The NBA now enters what can be considered the doldrums of its summer. Beat writers, secure in knowing where LeBron James will play next season, can comfortably take a vacation without checking Twitter every five minutes. What’s left to chew over are the few morsels of tape from summer league.
Las Vegas Summer League is both a smorgasbord of analysis to take in and a sample size too small to take too seriously. BBALLBREAKDOWN’s Brady Klopfer provided a few insights into what happened.
1. What was your biggest takeaway from summer league?
Upside reigns supreme. This shouldn’t be a surprise after the draft, but it’s stark to see it in action in Vegas. When you see the top prospects competing against each other, running more NBA-centric systems, the differences in skill level stand out like a purple cow.
Wendell Carter Jr. and Jaren Jackson Jr. looked substantially better than top picks DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was drastically more impactful than Trae Young. That’s not to say Ayton, Bagley, or Young were bad picks, it’s merely a reminder if they live up to their draft billing, it’s unlikely to be this year. Teams still bet on superstar upside in the lottery (as they should), but it is jarring to see that rawness on display against more polished prospects.
2. Who was your favorite player this summer league and why?
Elie Okobo was just a delight to watch. His fundamentals were strong—he had good footwork, a low, balanced dribble, and was one of the few players in Summer League who had any concept of how to deliver an entry pass —and his knowledge of the game was on full display.
In a tournament full of sloppy, herky-jerk, improvisational play, Okobo seemed intent on running the offense and making the right play. But he also displayed elements of star power. Okobo was able to take his opponents off the dribble at ease, and seemed to be playing cat-and-mouse with them at times. He looks like the rare rookie who is ready to provide valuable minutes on day one, while also maintaining some high upside. I greatly look forward to watching him play alongside Ayton and Devin Booker.
3. What was the biggest surprise and disappointment of summer league?
It’s going to be a while before we see Anfernee Simons contributing much to Portland’s backcourt, especially while CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard remain on the team. But I was impressed by so much of what Simons did.
At 19, with a relatively small frame and no experience playing against even collegiate talent, I had concerns about how Simons would translate, physically, to the pros. His ability to fight through screens, rotate quickly, and defensively handle the physicality of Summer League caught my eye. We know Simons’ offensive game will translate to the NBA; but as, arguably the least experienced player in Vegas, it was Simons’ feel and ability for the whole game that stood out to me.
As for disappointment, I was hoping to see a strong showing from Dragan Bender. I remain convinced Bender can be a strong NBA player . He’s a 7’1″ 20-year old who shot 36.6 percent from deep last year, but such players need to show things in Summer League and, once again, Bender failed to do so. Vegas is a very wing-heavy tournament, and players like Bender truly tower over the competition. His inability to assert himself, create his own shot, and look like an experienced NBA player were disappointing, at least to those of us who haven’t given up on the former number four pick.