DimeMag

The Players That Will Become Fan Favorites At NBA Summer League

Summer League has begun in the two warmup cities of Salt Lake and San Francisco, but the league as a whole will descend on Las Vegas later this week.

The headliners, of course, are the young stars from the last two Drafts who are scheduled to play, rom this year’s highly coveted prospects like Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Jaden Ivey, to top rookies from last year like Cade Cunningham and Josh Giddey. Some rosters are stacked with potential rotation players next year, and my colleague Jackson Frank so kindly laid out what teams you should be setting your schedule around for Summer League viewing.

However, I’m here to talk about the individuals who are guaranteed to become fan favorites at Summer League. As a veteran of 10 of these, I feel qualified to predict what players fit the most cherished Summer League archetypes, which my friend Steve Jones correctly pointed out on Twitter today.

The main addition on my end to this list is the short big man who can either get buckets and/or is stronger than everyone, and that will be reflected below. Here, I’d like to point out the guys that I expect to become the fan favorites at the great Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Arena this week, most of whom are somewhat lesser-known names — although I had to point out one top pick who is going to maybe steal the entire show.

Kenneth Lofton Jr. and David Roddy (Memphis)

Memphis always loads up on talented players that Draft Twitter loves but don’t quite fit NBA archetypes, and they’ve got two of the most fun ones on their Summer League roster. Roddy, the No. 23 overall pick, put up monster numbers at Colorado State and can absolutely shoot that thing at 6’6, 260. He’s a bucket-getter, and in Vegas, that’s the skill that always stands out above all else.

Joining Roddy is my personal favorite player of anyone going to Summer League, Kenneth Lofton Jr., the man who carried Team USA to the U19 World Cup title in 2021 and is just an absolute force on the block. He’s undersized in height at 6’7 but uses all 280 pounds to get wherever he wants on the basketball court, carving out space to get his shot off and absolutely dominating the glass despite being four or five inches shorter than most centers. I cannot wait for NBA fans to put their eyes on Lofton — he already carries the stamp of approval from Stephen Jackson, who called him “Baby Z-Bo,” which might be the highest compliment a player on the Grizzlies roster can get.

Ron Harper Jr. and Christian Koloko (Toronto)

The Raptors have two strong candidates for fan favorite on their roster. The first is former Rutgers star (and yes, the son of that Ron Harper), who is a bucket. He’s a big fella (measured in at 6’4, 240 at the combine), which only adds to the joy in watching him stop and pop on folks. He can light it up from deep (39.8 percent from three at Rutgers last year) and isn’t afraid of taking over a game late. On a team like Toronto without a ton of guys prepping to be in the NBA rotation at Summer League, I expect Harper Jr. to assert himself out in Vegas.

Koloko, meanwhile, fits the shot-blocker and rim-runner archetype that is always fun at Summer League. He’s gonna catch lobs and send shots into the second row, and while the Raptors will be more concerned with how he looks as a defender in space and all that, we can all enjoy the more eye-popping parts of his game that will be on display.

Jaden Hardy (Dallas)

If you’re trying to find the young guard with a pull-up jumper who isn’t afraid to use it, as Steve noted, Hardy might be your man. He will get shots up, and while he’s not the most efficient, he can pile up points and Dallas has plenty of reason to let him cook in the Summer League setting. We love a Summer League gunner, and Hardy is high on my list of guys I expect to get ’em up and have fans chattering.

Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana)

I know I said I wasn’t going to touch on top picks too much, but I cannot emphasize enough how cool Mathurin is as a player and how much everyone is going to love him in this format. The first time I saw Mathurin in person was at the 2020 NBA Academy Global Camp in Chicago where he tried to dunk on every single big man at the camp — I thought he had injured himself on multiple occasions crashing to the floor, only to pop up and try again minutes later. He plays the game with a mean streak that stands out in a more laid back atmosphere like Summer League, and those guys are always the most fun. Also, please click on this link for his thoughts on LeBron James.

Joshua Primo (San Antonio)

Primo is one of the frontrunners for the “Oh, he definitely is too good to be here” roster spots, but unlike other second year guys (ex: Cade Cunningham), the Spurs have some reason to give him continued minutes in the desert. With Dejounte Murray gone, Primo’s role is getting a big increase this season, and the more reps he can get having a team that is his, the better for his development and for the Spurs next season. I expect him to put up some eye-popping numbers, especially since the Spurs top pick, Jeremy Sochan, is at his best as a team defender. That isn’t exactly a great Summer League skill to have, so Primo should have all the opportunity he wants to pile up points.

Scotty Pippen Jr. and Shareef O’Neal (Los Angeles)

Listen, it’s Summer League, which means no matter what, the Lakers are going to draw crazy crowds. This year’s Lakers squad doesn’t live up to those Lonzo Ball/Brandon Ingram/D’Angelo Russell teams of years past when Thomas & Mack would damn near sellout every game, but rest assured, the two sons of NBA legends are going to draw plenty of attention. Pippen Jr. seems most likely to have real success in Summer League, as he is not shy about shooting the ball, averaging north of 20 points per game last year for Vanderbilt. Shareef O’Neal, meanwhile, is just looking to stick on a training camp roster, but you can rest assured the big man out of LSU will have lots of support any time he’s on the floor.

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