Ten standout players from NBA Summer League

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NBA Summer League continues through this weekend, but at this point most of the players who will be on NBA rosters next season — not to mention much of the media (myself included) — have pulled out of Las Vegas.

Who stood out? Who should we keep an eye on when the season starts? Here are 10 players to watch, from the obvious big names to a couple under the radar guys.

(This is not a complete list and only includes players I saw in person, so no Keegan Murray from the Kings, who dominated the California Classic. This is just guys who impressed me.)


1). Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)

Jabari Smith Jr. was the best player in Las Vegas. Hands down.

He played in eight quarters at Summer League and we’re going to toss the first two out — after that he was a dominant force who scored 71 points across two games. His shot was efficient, he defended well, was strong on the glass, and found open teammates. Maybe most impressive was his improved handles and ability to create shots.

“I think it’s just confidence, you know,” Smith said of his improved handles. “I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time on it, just trying to take bumps and being able to be decisive with your moves. Not just necessarily having an array of moves, but just being able to handle the ball, take bumps and having a few moves go-to moves.”

“I’ve liked his competitiveness. I’ve liked his maturity,” said Rockets Summer League coach Ben Sulivan. “I’ve liked the dynamic skill set that he’s brought on offense — he’s posted up, he’s handling pick-and-rolls, he’s set screens, he’s picking and popped. We’ve kind of moved them all around on different areas of the floor and he’s he’s shown an ability to handle all that.”

Smith also had the best shot of Summer League.

2) Max Christie (Los Angeles Lakers)

The Lakers are deep with solid role players around their stars this season, but Darvin Ham is going to have to get Christie some minutes. The second-year player out of Michigan State got limited run as a rookie but looks ready for more averaging 19 points a game, hitting half his threes, and grabbing 6.3 rebounds a game in Vegas. He was the best player on the Lakers at Summer League and has earned some run.

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Christie played three games and then was shut down for a “minor hip injury.” He didn’t need to play any more in Summer League anyway, he wasn’t learning anything from this level of play.


3) Scoot Henderson (Portland Trail Blazers)

This was an obvious inclusion, even if he played just a little more than a half of basketball at Summer League before Portland pulled him for a shoulder injury (sources told NBC Sports his sitting out is more precautionary than an actual injury).

Henderson didn’t just look “Should Charlotte have taken him at No. 2” good, he was “Could he be better than… nah… probably not” good. Yes, the otherworldly athleticism and NBA build are there, but mostly Henderson just knew how to run a team — he was not rushed, he used his handles and creativity to make space, and then he made the right decision about shooting it or finding the open man. He just makes all the right reads.

He finished with 15 points (not bad for basically a half of basketball), and while the jumper needs to become more steady, Henderson was as good as it gets for a rookie in Las Vegas.

4) Victor Wembanyama (San Antonio Spurs)

Of course he had to be on the list.

The up and down we saw from Wembanyama’s offense in Las Vegas may be a preview of what we will see throughout the season in San Antonio. Along those same lines, the impressive defensive impact we saw in both Vegas games will follow him into the NBA season.

What impressed me most about Wembanyama in person was his maturity and poise. He handled the weird Britney Spears incident like a 10-year vet and wasn’t thrown off by a rough first outing. He can handle the roller coaster that is the NBA.

5) Keynote George (Utah Jazz)

Going into the NBA Draft, the question was “Can he score consistently at the NBA level?” George’s 59 points in his first two games in Vegas suggest he can. Doing it in the Summer League where the style of play suits him is different than doing it during the NBA season, but George impressed. He is worth watching.

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6) Anthony Black (Orlando Magic)

Teams loved Black heading into the draft because of his size for a lead guard — 6’6″ — and his defense, and both were on display in Las Vegas. However, what impressed me more was his game-management skills and decision making in what can be a chaotic Summer League environment.

“Really calm and poised,” Orlando Summer League coach Dylan Murphy said of Black. “I think he doesn’t get rattled easily, really easy to play with, the guys love playing with him. Just a great way about him. I think that will serve him well in this league for a long time.”

Black needs to develop a consistent shot to maximize those skills at the NBA level, but he showed enough in Las Vegas to impress with the potential of what he could become.

7) Jarace Walker (Indiana Pacers)

Saying Walker has an NBA-ready body sells him short — he has an NFL-ready body at 6’8″ and 240. He’s not just strong but mobile, was making disruptive defensive plays and running to the rim in transition. However, what stood out was how he could do a little playmaking — he brought the ball up a few times for the Pacers.

“The guy is very versatile,” Pacers coach Jannero Pargo said. “He can handle the ball and make plays offensively. So we kind of put the ball in his hands sometimes and he makes great plays.”

Like most of the rookies in Summer League (and on this list), he’s got to develop a more consistent shot. But it’s easy to picture Walker getting a little run behind Obi Toppin (one of the quietly great pickups of the offseason) for Rick Carlisle.

8) Cam Whitmore (Houston Rockets)

Whatever the red flags — medical or concerns about his drive — that caused him to fall down draft boards, watching him in Las Vegas it was hard to believe a team did not take a flier on him earlier. He fits in well with the talented second-year players in Houston — Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason — and looks like a player.

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“He has a real, real unique game, plays really hard,” Smith said of his teammate. “He’s young, he’s just real explosive. So I just tried to tell him to keep it simple and let the game come to him.”


9) Orlando Robinson (Miami Heat)

Robinson played 31 games for the Heat last season, but on a roster with Bam Adebayo at center backed up by Cody Zeller (and then Kevin Love came in and took up minutes at the five), the Fresno State rookie was an afterthought.

He shouldn’t be anymore — his play in Las Vegas demanded attention. In two games in Sin City he averaged 25.5 points on 59.4% shooting with 10 rebounds a night — and he was 4-of-7 from 3 in those games. Average in the two games played at the California Classic and Robinson is at 17.8 points a game on 51% shooting and is still well above 50% from beyond the arc.

There are not a lot of front court minutes to go around in Miami, with Adebayo, Love and now Thomas Bryant in the mix, but if Robinson is playing like this — and hitting from 3 like this — Erik Spoelstra is going to have to get him on the court.

10) Dominick Barlow (San Antonio Spurs)

Everyone came to Spurs games to watch Wembanyama, but many people left impressed with Barlow, too.

Barlow was on a two-way contract with the Spurs last season after being undrafted out of Overtime Elite, but he looks like someone the Spurs need t lock up with a roster spot contract (at the minimum or close to it, but still) before another team grabs him. Barlow had 17 points and six rebounds against the Trail Blazers, comes with an NBA body, and could be another success story for the Spurs’ development program.

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