Players to Watch in Summer League

The Salt Lake City and California iterations of Summer League kicked off last night. While some might argue the real game, free agency, continues to rage on, rookies are looking to justify their draft position and veterans are trying to prove everyone wrong. Each team has interesting rosters, and every team has a player, some expected, some unexpected, worth keeping an eye on.

Atlanta Hawks – Cameron Reddish (Duke – Rookie)

Atlanta’s eighth overall pick comes into Summer League with both a lot of pedigree and even more question marks. Reddish, the third, sometimes fourth, option on a Duke team that touted Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Tre Jones, was the best shooter of the bunch. However, with all the talent around him, Reddish deferred maybe more than he needed to, hurting his ability to find a consistent rhythm offensively. Reddish will, at least, be the second option for Atlanta’s Summer roster with new teammate, De’Andre Hunter.

Boston Celtics – Tacko Fall (UCF – Rookie)

The 7’5″ undrafted rookie out of UCF will have the opportunity to show how he could fit on an NBA team. Guys like Romeo Langford, Robert Williams, Guerschon Yabusele, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Chinanu Onuaku, Aaron Harrison, and maybe even Max Strus will get offensive priority over Fall, which leaves Fall to defend, rebound, run the floor, and put back garbage points. If he can do a couple of those things, he could be a nice wrinkle at the end of a bench.

Brooklyn Nets – Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, 1 Year Experience)

Kurucs started 46 games for a Nets team that will look very different in the upcoming two seasons. The Nets are likely looking for the former second round pick to shoot better from deep than he did during the regular season (32%) and stand out from the players trying to find G-League spots.

Charlotte Hornets – JP Macura (Xavier – 1 Year Experience)

Macura signed a two-way contract with the Hornets last season and saw only 17 minutes of action over two games. Macura’s only shot to make an NBA roster is as a 3-and-D guy. Look for Macura to improve on the 36% he shot from deep in the G-League last season and guard the opposing team’s best wing.

Chicago Bulls – Justin Simon (St. John’s – Rookie)

After winning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East, Simon aims to show that he can contribute to an NBA team. How much the Big East Defensive Player of the Year is worth is up for debate, as the only draftee this season out of the Big East was Eric Paschall (41st over to Golden State), which might suggest Simon won an award in a down conference. Offensively, Simon will have to improve an ugly looking shot that produced 29% shooting on 1.1 three-point attempts per game.

Cleveland Cavaliers – Marques Bolden (Duke – Rookie)

The undrafted big man out of Duke sacrificed for the Blue Devils in final two seasons under Coach K. Bolden went from sacrificing for Marvin Bagley to sacrificing for the army of freshmen that enrolled for this season. On the downside, there is no way to know how good Bolden actually is when he only attempted 3.3 field goals per game last season. With Darius Garland and Kevin Porter’s availability for Summer League in question, Bolden may get an opportunity to show how good he can be as a near-top option. On the upside, his role in college will be likely his role in the NBA should he make a roster, so there will be little adjustment for him to find his role on an NBA roster.

Dallas Mavericks – Cameron Payne (Murray State – 4 Years Experience)

For those looking to watch a guard out of Murray State, there are more options than one might think. Payne is one of the most experienced players in Summer League and having already played for three franchises in four years, he might be on his last chance. Payne shot it better from deep in nine games for the Cavaliers, shooting 36% from three (better than his career average of 33%). If Payne can shoot well and defensively dominate inferior ball-handlers, he could find his way onto a roster as a third ball-handler.

Denver Nuggets – Michael Porter, Jr. (Missouri – Rookie)

After playing a total of 53 minutes of basketball at Missouri, the Nuggets took Porter with the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Porter sat out all season and watched his team come within a game of going to the Western Conference Finals. Denver needs to add a wing scorer this offseasons, and many hope that its Porter. Porter said that he is “expecting to dominate” at Summer League, which he might, but needs to be more than 53 minutes of Summer League that he plays.

Detroit Pistons – Bruce Brown Jr. (Miami (FL) – 1 Year Experience)

Brown, like Kurucs, was a second round pick who played considerable NBA minutes this season. Brown started 56 games for the Pistons, and defended well enough with a 110 defensive rating. Brown needs to continue to develop his defensive chops and discover some sort of offensive calling card. He did not shoot well from deep (26%), get to the line (0.8 free throw attempts per game), or create a whole lot (1.2 assists per game), so hopefully there will be a lot of trial and error in Summer League.

Golden State Warriors – Jimmer Fredette (BYU – 6 Years Experience)

As a gross oversimplification, Fredette and Steph Curry came into the NBA as excellent shooters, but too small to be shooting guards and lacking enough handles to be point guard. As such, talking heads will point to the duo as evidence that the NBA Draft is a crapshoot after the top two or three picks. Maybe someone in Golden State heard the argument and thought they could do the same thing again. No promises on this end, but Fredette will hopefully light up some Summer League games and make the Warriors roster for next season.

Houston Rockets – Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s – Rookie)

Ponds went into last season as the Big East Pre-Season Player of the Year on the team touted to have the most talent in the conference. Conference play started, the Red Storm were inconsistent, and Ponds draft stock fell and kept falling. Houston likely hopes they found value in a player whose poor stock was a result of poor coaching. As far as X’s and O’s, Ponds is crafty at getting to the basket, a streaky shooter, and an opportunistic defender. If he can improve one of the latter categories in Summer League, he has a shot at recovering his stock value.

Indiana Pacers – Edmond Sumner (Xavier – 2 Years Experience)

Sumner’s playing time picked up after the injury to Victor Oladipo, and defensively showed some promise. Sumner forced 2.1 steals per 36 minutes and maintained a 106 defensive rating. Offensively, Sumner shot 26% from deep, but had one game where he scored 17 points on the Lakers on 7 of 9 from the field. More than two years removed from tearing his ACL, Sumner should be looking to show some offensive refinement this summer.

Los Angeles Clippers – Jerome Robinson (Boston College – 1 Year Experience)

The head-scratching 13th overall pick in last years draft did little to justify the Clippers’ decision to take Robinson that high. Robinson played in 33 games and average 3.4 points per game on 32% shooting from deep. After shooting 41% in his Junior season while dishing 3.3 assists per game, the Clippers are likely hoping Robinson just had trouble dealing with the speed of the NBA and that he can recapture his college play starting this summer.

Los Angeles Lakers – Joe Young (Oregon – 3 Years Experience)

Young also benefited from the time Oladipo missed for Indiana, playing in 53 games while averaging just under 4 points per game. Young shot an impressive 38% from deep, albeit on only 1.2 attempts per game. The league will be looking to see if he can produce similarly with more attempts before the Lakers inevitably let him go, regardless of how he performs. Last night, Young only produced 6 points on 2 of 5 shooting in a blowout loss, 106-79.

Memphis Grizzlies – Shaq Buchanan (Murray State – Rookie)

The Memphis fans will have an opportunity to check out their new Murray State guard. While not Ja Morant, Buchanan will look to show Memphis he can be more than Morant’s security blanket. Buchanan was an improved shooter for Murray State (33% from deep) and did not turn the ball over (1.2 tunovers per game last season). He is likely a guy who will be shocked by the speed of the NBA compared to the Ohio Valley Conference. He should be back next year. Buchanan did not play last night, so as far as being someone worth keeping an eye on, this one is off to the worst start.

Miami Heat – Tyler Herro (Kentucky – Rookie)

Herro looked good last night against the make-shift Lakers Summer League roster. The Heat are looking for Herro to build off his quality season at Kentucky, contribute as a shooter right away, and see if he can be a crafty shot creator as well. After playing on a talented Kentucky team, Summer League will be a chance to see if Herro can be the truly best player on a team. In last night was any indication, his 18 points on 6 of 15 shooting with 5 of 10 from beyond the arc suggest he is going to have a fun summer.

Milwaukee Bucks – Fletcher Magee (Wofford – Rookie)

The senior out of Wofford can flat out shoot. His college career ended with a 4 of 17 shooting performance against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but the guard shot over 40% from deep in every season in college. While he did so in the Southern Conference, it is undisputed that the guy can knock down open shots. Magee improved as a defender in college, getting his defensive rating down to 101.4. If can can continue to improve, he has a chance to become the next great undrafted shooter.

Minnesota Timberwolves – Tyus Battle (Syracuse – Rookie)

Syracuse has a shaky history in terms of their NBA track record. If nothing else, it is always interesting to see how Syracuse guards transition from the zone to an NBA man-to-man defense. Battle got to the line a decent amount averaging 5.4 attempts in each of his last two seasons. Potentially, not being the primary offensive weapon will help Battle’s three-point shooting percentage to be more like his freshman year (37% from deep) than his junior year (32%).

New Orleans Pelicans – Trevon Bluiett (Xavier – Rookie)

Bluiett started only 7 of his 24 games in the G-League and had thumb surgery in February. He did shoot 38% from deep on 5.7 attempts per game and shot 92% from the foul line. Summer League will be an excellent opportunity to Bluiett to knock down open shots, since he will have plenty playing with Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

New York Knicks – Kevin Knox (Kentucky – 1 Year Experience)

There is no reason for the Knicks to be to anything but Summer League champions this summer. The 19-year-old personally was inconsistent throughout last season, and Summer League is an opportunity for Knox to continue getting used to being a go-to player. Supported by R.J. Barrett, Allonzo Trier, and Mitchell Robinson this summer, Knicks fans may have something to cheer about until the regular season starts.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky – 1 Year Experience)

Diallo is another guy who played considerable minutes last year but need to show that they have taken a step. Diallo played in 51 games for the Thunder and was a large contributer on the boards with 6.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Like many returning Summer Leaguers, Diallo needs to demonstrate he can be a go-to defender, improving on his 108 defensive rating, and shoot anything over the 17% he shot from deep last year.

Orlando Magic – Mo Bamba (Texas – 1 Year Experience)

Bamba missed almost half of last season with a tibia fracture, so Orlando’s biggest goal is making sure Bamba stays healthy through the summer. Bamba, if healthy, will be a dominant defender due to his 7’10” (in case it was not covered enough last draft) and his 103 defensive rating last season. Offensively, look for Bamba to keep it simple: finishes at the rim and catch-and-shoot situations. He shot 30% from deep last year, so if he can continue to improve on that, he will be a match-up nightmare this summer.

Philadelphia 76ers – Zach Hankins (Xavier – Rookie)

The final Xavier Musketeer to make this list, Hanky McSpanky is a typical undrafted big guy who tries really hard all of the time. The big man has soft hands for a guy who does not demand the ball, will fight for every rebound, and maybe set screens too hard for Summer League. While he may not be athletic enough to have a real shot at the NBA, feel free to appreciate a guy who is not too cool to do the little things.

Phoenix Suns – Tariq Owens (Texas Tech – Rookie)

Aside from being evidence that getting away from St. John’s can help a player’s draft stock, Owens can be an interesting power forward this summer. Owens is not currently strong enough to match up with the bigs this summer, but his length and athleticism will show itself when he is the help-side defender. Due to his thin build, Owens will need to stretch his offensive game out if he hopes to stick around. Until then, he should be a fun rim runner in both the 2019 and 2020 Summer Leagues.

Portland Trail Blazers – Nassir Little (UNC – Rookie)

The 19-year-old from Pensacola, Florida, may struggle to adapt to the speed of the NBA in his rookie season. After coming off the bench at UNC, where he shot 27% from deep, Little will need a little time to adjust to playing both in his body and at NBA speed. Hopefully, there will be flashes of excellence this summer, but for the time being, Isaiah Whitehead will need to be the one creating most of the offense for Little. Next summer? Little will likely be the best returning player to actually play in Summer League.

Sacramento Kings – Caleb Swanigan (Purdue – 2 Years Experience)

After being traded by the Trailblazers for Skal Labissière (in one of the most Spider-Man meme trades of all time), Swanigan is back in Summer League. Swanigan has not played in more than 27 games in either of his two seasons in the NBA, and may be running out of time to prove his worth. Look for Swanigan to set quality screens, box out, and grab a ton of boards. However, if he does not start converting his rebounds into points or assists, Swanigan will be on the move again inevitably to the Spurs (DeJuan Blair 2.0).

San Antonio Spurs – Lonnie Walker IV (Miami (FL) – 1 Year Experience)

After spending most of last season rehabbing from a medial meniscus tear, Walker is back for the Spurs. Walker only played in 17 games for the Spurs, so San Antonio will likely be hoping Walker looks like a guy a year removed from college. At Miami, Walker liked the three-ball attempting 5.1 per game and converting 35% of them. Last night, Walker looked good shooting 8 of 12 from the field for 20 points.

Toronto Raptors – Chris Boucher (Oregon – 2 Years Experience)

The two-time champion, Boucher, looks to add some playing time to his championship rings. The forward did manage to play in 28 games for the Raptors this season, but Summer League is a chance to improve as a stretch-4. Almost half of Boucher’s attempts last season came from deep (shot 32% from long range) and he maintained a 97 defensive rating. If Boucher can get his shooting percentage from beyond the arc comfortably above 33% and maintain his defensive prowess this summer, he may get substantially more time for the defending champion Raptors.

Utah Jazz – Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra – Rookie)

Wright-Foreman was a professional quality (wouldn’t want to upset the NCAA) scorer for the Hofstra Pride. He shot almost 43% from deep last season with a 33% usage rate. Wright-Foreman will need to show the ability to shoot efficiently without constantly having the ball in his hands. If Wright-Foreman can be productive off the ball, he could be an interesting third ball-handler for the Jazz as soon as this season. True to form, as far as the usage, Wright-Foreman went 3 of 14 from the field last night for 6 points missing all five of his three-point attempts.

Washington Wizards – Garrison Mathews (Lipscomb – Rookie)

Mathews is another senior from a small conference looking to prove his success in college was not a fluke. Mathews’s three-point shooting improved every year peaking at 40%. Mathews’s defense also improved to the tune of a 96.2 defensive rating. In the Summer League, Mathews can settle into a catch-and-shoot role with Rui Hachimura and Admiral Schofield likely carrying a bulk of the load offensively.

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