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NBA Daily: The Race For The Eighth Seed In The West

After a summer of retooling, the Western Conference will once again be deep with playoff contenders. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few that could be right on the cusp of finishing in the top eight.

Quinn Davis

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Competing for a low playoff seed is an oft-maligned goal in the NBA. Pundits and fans will almost always call for a rebuild if a team is seemingly heading towards the dreaded 7-11 seed in their conference.

There are a valiant few that will drown out the noise and view any playoff berth as a success.  These franchises are usually in the midst of an extended playoff drought, a young team looking for proof of progress or an old team with too much pride.

This season, the Western Conference will feature a large number of franchises that will feel as if they have failed without a playoff berth.  

There are, of course, only eight spots available, and those spots begin to fill up very quickly when looking at the list of teams who will be vying for them. The Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets and Jazz are considered by most to be bona fide locks. The Warriors still have a perennial MVP candidate and a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate that will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.  Then there are the Blazers, who seem to always manage to win five more games than they’re expected to and are coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance.  

This would leave only one spot for the following four teams that seem eager to chase late-April basketball: Spurs, Mavericks, Pelicans, Kings.  

Those four fall across all areas of the low-playoff seed spectrum. The Spurs are trying to maintain a 22-year playoff streak, while the Kings are trying to break a 13-year drought. The Mavericks and Pelicans both are led by players pinned as future superstars and feature a deep roster with veteran talent that they hope will be enough to mobilize a next step.  

Barring a seismic injury or collapse, three of those teams will not make the playoffs. Let’s take a look at how each of them could win this battle, starting at the most likely to win that spot and working down.

San Antonio Spurs

Death, Taxes and the Spurs making the playoffs, right?  Last season, the Spurs clawed their way to 48 wins and once again made the tournament. They did so on the back of a bench that blitzed teams all season long, outscoring opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions when both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were on the bench, per Cleaning the Glass.

The Spurs also were elite from deep last season, hitting 40.1 percent of their three-point attempts throughout the year. While this number remained relatively unchanged for each lineup, the frequency at which they attempted these shots jumped whenever both DeRozan and Aldridge sat, per Cleaning the Glass.

It will be interesting to see if the Spurs can keep up the production from both the bench and from beyond the arc this season. Davis Bertans, a valuable reserve who shot 44 percent from deep, is now in Washington. He will be tough to replace, but coach Gregg Popovich has a track record of maximizing his talent.

There is also the return of Dejounte Murray, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.  Murray, an All-Defensive Second Team selection in 2017-18, could help shore up a defense that slipped all the way to 20th in the NBA last season.

There is some mild concern here that the playoff streak could be in jeopardy. The Spurs outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when Bertans was on the court, per Cleaning the Glass. DeRozan and Aldridge continue to age, and if their production slips it might be too much for the bench make up.

That said, it still would seem foolish to bet against the Spurs. If the defense rebounds to a Spurs-ian level, it could more than offset the slight dip in three-point accuracy we might see this season.  

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks will enter the season with one of the more intriguing rosters in the league. There is the precocious Luka Doncic, who could be the cornerstone of this franchise for years to come.  Kristaps Porzingis is also in tow and will be playing real basketball for the first time since just before the All-Star break in 2018.  

Last season, the Mavericks stumbled to the finish line after trading multiple contributors for an injured Porzingis, finishing 33-49. Now with the Latvian big man healthy – and veteran difference makers like Seth Curry and Delon Wright in the fold – the expectations have rightfully risen.

Much of the Mavericks’ success this season will come down to the health of Porzingis. Before the injury, he was scoring 22.7 points and grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game with the Knicks, while shooting nearly 40 percent from deep and providing elite rim protection. That skill set is rare, and him finding his form will both solidify a creaky defense and open up a clogged offense.

Doncic will be the first to welcome a second option like Porzingis. After the trade last season, Luka’s usage shot up to around 35 percent, and his shooting percentages cratered as a result. With a better roster around him, the 6-foot-7 point forward should find more holes in opposing defenses.  

The virtuoso talent flashed by Doncic last season has many predicting a sophomore year leap.  This leap could be amplified by improved roster, as Doncic may be able to increase both his raw production and efficiency.

The Mavericks lacked in both shooting and playmaking outside of Doncic last season. Seth Curry could give a nice jolt to their 34.9 percent three-point shooting, and Delon Wright will bring rock solid point guard play.

Outside of the big names and new additions, the Mavericks will also look for internal improvements from the likes of Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber. Particularly Brunson, who enters his second season after a summer spent training with the USA Select team .

It is clear the Mavericks will house a better team this season; the question is whether that improvement will be enough for them to chase a playoff seed. If they do find themselves in that position, it will likely be on the back of a sophomore year leap from Doncic and a fully healthy Porzingis. Those two “what ifs” panning out for Dallas, plus the improved roster on the margins, could make for a feisty team in April.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings bring back nearly every contributor from last season in their quest to snap a 13-year streak of lottery participation. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are coming off career years.  Marvin Bagley III had a promising showing with the USA select team this summer, and Bogdan Bogdanovic showed promise win his Serbian team action as well.

Fox holds the key to the Kings’ future. He is the face of the team and one of the most exciting players in the league.  His ability to grab a rebound and beat all five of his opponents to the other basket is reminiscent of prime John Wall or Russell Westbrook. The Kings were about six points per 100 possessions better with Fox on the court, per Cleaning the Glass.

He is still only 21, and him continuing his trajectory towards elite point guard will go a long way in keeping this team competitive. He had a nice summer practicing with the USA National Team before deciding to head home just before the tournament began.  

Buddy Hield quietly made the seventh most three-pointers in a season ever last year, behind only four Stephen Curry seasons, and both James Harden and Paul George in 2018-19. He will turn 27 this season, and it’s possible that last season will go down as his best ever. Hield getting as close as he can to replicating that production will be necessary for the Kings’ playoff hopes.

The Kings’ wing rotation is deeper than last year with the addition of Trevor Ariza. Bogdanovic is 27 but entering only his third NBA season. His electric World Cup performance has inspired hopes of a big season off the bench. Harrison Barnes will likely man the starting role, and he is coming off his best shooting season as a pro.

The frontcourt is improved with the upgrade from Willie Cauley-Stein to Dewayne Dedmon.  Dedmon brings veteran defense and better spacing at the center position, and should be a better fit next to Bagley. Bagley is another who showed promise over the summer with the USA Select Team, giving credence to the projection of a sophomore year leap from the bouncy power forward.

The Kings lack playmaking outside of Fox. Cory Joseph will take backup point guard duties, but he does not bring the shot-creating ability that the Kings may need in the minutes Fox sits.  Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes both showed flashes last year and could make for serviceable frontcourt reserves.

The Kings should be better a team this season. Internal improvements from the young players and a slight bench upgrade might be all it takes to get above the .500 mark. Slightly above .500 may not be enough realize the playoff dream however, as it took 48 wins for the Spurs to get in last season.

To make it to that level, it may take another slight jump from Fox and large improvements from both Bagley and Bogdanovic. The improvements would also have to come with sustained production from Hield. There is also the unknown effect that new coach Luke Walton will have on the team. If his free-flowing offense open things up a little more in the half-court, the Kings could be in the race at the end of the season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are almost a completely new basketball team.  Jrue Holiday returns as the team’s captain and best player. His ability to play both on and off the ball make him an ideal fit next to first overall pick Zion Williamson. The bundle of players received in the Anthony Davis trade will also make this roster deeper than in years past.

Williamson is the crown jewel here. His all-world athleticism, solid ball-handling, feel for the game and limitless motor combine to make him one of the best prospects of the 21st century.  That said, there are still concerns about his shooting and the Pelicans’ ability to space the floor around him.  

Despite that, he should make an immediate impact in transition for a team that will run as much as possible under coach Alvin Gentry. His athleticism and quick feet also have him slated as a plus-defender right out of the gate.

Holiday will bring his usual elite defense and playmaking to this group. The Pelicans collapsed whenever Holiday sat last season, per Cleaning the Glass. His shooting slipped to 33 percent from deep last season, and an improvement there would add some much needed breathing room to the Pelicans offense.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram will also play pivotal roles after coming over from Los Angeles.  There has been particular noise around Ball’s improved shooting out of Pelicans camp. He will most likely be given the backup point guard role behind Holiday.

The Pelicans are also banking on improved three-point accuracy from Ingram, who fell to 33 percent from deep after shooting 40 percent the year before. Ingram showed flashes of playmaking with the Lakers, but also displayed a penchant for contested mid-range jumpers. That will need to be rectified for Ingram to take the next step this season.

The Pelicans did well in free agency to bring in helpful veterans in JJ Redick and Derrick Favors.  Redick will give the Pelicans an elite shooter to space the floor, and someone who could develop a two-man dribble hand-off game with Williamson. Favors will provide rim protection and a lob threat at center to pair next to the rookie.

It is nearly impossible to project how the Pelicans will perform next season. The height of their ceiling will come down to how quickly Williamson can acclimate to the NBA. Ingram and Ball will also need to take a step forward for this team to reach their full potential. They may struggle to score in the half-court, especially early in the season, but the fury they could unleash in transition will make them entertaining to watch.  

Everything will need to go right for the Pelicans to make the final eight. Even then, they will likely need help by a collapse from a team in front of them.

While the most likely playoff scenario seems like the seven aforementioned teams plus one of these four, anything can happen in the NBA. The Warriors and Blazers may just be one injury away from sliding down a tier. The Timberwolves could be a sleeper to enter this race if they stay healthy and get a rejuvenated Andrew Wiggins.  

The Western Conference will be a bloodbath as usual, and at least three teams will come away from the wreckage with hung heads as they trek to the lottery.

It will be exciting to watch it play out.

Quinn Davis is a contributor for Basketball Insiders. He is a former collegiate track runner who currently resides in Philadelphia.

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NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT

Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.

Drew Mays

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209 wins, 202 losses.

That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.

Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.

Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.

But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.

Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.

Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.

Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.

Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.

While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.

This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.

All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.

The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.

Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.

After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.

Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?

The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?

That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.

They have Butler now. They have their star.

Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.

A contender.

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Simple Problems With Difficult Solutions

Matt John takes a look at three teams that need to address weaknesses in their rosters and the challenges each team faces in doing so.

Matt John

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Remember when Carmelo Anthony was out of the NBA? That seems so long ago now even though his stint in Portland started less than a month ago.

Let’s go back to that time. In ‘Melo’s almost one-year exodus from the NBA, fans, media, and even players alike were begging for his return. To be fair, this was based more on his reputation as one of the best scorers of his time rather than his recent play with his previous two teams.

Looking back, it was a little odd that for almost an entire year, absolutely no one wanted to roll the dice on Carmelo. Not even on a non-guaranteed contract. But, what was even odder was that although he had plenty of advocates on his side, said advocates couldn’t collectively decide which team really needed him.

At this stage in his career, it was a little tricky to figure out what role he could play because it wasn’t clear how much he had left in the tank or how he’d adapt to his decline after his underwhelming performances with both Oklahoma City and Houston. There was a lot of demand for Carmelo to come back to the NBA. Where he should make his comeback was the question.

Of course, now, we’ve seen that Carmelo can still bring it – so far – if given the right opportunity. The simple problem, in this case, was that Carmelo needed another chance in the NBA. The difficult solution was that, at the time, there was no clear-cut team that would have been perfect for him to go.

That brings us to this season. We are approaching the 1/4th mark in the NBA regular season and now we’re starting to see the true colors of some of these teams. The following teams have simple problems that need to be fixed. At the same time, how they’re going to solve them will be tough to figure out.

San Antonio Spurs

With every minute that passes, the playoff odds are looking less and less in the Spurs’ favor. When was the last time anyone said that about San Antonio? 1996? The naysayers have been dreaming of this day for longer than Vince Carter’s entire career, but this might just be the moment they’ve been waiting for – the end of an era.

San Antonio is currently 8-14, they have a point differential of minus-4.0, and worst of all, they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the NBA. Maybe it would be different if Davis Bertans or Marcus Morris were around, but that doesn’t change that it’s only going to get harder from here.

Twenty-two games into the season and it’s clear the Spurs’ established stars – DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge – do not mesh well with one other, sporting a net rating of minus-7.2 together. Any three-man lineup with DeRozan/Aldridge plus one of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White has a frighteningly negative net rating – all are minus-7.3 or lower.

It gets worse. Both DeRozan and Aldridge have very negative net ratings – Spurs are minus-10.5 with Aldridge on the court, minus-13.3 with DeRozan. All three of Murray, White, and Forbes have negative net ratings as well, but why it looks worse for the former All-Stars is because those two are supposed to be the main ingredients of a projected playoff team and they’re most certainly not that right now.

Trading them would be the advisable next step but to who is the million-dollar question. Both of them are really good players. They’re just not great players. They’re both lethal scorers. Both of them can put up 20-30 points on any given night. The real issue is that even if they put up their usual numbers, that doesn’t always equate to a win. If you don’t believe that, look at the Spurs’ record again.

Aldridge would be easier to trade on paper because his contract is more favorable since it’s guaranteed for next season, but potentially trading for DeRozan is a little more delicate of a situation. DeMar has a player option after this season, which can be a catch-22 for players like him. If he plays well, he’ll opt out of the contract and go for his next payday. If he doesn’t, he’ll opt-in and drag the cap down another season.

That makes it harder for teams to invest assets for a guy like him. He would usually be worth more if his contract was longer, but the risk of him leaving after less than one season is too big to give up something good for him. There are teams that could definitely use the offensive boost that DeMar provides, but they may not have the matching contracts nor be willing to offer the young value that the Spurs would want in a deal.

Some retooling definitely looks in order for San Antonio, but this situation is a lot more complicated than it was last year.

Boston Celtics

At 15-5, the Celtics are both exceeding expectations and are fun to watch. In other words, they look like a Brad Stevens team again.

Boston’s offense has looked much-improved thanks to both better production from Brown, Hayward and Jayson Tatum as well as letting their most egregious ball stoppers walk. By having less pure scorers on the team, there are a lot more touches to go around, which has made the offense look more fluid than it did last year.

What’s more surprising than their more team-oriented offense is their stingy defense. The Celtics have the sixth-best defensive rating, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions, despite losing Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

Marcus Smart’s ability to cover just about anyone on the basketball court provides so much cushion for them on the defensive end. Brown, Hayward, and Jayson Tatum have all been stingy switchable wings that make life harder for opponents. Even guys like Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams have proven to be passable options as undersized centers.

Even their pure bigs haven’t been that bad. Daniel Theis has been excellent as the team’s most reliable rim protector, allowing opponents to shoot just 52 percent at the rim, and Enes Kanter has the third-best net rating among rotation players, as Boston is plus-5.6 with him on the floor.

Despite that, no matter how good this Celtics crew may look, the knock on them will be the same until they change it: They need an upgrade in the frontcourt.

Theis has been about as good as the Celtics could have hoped for from him, but as of now he can only reasonably be counted on for 20-25 minutes at most. The Celtics have done a great job covering Kanter’s holes, but is that going to hold up in the postseason? Robert Williams III has made substantial progress, but the young mistakes he makes demonstrate that he’s still a year or two away.

Boston has been better than what many thought they would be, but they’d rest easy knowing they had another dependable option in their frontcourt.

Where do they get one though? They don’t have any expendable contracts to give up in a deal. They’ve made it clear that neither Hayward nor Smart are going anywhere, and for good reason. The only other big contract they have on the books is Kemba Walker, and they’re definitely not trading him.

Since Theis and Kanter get paid $5 million each, it’s hard to combine them for an upgrade because the hypothetical upgrade they would need would cost more than that. Since those two are Boston’s most proven bigs, it’d be hard to see them getting rid of both. Their only option might be the buyout market in February, which is a risky game to play.

As good as Boston has been, they haven’t squelched the fears surrounding their frontcourt issues. It only makes you wonder what this team would look like if they still had Al Horford.

Memphis Grizzlies

They may not be a good team right now, and probably won’t be a good team for a couple of years, but how can you not like this young Memphis Grizzlies team?

They’ve hit two consecutive bulls-eyes with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They’ve got some good complementary veterans in Jonas Valanciunas and Jae Crowder as well as good complementary young guys like Brandon Clarke and Dillion Brooks.

It might be weird to say this, but even though they are one of the worst teams in the league, they’re ahead of schedule. The pieces are in place. They are forming a good culture. They probably will get another high lottery pick depending on what record they finish with. It’s a far cry from the Grit-n-Grind era, but the promise the young Grizzlies possess is undeniable.

There’s only one elephant in the room – Andre Iguodala. He’s been an issue that they’ve been avoiding ever since they acquired a first-round pick by adding his “services.” The word “issue” should be taken with a huge grain of salt because it’s not really causing any disruption. Iguodala wants to play for a winner, and Memphis wants to get something good for him.

It makes all the sense in the world. Neither side owes the other anything. Iguodala shouldn’t be spending what’s left of his career on a team that just pressed the reset button. Memphis shouldn’t let a guy with his skillset go if he can be had for something. Even at almost 36, Iggy is still a valuable player.

Besides the fact that no one is going to offer a first-round pick for a role player in his mid-30’s on an expiring deal, the biggest issue for the Grizzlies is that hardly any team vying for his services has an expendable matching contract to trade for Andre and his $17+ million contract.

Most teams who have expendable deals in the NBA are ones that don’t have any use for Andre because they’re not going anywhere. Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit are all teams that have guys on overpaid deals that are worth giving up, but the likelihood that they go for a guy like him with the place they are at now isn’t likely.

Teams like the Clippers, Blazers or HEAT could certainly put themselves in the bidding, but that would require sacrificing guys who are thriving in their rotation, like Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless, or Kent Bazemore.

The one option that makes sense is Dallas. They have a player currently out of their rotation that is being paid enough to be used to get Andre – Courtney Lee. They definitely need some help along the wing, and Iguodala would bring championship experience to a team that has exceeded all reasonable expectations.

What Dallas might do is try to see if they can get a better overall player since the team has both Lee’s and Tim Hardaway Jr’s contracts that can be used to acquire a star. They don’t have a lot of assets, but that may be worth looking into first before looking at Iguodala.

Releasing Iguodala would be Memphis’ last resort, which they don’t want to do, but finding an acceptable trade partner is going to be difficult especially if they want to get something back for him. The longer they wait, the lesser the value.

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Summer League Standouts Faring Well

Jordan Hicks takes a look back at some of the most notable All-Summer League Team players and discusses the contributions they’ve made up to this point in the NBA season.

Jordan Hicks

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The NBA season is in full swing and players are seeing their impact being felt throughout the league. Veterans continue to lead their respective franchises, and role players continue doing what they can to push the scales in their team’s favor.

While the more tenured professionals capture the bulk of the headlines, the first and second-year players often go unnoticed. There’s the occasional breakout star here and there, but for the most part, the young guys do what they can to find time on the court and help their club in any meaningful way.

Every summer, the NBA hosts the now-famous tournament in Nevada, the Las Vegas Summer League, where the stage is open for up-and-coming players to make their first mark in the NBA. Year after year, some newcomers supply the NBA loyalists with enough highlights to keep them happy until mid-October.

At the close of the tournament, a handful of players will make the All-Summer League Team – similar to an All-NBA Team for the regular season. Let’s take a look at how a handful of the All-Summer League Team members have fared this season and what their potential outlook looks like moving forward.

Brandon Clarke — First Team

The former college All-American out of Gonzaga University had quite the impact in his Summer League debut. Not only did he earn first-team All-Summer League honors, but he also took home the Summer League MVP and Tournament MVP, too. He was a statistical monster and a clear reason why the Memphis Grizzlies took home the coveted — to some at least — Summer League Championship trophy.

Clarke currently finds himself in a sixth man-style role. He’s sixth in the team in minutes per game and is doing plenty in that span. He’s averaging 11.8 points on 63 percent from the field and a more impressive 45.5 percent from three. He’s also bringing in 5.9 boards and just under a block [er game. His effective field goal percentage of 66.4 percent is currently good for fifth-best in the entire NBA.

In per 36 minutes, that would be 20.1 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on average. He’s not getting starter minutes just yet, but it’s more than safe to say that the Memphis Grizzlies are receiving incredible value out of their 21st overall pick.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker — First Team

Selected with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Alexander-Walker contributed in a big way during the Summer League in Las Vegas. His athleticism is clearly a strong suit but his tenacity on the court is what helps him get minutes.

He’s playing a tad over 14 minutes per game for the New Orleans Pelicans thus far, netting 6.5 points and 2.1 assists on average. New Orleans’ roster is flooded with talented guards, so it’s no surprise Alexander-Walker isn’t getting more minutes, but he seems to be doing an admirable job with the minutes Alvin Gentry gives him.

In a loss to Miami a few weeks back, Alexander-Walker went 6-of-9 from three and finished with 27 points. He followed that performance with 19 points and 4 assists in a win against the Golden State Warriors. His minutes have been sporadic so far, but he’s contributed when given a chance. As the season goes on, look for Alexander-Walker to find more time in Gentry’s lineups.

Kendrick Nunn — First Team

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all the young players this season, Nunn has proven to be quite a threat on the offensive side of the court. He’s averaging 15.3 points per game, good for third on the talented Miami HEAT roster. He led the team with 22.4 points per game in October and was averaging 16.9 points through the first 10 games, but he’s cooled a bit.

For a team that was already planning on starting the season strong, the fact Nunn has managed to carve out 29.4 minutes per night is a testament to his nightly contributions. He has taken the confidence he earned from his Summer League accolades and is supplying the HEAT with stellar play on a nightly basis. There’s a chance his scoring will continue to die down a bit, but he’s already proven worthy of his roster spot in such a short amount of time.

Rui Hachimura — Second Team

The Washington Wizards are currently playing the fastest pace in the NBA and oddly enough have the fourth-best offense to date, too. Hachimura is a key reason for this.

He’s averaging 13.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 50.4 percent. He’s also pulling down 5.6 boards and dishing out 1.7 assists per game. His season-high is 30 points on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s scored in double-figures on 12 out of 19 games this season.

Hachimura’s long frame, coupled with his elite athleticism, allows him to get to the rim and create opportunities for himself as well as for his teammates. He’s still figuring the game out — his flaws on defense are easy to spot — but he has the ability to develop into a great basketball player.

Other recipients of Summer League honors include second-year players Mitchell Robinson, Lonnie Walker IV, Anfernee Simons and third-year player Jarrett Allen. Each of these guys has been producing for their respective teams in big ways.

The Las Vegas Summer League can sometimes be an interesting topic. Each year, second-year guys may or may not return to their Summer League squads and new faces abound. But if there’s anything that recent history has shown us, it’s that cream will always rise to the top. The guys that notch the All-Summer League honors will usually contribute to their teams almost immediately.

Each of these guys mentioned — and even the ones not discussed — will continue to cement their presence in the NBA and may very well become the regular season All-Stars of the future. It’s hard to decipher a player’s value based solely on box score statistics, but when one first enters the league, it’s never a bad thing to see the box score go up. For the young guys, it’s all about finding comfort and learning in which ways they can contribute best. Some may end up being the scorer, while others will develop into a defensive savant or playmaking maestro.

Whatever the future holds, remember the names above. They all have a solid chance of being the face of a franchise someday.

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