NBA Summer League: Six Players Turning Heads

1:53 | NBA
The Lonzo Ball phenomenon makes news on and off the court in Las Vegas
Wednesday July 12th, 2017

LAS VEGAS — I made it to Summer League on Tuesday, land of temporarily-scalding takes and a dangerous place to draw conclusions. That said, the only thing that happens annually at Summer League on a consistent basis (on the court, at least) is that everyone flings themselves headfirst into conclusions anyway.

We’re going to run through a short list of this week’s eye-catching performers to date… and try to leave it at that.

Disclaimer: Rob Mahoney wrote about Jayson Tatum on Tuesday, so we’ll skip him for the purposes of this list (which he belongs on). Let's dive in.

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Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

First things first, Mitchell had eight (!) steals in Tuesday’s loss to Memphis…midway through the third quarter. The Jazz obviously lost Gordon Hayward but with Ricky Rubio coming in, Dante Exum entering sink-or-swim territory and now Mitchell in place, they seem to have addressed their backcourt void in creative fashion. Mitchell's looked dynamic, and was athletically and mentally a cut above everyone on the court. Over two games, he’s averaged 28 points. One of the knocks on Mitchell was a lack of positional polish, but the good news: it’s evident that his rough edges should be sources of optimism at this stage. He has the "getting to the basket" part figured out pretty well, but like many young guards, Mitchell struggles with the whole “what do I do now that I’m in the air” thing. His jumper is functional but streaky. But there’s reason for optimism and certainly justification for the Jazz moving up in the draft to get him. Mitchell’s hyperactive in the best way, and he should claw his way into some minutes as a rookie.

Bryn Forbes, San Antonio Spurs

This, everyone, is how you develop a role player—a task the Spurs have accomplished as well as anyone over the years. Forbes’s three-point shooting was always a strength coming out of Michigan State, and he’s undergone a bit of a transformation, adding to his off-the-dribble game, expanding his skill set and looking like a specialist who might belong in the league. Forbes turned in his third 30-point game of the summer Tuesday, scoring 35 (for the second consecutive game) in a win over the Trail Blazers and shooting 6-of-11 from three. He led the Salt Lake City league in scoring, and he’s doing it again in Vegas (29.3 points per game). He’s added some wrinkles to his game and handling a larger role comfortably. It’s Summer League and there’s no obvious opening in San Antonio’s rotation… but don’t be shocked.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Pat McCaw, Golden State Warriors

You’re probably aware of McCaw thanks to the general Warriors zeitgeist. Well, he’s still on course as a Junior Splash Bro of sorts, averaging 18 points to lead the team while showing he can handle a real offensive role. With Nick Young in the fold now, McCaw may not be due for a giant uptick in usage, but he’s (obviously) in a perfect low-pressure situation. He remains a theoretically important piece of the Warriors’ future and will be a huge bargain at a $1.3 million price point next season. The tricky part is that he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. As fast as he’s developing and as meticulously as Golden State is forced to work around the money tied up in its major players, McCaw might be playing his way into a fat offer sheet, and maybe a new home. For now, he’s a high-utility bargain and a case study in second-round drafting.

Troy Williams, Houston Rockets

Basketball logic suggests that Summer League returners need to look like they’ve just spent a season in the NBA, lest life on the league’s fringes grow much more difficult. Williams, who bounced from Memphis to Houston last season as a rookie, had 27 points on Monday and has made a real impression, shooting the ball well from deep and starting to round out his skills beyond natural athleticism. The Rockets are a would-be Superteam, and such rosters are often reliant on mining for role players and fitting the right pegs into minimal-salary holes. Sam Dekker is off to the Clippers, and Williams is putting himself in position to stick on the roster. He’s averaged 25.7 points over three games, and a low-cost three-and-D forward is exactly the type of part the Rockets need.

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Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers

Swanigan has been a galvanizing force for the Blazers with his contagious effort. He looks like he belongs. He’s the type of player who was easy to overthink during the draft process, but he’s looked mobile enough and has more than enough length to make up for the lack of height. Given Portland’s cap-sheet constraints, nabbing Swanigan at No. 26 looks prudent. Summer League stats come and go, but the hustle speaks volumes. How many guys are fun to watch rebound?

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John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Unsurprisingly, given the college season he just had, Collins is averaging a double-double and has been among the more productive bigs in Vegas. He fell on draft night over concerns about his overall NBA readiness and maturity, but in the Summer League environment, it matters not. Collins has great hands, rebounds well and has displayed good touch from mid-range. He’ll have ample opportunity to shine as the Hawks rebuild and looks like a worthwhile project.

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