LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League comes to a close Monday after 10 days of action, with the Grizzlies and Timberwolves set to face off for the championship. The Crossover has been on hand to witness the action, and below we highlight our top individual performers from the circuit. Both team success and individual performances were considered in compiling our list, which features four rookies and six returners, all of whom had the gym buzzing at one point or another, and all of whom boast intriguing NBA futures. Our selections are as follows.
All-Summer League First Team
• Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans: No rookie was more impressive over the course of Summer League than Alexander-Walker, who—although in a small sample size—has looked like a steal for the Pelicans at No. 17. Alexander-Walker, a Virginia Tech product and the cousin of promising Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has thrived spearheading New Orleans’s uptempo style as both a de facto point guard and as a featured on-ball defender. He struggled on Sunday as the Pelicans fell to the Grizzlies, but on whole his contributions were overwhelmingly positive. He’s gotten into great shape, particularly relative to where he was as a college freshman 18 months ago, and his dynamic passing ability and great basketball instincts have really popped.
Some of Alexander-Walker’s long-held struggles playing in tight spaces have been mitigated by the Pelicans’ emphasis on transition play. He looks far more aggressive than usual, particularly scoring the ball, which is a good sign at this stage. While many felt he was best served as a two-guard and secondary playmaker as a result of those issues, Alexander-Walker may end up profiling just fine as a long-term combo guard. At the very least, he looks like a valuable long-term piece for New Orleans. – Jeremy Woo
• Tyler Herro, Miami Heat: Herro has already begun to showcase more of his creative off-the-dribble game that was more often than not limited based on the way he was used at Kentucky. He’s quite obviously further along in that area than anticipated, and handed in some great performances for Miami that displayed his full range of offensive skills. Herro has a chance to be a high-end perimeter shooter, and the other stuff is gravy, but it’s pretty clear there’s more going for him.
This isn’t a case of Kentucky holding him back—it’s evident he improved during his time there—but the creativity he displayed as a high school prospect remains, coupled with more efficient shot selection overall. Herro looks to have added some upper body strength, and his size and ability to hit tough shots can certainly play up at the NBA level in due time. Few rookies in this class combined legitimate outside scoring chops with feasible upside, and Miami’s decision to grab him at No. 13 appears shrewd. He’s off to a strong start, and should eventually bring an offensive dimension that Miami’s roster previously lacked. – JW
• Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets: Allen certainly didn’t need extra seasoning in Vegas after spending last season as the Nets’ starting center. It’s more than clear at this point that his physicality and effort as a rebounder and finisher make him a legit NBA option in a vertical spacing role at the five, and most opposing big men were simply overmatched. While he’s still a bit stiff in the upper body and has always been more reliant on his length and motor than truly elite mobility, Allen’s physical tools are outstanding, and he’s put a lot of work in to expand his skill set. At the Summer League level, he’s overpowering. The Nets shouldn’t bother starting newly-acquired DeAndre Jordan ahead of him, as stunting his development would be a mistake, and it won’t be long before Allen surpasses him, if he hasn’t already. – JW
• Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies: Clarke has been a key part of a good run by the Grizzlies’ Summer League team, and his athleticism and smarts clearly play up just fine. Bigger tests lie in wait as he tries to refine himself into a true four-man at the NBA level, but Memphis fans should be enthused by the improvements he’s made as a shooter and his penchant for making plays around the basket. It helps that he knows exactly what his role is, and he should benefit greatly from his fit with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson long-term. On whole, it’s been a nice run for Clarke, and the Grizzlies can wrap up a Summer League title with a win on Monday. Despite the fact he was one of the more divisive prospects in this draft, it’s hard to argue too much as long as he keeps producing. – JW
• Carsen Edwards, Boston Celtics: It was no surprise to see Edwards continue scoring at a high rate in Vegas—it’s just what he does. And at an early second round price, the Celtics will be more than happy with what they have. Edwards scored from all over the floor per usual, manipulating ball screens and creating separation for his potent jumpshot, which is often better on the move. He has excellent balance and almost always leaps off two feet, helping him draw contact to compensate for average finishing ability.
He will never be a plus defender at the NBA level, but if you can get over the fact that Edwards is just a very small shooting guard, his natural ability to put up points in bursts plays nicely. He has work to do as far as playmaking goes, and it will never be the crux of his value, but overall, he’s off to a nice start. It’s hard not to see him being situationally useful down the line. Edwards is a luxury for Boston, who might eventually find minutes for him behind Kemba Walker if his progression continues. – JW
All-Summer League Second Team
• Bruce Brown, Detroit Pistons: Las Vegas often poses as the stage for second-year players to showcase the knowledge gap between rookies and veterans. The Pistons’ sophomore did just that, hanging a triple double on the 76ers and averaging 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists over four games. Brown manipulated entire defenses out of the pick-and-roll, showcasing an ability to score at all three levels and make all the correct passes dependent on a defensive reaction. Brown boasted first-round potential at Miami, but ultimately slipped into the 2018 second round due to his age and injury concerns.
Question marks still linger regarding his consistency shooting from distance, but If Brown can continue emerging as a legitimate rotational guard for Detroit, the Pistons’ backcourt will add much-needed creation ability around Blake Griffin. Reggie Jackson’s contract still remains on the books and the team inked Derrick Rose to a two-year deal, but both of those lead ball handlers have had noted issues with efficiency and health. Brown’s on-ball prowess in Summer League may foreshadow some key contributions for the Pistons’ quest to return to the postseason—especially if he can guard opposing point guards like he hounded foes at UNLV this week. – JF
• Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat: With only two weeks separating Nunn from a $100,000 guarantee date on Aug. 1, the guard can likely take solace in the fact Miami rested him and Tyler Herro for Saturday’s playoff game. In what has become a hot-button topic in Las Vegas, teams really only rest players they’re invested in keeping healthy in lead-up to the regular season. Nunn certainly played the part, posting 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists over four games this week. He has good size for a point at 6’3" and used his stretchy wingspan to break up passing lanes.
Nunn should be able to mark both guard spots at the next level. Most impressively, Nunn displayed a dribble-drive finishing ability most younger guards struggle to develop, mixing an array of floaters and scoop shots around rim protectors. Like most dynamic G-League guards, though, Nunn is more of a two-guard wrapped in the frame of a point. He made strides operating out of the high-screen action this week, yet still looked to score a bit more than NBA evaluators would like. Even still, his ability to find the basket (55% FG) is something most teams end up searching for on their bench. We’ll likely know soon enough how much Nunn will factor into the Heat’s plans for 2019-20 as that guarantee date lingers. Miami seems destined to at least carry him into the preseason. – JF
• Lonnie Walker, San Antonio Spurs: What made Walker sizzle as a prospect at Miami (alongside fellow second-teamer Bruce Brown) was his complete arsenal of combo guard skills. If you don’t include the immaculate hair, Walker stands at 6’5" with a 6’10" wingspan, able to blanket both guard positions while commanding the ball and spotting up on the wing. What stood out about his dominant performance over two games in Las Vegas—averaging 30.0 points on 58% shooting—was Walker’s ability to play with pace. At times, he either raced past off balance defenders or froze charging rivals with hesitation dribbles and shifty bounces. The outside shot looked pure. He finished a few impressive, high-flying dunks.
Walker suited up at UNLV to get his, make no mistake about that. His development as a creator is the most interesting element of his progression. Walker has the tools and has flashed the vision, but he’s always been more of a scorer, able to get a bucket whenever his team requires so. But with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White entrenched long-term at point guard in San Antonio, Walker will eventually be cleared to score as DeMar DeRozan fades or even moves on elsewhere. For now, Walker is tracking towards a terrific partnership with Murray in San Antonio’s backcourt. – JF
• Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers: There may not be one team in Las Vegas more excited about a singular performance this week than the Blazers are with their young point guard. After playing sparingly as a rookie, Simons claimed the reigns of Portland’s Summer League outfit, and was perhaps the most impressive player at the event, despite playing only three games. Simons’s jumper stands out immediately. He has compact, clean mechanics he replicates with every shot, unfurling a beautiful ball that hardly touches rim.
With his ability to shoot both off the catch and bounce, it’s very easy to envision the youngster playing alongside either Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum in Portland’s two-guard scheme. That could be a real possibility for Simons following the loss of Seth Curry in free agency. If Las Vegas was any indication, he looks more than ready to take a stab at that reserve role in the regular season. His 35-point explosion against Utah was a long-range masterpiece and pick-and-roll exhibition. He tends to snake high-screen action and really attempts to toy with the big man. Still just 20 years old, Simons’s body should continue to build out muscle, which will only amplify the impressive finishing ability he flashed in the paint this week. Portland has a good one in Simons. Just how prolific his development becomes may be is critical to fleshing out Terry Stotts’s rotation in a jam-packed Western Conference elite. – JF
• Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans: The Texas center missed Zion Williamson’s electric debut due to the holdup in the Anthony Davis trade, but make no mistake: Hayes’s Summer League opener was just as earth-shaking as his teammate’s. Hayes delivered the highlight of the Las Vegas event, nearly decapitating a Bulls defender as he soared for a ridiculous one-hand jam. Hayes admits he’s still growing into his body—and is potentially still growing—and it’s a bit scary to envision the optimized athletic powers of a Hayes-Williamson frontcourt in New Orleans.
His shot-blocking presence is nothing short of intimidating. He can finish nearly any lob pass thrown within five feet of the rim. His shooting mechanics are still a bit wonky, but there’s enough of a base to his form that Pelicans coaches are encourage he will, at a minimum, be able to punish teams that put their high-flying center on the foul line. His passing ability also popped here in Nevada, despite a lack of assist numbers. As the game continues migrating out to the perimeter, positioning 7-foot giants at the three-point line to conduct dribble handoffs, Hayes’s natural feel will work wonders helping him adjust to a professional scheme. – JF