Technically, Las Vegas Summer League ended on Monday night. But considering how meaningless the tournament portion usually is, and considering I only saw the first five days in person, I think it’s fair to be pretty definitive about who looked good. It’s always risky to put that much stock into LVSL performances, since it’s the ultimate eye test environment, but you can usually tell pretty quickly which players have real NBA skills. While we can assume Zion Williamson would have been among this group if we saw more of him, here were some other standouts in the dessert.
Brandon Clarke, Memphis
Due to the NBA’s bizarre scheduling, players like Clarke, who were traded during the draft, were not able to officially sign with their NBA teams until the day after Summer League started. Clarke only missed one Grizzlies game, but other players, like Jarrett Culver, have been forced out of the entire event due to how the NBA lays this all out. It’s something that will hopefully be changed sooner rather than later.
Thankfully, once Clarke got on the floor, he looked every bit like the top-five talent he is, showing off his tremendous touch and activity around the rim. His elite two point field goal percentage hasn’t translated yet — he saw a number of his layups rim out — but his athleticism, burst, and instincts have. He already looks like the steal that many draftniks predicted when he fell to No. 21 overall. The overall MVP of both Summer League as a whole and the title game itself, Clarke posted some absurdly gaudy Per 36s of 24.1 points, 16.2 boards, 3.3 assists, and three blocks while shooting 55 percent from three, by far the best numbers of any first rounder to see extended time this year.
Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans
Another traded player who had to wait multiple days to suit up for his new team, Hayes was the on-court star of Summer League, with his all-time great Vegas dunk against the Bulls the unquestioned best highlight we’ve seen. His overall play was just as tremendous, averaging 16.3 points per game on 63 percent shooting from the field. His strength issues have also translated to the pros, but at the very least in Vegas, Hayes is far too fast and smooth of an athlete for any opposing big man to have any real shot at guarding him, which makes him a fan favorite if nothing else.
Hayes shot nearly 86 percent at the rim during his lone year at Texas, and his mobility, touch, and sheer length will likely make him a similarly effective finisher at this level, at least if Vegas is anything to go by.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans
Sticking with the Pels, and again with a player who wasn’t able to play on July 5 (the first few days of LVSL weren’t very good), rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker has popped athletically as well as any non-Hayes player in Vegas, averaging 28.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.0 assists per 36 minutes in Vegas on 40 percent shooting from deep. He’s still not an elite athlete, and will certainly slot in somewhere lower than his cousin, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as a finisher, but his passing and defense both already look like they’re at an NBA level for sure, which is more than you can say about most rookie guards.
Jarred Vanderbilt, Denver
The first non-rookie on our list, Vando has had his ups and downs — his touch still isn’t great — but overall, he absolutely looks like an NBA contributor. The leading rebounder in Vegas, Vando’s lateral quickness, hustle, and strength have really shown out this year. He’s just a notch above everyone else physically, and he’s finally healthy enough to prove it. His passing touch is also legit as well, as you can see on this fast break against Golden State.
One of the surest ways to miss out on good role players is to be unable to see past their flaws. Not every useful pro fits neatly into a predetermined archetype. Vando could be one of the ultimate examples of this, and he looks like he’s ready to prove it. Another dominant statistical performer, Vando ended LVSL with Per 36s of 16.2 points, 15.5 boards, 3.1 assists, and two steals in his stint.
Bruce Brown, Detroit
Another freak athlete with no touch but intriguing passing skills and a great frame, Brown proved that NBA experience is the best determinant for Summer League dominance. Brown, the second player to record a triple-double in LVSL history, has been by far the best part of every Pistons game I saw this year. Unlike everyone in Vegas who isn’t Rodions Kurucs or Jarrett Allen, Brown has experience that simply can’t be replicated: he started multiple games in the playoffs just three scant months ago. This, combined with his already well-established power make him into prime role player material.