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NBA Daily: Six Summer League Storylines Worth Watching

While there are plenty of storylines worth keeping track of out in Las Vegas, here are six Summer League players you should invest in.

Ben Nadeau

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NBA fans, rejoice — summer basketball is officially underway! After two stops in Utah and Sacramento, the granddaddy event of them all kicked off in Las Vegas on Friday. While the NBA Draft’s top prospects like DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Jaren Jackson Jr. have all made their formal debuts already, there’s little reason to be concerned or worried about anything they do over the next week or so.

However, there are plenty of players worth keeping an eye on as this tournament progresses between now and July 17. Whether you’re examing potential franchise cornerstones taking the next step or watching previously drafted newcomers just trying to get their feet wet, there are some incredible storylines running throughout Vegas. It was difficult to narrow the list down to just six names, but look for these standouts in the box scores and on your televisions — they’ll be ones with the most to gain from a strong summer session.

Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have always loved Caris LeVert, the multi-positional slasher that’s now headed into his third NBA season. As the Nets suffered through another injury-riddled campaign — including long-term maladies to both Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell — it was LeVert who helped steady the ship at the point guard position. Last year, LeVert averaged 12.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 34.7 percent from three-point range — which was an improvement, sure, but perhaps not as large a leap as many expected. Brooklyn brought a young roster with little NBA experience outside of former rookie Jarrett Allen to Las Vegas, so the onus will be on LeVert to be aggressive, control the tempo and, more or less, dominate.

Although he’s still looking to be more consistent, LeVert can absolutely (and efficiently) torch teams on any given night. In one breakout performance in 2017-18, LeVert dropped 19 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and block in a narrow victory against the Miami HEAT. The Nets have plenty of intriguing pieces — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie come to mind as well — but LeVert is the type of do-it-all glue guy that the franchise desperately needs to pan out.

If LeVert is ready to take that third-year leap, we’ll likely see him take Las Vegas by storm… well, once he plays. LeVert did not log time during Friday’s loss to the Orlando Magic — but he’ll lead the way soon enough.

Malik Beasley, Denver Nuggets

There’s no time like the present and it would behoove Malik Beasley to make some big-time waves out west. Beasley, the No. 19 overall pick in 2016, has played minimally over his first two seasons, typically stuck behind veteran stalwart Wilson Chandler. With Chandler moving to the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this week, Beasley should get his long-awaited chance to bloom in Denver — unfortunately, it may be the best and only shot he’ll ever get. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged just 3.2 points over 9.4 minutes per game in 2017-18, but he flat-out knows how to score.

During his one season at Florida State, Beasley pulled down 15.6 points and 5.3 rebounds on 47.1 percent from the floor — so there’s some scoring precedence on his resume already. He’ll turn 22 years-old shortly after Thanksgiving and there are minutes to be had with Will Barton joining the starting five as well. Flanked by Monte Morris and Tyler Lydon in Vegas, it’ll be up to Beasley to assert himself and prove that he deserves a place in head coach Mike Malone’s young, athletic rotation. During Friday’s win over the Timberwolves, Beasley registered 10 points, five rebounds, threes assists and one block on 30 percent shooting.

Willy Hernangomez, Charlotte Hornets

Last season, Willy Hernangomez was freed from the metaphorical jail cell of the Knicks’ bench… and went right into another tough situation behind future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard.

But with the center’s recent trade to the Nets, Hernangomez will only have to deal with Cody Zeller, theoretically, on his long, winding quest for consistent playing time once again. His second-half numbers with the Hornets were both promising and underwhelming at times — but if you rewind to his rookie year with New York, it reveals a far more talented prospect. Over 22 starts to end the 2016-17 campaign, Hernangomez averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, capable numbers that would propel the Spaniard into the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

Now, Hernangomez has the fortune to start his first full season in Charlotte off on the right foot by bossing these summer games. At 24 years-old, there’s plenty of basketball left for the former second-rounder, but the Hornets would love to get a taste of the new Hernangomez in Vegas over the next week. There’s no reason why the 6-foot-11 center can’t use his energetic, reliable skill set to truly breakout in 2018-19 and beyond — particularly so if he keeps trying to expand his range as well.

He got the fresh start that he so badly wanted last season, but this is his biggest opportunity to make good on the Hornets’ front office faith. In Charlotte’s one-point victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Hernangomez starred with 16 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes — an ideal takeoff for the promising center.

Cedi Osman, Cleveland Cavaliers

With the Cavaliers potentially poised to hit the reset button, there’s a golden ticket chance for Cedi Osman to own this upcoming revamp. Understandably, there’s a bit of hyperbole in that statement — but the gifted athlete could be a true building block in a post-LeBron era. Naturally, most casual onlookers will find themselves enamored with Collin Sexton this week, but Osman’s physicality will turn heads undoubtedly. With an innate scoring prowess and high basketball IQ, Osman could be head coach Tyronn Lue’s starting small forward moving ahead — with or without a total blowup of the roster.

While his per game statistics aren’t noteworthy just yet, the 23-year-old turned in a handful of incredible one-off performances. The most impressive single-game output came when Osman tallied 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals on 2-for-5 from three-point range in a 16-point victory. After expecting to ride the bench for much of the season in 2017-18, Osman competed in a remarkable 61 games for the Cavaliers and even earned some postseason minutes as well.

During their Vegas opener, Osman finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four steals to lead the current Eastern Conference champions to a win over the Washington Wizards. Needless to say, if Osman can bring that bucket-getting tenacity all summer, he’ll be a fan favorite just about everywhere before long.

Jonah Bolden, Philadelphia 76ers

Although he was asked to spend a season overseas, Jonah Bolden — one of the most anticipated sleepers from the 2017 NBA Draft — is finally here and ready to play. Not only will he exhibit his skills in Vegas, but Bolden himself plans to stay with the 76ers through the season, no matter what happens during these summer exhibitions.

On Friday, Bolden tallied six points and six rebounds on 2-for-6 from the field, stating afterward that he felt the excitement, nerves and butterflies — “everything, all in one.” Over 29 EuroLeague contests in 2017-18, the playmaking Bolden notched 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 21.1 minutes per game. If he can provide those hustle-worthy numbers for a well-built Philadelphia squad, he’ll be the perfect fit.

At 6-foot-10, the Australian big man joins a crowded rotation under head coach Brett Brown, but his high-ceiling skill set remains evident. He’s got some distance to go on his three-point shooting (31.9 percent), still, Bolden appears to be molded for the modern NBA landscape. Although he won’t be usurping Joel Embiid or Dario Saric’s minutes anytime soon, Bolden could feasibly surpass Amir Johnson or Nemanja Bjelica by year’s end.

For this rookie, the road to that long-term reality starts in Las Vegas.

Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings

Last but not least, there’s Harry Giles — an uber-athletic competitor just itching to begin his NBA career. Giles, a once top-rated high school prospect, underwent surgery on his left knee in 2013 and on his right is 2015, even adding another procedure to the former in the fall of 2016 — a necessary move that would cut his single collegiate season in half. After a cautious freshman season at Duke, the mysterious and risky Giles slipped to No. 20 overall, where the Sacramento Kings were more than happy to trade for his rights on draft night.

With the Kings in the Western Conference basement — and as more franchises decide to be more forward-thinking in regards to long-term rehab — Giles would eventually sit out the entire 2017-18 season. Despite playing in 26 games for Duke, there’s not much of a statistical backlog to go off for Giles — 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game — but the 6-foot-11 challenger has the chance to a play an important role in Sacramento this season. In three California Classic matchups, Giles averaged 9.3 points, six rebounds and a block over 33 minutes per game — not earth-shattering by any means, but a certainly respectable start nonetheless.

Expectations should be tempered following more than a full calendar year without serious in-game action, but Giles has all the tools to be a difference-maker right away. Alongside Marvin Bagley III, the Kings will hope they’ve finally found their frontcourt centerpieces of the future — now it’s just up to Giles to run with the opportunity.

Of course, it’s difficult to make any quantifiable conclusions off of summer basketball without any real stakes, but context is everything. From third-year grinders to rookie-season debuts, each player on this list is at a defining point in their career. At the end of the day, these six competitors likely won’t be the headline-grabbers in Las Vegas, but they’ve definitely earned the right to some extra eyeballs as well — but now that they have our attention, what will these blossoming contributors do with it?

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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G-League

NBA Daily: G League Guards Showing They Belong

Jordan Hicks spoke with NBA hopefuls Trey Lewis and Isaiah Cousins about their current games, playing in the G League and more.

Jordan Hicks

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The Utah Jazz currently have three players out due to injury – all three point guards, coincidentally – so one might say they are a little shorthanded. Because of this, both of their two-way players – Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long – have been called up to travel with the team. Unfortunately for Utah’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, they are left short-handed.

Add this to the fact that their first overall draft pick – and arguably their most important player, Willie Reed – is done for the season.

Things like this aren’t uncommon for the G League. In essence, that is primarily why it is there. As a developmental league for the NBA, it is used to both groom young talent, as well as have players readily available when needed (for teams lucky enough to have a program in their area).

In recent years, the SLC Stars have helped groom current Jazz rotation players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale.

In a league that is growing more and more competitive with every game, every advantage a team can get is clearly a plus. Therefore, having the Stars so close has definitely been a huge positive for the Jazz.

Because a couple of heavy contributors are missing games, guys who are typically important role-players need to step up and be the key guys for the team.

Basketball Insiders had the chance to catch up with two of their young guards – Isaiah Cousins and Trey Lewis – after a recent home loss to fellow G League team the Stockton Kings (affiliate to the Sacramento Kings). In a close game where the Stars were slightly outmatched, these players stepped up in a big way and almost led the Stars to an unlikely come-from-behind victory.

Isaiah Cousins is having a career year with the Stars. His third year in the G League – and second with the Stars – Cousins is averaging 12.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds a night. He’s currently second in the league in assist to turnover ratio at 3.27.

“Making the right reads and [not trying] to force anything,” Cousins told Basketball Insiders. “Whatever the scouting report is, each team has a different defensive scheme each game, so I look at the scouting report and see what they are going to do.”

Isaiah alluded to the fact that preparation is what helps him take care of the ball so well. In a league where taking care of the ball is essential to winning games, solid point guard play is a must. Cousins’ development in that area goes hand-in-hand with his ability to someday make an NBA roster.

“This is my third year in the G League so I’m experiencing and understanding the game now,” Cousins said.

When asked what position Cousins sees himself playing in the NBA, he noted his versatility.

“I think I’m a point guard, but I can play multiple positions and I can guard multiple positions,” Cousins said. “I do a little bit on-ball and off-ball. Basically, wherever a job is open, I’ll take it.”

Trey Lewis has been instrumental to the Stars’ winning record coming off the bench. Averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists, the team relies on his scoring and playmaking abilities to pull-ahead.

Although he isn’t in the starting lineup, Lewis finds himself closing out many games, thanks in part to his clutch shotmaking. Just over two weeks ago Lewis hit a big, go-ahead three-pointer with just seconds left to seal a home win. On the season – in which Lewis has only participated in 13 games due to an early-season ankle injury – Trey has already dropped 20+ points on four occasions.

Lewis played for a handful of teams during his collegiate years, ultimately ending up on Louisville with current Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Lewis and Mitchell are now playing basketball for the same organization and living in the same city. “[Mitchell] is somebody who I talk to on a daily basis. We push each other, we motivate each other, and we support each other so it’s been great.”

Lewis garnered the essential skill of shooting the deep ball in college. While playing for Cleveland State in the Horizon League, he led the conference in threes made, knocking them in at a 42.3 percent rate.

After playing overseas in Germany for two seasons where he was a two-time All-Star in the BBL, Germany’s top basketball league, Lewis came back to the states.

“My goal since a little child has always been to play in the NBA,” said Lewis when asked why he came to the G League. “I feel like I had two great seasons overseas and felt like this was the next step to get to where I want to go.”

As the NBA continues its move to a heavy three-point shooting league, players are finding they need to adapt in this sink-or-swim situation. Players that can’t shoot the deep-ball – at least at a respectable mark – need to hold elite skills in other areas.

Luckily for Lewis, three-point shooting has always been a strength for him.

Basketball Insiders asked him where he gets his confidence from behind the arc.

“Just hard work; my regimen every day, sticking to my routine, getting my reps, and that builds confidence,” Lewis said. “I know I can hit those shots in needed situations.”

The window has opened for NBA teams to sign 10-day contracts. Whether they eventually end up with the Utah Jazz or with an entirely different franchise, it doesn’t matter. Cousins and Lewis will continue to grind so they can have their shot at a spot in the league. But for now, they will continue to work for their current team and help the Stars try and lift the G League championship trophy at the end of the season.

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NBA Daily: Potential 10-Day Contract Players

Basketball Insiders takes a look at a few players who could be prime candidates for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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January 5 was an important deadline in the NBA in that it marked the first day teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts.

Usually reserved for younger, unproven talent looking to get their first shot in the NBA, recently NBA veterans have started going the 10-day route to refresh their careers and get back in the league. For example, Corey Brewer just recently signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.

These contracts are very beneficial for teams in that there’s essentially no risk, and the potential for a high reward. It’s a relatively cheap tryout for teams to get a quick look at players who can potentially be helpful. Best case scenario, they end up finding a solid contributor. If not, then the player is no longer with them after 10 days.

Here’s a look at a few players who could be candidates for a 10-day contract.

1. Willie Reed

The veteran big man has had his taste of the NBA. He began last season as the Los Angeles Clippers’ primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. With the emergence of other players, however, his playing time decreased and he was ultimately traded to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade.

The Pistons then shipped him off to the Chicago Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and the Bulls proceeded to cut him. He ended up being the first overall pick of the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League.

This season with the Stars, he’s been one of the best big men in the G League. Reed has put up 20.1 points per game on 66.5 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s still a quality rotation player and could help a playoff team in need of some size off the bench.

2. John Jenkins

Another NBA veteran, Jenkins developed a reputation as a sharpshooter during his early years in the league, but didn’t do much else. His last appearance in the NBA was last season when he was brought to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks.

He ended up being one of the Hawks’ final cuts before the end of camp, and he subsequently chose to play overseas. He returned stateside this season, where he joined the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate.

Jenkins has had a very strong season thus far, putting up 24.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting, 42.8 percent from the three-point line, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Perhaps the biggest changes in his game have been his playmaking ability and his development into a more versatile scorer. Any team in need of some bench scoring should give him a look.

3. Anthony Bennett

Keeping with the trend of NBA veterans using 10-day contracts to get back to the league, the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft has begun to put people on notice this season.

Bennett last saw NBA minutes two season ago with the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t that bad during his stint in Brooklyn, but the Nets cut him almost halfway through the 2016-17 season. Aside from a brief stop overseas, Bennett has been playing in the G League.

This season with the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett has looked like he’s ready for another shot in the NBA. He’s been averaging a modest 13.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. One of the biggest additions to his game though has been his expanded shooting range. He’s knocking down 43.6 percent of this 5.1 three-point attempts. He’s worth another look for a team in need of a stretch big man.

4. Bruno Caboclo

Another player with NBA experience, it’s probably not fair to call Caboclo a veteran seeing that he rarely saw playing time in the league. When he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, his selection caused quite a bit of confusion, leading to Fran Fraschilla’s now famous quote of him being, “two years away from being two years away.”

Caboclo toiled on the Raptors’ bench for about four years before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He finally was able to see some minutes with the Kings, but still didn’t show much. The Houston Rockets invited him to training camp but ultimately cut him.

Caboclo joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate, and has since been showing that he may very well be worth a 10-day contract. He’s averaging 16 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. When he was drafted, the expectation was he’d develop into a 3&D wing but that didn’t happen. He’s looking much closer to that now. For a team in need of a wing defender who can shoot from distance, he’s worth a look.

Again, 10-day contracts have become a very valuable and inexpensive way for NBA teams to try out potential contributors. If the player pans out, then you have a relatively cheap guy in the rotation. If they don’t, you cut your losses after 10 days. It should be interesting to see if these vets are able to parlay their G League success into a path back to the NBA.

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NBA Daily: Capela’s Injury is a Massive Setback for Houston

Clint Capela’s thumb injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Spencer Davies looks at the massive loss, who may get opportunities and what moves the Houston Rockets could make in response.

Spencer Davies

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James Harden has a real challenge on his hands.

The Houston Rockets’ remarkable stretch from mid-December to the New Year behind the reigning MVP helped put them back in the middle of the playoff picture.

But he had a right-hand man—the same right-hand man who has emerged as a dominant two-way interior presence over the last three years under Mike D’Antoni—and that is Clint Capela.

Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Capela would be out for at least the next month with ligament damage in his right thumb. There’s a chance that the 24-year-old big man could get a second opinion from a hand specialist following the MRI he took Monday.

Before sustaining the injury in Orlando, Capela was having a career season with the Rockets on the offensive end, significantly up-ticking his previous year averages to an impressive 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game.

At the bottom of the barrel in defensive rebounding (and 29th in total rebounds per game), Houston already struggles on the glass as it is. However, they are doing a solid job of preventing their opponents from crashing the boards. Taking Capela out of the equation hurts because of his fundamental ability.

According to NBA.com, the Rockets rebound the ball as a team 89.9 percent of the time when Capela boxes out under the basket. He averages six of them per game and the vast majority of those are coming on the defensive end. It’s a simple part of the game, yet such an important aspect for a group that struggles in that area.

With Capela sidelined, Houston loses its rim protector. While it may be true that he’s not having as much success as last year defending in the paint, he is one of only four players in the league seeing at least seven attempts per game within five feet or less. More importantly—anywhere on the floor—the Swiss center is a top five shot contester among all of his peers.

Offensively speaking, Harden might be the most disappointed. He and Capela have developed an incredibly impressive two-man game through the Beard’s ability to finish at the rim.

Using the pick-and-roll to their advantage, the opposing big often chooses to help his man cover Harden, leaving Capela there for the easy high-handoff. It’s a play this duo has literally executed at will, and it’s been made deadly over the last few seasons.

Couple that with the athleticism and precision both have—few teams stand a chance at stopping it. And, back to the battle of the boards, Capela pulls down five offensive rebounds per game and provides second chance opportunities consistently.

If you don’t get the picture, we’ll leave it at this—the Rockets have to do something to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. The postseason hunt cannot solely rest on the shoulders of Harden. He has accomplished unfathomable feats in his career and was the NBA’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player, but this is another type of challenge.

Houston’s players are dropping like flies. Sure, Chris Paul is on the mend and likely to return soon, and the same could be said of Eric Gordon, but there is little depth in the frontcourt . They’re down to Nene, Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein as men in the middle. The rest are versatile forwards with the ability to play multiple positions, but not the one they need desperately at the moment.

We all know what Nene is capable of. That said, he’s not going to play 34 minutes per night at his age. In fact, the veteran has only eclipsed the 20-minute mark four times total in the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that he’ll give Houston a solid boost in spurts, but that’s likely not sustainable throughout the entirety of a game.

This writer is curious to see what Chriss does with the opportunity in front of him. It is fair to say that his athletic ability matches, or even supersedes, Capela’s, so the alley-oops will be there for him. However, these important questions remained unanswered: Can he screen? Can he rebound? Can he take the challenge?

Chriss was a top 10 draft pick not even three years ago. There’s a ton of potential that can be tapped into here. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’re going to need to see growth and development quickly with little leeway for mistakes. They probably can’t depend on a raw 21-year-old prospect to steadily produce the way Capela has.

Hartenstein offers more size than both of those two and has played in 22 games this season. Still, he has only appeared in one contest since December 3. Hartenstein has taken advantage of his floor time, but the sample size is extremely small. Again, not nearly enough to fill the Capela void.

There are a few names out there that Houston general manager Daryl Morey could pursue.

Purely out of speculation, Bulls center Robin Lopez might be a good fit for a veteran squad and the organization is reportedly refusing to negotiate a buyout, so that may be worth paying attention to.

Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon has quietly put together two impressive seasons in Atlanta. He’s a consistent player who fights for rebounds and gives a solid effort on the defensive end. And an extra attractive quality for D’Antoni—his expanded shooting range. John Collins has stated his own case for extra playing time with stellar play, so Dedmon probably won’t fit into the plans too much longer.

Tristan Thompson is giving his all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He just returned from a foot injury and is getting back to the pre-injury version of himself. The 27-year-old is matching his career-high in points per game and is grabbing a career-best 11.2 rebounds per game to boot.

Like Capela, he is a monster on the offensive glass and excels at the fundamentals of the game with pick-and-roll situations and box outs. The only drawback to Thompson is his hefty, fully guaranteed salary, but he’s only on that deal for this year and the next.

With Cleveland looking to take on “bad” contracts with future assets attached, the Rockets should most definitely consider moving Brandon Knight or some other package along with a pick or two.

This is just a matter of spitballing a few names that might fit the bill for Houston. Heck, even if it’s a minor depth move, going out and getting an underutilized player like Skal Labissiere in Sacramento would make a difference to ensure the others aren’t winding themselves down with a huge increase in playing time.

Whatever the Rockets decide to do, the road to the playoffs has become a whole lot bumpier. Harden is going to have his work cut out for him LeBron James style a la 2017-18. We’re all anxious to see how he responds to such a challenge.

The past is the past—and CP3 was incredible for Houston last postseason—but it sure would be nice to have Montrezl Harrell around now, wouldn’t it?

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