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NBA Summer League 2018: Surprise prospects to watch and potential breakout players

All eyes are on the rookies who are making their debuts in the NBA Summer League this week. It is the NBA’s top stars of tomorrow, who just so happen to be playing today. Who will be the duds and the studs in their Pro Career premieres?

Of course, most eyes will be on the top-2 picks in this year’s NBA Draft. The Suns Deandre Ayton and Kings Marvin Bagley III will be forever linked and compared since they went No. 1 and 2 in the NBA draft.

At the Summer League, many will scrutinize their debuts. Bagley premiered first, as his Kings took on the Lakers at 8 p.m. PST on July 2nd in Sacramento. Ayton will make his debut versus the Mavericks on July 6th at 6:30 p.m. PST in Las Vegas.

Otherwise, here are other prospects to watch in the 2018 NBA Summer League across Utah, Sacramento and Vegas. Obviously, eyes will be on all the players competing over the two week period. However, these are the less than obvious players to follow.  Many of these players are notable for a variety of reasons but they all get a chance to contribute immediately in the Summer League. They will hope success here is the start to a surprise rookie season. 

Collin Sexton, Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are turning their sites to the future after LeBron James dipped for L.A. in free agency. Now, Sexton will lead Cleveland in the post-Lebron era. Not to mention, the Cavs used the eight pick they got in the Kyrie Iriving trade to get Sexton. Thus, there is even more pressure on Sexton to maximize Cleveland’s return in that trade.

On the court, Sexton is the scoring combo guard that should do well attacking the basket in Summer League play. Watch for his ability to create for other players and shoot from deep as the Cavaliers will need a new playmaker with LeBron gone. If he can show an ability to make plays in Vegas and score efficiently, he could challenge for a starting guard spot sooner than later.

Robert Williams,  Boston Celtics

Williams could end up being the steal of this draft. The Texas A&M prospect fell to No. 27 in the draft due to some questions about his fit in the modern NBA and his character concerns. Either way, Williams could insert some added length, defense and rebounding into the Celtics lineup.

Boston’s roster is already deep so Williams needs every opportunity to prove he is a ready-made prospect. This is Williams chance to prove he can not only run the floor, impact shots and catch lobs but it will be great for him to show that he can dominate lesser defenders on the offensive side of the ball. If Williams can do that, he might be Boston’s piece that gets him over the top.

Aaron Holiday, Indiana Pacers 

The third brother of the infamous Holiday family that includes NBA players Jrue and Justin as well as their parents who both played at ASU back in the day. Nonetheless, Aaron Holiday was the No. 23 pick in this year’s draft. He brings a basketball pedigree that also includes three years playing experience at UCLA which should make him one of the more polished prospects in these exhibitions. Last season, Holiday increased his scoring ability by averaging over 20 points for the first time in his collegiate career.

In the Summer League, expect Holiday to continue showcasing his improved scoring. Holiday shot over 40 percent from three-point range. for his career at UCLA. He also needs to prove that his three-point at the next level.  Holiday may end up starting at point guard for Indiana. However, the Pacers will want to see his play making, defense and leadership in the Summer League, first.

Grayson Allen, Utah Jazz

Speaking of players who made a name for themselves in college, Allen will bring  the shooting and toughness that should fit right into what the Jazz have been building over the last few seasons. He played four seasons at Duke and now it is time for him to show off that polish. Allen will need to answer questions about his ability to finish around the rim too.

Allen also made a name for himself for dirty plays and moments. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the added physicality of the NBA as well as the officiating.

Lonnie Walker, San Antonio Spurs

Over the years, San Antonio has found solid players to develop in the middle rounds. That includes Dejounte Murray and Kyle Anderson who have come along the past few years after making appearances in the Summer League. Is Walker next up? Either way, the Spurs may need Walker to contribute sooner than later especially if they trade Kawhi Leonard.

Walker made a name for himself by talking about he believed the Earth was an illusion. However, he is a well-read kid from a humble background and that is why it is easy to root for him. Plus, he should fit right in with the Spurs culture.

Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers

That’s right, the Clippers future and present starting backcourt might very well start together in the NBA Summer League. It is important for the two rookies to use these exhibitions to learn how to play together.

Specifically, Gilgeous-Alexander will have to show he can knock down a jumper consistently. He shouldn’t have a problem making plays and getting to the rack since he has good handles, footwork and vision.

Otherwise, Robinson is a player who can potentially dominate the Summer League. You might not know him due to Boston College’s poor record but Robinson averaged over 24 points versus the ACC. He rose up draft boards during pre-draft workouts. Now, he will need to showcase his scoring and shooting as well as improve his defense in the NBA Summer League.

De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets

Fresh off the loss of Trevor Ariza in free agency, the Houston Rockets rotation needs some perimeter defense help. Melton brings the length and athleticism to help the team fill that rotational void.

However, Melton missed his sophomore season at USC due to a suspension. Expect Melton to guard opposing player’s best perimeter players. In the Summer League it will be interesting to see if his shooting and offensive game improved since he last played with USC. That growth will ultimately decide if Melton cracks the Rockets rotation sooner than later.

Billy Preston, Cleveland Cavaliers

Preston is a former five-star recruit who had eligibility issues and received a suspension from the team due to a car accident on campus. Preston opted to play in Bosnia but the experiment only lasted three games. Still, the 6-10 forward has pedigree as he comes from the same school that Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant played basketball. Preston has shown an ability to make shots, rebound and block shots during his time at Oak Hill. Now, Preston

will need to prove that a season off from real competitive play did not hamper his development. The Cavaliers need all the help they can get in the post LeBron era so Preston could be an unlikely star in the Summer League.

Brandon McCoy, Milwaukee Bucks

UNLV players are always favorites at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League. McCoy was the Mountain West Freshman of the year. Now, he will get to prove he can take the next step in his own element.

Other potential surprise debuts

Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jaren Jackson Jr. are some less obvious players with tools to shine in Summer League run too.

Potential Breakout Players

Second year players usually have the advantage in the NBA Summer League. The ones that play benefit from a year of NBA practice, training and game experience. They aren’t in awe of the Summer League like many rookies are.

It is understandable that many of the first year players will be in awe as it is their first taste of NBA level competition and coaching.

Still, these breakout players are the guys who are a step above the rest of the competition. They’ve either shown that they can dominate this exhibition element or they bring the necessary tools and athleticism that should dominate.

In fact, they might be so far ahead of the Summer League competition that it is almost unfair. Even if they’re on the roster, their teams may rest them as they are too valuable to risk in exhibition play. Here is ten rookie and second year players that could breakout in this year’s Summer League.

Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic

Few teams have a lineage of big men like the Orlando Magic have had over their existence. Bamba is next in line for a team who drafted great bigs like Shaq O’Neal and Dwight Howard. Bamba appears next in line. Beyond his talented skill set as an athletic seven-footer, Bamba has a larger than life brand and social media presence. Eyes will be on him to dominate Summer League competition immediately.

Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks

DiVincezo is fresh off helping Villanova win a National Title. He showcased his sneaky athleticism and shot making ability in the draft process which earned him the No. 17 pick in this year’s draft. DiVencezo is the sort of player who can dominate summer league exhibition with his above the rim play, shot making, basketball IQ and defensive effort.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Young is one of the cornerstones of the Atlanta Hawks. That all begins in the NBA Summer League. He has gotten comparisons to Steph Curry because he is a baby-faced, under-sized two guard. However, he needs to grow as an efficient shooter and passer to live up to those comparisons. Young will also have to prove he can play defense versus NBA talent too.

Eyes will be on Young to see if he plays with the same confidence and flair that he had at Oklahoma. Moreover, it will be interesting to see if the Hawks can put together a winning effort with Young and a few other key prospects playing together in the Summer League.

Tyler Dorsey, Atlanta Hawks 

Dorsey improved his scoring average every month last year. He finished the season by averaging 7.2 points for his rookie season. The 2017 second-round pick should have no problems lighting up the Summer League.

Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons 

Kennard averaged over 7 points per game and shot over 40 percent from three as a rookie. Now, he enters the NBA summer league with a chance to prove himself on defense as well as a playmaker. The Pistons desperately need his shooting in their lineup. He will need to take the next step as a defender and playmaker before he can get that starting spot in Detroit. Either way, he brings the type of shooting that should dominate these exhibitions.

Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers 

Hart will be the primary focus of the Lakers Summer League squad. Remember, this squad won the Vegas Championship last year with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. With neither of those second year players on the roster, it is Hart’s time to shine.

Don’t forget, Hart had a sneaky good rookie season. He shot over 50 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from three-point range. The former Villanova star averaged 7.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23 minutes per game and he made 23 starts. Now, he’ll be even more coveted in a Lakers lineup that needs shooting around LeBron. Hart has the two-way game to really stand out in these exhibitions.

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins turned his Summer League success last year into a great regular season. He averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 points in the regular season. Sure, it came with the lowly Hawks.

Either way, eyes should be on the athletic big man who can impact both sides of the court especially versus lesser talent in Las Vegas. This will be Collins opportunity to work on getting the ball around the basket and developing some featured offense.  The Summer League should also let Collins build some chemistry with the rest of Atlanta’s young prospects. If they all click, Collins could make the Hawks one of the better teams in the tournament.

Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns

Jackson is often the forgot player in the 2017 draft class because he started the season slow. Nonetheless, he averaged 13 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes for the Suns. The three players drafted above him last year are sitting out the Summer League this year.

Therefore,  eyes will be on Jackson as he will need to show a significant jump in play for his sophomore year. This also serves as Jackson’s chance to develop some rapport with Ayton before the season starts. Those two alone gives Phoenix one of the better rosters in the entire Summer League. If Jackson’s jumper is in rhythm, he could absolutely light up the Summer League.

De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

Fox averaged 11.6 points and 4.4 assists in 27.8 minutes for the Kings last year. His ability to run the floor and penetrate makes him one of the more intriguing young point guards in the league. Fox should also play with a few of his real teammates due to the youth of the Kings actual roster too.

Either way, Fox is a player to watch due to his explosive athleticism. He needs to improve his shooting and playmaking but there is no reason he shouldn’t dominate both assets in exhibition. Moreover, Fox could play in both the Sacramento and Las Vegas formats of the Summer League. That just means more chances for him to break out and improve his game.

Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks 

Smith Jr. doesn’t need to prove anything in Summer League play. He was already a breakout star as he averaged 15 points, a steal and five assists per game for Dallas last year. That came after he was a breakout player in the 2017 NBA Summer League too.

It is unknown how much the Mavericks will risk their developing star’s health in exhibition player. Regardless of how much he plays, expect Smith to continue dominating the exhibition play. That requires Smith Jr. continued development as a leader and an efficient scorer.

Honorable Mention

There are plenty of other second year players who could dominate the Summer League too.

Big men like Jarrett Allen, Zach Collins, Jordan Bell, Bam Adebayo could all put up huge numbers in whatever action they see. Wayne Selden, Caris Levert, Malik Beasley, Malik Monk, Damyean Dotson and OG Anunoby could all benefit from expanding rolls on their Summer League teams. Bagley and Ayton should also dominate their class. 

The 2018 NBA Summer League begins this week with a slate of games in Utah and Sacramento before blossoming into the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Utah and Sacramento run from July 2-5. This year’s Las Vegas summer league features all 30 teams in 82 games from July 6-17. ESPN and NBATV will televise most of the games. Check out the full rosters here as well as the full schedules.