With the first half of the NBA season firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look toward All-Star Weekend, the looming trade deadline and, ultimately, the high-stakes playoff chase. Although most of this year’s rookie class — minus one outstanding potential exception — won’t be headed to Charlotte for anything outside of the Rising Stars Challenge, there’s still the matter of sorting out this campaign’s edition of the All-Rookie squads. At this point, the sought-after Rookie of the Year honors will be headed in Luka Dončić’s direction, if not Deandre Ayton’s in the event of a major upset, but the others need not fret just yet!
If you’re in need of a refresher, the All-Rookie teams are voted on by the league’s head coaches, with the single stipulation that they are barred from choosing their own players. The rookies that earn the five highest point totals are selected to the first team, while the next set of vote-getters land on the second. Of note, building a true five-man lineup — ie, two guards, three frontcourt players — does not factor into the final result. So, while the idea of running out a real team of Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Jahlil Okafor and Devin Booker — or, in other words, the 2015-16 First Team — sounds insane in principle, it’s perfectly fair game for the All-Rookie results.
With that in mind, here’s how the two rookie teams might shake out by season’s end.
Honorable Mentions: Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls; Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks; Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers; Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves
Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
What’s there to be said about Dončić that hasn’t been gushed about profusely already? He’s the current odds-on favorite to be Rookie of the Year, while also maintaining his remarkable edge as the third-highest voter-getter in the entire NBA for next month’s All-Star Game. Even if he’s not chosen as a starter, Dončić’s resume is incredible and he may just make it as a reserve selection through the head coach vote anyway. If Dončić does go to Charlotte for the Sunday fireworks, he’d be the first rookie to earn those honors since Blake Griffin in 2011 and, before that, Yao Ming in 2003.
Which is to basically say, for lack of a better term at this point: Whoa. Dončić has started all 43 contests for the Mavericks, averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 three-pointers over 32.1 minutes per game. Craziest of all, he’ll turn just 20 years-old in February — talk about a sky-high ceiling. So, yes, Dončić is a shoo-in for the All-Rookie First Team, if not some even bigger and grander achievements before long.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
If Dončić is the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year, Ayton is a fantastic consolation prize. Selected at No. 1 overall, Ayton has been a truly special player for the Suns and the 7-foot-1 center has tallied an impressive 16.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and a block over 31 minutes per game. In a strange way, Dončić’s extremely fast rise to stardom has somehow reflected poorly on Ayton, as if the Suns missed on their evaluation of the two youngsters. But make no mistake: Ayton is a star in the making and the Suns will have likely found their franchise cornerstone for the next decade-plus as well.
In a tight battle against the Nets in December, Ayton dominated Brooklyn to the tune of 26 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks on 81.3 percent from the floor — what else could you want? Paired alongside the superhuman scoring efforts of Devin Booker, the duo currently combines for 41 of the Suns’ 106 points per game — of course, Ayton is just 20 years of age, while Booker is 22. There’s a wait-and-see approach to Ayton’s defense but he appears to be a show-stopping shot blocker at the very least. As with all of the names on this list, there’s plenty of time for Ayton to improve on that below-par front too. But for now, it’s just best to sit back and enjoy the talents of another First Team lock.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
It’s been a wild ride for Jaren Jackson Jr. through the first three months of his professional career and it’s about to get far more interesting from here on out. After starting the season as surprise postseason candidates, the Grizzlies have recently lost 10 of their last 11 games and sunk to 14th in the conference standings. Should Memphis become sellers at the deadline, Jackson’s usage could balloon between now and April — that alone would make Grizzlies games worth tuning into. At 6-foot-11, Jackson has the chance to be the class’ very best defender and he’s always exhibiting that rim protecting prowess down low.
Jackson has turned in 18 multi-block games — including 12 of three or more — in 45 games and his scoring ability is already beyond what most thought he’d display during his rookie campaign. In one late November contest, Jackson swatted seven shots and went 4-for-4 from deep — so look for no further proof that the 19-year-old might be another unicorn in the making. Within another less top-heavy draft class, Jackson would be the clear crown jewel — alas, he’s still a piece that the Grizzlies can be thrilled about building around for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
So far, Kevin Knox’s initial foray into the NBA has been forged from some incredible highs, not every-night consistencies. Knox has tallied below his season average of 12.5 points on 17 separate occasions — and failed to reach double-digits scoring in 13 of those — but the Knicks’ newcomer looks like a keeper nonetheless. In a couple of inspired efforts, Knox dropped 31 points and seven rebounds in a slim loss to the 76ers; then, last month, the former Wildcat recorded 26 points and 15 rebounds in stat-stuffing fashion. And although he’s had his fair share of rough performances, Knox has also knocked down two or more three-pointers in 20 games already. Useful in spots all over the floor, Knox just needs to improve his efficiencies before he becomes a household name in the demanding New York market.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the Knicks also tout Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and another incoming top-five draftee headed their way, plus the possibility of a max contract free agent. But whether or not the Knicks land a Kevin Durant-level player or add a blue-chipper like Zion Williamson seems less important by the game — Knox might be that good. Those in New York keep checking the horizon for their franchise savior but, the thing is, they may already have him in blue and orange.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Dončić is an incredible player, obviously, so, until very recently, any time Trae Young was mentioned, even in passing, it came back to the Hawks’ decision to make that draft day swap. Perhaps unfair, and then made even worse by Dončić’s transcendent start, it left Young with little coverage outside of that initial status as a footnote. If those days weren’t far behind already, they definitely will be now. In his own right, Young has blossomed as of late for Atlanta, even notching 16 or more points in all but two games since Christmas.
Furthermore, Young’s 7.2 assists lead all rookies by a large margin, including Dončić’s second-best mark of 5.1. Actually, it’s even better than that as Young’s impressive rate currently lands him in the top ten league-wide, only bested by perennial All-Stars and the breakout stud of the season, De’Aaron Fox. Efficiency has not always been Young’s best friend, but he’s adjusted to the stronger defenses and professional schemes as well as one might hope for such a high-usage college standout. Naturally, Young has not reached the massive summits that he did during his single season at Oklahoma — no 48-point explosions just yet — but it feels like the best is still to come here.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Once touted as a possible Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Collin Sexton has settled into a positive, reliable role for the Cavaliers. Although he’s not torching opposing defenses, Sexton has held his own against stiff competition since the New Year — a list that now includes Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo. Sexton has averaged a solid 14.6 points and 2.8 assists on 41.7 percent from the field so far, all while shouldering a massive load of responsibility for one of the NBA’s worst teams. While it’d be a real shame to miss out on the potential of a Sexton and Kevin Love-led duo, snagging more future assets to put around their 20-year-old centerpiece is a tantalizing thought.
Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
Young isn’t the only talented rookie in Atlanta and Kevin Huerter has been an excellent Robin to the point guard’s Batman. Huerter wasn’t even the starter until late November but he’s proving why he soared up draft boards during combine season. In the last month, the Hawks have turned the reins over to their wonderful class of prospects and, in turn, have won more games in the last 30 days (eight) than they did in the first 60 (six). Undoubtedly, Huerter’s microwavable scoring has been a large reason why. Known as a certifiable bucket-getter, Huerter still contributes offensively beyond just points, even registering three or more assists on 22 instances in 2018-19 already. Whether or not he turns into the next Klay Thompson, Huerter absolutely fits into the mold of the modern NBA — he’ll be on the Second Team come springtime at the very least.
Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets
Without a doubt, Rodions Kurucs has been a hot-ticket item as of late — and for good reason. The second-rounder out of Latvia has earned an increase in playing time since Dec. 14 and Nets instantly became better, that much is clear. Since Kurucs joined the starting lineup, Brooklyn has only gone 13-5, no big deal. The No. 40 overall selection has scored double-digits in four of the Nets last six games, including a 24-point breakout performance against the Boston Celtics. For a 20-year-old that was banished to the bench in Barcelona, his early contributions are out of this world. Kurucs may be raw, but he’s aggressive, fills his role and exhibits an ability to hit from long range or off the rebound. If he keeps this up, it’ll be really hard not to reward Kurucs with a well-deserved spot on the Second Team.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
At this time, the spectacular is not exactly in Marvin Bagley III’s wheelhouse — but for what he lacks in gaudy statistical lines, the power forward makes up in off-the-bench consistency. Bagley has grabbed 10-plus points in his last four contests — paired with solid rebounding numbers of seven, nine, 11 and eight to boot — all over an average of just 23 minutes per game. Before a back injury knocked the rookie out for nearly a month, Bagley was still finding his feet as a reliable scorer but he’s worked well with Harry Giles, Sacramento’s other promising frontcourt asset. The Kings have gone 3-1 since his return to the rotation, so the surprise franchise could start leaning on the 19-year-old as they push to get back in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture. If Bagley gets his assumed second half bump in minutes, there’s a great chance that he’ll have the numbers and growth needed to earn these rookie honors.
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
With yesterday’s news that Wendell Carter Jr. would miss the next 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery, Mikal Bridges slides seamlessly into his spot as the Suns’ two-way standout. Bridges is feeling things out as an NBA scorer, but he provides stellar defense and contributes in ways that don’t always show up in the box score. The former Villanova star won’t pour it in, especially when playing alongside the high-usage Booker, but Bridges ranks second in steals per game (1.37) and sixth in three-point percentage (34.7) among all qualified rookies. Bridges’ high BBIQ often translates into easy thefts, exhibited by his 20 multi-steal performances through 46 career contests. Bridges hasn’t begun his professional journey with as much noticeable star power as many others in his draft class, but there’s bankable potential here in no uncertain terms.
It’s only late January, so the fates of these talented rookies are nowhere close to sealed — with the exception of a generational few, of course. Competition for the two All-Rookie squads are always fierce, but more importantly, they’re not an indication or guarantee of future successes. So whether or not your favorite first-year makes the cut in April, this draft classes looks to be as good as advertised. Between Doncic gunning for an All-Star Game berth and the unexpected abilities of a second-rounder in Kurucs, the first-year narratives have been wholly entertaining — no matter where voting lands at season’s end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.