The main event of the NBA offseason is underway with the Las Vegas Summer League tipping off this past weekend.
The annual showcase gives NBA fans their first opportunity to see the rookie class in action with their new teams, putting a spotlight on all the top players in the draft.
Naturally, that causes some overreactions – both good and bad – based on how prospects perform. As I mentioned in my roundup of the California Classic and Salt Lake City Summer Leagues, it’s important to remember these few things:
- If a player goes off at Summer League, it’s exciting, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will translate to regular season NBA games.
- If a player completely lays an egg at Summer League, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re a bust, either.
- If a player plays well, that’s great! If they don’t, after all, “it’s just Summer League.”
But with that being said, I’m a firm believer that you can still learn things from Summer League. From seeing areas of improvement to NBA-ready skillsets being put on display, Summer League can reveal who looks prepared to take the step to the next level.
Who were the biggest winners and losers from the first few games of the Las Vegas Summer League?
Winner: The Magic and Paolo Banchero
It didn’t take very long for Banchero to show exactly why he ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 6-10 forward looked extremely polished against Summer League competition, dominating in each of his first two games.
He sent a message to Jabari Smith Jr. and the Rockets in his debut, going for 17 points and six assists with a handful of impressive plays on the defensive end, too. In his second game against Keegan Murray and the Kings, Banchero was the hero of the game in a double-overtime thriller.
The top prospect stuffed the stat sheet with 23 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals and two game-saving blocks in sudden-death overtime.
In just two outings, Banchero has already proved how developed he is as a go-to scorer and playmaker, giving the Magic a franchise player to build around moving forward.
It’s only been two Summer League games and Paolo Banchero has already shown how lethal he is as a creator with all the different passes he can make.
Reads in transition, thru tight windows with zip, off a live dribble on the attack, back to the basket. Elite playmaker at 6-10. pic.twitter.com/xVeqFJqeMo
— Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_) July 10, 2022
Loser: The Rockets
Throughout the entire draft cycle, all signs pointed to the Rockets landing Banchero with the No. 3 overall pick under the assumption that the Magic were taking Smith. In what appeared to be a last-minute change of heart for Orlando, it ended up shocking the masses by selecting Banchero, leaving Smith available for Houston at No. 3.
While this is certainly premature, Banchero’s red-hot start to Summer League inevitably dubs the Rockets as losers for narrowly missing out on the Duke product.
Smith was fine in his first two games, averaging 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, but neither performance was anything to get overly excited about. He shot 31.0 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3, struggling to find any real rhythm.
Again, it’s just Summer League and Smith’s capabilities go well beyond what we saw in two exhibition games, but nonetheless, it was a tough start for the Auburn product.
Winner: The Pistons and Jaden Ivey
Even though Murray has been nothing short of awesome for the Kings so far in Summer League, the Pistons still have to feel lucky that Ivey fell to them at No. 5.
The idea of Ivey next to last year’s No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, creates an elite backcourt of the future – one that should be among the league’s top guard pairings sooner rather than later.
In his Summer League debut, Ivey gave us a glimpse of just how scary he can be with the ball in his hands. His turbo button was working better than ever, splitting trapping defenders with ease because of his burst.
Yeah, Jaden Ivey has some ingredients that you can’t teach. pic.twitter.com/6zPqzI7MMf
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 8, 2022
He was even consistently knocking down outside jumpers, going 3-for-6 from 3-point range, which was seen to be one of his perceived weaknesses ahead of the draft.
An ankle injury derailed the remainder of his Summer League (more on that in a minute) but even in a tiny sample size, Ivey looks like an NBA-ready prospect.
Loser: Summer League injuries
The best part of Summer League is getting excited to watch the new rookie class perform with their new teams. There’s nothing worse than when injuries get in the way of that, no matter how minor the ailment is.
NBA fans were robbed of getting to see a couple of players due to different injuries, as Ivey (No. 5 overall), Shaedon Sharpe (No. 7) and Dyson Daniels (No. 8) all went down this past weekend.
We at least got to see one full game of Ivey before he suffered an ankle injury five minutes into his second outing. Even in just five minutes of action, the Purdue star put up 11 points.
Daniels only played eight minutes in his Summer League debut before he also went down with an ankle injury on a drive to the lane.
Sharpe may be the most frustrating injury of the group, just because no one has seen him play in a competitive game since high school. After sitting out his entire freshman season at Kentucky, all eyes were on the Trail Blazers’ rookie in his Summer League debut before he left the contest six minutes in due to a shoulder injury.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, it will be the last we’ll see of Sharpe in Summer League, as the 19-year-old suffered a small labral tear in his left shoulder. He is set to be re-evaluated in 10-to-14 days.
Looks like we’ll have to wait until preseason to see these three rookie guards back in action.
Winner: The Mavericks and Jaden Hardy
Hardy was once considered to be a potential top-five pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. On draft night, he became the last player remaining in the Green Room to be selected, falling all the way out of the first round to the Mavericks with the No. 37 overall pick.
The prolific scoring guard looked much more NBA-ready than a typical second-round pick in his debut, going off for 28 points in a win for Dallas.
Jaden Hardy aggressively attacked the hoop, showed his dynamic shot-making + made plays for his teammates to the tune of 28 PTS (9/19 FG + 8/11 FT), 4 REBS, 3 ASTS + 1 STL in his Dallas debut. Hardy just turned 20 earlier this week + was a projected top-5 pick a year ago pic.twitter.com/md4I4EIQJg
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) July 8, 2022
His performance even had his new teammate, Christian Wood, dubbing him as the steal of the draft after the game.
— 35 (@Chriswood_5) July 8, 2022
Watching Hardy’s debut, it’s hard not to get excited about the idea of a scorer of his caliber playing alongside a playmaker like Luka Doncic. Dallas looks like it found a diamond in the rough with the G League Ignite product.
Bonus Winner: The 2022 NBA Draft Class
Again, this is premature after just one weekend of Summer League games, but there’s a lot of talent in this year’s draft class.
Along with players I’ve already covered in this piece, other lottery picks like Chet Holmgren, Bennedict Mathurin, Jalen Williams, Jalen Duren and Ochai Agbaji also showed out in their exhibition games.
There were even a handful of players selected outside of the lottery who displayed some promise, like Tari Eason, Dalen Terry, Jake LaRavia, Christian Braun and Blake Wesley.
The talent even goes into the second round, with players like Caleb Houstan proving he could be a steal in this year’s draft.
Across the board, there is a big group of rookie prospects who look prepared to contribute at the NBA level right away next season.