These Are Our NBA Summer League Standouts, From Lonzo Ball To Dennis Smith Jr.

Getty Image

The Vegas Summer League is the first time we get a chance to see all the highly touted and under-the-radar players combine to play in exhibition style games with a highly competitive nature. Most of the rosters consist of draft selections and young players who want a chance to prove what they can offer at the next level.

As a general rule, we try not to get too high or too low on guys based on two weeks of glorified AAU ball. They haven’t had a full training camp or been integrated into their coach’s system. They haven’t had the chance to work with veterans or stars. And the flow of these games is, well, not great. But there are takeaways to be had here. How is a guy’s court vision? Can he takeover when the offense has stalled? Does he show even a minor willingness to play defense?

We found the top performers in this year’s Summer League, with hopes of stardom to come.

Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell is balling out and making teams who didn’t jump up to select him look bad already. Doubts about his size have been tossed aside as he’s proved to be a gambling, hard-nosed, and accurate on ball defender, while possessing some of the most polished and experienced offensive skills. So far, he’s looking like someone who could go on to make an immediate impact especially with Utah’s losses of Gordon Hayward and George Hill.

The Jazz have played him at point guard quite a bit and without him on the court, they’ve looked lost. Mitchell’s shot has a quick release with good mechanics and it’s built to last in the NBA for a long time. Mitchell could end up being the Rookie of the Year based on his incredibly smooth, efficient and shifty play.

Rashad Vaughn

Getty Image

Vaughn has been active on the glass, aggressive on offense and playing much improved defense. His ability to score has been showcased and he’s been the main reason for the Bucks success early on. Vaughn has been running their offense and facilitating as the primary ball handler for good portions of Milwaukee’s first few games.

One of the more dominant iso player’s in Summer League, Vaughn creates offense out of nothing and can hit shots that many wouldn’t even attempt. A 2nd year player, it wasn’t a shock that Vaughn came out of the gates more confident and comfortable, but he still overachieved as far as we’re concerned.

Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith Jr. was explosive on offense for the Mavs. His standout game was a 25 point, eight rebound, four assist and four steal day against the Phoenix Suns on July 9. At 6’0, his size was always going to be a red-flag but it sure hasn’t stopped him from scoring, distributing and excelling against bigger guards.

Smith Jr. has a lot to offer and he’s got a clear knack for finding room to maneuver and make things happen offensively. Smith may land as the clear steal in this draft as many said before he went ninth, but his performances have been impressive whether he was the first pick or the 30th.

Jayson Tatum

Getty Image

Tatum is arguably the most polished offensive player in the Summer League. He can euro-step, post-up, and score on just about anyone and he makes it look easy. Mechanically, his shot isn’t art but it seems to work and as long as that doesn’t drastically change against the likes of full-on NBA talent, then he’ll be a guy the Celtics will need in the rotation.

Defensively, he leaves much to be desired. But, he seems to be adapting and improving every game. A tall, lanky and athletic build helps Tatum push the pace and get out in transition while it also allows him to create separation on his jump shots. He’s probably the most NBA ready player from this Draft, just like many had thought.

Kyle Kuzma

Kuzma was a prospect many knew little – or nothing – about. Out of Utah, Kozma went silently about his business until he was drafted by one of the most storied franchises in NBA history. Picked 27th overall, Kuzma was in and out of the first round in mock Drafts.

So far, it’s looking like many teams missed out on the plug-and-play, prototypical 3-and-D player. Kuzma is shooting almost 40 percent from behind the arc and every time he releases the ball on the perimeter it just looks like it’s going in.

Caleb Swanigan

Getty Image

Swanigan has a ferocious presence about him. He talks a ton, rebounds with natural instincts and effectiveness, and possesses a nice inside-out combination. Some were wondering whether his skills would translate to the next level and I’m sure these performances in Vegas convinced many. Swanigan swarms around the rim and grabs an uncanny amount of offensive rebounds, which has really stood out. His overall play has been fairly consistent aside from the times where he gets frustrated and fouls, argues out of frustration.

Bam Adebayo

Adebayo’s first name is essentially how we got introduced to him in Summer League. Already one of the most physically built players in the Summer League, Adebayo showcased why Miami took him at the time they did. He’s got natural instincts as a rebounder and defender along with being punishing on the offensive glass and around the rim.

Adebayo was thought of as a project coming into the draft. Now, after his Summer League performances, it’s very possible that you’re going to see him in the Miami rotation a lot throughout the season.

Bryn Forbes

Getty Image

Forbes is another player who excelled in Summer League for the Spurs. His shifty moves and sneaky quickness allow him to create space for his jump shot, which has gone in more times than not. Perception of Forbes is that he’s undersized and wasn’t the most athletic but he’s been able to showcase why, even with those red flags, he can thrive and succeed.

However, with Forbes, he’s thriving in a setting built for him. Being the focal point on offense and handling the ball a ton has to give him confidence to score and go-at guys one-on-one, which won’t be what he’ll be doing in the regular season.

Jordan Bell

Bell didn’t scored a ton, but he did just about everything else. A sleeper in the draft and labeled a steal by many, Bell was the Draymond Green of the Warriors in Vegas. Bell is a do-it-all type player who has a knack for reading and blocking shots. His effort, energy and hustle are really giving him the edge and making him stand out even without sensational offensive numbers.

Most recently, Bell garnished a 5×5, essentially having five points, steals, blocks, rebounds and assists – which only 17 players in NBA history have been able to accomplish in a regular season game.

Cheick Diallo

Getty Image

Averaging just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per outing, Diallo’s not just a defensive threat but he’s added to his offensive repertoire. Shooting over 51 percent from the field, Diallo showcased why the Pelicans could use him in the rotation with the likes of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Diallo was a physical specimen coming out of college but has been able to develop more explosion and assertiveness on offense, as he clearly put on display in the Summer League.

John Collins

Collins was dominant on both ends of the floor averaging 15 points and over 10 rebounds, and shooting over 60 percent from the field. While most of his shots are inside the paint, it’s still a very efficient percentage for a big man. His poster dunks have made the highlight reels but his passing out of the post has been vastly underrated.

He needs to work on his defense but we think that’ll come in due time. He’s also got tons of dunk competition potential based on some of the athletic plays he made in Summer League.

Lonzo Ball

Ball started off the week struggling with his shooting but came on strong after that. Where he really thrived is finding open teammates and passing the ball with pace and accuracy. His vision and thinking is clearly one step ahead of the opponents and sometimes, unfortunately, his teammates too. Ball’s talent and box scores should continue to rise when he starts playing with superior, true NBA talent on his team.

From 60-foot crosscourt passes to and-one game winners, Ball looked every bit the player that the Lakers were hoping for when they drafted him number two overall. While his shoes may have taken over the twitter timeline, his overall play in Summer League was phenomenal. Ball has made everyone on his team better and there isn’t a player in this draft like him.

Justin Jackson

Jackson was the 15th pick in the draft and he played as such, if not better. He didn’t blow you away athletically, but his defensive versatility was certainly on display as he matched up with guards and wings in Vegas. Although he didn’t shoot the ball incredibly well – and he shot a lot (15.8 times per contest) – his range was on display and he proved that he could shoot against defense-first players like Josh Jackson, scoring 29 on him in the Kings final Summer League game.

Expect to see Sacramento utilizing Jackson in a variety of ways, especially with his combo-forward skills coupled with his 6’8 frame.

Jaylen Brown

Getty Image

Brown was a shell of what the number three pick should look like through two thirds of the NBA season last year. He barely saw time and looked unconfident and out of his comfort zone anytime he stepped onto the court. Now, he’s a totally different player. He’s taking on guys one-on-one, playing solid defense, and really putting the physical traits that you see in his body to work.

After having a superb playoff run and latter third of the regular season, Brown came into Summer League and showed even more promise with his ability to shoot the basketball efficiently while also having an aggressive, fiery approach. While his statistics haven’t shot off the board, he’s been very impactful on both ends of the floor. The Celtics will have a very difficult decision about where and when to play Brown. But, he’s made it very difficult for them to think that he shouldn’t be starting.