- The Lakers were the talk of Las Vegas once again, with Josh Hart often proving to be the top talent on the court. Who else stood out? The Crossover picks the most intriguing players at 2018 Summer League.
With NBA Summer League officially in the books, we've had the opportunity to evaluate and examine plenty of the standout players. The Crossover's writers, who have been in Las Vegas to take in the action in person, picked the most intriguing players to watch.
We lead off with Josh Hart, who steadied the Lakers and stood out as the ultimate "too good to be here" player this summer. He won MVP of the Las Vegas tournament, exchanged pleasantries with LeBron James and kept us entertained by an event that can drag at times. With Hart's ability already established, here is our list of most intriguing players.
Josh Hart, Lakers
It's probably a cop-out to pick the Summer League MVP in this discussion, but what can I say? Hart was so clinical throughout his two weeks in Vegas that he forced a nation of Lakers skeptics to rethink all their jokes about everything Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka did after signing LeBron. If L.A.'s free agency decisions were shakier than anyone could've expected, Hart's performance was a reminder that the nucleus of young Lakers players could be better than most people realize.
Hart hit 39% of his threes as a rookie, and while a broken hand forced him to miss almost the entire month of March, he was excellent for the better part of the year. At Summer League, he looked even better. He played every Laker game and reminded the rest of the NBA that he's skilled enough to play either guard position, he rebounds well for his size, he can run a pick-a-roll, he's got the tools to be a capable defender, and he can shoot. Doesn't that sound like a perfect complement to LeBron? Over the past two weeks, the 23-year-old guard averaged 24.2 points (on 47.1%), 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in six games.
Now, it's Summer League. Hart probably won't be a star, and he may not even be a starter. But all that's beside the point for now. Even if there were better long-term propsects who impressed in Vegas—Wendell Carter Jr., Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, Trae Young, Kevin Knox—along with a handful of bigger surprises—De'Anthony Melton, Svi Mykhailiuk, Jevon Carter, Mitchell Robinson—it's rare that anything in Summer League actually matters when it's time to start thinking about the best teams in the regular season.
Hart might be an exception to that rule. — Andrew Sharp
Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies
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 Wendell Carter Jr. 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. — Ben Golliver
Trae Young, Hawks
The conversation around Trae Young has been at a fever pitch since the start of his lone collegiate season, with high levels of hype and crticism consistent throughout. Much of the mystery surrounding Young centered on whether his game would translate to the NBA stage. While his appearance in Summer League wasn't a true test, it offered a vague outline of what he might look like with the Hawks. We witnessed several phases in a matter of weeks, watching the growing pains, 30-foot bombs, slippery ballhandling and nuanced passing in real time.
The Hawks were 2–3 in Summer League and Young played in four games, averaging 17.0 points and 6.8 assists for Atlanta. Although Young's shot came and went (38% FG) throughout, he used the threat of his outside ability as leverage and flashed an impressive ability to run an offense and keep teammates engaged. That skill—not his ability to hit three-pointers deep behind the three-point line—will be the key to Young's NBA staying power. An adept driver and finisher, Young was at his best when putting pressure on the defense, attracting attention and kicking out to open shooters.
With Dennis Schroder traded to Oklahoma City, it's clear that Atlanta is setting the stage for Young. The regular season will be much tougher for Young as he becomes acclimated to life at the NBA's toughest position, but he'll be given the opportunity to learn on the fly in a low-pressure environment. Based on Young's relentless playing style, it'll be entertaining regardless of the result. — DeAntae Prince
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Will Mitchell Robinson prove to be the biggest steal of the 2018 NBA draft? Will he lead the Knicks to a title this season? And should New York even pursue free agents next summer now that they have him?
All joking aside, it’s going to be tough for Knicks fans to contain their excitement after Robinson’s Summer League performance. Robinson might have been the biggest mystery in the draft after sitting out his freshman season and failing to play organized basketball for 14 months. While teams salivated over his measurable and high school highlights, they didn’t get a chance to evaluate him after he skipped the combine. Once projected as a first-round lock, he fell all the way to No. 36 on draft night.
But Robinson’s stock is back on the rise after arguably the most impressive showing in all of Summer League. The 7-footer displayed the type of freakish athleticism that only a few bigs in the NBA possess, blocking shots that seemed physically impossible and canvassing the court on both ends. He averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.0 blocks (!) per game in just 24.8 minutes and provided energy both on the offensive glass (5.4 ORPG) and defensive end. Whether you’re David Fizdale or the most tortured Knicks fan, you can’t blame someone for getting carried away when they see this:
We probably shouldn’t crown Robinson as the King of New York just yet (let’s wait until his first double-double in the preseason), but if there’s one Summer League performance to get irrationally excited about—it was this one. — Matt Dollinger
Wendell Carter Jr., Bulls
Amid the chaotic fray of rookies staking out reputations and castoffs desperately fighting for an NBA lifeline, Wendell Carter Jr.’s sound, measured style cut through the disorder around him. Over two weeks in Las Vegas, the nuances of Carter’s game, which can be lost on untrained eyes, stood out vividly. He lacks the freak athleticism and eye-popping measurables of some of his peers, but Carter resembled the most polished and NBA-ready center of the 2018 draft class.
The NBA learning curve can be unforgiving, but Carter has shown an aptitude that should lessen the gradient. Though the Summer Bulls were just 2–3 in Summer League play, the Duke product averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks while displaying canny feel and skill for a 19-year-old. Carter stretched out beyond the three-point line with ease, demonstrated sound offensive judgment and made consistent, confident rotations on defense. He blocked shots with pristine form—often with two hands—and used natural instinct to read the floor in real time.
That will become standard at the next level, where he’ll consistently face more capable centers than the ones he tyrannized in Vegas. Even on his own team, he’ll have to compete for minutes in an awkwardly constructed frontcourt. But despite Chicago’s long-term questions, it’s clear that Carter, who can fit alongside virtually any frontcourt partner, firmly belongs in the Bulls’ long-term picture. — Ben Ladner