touches if his play in Sin City is any indication. He has averaged 26.5 points and seven rebounds a game, and his shot creation skills have been impressive. He’s more than just a shooter.

TOP PICKS LIVING UP TO THE BILLING

Our second category of players is pretty self-explanatory.

6. Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)

When he had the ball in his hands, Banchero showed everything the Magic could have hoped for in a No. 1 pick — handles, creativity and floor vision. He averaged 20 points and 6 rebounds a game, and his passing was creative and better than advertised (he averaged 5 assists a game but that would have been higher if the guys he played with could have caught those passes). Banchero is not a skinny 19-year-old trying to grow into his body, he already has an NBA build and strength.

Banchero turned the ball over 10 times in two games — his handles are good for a 6’10” guy, but he has to figure out what he can pull off against NBA defenders — and his defense, while better than expected, has a long way to go (he would lose focus on that end). That said, he had the block that may be the best highlight of Summer League.

7. Chet Holmgren (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Holmgren tops my “much more impressive in person than on video” list. Watching him play, as much polish as his game needs, you can see why the Thunder took him No. 2 overall — the potential is so high. He can do a little bit of everything, and at 7-feet. The offensive side of the floor is where the growth is most needed, but he can handle the ball (they had him bring the ball up a few times and initiate the offense), has a nice shot, and plays an aggressive style that suits him well (and he will be able to play that better once he gets stronger). Where he can help right now is on defense. Coach Mark Daigneault needs to develop a system that lets Holmgren help as more of a free safety, because he is a problem in that role.

8. Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)

I was one of the people who questioned taking Murray at No. 4 over Jaden Ivey, and long-term we’ll see how that plays out (Ivey was, as promised, explosive but a bit raw in his limited Summer League run). Murray, however, is an excellent fit for a Kings team with the stated goal of making the playoffs this year — Murray just knows how to play the game. He gets to open spots on the floor, can create a little (he can get his own shot in Las Vegas, that will be harder at the next level), and he just has a natural feel for where the spaces are in a defense. He averaged 24 points through three games, with 6.3 rebounds a contest, plus he shot 37% from 3. You can see everything you need to know about him on the 3 that forced overtime against the Magic — his ability to know where to be, create space, and when defenders rushed him as the clock ran down he calmly pump-faked and got the shot he wanted. He plays like a veteran.

OTHER ROOKIES OF NOTE

9. Tari Eason (Houston Rockets)

Everyone showed up to Rockets games to watch Jabari Smith play (and he was good, but not sure Summer League game best fits his skill set) but came away raving about Eason. He was drafted No. 17 as a defender and he is strong on that end, but his offensive game has looked good in Las Vegas, averaging 16.7 points with 11.7 rebounds a game while shooting 33% from 3. Eason looks like a player who can push Jae'Sean Tate and Eric Gordon for minutes at the three this season in Houston.

“Everything that I bring here I think translates to an NBA court,” Eason said of the transition from Summer League to the NBA game. “I don’t think I’m playing out of myself, doing too much,” Eason said. “I think that my ability to space the floor, rebound, defend, and knock down an open three are all things that I’ve tried to showcase to the people that I could do here, and I think all those things would translate.”

10. Jabari Walker (Portland Trail Blazers)

How did Samaki Walker’s son fall all the way to the No. 57 pick again? Through three games he’s averaged 13 points on 68.2% shooting overall and hitting 37.5% from 3, while pulling down 8.3 rebounds a game. He makes good cuts off the ball and can finish at the rim. The Trail Blazers have already given Walker a regular NBA contract, and he looks like he could be the steal of this draft.

11. Caleb Houstan (Orlando Magic)

Maybe he just didn’t fit the system at Michigan because Houstan — whose draft stock fell because of his struggles in Ann Arbor — has played well for the Magic in Las Vegas. He has come back to earth a little after a hot first game but has averaged 10.7 points a game and was good at finding space and playing off Banchero. Houstan is dealing better with the physicality in Summer League than he did at Michigan, and the Magic may have found a shooter to put next to their creators.

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.