Victor Wembanyama’s potential comes to forefront

new balance

The Las Vegas NBA Summer League offered the first glimpse into the futures of many bright young players in the Association. Victor Wembanyama was obviously the main attraction, but I was impressed by several players’ performances. They may not contribute to fantasy immediately (or even this season), but it’s worth reflecting on some of the best performances throughout the opening weekend of Summer League.

The number one overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft shook off the rust from his first game and delivered 27 points (9-14 FG, 2-4 3PT, 7-12 FT) with 12 rebounds, two triples, three steals and one block across 27 minutes in a loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

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I thought he looked far more comfortable in his second Vegas Summer League game, and it seemed like the Spurs made a concerted effort to get him closer looks to the basket and also give him space to operate above the break and get to his mid-range shot that could become his bread-and-butter. He wasn’t the best player, but his athleticism and creativity at the rim really shined through versus Portland, and though we won’t see him again this summer, his fantasy allure has been validated.

He’s been the best player at Summer League, and to the surprise of no one, he’s been shut down for the remainder of the tournament. He earned that and is the early frontrunner for Summer League MVP.

He led the Rockets to two victories in his two games (including a thrilling buzzer-beater on opening night) and led the Summer League in scoring through Tuesday. Before being shut down, he averaged 35.5 points with seven rebounds, four assists, three triples and 1.5 stocks with 49/33/85 shooting splits. I doubt fantasy managers expected that much of an offensive explosion, but hopefully, this confidence level will carry over into the season.

Jabari Smith Jr. #10 of the Houston Rockets celebrates after hitting a game-winning 3-pointer against the Portland Trail Blazers with under a second left in a 2023 NBA Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center

Jabari Smith Jr. showed out in NBA Summer League. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

He attempted an average of 21.5 shot attempts per game in Vegas, and while that won’t happen once the regular season rolls around, it was great to see him succeed with so much volume. The other area of improvement was in his playmaking. He only registered a couple of assists against Portland, but against Detroit, he tallied six dimes. Playing alongside several shoot-first guys like Jalen Green, Fred VanVleet and Kevin Porter Jr., adding this element to his game would improve his fantasy value going into next season.

As I mentioned on Good Word with Goodwill, Smith “understood the assignment.” He came into Summer League to show a willingness to get better and put in the work as he alluded to after his first game in Vegas, and he did that, plus some. His growth was one of the biggest takeaways from the first few days of Summer League.

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George’s play at Summer League had me questioning whether he belongs in Summer League in the first place. He’s been THAT good.

The 16th pick of the 2023 NBA Draft is firmly in the conversation for Summer League MVP after delivering two pristine performances:

Through his first two Summer League games, he’s averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds with 5.5 threes, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks across 32.2 minutes per game. He ranks second in points, third in assists and second in three-pointers per game over that span and looks all of the part of a player who can contribute right away.

And the path to playing time isn’t terribly far away. Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker opted into their respective player options this summer, so they’ll be on expiring contracts (which is very attractive in this market) and unrestricted free agents by next season. Also, Collin Sexton is on the trade block, too. Ochai Agbaji can play SG or SF, so he’s the only player in the Jazz backcourt I see remaining in Utah over the next couple of seasons.

George is a player I’m certainly watching throughout training camp, and should any of those aforementioned three players be moved, George’s fantasy stock would grow immensely.

Watching Chet live and denying the similarities between Holmgren and Wembanyama’s games was hard. Holmgren had 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in his only game in Vegas.

In terms of value, Holmgren will be a bargain compared to Wemby by draft season, and they’ll do comparable things, like score, rebound and block shots. I’d hoped Holmgren would attempt more shots from beyond the arc, but he’s likely still getting into a rhythm after missing all last season with a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. Summer League didn’t do much to change my position on Holmgren as a candidate for Rookie of the Year and a mid-round pick in fantasy.

Scoot Henderson – PG/SG, Portland Trail Blazers

The number three overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft was cooking in his Vegas Summer League debut before exiting early with a shoulder injury. Henderson tallied 15 points (5-13 FG, 1-3 3PT, 4-4 FT) with five rebounds and six assists in 21 minutes of action versus the Rockets and looked like a cornerstone, franchise point guard.

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Scoot generated plenty of “ooh’s and ahh’s” from the crowd with his patented step-backs, cross overs and tough finishes at the rim with contact. It was only one game but I came away most impressed with his facilitating. He generated 16 points off of only six assists and consistently used his ball-handling and dribble penetration to find shooters on the wing. Whenever the Damian Lillard trade goes down, its going to be Scoot to the moon.

Heat culture might’ve done it again. How do they continually find underrated players that exceed expectations? Robinson is just the latest example.

He put together one of the most dominant performances through the first few days of Summer League and followed it up with 15 points (6-10 FG, 1-3 3PT, 2-2 FT) with nine rebounds, one assist and one steal. He’s the only player averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, and yet, he’s unlikely to crack the rotation playing behind Bam Adebayo and Thomas Bryant. Still, he’s played well enough to acknowledge his performance to date.

Tari Eason – SF/PF, Houston Rockets

He made the NBA2K22 All-Summer League team and has a good chance of running it back after averaging 23.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 threes, 1.0 steals and 3.0 blocks across 32.2 minutes per game. Houston’s also shut him down, and I came away encouraged by his offensive aggressiveness. He converted 36% of his three-point attempts and 49% of his 19.5-shot attempts in his two games in Vegas.

Eason is known for his defensive tenacity and effort, but the growth in his willingness to shoot threes (he averaged 5.5 attempts over two games) and shot attempts, in general, gave me hope that he can be more than a stocks guy in fantasy. In speaking to sources close to the Rockets, the power forward spot is still open for competition. Jabari Smith Jr. did his best to fend off Eason, but this will be a position battle I’ll be paying close attention to as the season inches closer.

His talent is undeniable, but unfortunately, he will miss three-to-four weeks with an ankle injury. He stuffed the stat sheet in his only action against the Trail Blazers on opening night, finishing with 16 points, five boards, four assists, four blocks and three steals.

Accumulating seven stocks in a game is special. He went back and forth with second-overall pick Scoot Henderson, and it was arguably one of the best matchups of Summer League through Tuesday.

Some of Thompson’s finishes with his left hand we’re beautiful. I didn’t realize he had a tantalizing mix of creativity and finesse in his bag:

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With Fred VanVleet signing with the Rockets, Thompson’s path to playing time is still being determined, but playing this level of defense, coupled with his playmaking, will get him minutes.

I wish we got to see more of him in just one game, but any Amen denier saw that playing with Overtime Elite had no bearing on his ability to compete on the NBA level.

Cason Wallace – PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

I came away with the impression that Wallace will put pressure on Lu Dort’s starting role. He’s a better shooter with a smoother handle who can also facilitate.

He drained six threes in his debut, an aspect of his game that can help the Thunder right away. OKC was middle-of-the-pack in three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game, so if Wallace can continue to knock down shots on the perimeter, he could emerge as a deep-league pick or early waiver target. Although, It wouldn’t surprise me if he leaps Dort in training camp and becomes a fixture of OKC’s rotation by the season opener.

He looks like a man amongst boys, averaging 17.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in less than 30 minutes per night in Vegas thus far.

The Pacers may have drafted Jackson’s replacement in Jarace Walker (traded to Indiana on draft night), so he’ll head to training camp in competition for the starting PF spot. Jackson’s strong outings in Summer League should increase his chances.

He passed the eye test, popping off with 23 points (8-14 FG, 2-6 3PT, 5-8 FT) with three rebounds, three assists and two stocks in a 110-101 win over the Knicks. Springer was the best player on the floor, and his bulldog defensive style remains his calling card. I liked what I saw from his game offensively, and with so many pieces leaving Philadelphia, Springer’s athleticism and hustle should get him minutes in the Sixers’ rotation. I don’t know if we’ll see him again this summer after sitting out Monday’s contest versus the Mavericks.

Jaden Hardy – PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks

I wish there were usage data available for Summer League because Hardy had the ball in his hands a lot. He’s a bucket, but I fear those buckets will continue to be inefficient. He had a forgettable first half versus Philadelphia but led a second-half comeback, finishing with 24 points (5-17 FG, 2-8 3PT, 12-13 FT) with six rebounds and five assists. While he’s elite at getting to the rim, I’m not sold on his fantasy appeal outside of scoring. He’ll need an injury to Kyrie Irving or Luka Dončić to get in fantasy lineups.

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