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NBA AM: Jumping Around NBA Summer League

Ben Dowsett takes a spin around the league from on the ground at Vegas Summer League.

Ben Dowsett



As we reach into mid-July, the final remnants of real-ish NBA basketball begin to flame out as NBA Summer League comes to an end. Basketball Insiders’ Ben Dowsett recently spent a few days in the desert collecting observations and rumors from around the association – here are a few big areas to keep in mind, both on and off the court.


Summer League always produces a few standouts – some expected and others relatively out of nowhere. With apologies to guys like Dennis Smith Jr. (perhaps the tournament’s best overall player, but one this eye didn’t get a chance to watch in person), Bryn Forbes, Rashad Vaughn, Wayne Selden and a few others, here are three that stood out the most for various reasons.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: Tatum showed up to Salt Lake City for Jazz Summer League already on fire, and there hasn’t been much in the way of extinguishers around since then. The third overall pick is making plenty of Bostonians feel good about the selection, and about rumors that Tatum sat alone atop Boston’s pre-draft board.

Scouts in attendance loved Tatum’s NBA-level game with the ball in his hands; not just his shot-making, but his ability to find his spots effortlessly. That kind of stuff takes plenty of guys with his skill set years to master. There are still moderate concerns about his abilities and effort level defensively, and about what he can do off the ball – something that will be a big factor early in his career with guys like Isaiah Thomas and Gordon Hayward in Boston. But he appears easily ready to torch bench units at the NBA level already, and since it looks like he’ll be doing plenty of that in his role as a rookie, it’s hard for Boston fans not to be thrilled early on.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: The only guy who’s had any sustained success stopping Tatum from getting whatever he wants offensively thus far this summer? That’d be Jazz draftee Donovan Mitchell, who has fans in Utah frothing at the mouth as they search for a new hero following Hayward’s departure.

Mitchell gives up several inches in height Tatum, but after watching the third overall pick torch other guys for the first quarter of their Jazz Summer League matchup, the former Louisville asked for the assignment personally. A couple steals, a stare-down and a wicked spin move that put Tatum on the ground made the highlight reel, but the degree to which Mitchell removed Tatum from Boston’s offensive game plan for those final three quarters was more awe-inducing at the time. Other positive areas may need a healthy grain of Summer League salt before we’re convinced, but it feels like Mitchell is primed to be a fearsome on-ball defender from the moment he steps on a real NBA court.

Unsurprisingly given their operating guidelines, the Jazz are slowing the brakes on the Mitchell excitement behind the scenes. He still has some major chucker habits to rid himself of, plus work to do as a lead ball-handler and off-ball defender. But his success this summer – almost exclusively against other high-level prospects expected to be in the NBA next year, by the way – is hard to ignore. He has a beautiful shooting stroke, ridiculous athleticism and the sort of character the Jazz prioritize more than maybe any other team in the league. Don’t be surprised if you hear the name a lot more moving forward.

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: All the attention from the pro-Lakers crowd that always fills Thomas and Mack Arena has justifiably been on the Lonzo Ball show. In a cumulative sense, though, Kuzma has been the Lakers’ best player so far this summer. The former Utah Ute has quietly been putting up numbers that compare pretty favorably to a standout like Tatum, displaying a skilled all-around game. It’s tough to say which parts of this will translate to the full-time NBA and which will die among more gifted athletes, but Kuzma is off to a strong start.


It felt like temporary Lonzo mania early on, and maybe it was; per the league, that Saturday July 8 (Ball’s first game) set the single-day Summer League attendance record with a full sellout of 17,500 tickets.

Things never really slowed down, though. Teams like the Clippers and Kings were playing to packed lower bowls, and the league reports that this year’s tournament is on pace to break the single-year attendance record. League folks are thrilled with the brand that’s been established in Vegas, plus high TV viewership numbers on both ESPN and NBATV. This all bodes very well for NBA fans who can’t go without their July fix each summer.

Quality of Play

Both league and team folks commented on the overall level of play this summer. There are always standouts and guys who are clearly too good for this level, but the number of those guys feels larger than normal this year.

As one team executive put it, though, the more impressive part talent-wise might be at the lower end of rosters. There are just more talented players than ever coming to Vegas to show their skills to all the league’s decision-makers, even guys who are big long shots to catch on with an NBA squad. There’s a knowledge that exposure here can lead to success in areas beyond the NBA – in Europe or perhaps at the revamped G-League level, where there will be more opportunities to shine and crack the big show in upcoming years.

For that reason, you’re seeing fewer and fewer total zeroes out there on the court, even at the bottom of rosters. In turn, this could make teams more willing to send their best young guys and keep them active for longer in the future – real experience among high-level teammates and opponents is more valuable than time against scrubs.

Board of Governors

Summer League also marks annual Board of Governors meetings, and true to form in a league office that moves quickly under Adam Silver, a few big changes have already been reported. One is a change in the trade deadline, which will now move to the Thursday that falls 10 days before the NBA All-Star Game each year. This means any traded players will have the break to situate themselves in their new homes, though some folks are intrigued to see what happens the first time a guy selected to the All-Star team in one conference is traded to the other before the game. This is one to revisit in a couple years.

The other change is far more significant for in-game play, and involves the reduction of timeouts to speed up game flow. The changes can be found in full here. A few of the most important:

  • The maximum number of timeouts per game between both teams will decrease from 18 to 14.
  • “Full” and “20-second” timeouts, neither of which were really truthful in their labeling in the first place, are gone. Each team will now have seven team timeouts for the entire game, all of which will be 75 seconds in length.
  • All four quarters will have mandatory timeouts at the first stoppage under seven and three minutes. This replaces the previous system, in which the second and fourth quarters had different mandatory timeouts than the first and third.
  • Each team can enter the fourth quarter with up to four timeouts, but will be limited to just two under the three-minute mark (or after the second mandatory timeout in the quarter) – coaches can’t hoard timeouts for the end of games, effectively.

This is a clear effort from the league to reduce certain unsightly parts of their game-ending product. Lots of NBA diehards have long pined for a system closer to FIBA, where players’ creativity and guile under pressure is tested more regularly in close games. This isn’t that, but it’s a step in that direction.

The larger effects, though, might come in scenarios nowhere near the end of the fourth quarter. Many of the league’s coaches structure their substitution patterns at least partially around those mandatory timeouts; one reason among many that plenty of star-level guys previously would play most of the first quarter before sitting early in the second was the fact that coaches could “buy” them more rest.

A guy could come out at the 3:00 mark of the first quarter and get three lengthy broadcast timeouts to rest: the three-minute timeout in the first quarter, the end-of-quarter break and the mandatory nine-minute timeout in the second quarter. They could get more actual time on the bench than certain other guys who sat for longer chunks of game time.

How things change with the new mandatory system is yet to be seen, but things will definitely change. Fewer timeouts overall means depth will be at more of a premium – something other folks have already noted, and something team people are already hard at work planning for. More coaches have already been utilizing multiple rest periods per half for high-minute players in recent years, and this could increase in some cases as bench bosses try to keep their guys fresh without holding them off the court for too many in-game minutes.

There will surely be a few unintended consequences as well, and the smartest minds are already trying to crack them in advance. There really isn’t anyone complaining about this one for now, but we’ll see if that remains the case once the actual games get started. NBA fans can whine about just about anything if you give them time.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.


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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau



Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes



The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.


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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig



The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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