LAS VEGAS — The 2018 NBA Summer League is officially, and mercifully, in the books after the Blazers blew out the Lakers in Tuesday night’s title game.
Earlier Tuesday, the NBA announced the annual Summer League MVP and All-Summer League First and Second Teams. They were as follows:
Summer League MVP: Josh Hart (Lakers)
All-Summer League First Team: Hart, Collin Sexton (Cavaliers), Kevin Knox (Knicks), Wendell Carter Jr. (Bulls), Christian Wood (Bucks)
Alll-Summer League Second Team: Trae Young (Hawks), Wade Baldwin IV (Blazers), Deandre Ayton (Suns), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Svi Mykhailiuk (Lakers)
Here’s how The Crossover cast its official ballot for this year’s Summer League awards. Criteria for selection included individual stats, team success and age (rookies earned bonus points). Note: each team was comprised of two backcourt players and three frontcourt players, and players had to appear in at least three games to be considered by this voter.
Summer League MVP: Josh Hart (Lakers)
Hart’s week ended with a whimper and some frustration: he shot just 3-12 in the title game and was ejected midway through the fourth quarter for arguing calls. That forgettable conclusion hardly marred an exceptional tournament. The 2017 first-round pick averaged 22.4 PPG, the most among players with at least three appearances, as he led LA to a 6-1 record.
While LA’s veteran additions—Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee—all arrive with questions about their fits with LeBron James, Hart looks like an excellent plug-and-play option. In Vegas, the second-year guard moved his feet well defensively, regularly broke down defenders off the dribble and kept playing hard even after it became clear he was far superior than the competition.
Hart’s biggest asset to James will be his outside shooting: he shot with confidence in both off-the-dribble and catch-and-shoot situations, and he didn’t need to dominate the ball to find significant success beyond the arc. Hart shot nearly 40% on threes as a rookie, and his volume of three-point attempts should sharply increase thanks to James’s well-honed ability to create clean looks for his shooters.
All-Summer League First Team
Backcourt: Hart and Trae Young (Hawks)
The top of the 2018 Draft class was short on impact guards and wings, and Luka Doncic’s absence in Vegas further thinned the pool. After a slow start to his summer in Utah, Young (17 PPG, 6.8 APG) got back on track in Vegas. Fixating on his proclivity for launching ultra-deep threes misses a more important point: The Oklahoma product was easily Summer League’s best backcourt playmaker thanks to his spatial understanding, his quality timing, and his willingness to feed cutters and shooters alike.
Although Young was a bit streaky as a shooter, he had his share of scoring explosions and had no problem pulling up from multiple steps behind the arc. Importantly, defenses already pay him serious respect, extending out to crowd him and picking him up early in transition. Young handled that attention well overall, using the threat of his shot to get to the rim and set up drive-and-kick shots for his teammates. Atlanta will almost certainly be terrible this season, but Young’s multi-dimensional offensive game should bring real entertainment value from day one.
Frontcourt: Wendell Carter Jr. (Bulls), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies) & Kevin Knox (Knicks)
Carter doesn’t have the most impressive physique among 2018 lottery pick big men: Deandre Ayton is stronger, and Mo Bamba is significantly longer. Nevertheless, Chicago’s No. 7 pick showcased a more complete and polished game than all his fellow rookies, regardless of position.
On offense, Carter (14.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.6 BPG) is economical with his touches and smart with his shot selection. At 6’10”, he’s comfortable setting screens at the arc, popping to space, and using pump fakes to create attacking lanes from elbow. Although he wasn’t really force fed, Carter still showed the ability to power towards the paint from the block in isolation, and he even hit a tough turnaround with the clock winding down. Defensively, he was a wrecking ball, swatting shot after shot whether as a low-post defender or as a helper coming across the paint. Carter wasn’t thrown off by the pace of the game like some of his fellow rookies, and his shot-blocking instincts caught opponents by surprise on numerous occasions.
There’s a case to be made that Jackson, the Grizzlies’ No. 4 pick, has the highest ceiling of any player in the 2018 draft. Already, the 18-year-old forward/center shoots threes comfortably, covers tons of ground defensively, and rises high to block shots well above the rim. Despite his youth, Jackson (11.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.8 BPG) played with energy and composure, and he looked at home against opponents who were sometimes four or five years older than him. If Carter made talent evaluators quietly murmur their appreciation, Jackson made them lick their lips at what lies ahead.
Memphis has some heavy lifting to do with its roster, as veterans Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons all have huge contracts and injury issues. After years of draft misses, the Grizzlies seem to finally have a prospect who can be a real building block for the future. Jackson projects as an ideal “modern 5” with an All-Star ceiling thanks to his potential as a two-way impact-maker. He should be starting sooner rather than later.
Knox (21.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG) stood out because there weren’t too many playmaking wings with size in Vegas. His physical tools popped all week long: he raced up the court in transition, he routinely threw down powerhouse dunks, and he used simple but effective dribble-drive moves to get into the heart of the defense. Knox won’t always enjoy such massive advantages in size and length when he’s facing true NBA wings, but he showed the ability to punish mismatches and attack opportunistically in Vegas.
There was a little less substance to Knox’s game than some of the other names on this list. Looking past his steady supply of highlight-reel fare, Knox was guilty of streaky shooting and inconsistency. Even so, Knicks fans should be elated by his play given that he was selected at No. 9. If the 2018 class was re-drafted today, he might sneak into the top five.
All-Summer League Second Team
Backcourt: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Clippers) & Wade Baldwin IV (Blazers)
Thanks to his 6’6” frame and long arms, Gilgeous-Alexander (19 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4 APG) easily stood apart from the other point guards in Vegas. While the 20-year-old Canadian was more interested in downhill attacking and scoring rather than setting up his teammates this week, that didn’t come at his team’s expense. He finished well in traffic and often contorted his body to create space for high-percentage looks around the rim.
Against this level of competition, Gilgeous-Alexander was able to force turnovers by pressuring on the ball, and he consistently made simple and effective reads in transition. Although the Clippers are in a bit of an identity crisis following the departures of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers, Gilgeous-Alexander looks ready for real minutes as a rookie.
Baldwin (13.4 PPG and 7.4 APG) earned the nod here as an honorary Blazers representative. Portland fielded a completely stacked Summer League roster with a nine-man rotation full of current and future NBA-level players. The 22-year-old point guard washed out of Memphis after being a 2017 first-round pick, but he did a nice job keeping everyone fed in Vegas while also finding points for himself from the mid-range and going to the basket.
Frontcourt: Deandre Ayton (Suns), Mitchell Robinson (Knicks) & Svi Mykhailiuk (Lakers)
Ayton (14.5 PPG and 10.5 RPG) performed better in the box scores than he did by the eye test. An imposing physical specimen who is ready to hang with NBA centers immediately, the top pick in 2018 lacks elite feel on both ends at this point of his development.
Double-teamed by some opponents and encouraged to shoot jumpers by others, Ayton never quite looked like a dominant offensive force. Most of his points came on lobs and putbacks, and he was neutralized on multiple occasions. While he was a willing passer when pressured, he occasionally rushed and telegraphed his looks, thereby short-circuiting possessions. His hands around the basket need to improve too.
Defensively, Ayton simply doesn’t think the game quickly enough. He was often slow to provide help, his range on contesting shots was smaller than it should be, and he didn’t move as effectively on the perimeter as Carter or Jackson. On the plus side, he was an effective defensive rebounder and he easily won his head-to-head matchup with Bamba.
Robinson (13 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4 BPG) was the top off-the-radar performer this week. The 20-year-old 7’1” center slipped to the Knicks at No. 36 after a suspension spoiled his college career. That drama was a distant memory in Vegas, as he burst onto the scene with vicious blocks and quality pick-and-roll finishing around the basket. Although his offensive game is limited and a bit clunky, Robinson applied regular pressure on the offensive glass and finished forcefully when given room to work. Together with Knox, he had long-suffering Knicks fans buzzing with excitement throughout the showcase.
Mykhailiuk (16.6 PPG, 4 RPG) is the latest in a growing line of productive non-lottery picks by the Lakers, joining Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr., and others. Already 21 after spending four seasons at Kansas, the Ukranian wing doesn’t have the same upside as most of the names on this list. Nevertheless, he was a consistent secondary scoring option behind Hart, displaying a willingness to create shots off the dribble, move without the ball, and raise up over a defender.
The highlight of his week came in the semifinals, when he buried six three-pointers to help the Lakers outlast the Cavaliers in double-overtime. That performance was electric enough to earn him a cult following among appreciative Lakers fans in the building. If LA’s offense gets cramped around James next season, Mykhailiuk, a 41% three-point shooter in college, could be deployed as a floor-spacing specialist.