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Offseason Beat

NBA News Roundup: Summer League Edition

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: August 18, 2021, 1:56 pm ET

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Beyond the din of Las Vegas, where the final Summer League ends on Tuesday, the NBA landscape is relatively quiet. After the playoffs, Olympics, draft and free agency, it's a time for fans to collectively catch our breath. There is still plenty of fantasy-relevant news trickling out, however, and today's column provides an overview of the most important recent storylines. We'll begin in Las Vegas with quick takes on a handful of players who have stood out during Summer League.

Warriors rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga put his year of G League experience to good use, averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 dimes, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks in four exhibitions. He won't turn 19 years old until October, and the championship-aspiring Warriors aren't guaranteed to find him reliable minutes in the rotation. The same holds for fellow rookie Moses Moody. "There's no pressure at all for either one of them to play and expect too much," said coach Steve Kerr. "If they're ready, then that's great. But they'll be able to progress at a really natural rate." In other words, do not draft either guy in re-draft fantasy leagues.

Spurs second-year guard Devin Vassell was shut down with a minor hamstring injury, as noted earlier. He only appeared in two games in Vegas, but that included a performance with 23 points, four rebounds, one assist and two steals. During their Summer Leagues (including an earlier event in Salt Lake City) the Spurs tried to give Vassell more ball-handling duties, but he didn't look very comfortable in that role. His penetration skills looked iffy, even against SL competition, so offensively he may still be limited to catch-and-shoot and cutting. "He’s still trying to evolve into being comfortable handling the ball in pick-and-roll, doing things off the dribble," said coach Mitch Johnson. "Part of it is to give him the ball and allow him to kind of dictate how much further his role should go." Despite the growing pains, I quite like Vassell as a sleeper pick in fantasy. His offensive game will grow by default now that DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills are gone. But his upside is on the defensive end, where as a rookie he was 87th percentile for steals rate (per Cleaning the Glass) and had nearly twice as many steals (43) as turnovers (22). Come for the swipes, stay for increased 3-pointers, strong FT% and a trickle of boards and (maybe?) assists.

As I mentioned on a recent Roundball Stew podcast, Pacers rookie guard Chris Duarte passed the 'eye test' with ease. The game looks slow for him, and at 24 years old he looks ready to roll immediately. He's a knock-down 3-point shooter, fluid ball-handler, has good size at 6'6", and he was an accomplished defender in college. The biggest roadblock for fantasy is that Indiana has a busy backcourt, so Duarte will need out-of-position minutes to do much in fantasy. It helps that he can play multiple positions, as can other guys like Caris LeVert and Jeremy Lamb. I'm tentatively targeting Duarte as a late-round flier. I don't like the fact that he's playing for coach Rick Carlisle. However, I do like his statistical profile and the fact that his direct competition (LeVert, Lamb, maybe T.J. Warren) can't seem to stay healthy. Plus, it wouldn't be shocking for Indiana to make some trades and clear even more room for Duarte in the process.

Since I don't watch a ton of college hoops, Kings rookie guard Davion Mitchell's defense has been eye-opening for me. He went viral for smothering James Bouknight, and indeed his on-ball defense is harrowing -- something like Patrick Beverley's ever-present pestering, only stronger. How often might the Kings run out three-guard lineups with Mitchell alongside De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton? For what it's worth, Haliburton played 13% of his minutes at small forward as a rookie (per Cleaning the Glass), but he did not fare well at all statistically. The Kings had a -17.6 net rating and it came in over 200 minutes played, so it's not a tiny sample size.

Bulls second-year forward Patrick Williams looked better than the competition in Vegas. That's to be expected for a former No. 4 pick who started 71 games as a rookie. He scored 30 points vs. the Spurs last Tuesday, a performance that included four 3-pointers and 7-of-7 free throws. This is where 'it's only Summer League' perspective is crucial. Williams only attempted more than four 3-pointers once in 71 games last year, and only made more than two 3-pointers twice. There wasn't a single game in which he attempted seven or more free throws, let alone made that many. Chicago's offense is bristling with veteran options, so even with a starting job in hand it's hard to see Williams' usage rate improving from last year's anemic 14.6%.

Celtics second-year guard Aaron Nesmith scored 33 points in a win vs. the Nuggets -- in just 21 minutes he shot 13-of-18 from the field including seven 3-pointers. Nesmith was already in the Celtics' playoff rotation as a rookie (albeit shooting a morbid 17.3% from the field), and it's safe to assume he'll be a big part of the rotation this year. Boston has limited wing depth, which is why they traded for Evan Fournier last season. With Fournier leaving for New York in free agency, they'll need Nesmith to play a big role off the bench -- Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can't both play 48 minutes a night, and on paper the Celtics are desperate for more perimeter shooting. The question for fantasy GMs is – will Nesmith can provide anything beyond 3-pointers? I'm happy to find out without having him on my roster.

As mentioned below, Rockets' franchise pillar Jalen Green missed the final exhibitions in Las Vegas due to a sore right hamstring. "I feel good, I’m sad that I had to leave that game, but I feel good," Green said. "I don’t have anything to prove anything here. I got to prove it in the NBA ... We’re just going to be cautious and get ready for the season in case it is anything. But it’s just tight." Prior to his precautionary shutdown, he was brilliant. He penetrated at will, drew contact like a veteran, and generally befuddled would-be defenders with dribble moves, step-back jumpers, and more. He probably would have won Summer League MVP if it weren't for the injury, and fantasy managers should take note of his efficiency -- it's a tiny sample size, obviously, but in three games he shot 51.4% from the field and 52.6% from deep. That came on high volume, too, as he averaged 3.3 triples per game. Opportunities will abound in Houston and Green will be in the middle of it all -- with the hype machine in overdrive, though, he'll be very costly in fantasy drafts.

Second-year guard Immanuel Quickley struggled in the Knicks’ opener but then looked great, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 dimes, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He did his best to answer any discussion about his point guard skills, telling reporters, “I happen to be able to score the ball … But I know I’m a point guard and can get other guys the ball.” His initial path to fantasy value is roadblocked by Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose, but their proneness to injury could open a path for Quickley. I may not be drafting him in 12-team leagues, but I won’t hesitate to grab him if either veteran gets hurt.

Obi Toppin also played well for New York, averaging 21.0 points on 44.5% shooting, 8.3 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. He committed 2.8 turnovers per game but showed some promise from range, averaging 2.0 triples on 34.3% from deep.

Nuggets forward Bol Bol had some great performances, including a 26-point, nine-rebound game, and he finished top-10 in scoring in Vegas. He was proficient from deep (2.0 makes on 40.0%), and put his length to good use with 2.3 blocks. He also stayed out of foul trouble with 1.7 fouls in 26.9 minutes per game. That’s encouraging but probably meaningless for fantasy since the only place he’ll get that much run (this season) is in the G League.

Rockets rookie PF Alperen Sengun had a double-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three assists. In his first Summer League game he took 14 free throw attempts, and his international polish as a post player looks obvious. He finished averaging 3.0 blocks per game, a number that may be misleading but is nevertheless something to watch for. As I noted in a recent blurb, defense is not his strong suit: “[Sengun] is a pretty good roller and playmaker," said coach Stephen Silas. "He can finish in the paint, he can go spin, he can find a teammate." Notably absent was any mention of Sengun's defense, which by all accounts will be a ground-up project for the Rockets. Defensive struggles shouldn't cost him opportunities and minutes, since development is the name of Houston's game, and he's already an interesting late-round target in fantasy drafts.

Hornets rookie center Kai Jones averaged 9.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.8 blocks in 28.1 minutes per game. He made the highlight reel with a faked a 3-pointer (that got Michael Beasley to bite) leading into a two-dribble move to get a foot in the lane and leap for a dunk (over Kenneth Faried). The dunk itself was about 90% arm extension. He oozes athleticism and has length in his favor, though I'm not sure where his overall skills level will be as a rookie. I’m definitely watching him with Mason Plumlee as the most notable true-center competition, though Charlotte does seem committed to lots of P.J. Washington at five in small-ball lineups.



Nets rookie Cam Thomas (No. 27 pick) has scored in bunches throughout Summer League. He leads the field (prior to Tuesday’s final slate of games) at 27.0 points per game, including a sudden-death game-winner in double-OT (granted, he mis-dribbled and nearly lost the ball before making a desperation heave). Thomas also scored 36 points for the most points scored in a Las Vegas Summer League game since 2018. His fantasy outlook is bleak, since he plays for the Nets and wasn’t exactly efficient in Vegas, shooting 42.3% from the field with as many turnovers (3.8) as combined assists (2.0) and rebounds (1.8). Don’t get dazzled by the scoring and draft him just because he scored a lot in Nevada.

Tyrese Maxey looked great and should be ready to take a leap (especially if Philly does move Ben Simmons)…Pelicans guards Trey Murphy and Kira Lewis Jr. both had some impressive games, though they’ll be fighting for regular-season minutes with Devonte’ Graham and Nickeil Alexander-Walker… Suns second-year forward Jalen Smith had 15 points and 12 rebounds in his Vegas debut, and went on to record four straight double-doubles, but he did so while shooting 36.5% from the field…there were plenty more performances to discuss, good or bad, but I do have to end this section somewhere.


Summer League injuries (or lack thereof)

First, the bad news. Thunder rookie playmaker Josh Giddey turned an ankle five minutes into his first game in Vegas, so we haven't been able to see him, which is disappointing. There's no indication that it will limit him for training camp in late September. Giddey's absence left Theo Maledon free to run the show offensively, though his problem areas as a rookie persisted with 33.3% shooting and 2.6 turnovers per game. Beyond that, there have been only a handful of noteworthy injuries in Vegas -- almost all of the 'precautionary' variety.

The Pistons, who prefer to describe their rebuilding efforts as "restoring" former greatness, had to finish Summer League without Killian Hayes (concussion protocol) and Cade Cunningham (calf soreness). Alarm bells will always sound when the No. 1 pick is involved, but there's nothing to worry about. Cunningham did shoot 42.9% from the field with more turnovers than assists, but he connected on 50.0% of his high-volume 3-pointers. He finished averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 boards, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks, and generally looked confident and ready to roll for Detroit. Fantasy GMs should simply be aware that FG% and turnovers will likely be problematic. Sixers guard Isaiah Joe suffered a "mild MCL sprain," Devin Vassell (hamstring) missed time as a precaution, Devon Dotson (ankle) suffered a minor sprain, and Scottie Barnes tweaked an ankle while swatting five shots on Thursday. Fellow lottery picks Jalen Green (hamstring) and Jalen Suggs (sprained thumb) were also shut down as a simple precaution.


Isaiah Stewart injury update and Detroit's frontcourt

That list doesn't mention guys who were already injured prior to Summer League, including Pistons second-year center Isaiah Stewart. He missed Vegas after suffering a foot/ankle injury playing with the U.S. Select Team prior to the Olympics. Stewart is no longer in a walking boot but he's still limited to non-contact work. Fortunately, it sounds like Detroit is merely being extra cautious with their promising big man. "They want me ready and 100% healthy for training camp going into the season," he said in mid-August. "The ankle’s feeling good and now it’s just getting back to what I do, working every day and just trying to get better."

Stewart enters the 2021-22 season as the Pistons' presumptive starting center, though Kelly Olynyk's superior court-spacing could make it a position battle worth watching. To his credit, Stewart has already shown some proficiency from range. He only attempted five 3-pointers prior to the All-Star break as a rookie, making one of them, but after the break he went a combined 20-of-58 (34.5%). He was a low-end fantasy center in just 21.4 minutes as a rookie, so don't sleep on him in your drafts.

Stewart's absence in Las Vegas left plenty of minutes for rookie Luka Garza, who fared well after losing 20+ pounds this offseason in an attempt to get quicker and more agile (especially on defense). Garza inked a two-way deal this week, so he'll spend most of his season in the G League. Sekou Doumbouya also earned minutes at center during his two appearances, mostly because Vegas is a great place for experimentation. He had five blocks (!) in his first exhibition, after swatting nine shots in 869 minutes all of last season. Good ol' Summer League. Doumbouya will be fighting for second-string minutes with Trey Lyles, primarily, but even if he gains a foothold in the rotation there's no reason to anticipate fantasy value.

That’s it for today’s column, but stay tuned for the start of a new column series by Brad Stonebraker (@bradbraker97) delving into strengths and weaknesses for every team in the league, beginning with the Pacific Division. Jared Johnson (@Jae_Tha_Truth) will also discuss Summer League with his ‘Three Things’ column, and as always the Roundball Stew podcast is digging into all things NBA (with a fantasy slant) on Mondays and Fridays. If that’s not enough, you can always catch up with our perpetually-updated Player News feed!

Ryan Knaus

Despite residing in Brunswick, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @ryanknaus.