For many players both at the start and twilight of their careers, the NBA Summer League is a chance to showcase their talents in pursuit to their dreams. Many of the officials reffing the games are also trying to live out their dreams. Coaches and scouts are on auditions too.
Sports Illustrated also broke down the expenses of the NBA Summer League salary that can be equal to $45,600 plus expenses that include flights, meals, and hotel rooms. Hence, many players are working to put food on the table.
Other basketball players, media members, experts, executives, officials, and professionals use the Summer League as networking events. Thus, it is a big showcase and convention for everyone involved.
Still, all eyes were on the court as the 2018 NBA Draft class made their debuts in the Sacramento, Utah and Las Vegas Summer League. Of course, Vegas is the biggest event since it has the most teams, history and ends with a playoff.
Who performed well and who left much to be desired with eyes on them in Las Vegas?
Here are the winners, surprises, and losers of the 2018 NBA Summer League. Let’s begin with the rookies and build our way to the veterans.
Who won the Las Vegas NBA Summer League?
Before we get to the individual winning and losing performances, you have to acknowledge the Blazers making their second-consecutive Las Vegas NBA Summer League Finals versus the Lakers. Portland got their revenge this year by defeating the Lakers 91-73 in the Summer League’s final showcase.
K.J. McDaniels won MVP of the title game with 17 points and 7 rebounds in the final game. The 2014 second-round pick has appeared in 148 games for three teams over his career. In this Summer League, McDaniels averaged five points and four rebounds for one of the more senior teams in the league.
The Lakers were led by Summer League MVP Josh Hart. Hart got ejected in the final but the Lakers also had some great rookies. Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points in a semi-final game. Mykhailiuk averaged 17.7 points and 4.2 points while shooting 51 percent in the six games leading to the Las Vegas title. Fellow rookie Moritz Wagner played in three Vegas games. He averaged about 10 points and 8 rebounds in Vegas but he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in Sacramento.
Los Angeles beat Colin Sexton and the Cavaliers in double-overtime to get into the finale. Meanwhile, the Blazers defeated the Grizzlies led by Jaren Jackson Jr.
Rookie Surprise: De’Anthony Melton, Rockets
De’Anthony Melton earned praise for his performance in Vegas as well. In five games, Melton answered any questions about his offensive ability. He averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 assists while playing the type of defense many expected from his scouting report.
Melton sat out 2017 at USC after the college basketball scandal broke. He withdrew from college to enter the draft and so far he is looking like a second-round steal. Melton may get a chance at minutes with Ariza out of town too.
Rookie Loser: Trae Young, Hawks
Trae Young ended the NBA Summer League averaging 17 points, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals in Las Vegas. Those aren’t bad numbers for Young but he averaged 12.7 points and shot only 23 percent for three games in the Utah Summer League.
Yes, Young made some highlights and proved he could be a playmaker in Vegas but questions about his defense and shot-selection continue after Vegas. Again, it is still way too early to label the No. 5 pick anything but the pressure will be on since Atlanta traded back to get him. Young sat out two games for rest too.
More Rookie Fallers
Marvin Bagley III appeared in one game in Las Vegas. He averaged 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. That is pretty good except he averaged only 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and .3 steals for three games in Sacramento. He shot 31 percent from the field in his home arena. Will Sacramento get the Bagley from Vegas or the one from Sacramento? Inconsistencies and injuries are the fast track to the loser list especially when you were just the No. 2 overall pick.
Donte DiVincenzo sat out two early games with a knee injury. He only scored one point in 2 games despite averaging 13.5 minutes. He did get a couple of rebounds, assists, and steals per game but he was supposed to be a high-quality shooter. No one saw that from the first round pick in Las Vegas.
Rookie Winner: Colin Sexton, Cavs
It was hard to pick a winner with so many big-men like Jackson, Carter, and Ayton living up to their draft grades.
Otherwise, Colin Sexton averaged 19.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.6 rebounds over seven games. Sexton’s highlights include 27 points in the double-overtime loss that ended the Cavaliers tournament run in the semi-finals. They finished 5-2 for the tournament which is why he gets the nod over some of the other players in his class.
According to ABS-CBN, Sexton has impressed with his change of pace in open court. He was also one of the more consistent and mature players in his class.
It sounds like Cleveland has something to cheer about in the post-LeBron era.
Other Notable Rookie Winners
Further, Clippers lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander impressed a lot of people through four games in Las Vegas. He averaged 19 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.3 steals and one block per game. There is already talk from The Ringer that he might be the best guard from this draft.
Wendell Carter Jr. is another standout from Vegas. Carter Jr. averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks for the Chicago Bulls. Carter could prove to be one of the steals of this draft. Carter Jr. shot 55 percent from the field too. ESPN’s Mike Schmitz said he was the most impressive big in the class.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was another big on display in Las Vegas. The Memphis Grizzlies rookie averaged 3.8 blocks, 11.2 points, and 8.2 rebounds in five games. His length and shooting make him a winner this time around. In Utah, he averaged 15 points and five rebounds. Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin said he showed he could both shoot threes and defend the basket which might make him a nice player beside Marc Gasol during the regular season.
You can’t leave out DeAndre Ayton who averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his first Vegas tournament.
Moreover, Kevin Knox averaged 21. 3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists through four games in Las Vegas despite receiving boos from players on NBA Draft night. ESPN’s Jorge Sedano said he saw similarities between Kox and last year’s breakout rookie Jason Tatum. Knicks fans don’t have a reason to boo anymore.
Second-Year Surprise: Harry Giles III, Kings
Harry Giles III averaged 9.3 points, 6 rebounds and a block in Sacramento for the host Kings. He followed that with 10.8 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals in four games in Las Vegas. Not bad for a player who sat out his rookie year due to injury.
The former No. 1 High School recruit is recovering from his third knee surgery which made many people wonder if he would ever play at all again.
Giles III looked like a rotational player throughout the Summer League but he still has the length and athleticism to become something more. At the very least, the NBA Summer League was a step in the right direction.
Second-Year Winner: Josh Hart, Lakers
Last year, the Lakers won the Vegas tournament with Kyle Kuzma as Championship game MVP and Lonzo Ball winning MVP of the tournament. Thus, there is real excitement in Los Angeles since fellow 2017 draft pick Josh Hart looked great in this year’s Summer League.
Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a double-overtime game that would send the Lakers to their second consecutive championship. Hart went 6-of-15 in the semi-finals. He won MVP honors by averaging 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists headed into the final game of the tournament.
More Sophomore Risers
In the seven games Justin Jackson appeared in for Sacramento over the entire Summer League, he averaged 18.1 points per contest while making 45.5% of his shots from the court and 31.9% of his shots from the perimeter. Jackson shot 42 percent while averaging 19 points, 1 steal and 3.5 rebounds in four Vegas games. That is pretty good for last year’s No. 15 pick.
Otherwise, John Collins only played two games for Atlanta in Las Vegas but that is all last year’s 19th pick needed. He averaged 24 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Hawks. Collins was highlighted by ESPN as one of the best second-year studs in Las Vegas. That is great even for a player who averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds during his first actual rookie season. He was one of three, second-team All-Rookie players to play in Las Vegas and once again proved he is among the best in his class.
Sophomore Loser: Josh Jackson, Suns
Josh Jackson should’ve dominated this tournament for the Suns. However, the second-year player only shot 24 percent from the field. Last year’s No. 3 pick averaged 10 points, 1.3 steals, 1.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds in three games. According to ESPN, Jackson’s playmaking and shot selection were less than impressive from a player who should’ve dominated the play.
Hopefully, this isn’t a sign of things to come. Jackson’s role will change with Trevor Ariza in the rotation and a bunch of other players who will take some pressure off of the sophomore in the regular season.
Other Notable Sophomore Performances in Las Vegas
Speaking of underwhelming, Dennis Smith Jr. also appeared in two games this year after making the All-Rookie second-team. The Dallas Mavericks second-year player averaged 12 points and 6 assists. Last year’s No. 9 pick was either bored or average depending on how you look at his performance.
Further, 14 points and 7 rebounds averages after three games for Orlando Magic 2017 No. 6 pick Jonathan Isaac is alright. However, he showed strength and length that might make up for his rookie season where he barely appeared in 22 games.
2017 10th overall pick Zach Collins also played average. The Blazers big averaged only 9 points and 8 rebounds in five games. That is hardly what you expect from a lottery pick playing in his second year at the Summer League. He shot 40 percent from the field too which isn’t great for a stretch-big. However, his defense helped the Blazers win the whole tournament.
Otherwise, 2017 first-round pick Caleb Swanigan was a standout for the Blazers in this thing last year. He had 21 points and 16 rebounds outing to get Portland to the tournament. However, he only averaged 8.7 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists headed into the final game. Is that enough to get him more than 27 appearances in his second year?
Veteran Surprise: Dragan Bender, Suns
Another L for Phoenix fans and this one is bad enough to be a loser. Third-year players should be great in this as they have done it twice. Still, 2016 lottery pick Dragan Bender didn’t exactly perform how you would expect a third-year player. Bender averaged only 6.6 points and 5.2 assists in five games.
According to Basketball Insiders, Bender shot 32.6 percent in his Summer League career including the first two games of this tournament. He didn’t impress with his rebounding or playmaking either. Clearly, Bender still needs some time before he can really crack an NBA rotation.
Veteran Loser: The Nets and LaVar Ball
Brooklyn again proved their veterans at losing. In Las Vegas, the Nets were also the only winless team. That’s not great considering Brooklyn won 21 games in 2015–16, 20 games in 2016–17 and 28 games in 2017–18.
Don’t forget LaVar Ball. Not only did his son Gelo Ball not get called for the Summer League but Gelo made his debut in the LaVar ran Junior Basketball Association which is under the scope for low attendance and coaches making a fool of themselves.
That’s an L when you consider LaVar was sitting high this time last year as Lonzo made waves. Don’t forget Lonzo is nursing a knee injury and facing the shadow of LeBron James coming to town. Sounds like grounds for a tie.
More Veteran Underperformers
Otherwise, Deyonta Davis got traded to the Kings this week. The 2016 31st pick averaged 7.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in 7 Summer League games this year probably had something to do with that.
Henry Ellenson also finished the tournament with crazy bad shooting numbers. The 2016 18th pick shot only 30 percent from the field in six Pistons Games in Las Vegas. He did get 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds but that isn’t exactly the efficiency the NBA game demands.
Rashad Vaughn only averaged 10 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in five games this year. That isn’t great for the 17th pick in 2015.
Veteran Winner: John Jenkins, Blazers
John Jenkins, one-time Atlanta first-round pick, averaged 12.2 points, 1.3 assists and shot 68 percent from the field. the five-year veteran could be on his way to a nice comeback after not playing in the league last year. Jenkins played for the Blazers. Perhaps he played well enough to get one more NBA contract.
Other Notable Veteran Winners
Archie Goodwin became the all-time leading scorer in Summer League history. per Real GM. Goodwin averaged 12 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds in 7 games for the Blazers as they won the tournament.
Added, Furkan Korkmaz averaged 16.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2 assists for the Sixers. He also had a couple of high scoring nights including one where he nearly dropped 40 points. Korkmaz may be a valuable stretch big for Philly since he appeared in only 14 games last year.
Willie Hernangomez helped his stock too as he averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds in four games for the Charlotte Hornets. He could get rotational minutes for the Hornets, who acquired him last year at the deadline.
The Suns signed former Notre Dame prospect and undrafted big Jack Cooley for his sixth consecutive Summer League. Cooley has made the runs in the G-League and overseas but he is a darling of the Vegas Summer League fans, according to Yahoo.
More 2018 NBA Summer League Storylines
Neither the winners or the losers in the NBA Summer League necessarily live up to those expectations in the regular season. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton analyzed the league’s stats back to 2004 and found that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between the regular season and Summer League play.
Of course, this year didn’t have a Ball brother playing in the tournament but there were plenty of reasons to follow and consume the NBA Summer League. Not only did all 30 teams participate in Las Vegas for the first time but the league introduced a California Classic installment of the Summer League hosted in Sacramento too. They also continued the Utah version of the Summer League and expanded their broadcasting partnerships with Turner and ESPN.
Moreover, LeBron James made his first appearance in Lakers gear at the Las Vegas Summer League. Fresh off his new deal, James showed up in Lakers shorts during the final week and received an ovation from fans.
The NBA also let coaches challenge plays during the Las Vegas Summer League. It was announced beforehand that the Association would experiment with systems to challenge officials’ calls similar to the MLB and NFL.
For the Summer League, each team was given one challenge for the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime. Some calls the league allowed to be reviewed were shot clock violations, out-of-bounds calls, common versus clear path foul, shooting fouls, blocking fouls, basket interference, off-ball fouls, and more. It is unclear if anyone used the challenge or how successful the experiment went. However, it was not expected that the league would use the new rules any time soon even if they were successful. The NBA also experimented with revisions to the shot clock during the Vegas Summer League.
Added, Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the NBA’s one-and-done rule which requires draft prospects to be one year removed from High School. Silver said it is his personal view that the league is ready to repeal the rule, Silver said during the Summer League.
The NBA is the biggest winner
Few leave Vegas winners but the NBA as a whole walks away as victorious after the 2018 NBA Summer League. The Summer League continued growth in 2018 due to many on-court and offseason storylines developing over the Summer League.
All the teams participated in the Vegas Summer League and all the games were broadcasted which gave it an even bigger audience. You rarely lose when your league is able to extend more opportunities for players and it continues to grow.
Some, including one of its founders, believed the Las Vegas Summer League might lose its soul like Coachella as it continues to grow. It set records in attendance with 127, 843 fans attending in 2017 and that record was set again in 2018 according to ESPN’s broadcast of the final between the Lakers and Blazers.
The growing interest in the Summer League set precedent for both the NHL and NFL to make Las Vegas part of their league, according to the same Washington Post article. A professional hockey team is in Vegas and pro football team is coming largely due to the interest in the NBA.
Interest in the NBA Summer League shouldn’t be too surprising considering the tournament is the first glimpse at the NBA Draft’s top picks as well as the last chance at the league for many veterans. However, when will the league make Vegas a full-time home by rewarding them a franchise?
The point is, the NBA Summer League isn’t all about stats or wins and losses. It is all about growth for the rookies, veterans, coaches, referees, media, and city.