1) Don’t overreact
The most common mistake people make post-Vegas is overreacting, whether positive or negative. Yes, the NBA’s Summer League provides a high-profile showcase for undrafted and G League players to show their mettle, so if they impress, it shouldn’t be discounted. And some rookies display their rough edges in their first NBA-branded outing in ways that might raise flags for concern. But, on the whole, sweeping generalizations from the past 11 days shouldn’t be made in either direction off a handful of games that in the long run don’t carry a whole lot of weight.
2) Wembanyama might have Rookie of the Year competition
If the betting odds are any indication, French uberprospect Victor Wembanyama was a shoo-in to be named Rookie of the Year even before he was chosen by the San Antonio Spurs with the No 1 pick in last month’s draft and flashed glimpses of his limitless potential in Vegas. But the market has corrected itself slightly, thanks to memories being jogged over the past week about the existence of another sinewy, multi-talented giant who also has yet to play an official NBA game. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chet Holmgren was actually drafted second in 2022, but an untimely foot injury last summer left him sidelined for the entirety of his would-be rookie season. Holmgren’s hype entering his own draft certainly didn’t match the fever pitch of Wembanyama’s, but there was plenty of excitement about the 7ft 1in center from Gonzaga, and he shares a lot of the same unorthodox skills for his player of his size. The 21-year-old Holmgren averaged 20.5 points on 56% shooting in Vegas, and it’s no surprise he’s been reinstalled as the bookmakers’ second favorite for ROY honors.
3) Scoot Henderson is the Real Deal™
From the moment the Hornets selected Brandon Miller behind Wembanyama on draft night, the decision was met with harsh criticism. Some understood why Charlotte would want the 6ft 8in University of Alabama forward with the second overall pick: Miller’s rare combination of size and skill is tantalizing enough to deflect any off-court controversy. But many were floored that the Hornets passed on the chance to draft what looked like a potential generational talent in Scoot Henderson, who was promptly chosen third by the Portland Trail Blazers. And, unfortunately for Charlotte majority owner Michael Jordan (no stranger to being passed over at No 2), Henderson’s brief but electrifying Summer League appearance isn’t going to do anything to silence the critics: the 6ft 2in point guard looked every bit the ready-made star he’s been billed as (and then some) during his 21 heart-pounding minutes of action at the Thomas & Mack Center.
4) The LA Lakers’ scouting department is undefeated
Austin Reaves. Alex Caruso. The list of diamond-in-the-rough undrafted or late-stage picks that Jesse Buss and his scouting team have mined over the last few seasons is damned impressive, and the latest haul appears on its way to be another bullet point on their résumé. Not only did last year’s second-round pick, Max Christie, make the most of his opportunities over the past week and a half, but undrafted two-way wing player D’Moi Hodge also showed promise beyond expectations. Building out their roster through the draft is going to prove extra important as the Lakers, who reversed their hellish fortunes rapidly after cutting bait with Russell Westbrook in February and somehow crashed the NBA’s final four, move forward into the twilight years of star LeBron James’ career. So far, so good.
5) A lot of teams will regret passing on Cam Whitmore
Every June, we watch in painful awkwardness as a projected early pick plummets in the draft order. It’s usually a bit opaque as to what made them fall: health concerns, a weird interview, a swept-under-the-rug personal issue, or some combination thereof. This year, the descender in question was Villanova forward Cam Whitmore, who was expected to go among the top six or seven picks but slipped all the way to the Houston Rockets at No 20. Whitmore was sensational in Vegas: he was named Summer League MVP and, by all accounts, looked healthy and NBA-ready. It’s still a mystery as to why the 6ft 7in small forward went so far adrift on draft night, but between his obvious upside and the newly formed chip on his brawny shoulders, it’s a safe bet that more than a few teams will be living with regrets.
6) Don’t sleep on the G League
This has been the lesson, in some way, for several years running. And this year was no different. The NBA’s developmental minor league has always been a diamond mine for scouting departments on the hunt for rough stones with hidden talent waiting to be polished, but has become even more so in recent years with the advent of the G League’s Ignite team, which offers young stars (like the aforementioned Scoot Henderson) a professional alternative to the traditional one-and-done collegiate route. But it’s not just Ignite where impact players are unearthed, as evidenced by risers like Portland’s Michael Devoe, who last year played for the Los Angeles Clippers’ G League affiliate in Ontario, California. The 6ft 4in off guard’s impressive showing at Summer League augurs a call-up to the big show before the season is out.
7) Some players need a year to acclimate
In the spirit of not overreacting (see item one), it’s probably best to reserve most judgments on second-year NBA players in the Vegas mix until at least the outset of the regular season. But if we’re to take away anything meaningful from Summer League, it may be that we are writing off first-year players too quickly. Case in point: Jabari Smith Jr, tabbed by Houston with the No 3 overall pick in the 2022 draft. The 6ft 11in power forward from Auburn didn’t have a particularly standout rookie campaign, but in retrospect it’s not clear how he really could have. The Rockets were a dumpster fire last year, to put it indelicately, and Smith Jr’s prolific two-game performance in Vegas, which included back-to-back 30-point outings and an acrobatic buzzer-beater to send Portland packing, offered a peek of the difference-maker many hoped he would and still might become.
8) The Utah Jazz found a gem
A surprising number of first-round picks beyond the lottery range have, historically, come off as underrated. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard were both taken at No 15 overall, while Jimmy Butler wasn’t off the board until the 30th and final pick of the opening round. If this year’s Summer League has shown us anything, it’s that the increasingly apparent uncut gem of this year’s draft belongs to Utah, who took Baylor shooting guard Keyonte George with the 16th pick. The 6ft 4in teenager had a spectacular run in Vegas, posting one impressive statline after another before a (non-serious) ankle injury ended his Summer League run.
9) We need more Doris
ESPN has made some very high-profile layoffs of late, including one of its marquee NBA broadcasters in Jeff Van Gundy. Overall, the cuts (and their thinly articulated reasoning) could be generally categorized as “bad”. But if it serves as the catalyst for the network to, at last, propel Doris Burke to her rightful place as first-choice color commentator for their NBA telecasts, it won’t have been a total loss. Burke is a savant and she and Mark Jones were able to elevate some otherwise fairly humdrum Summer League contests with their animated and insightful commentary.
10) If they build it, they will come
Las Vegas already has a dominant, championship-winning professional basketball team in the WNBA’s Aces. But between the way that team has been embraced by the locals who pack the Mandalay Bay in droves, and the level of enthusiasm they have shown for Summer League year after year, one thing is clear: they deserve an NBA team, too. And it feels like only a matter of time before they get one: Adam Silver’s announcement of an in-season tournament to be staged in Sin City is just the latest in a mounting list of indications that a Vegas-based expansion team is imminent. LeBron himself has already expressed interest in owning a prospective Vegas franchise, and the fan demand in what’s become an emerging American sports mecca, clearly, is mutual.