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Hidden Gems of the Utah Summer League

Who were the hidden gems from the Utah Summer League? Ben Dowsett shares his thoughts.

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Summer league play in the NBA has multiple points of emphasis. On the one hand are the elite prospects, typically soon-to-be rookies or second-year guys who were drafted highly and are generally expected to be among the better players in the tournament, particularly those in their second summer. Skill development and confidence as team leaders are the important takeaways for these guys, though they sometimes play so well early on that it’s no longer worth it to risk injury by playing them.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, summer play is a time for GMs and executives to identify and analyze talent they may not have seen much of up close. Many guys on summer rosters won’t ever amount to anything, but each year there are a handful who make a big impression and place themselves on the NBA radar.

With Utah Jazz Summer League completed Thursday night, who were a few of the hidden gems making a case for themselves? Let’s take a look.

Cady Lalanne, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the league’s standard for nailing second-round draft picks, and they may have done so again with Lalanne, a Haitian-born UMass product whom they grabbed 55th in the 2015 draft.

He started out with a bang in Salt Lake City, assigned to third overall pick Jahlil Okafor in the tournament’s opening game. The Spurs left Lalanne mostly on an island out of the gate against the heavier Okafor, and he held his own and then some, actually outplaying the Duke prospect for the first half. Okafor was unable to establish consistent deep post position on Lalanne, who used his deceptive strength and excellent 7’5 wingspan to force Jahlil into an airball on his first shot and consistently tough looks throughout.

His remaining matchups throughout the week weren’t as star-studded, but Lalanne showcased more of the same. His arms are freakishly long for his 6’10 frame, stretching nearly to his knees while standing up straight, and he put them to good use while accumulating six blocks over three games. He was fantastic as a communicator, consistently barking out help and pick calls and captaining the Spurs’ defense throughout the tournament.

Lalanne is an incomplete project offensively, but has a few things going for him even at age 23. His shot is chief among them – he’s developed it significantly over the last year or so to where it’s at least of some concern to defenders out to 15 feet. He lacks many go-to moves in the post, but has the strength and smarts to seal for good positioning often and can punish guys once there. If he can continue to develop on this end and has the strength to bang with NBA centers, he could challenge for a rotation spot with San Antonio down the line.

Chris Johnson, Utah Jazz

Johnson showed real strides for the Jazz this week, the kind that can be noted even despite the level of play at summer league. Johnson is fighting hard for a roster spot and a guaranteed contract from the Jazz, who already have several names locked in on the wings, and his play this week can’t be making their decisions any easier.

Johnson was one of the strongest athletes on the floor all week, playing lockdown defense on the perimeter with quick hands and excellent fundamentals. He showed the ability to initiate offense, something that wasn’t really present in his stretches with the Jazz last season. And most importantly, he’s re-worked his jumper in the last few months and looks exponentially more confident with it, nailing his open looks consistently. If he parlays this into a role as a shooter at the full-time NBA level, the Jazz may have no choice but to keep him on the roster.

Richaun Holmes, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers used one of their stockpile of second-round picks on Holmes this year, and he immediately set to work justifying their decision. Holmes was a monster at several points for the 76ers in Salt Lake City, one of the most talented athletes in the tournament who plays above the rim. He crashed the offensive glass, threw down a few enormous dunks and protected the rim quite well for a power forward. Holmes even flashed a face-up jumper with solid form, something that will be a huge boon in his direction moving forward.

He caught an awful break with just minutes to go in Philly’s final game against Utah Thursday night, landing awkwardly after swatting an opposing layup attempt and fracturing his elbow, per 76ers training staff. Holmes will miss six to eight weeks as a result of the injury, which will sadly keep the exciting 21-year-old prospect out of further summer games. But assuming he heals correctly and can continue his development, don’t be surprised to see Holmes in the NBA within a year or two.

Jerami Grant, Philadelphia 76ers

Grant is another second-rounder in Philly who could make some noise, this time from the 2014 draft where he was selected 39th. He’s playing in his second summer and has a contract already signed with the 76ers.

Grant was very impressive both physically and skills-wise in Utah. His 6’8 frame and nearly 7’3 wingspan had him at a comparable size to many of the power forwards and even centers in the tournament, and he frequently skied past these types for rebounds throughout. He was among the best shot-blockers in attendance even as a small forward, and this projects as an area where he’ll be an NBA asset.

Meanwhile, he flashed a solid perimeter game with good ball skills and the ability to make his way to the hoop offensively. The biggest questions will be with his jumper, where Grant shot just 31 percent from deep with the 76ers last season – it likely determines just how high his ceiling is. At 21 there’s still plenty of room for improvement here, and if he becomes a legitimate floor spacer, the rest of the tools are there for a productive NBA player.

Jordan Mickey, Boston Celtics

Most of Boston’s future intrigue this week came at the guard position, with names like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter dominating most of their headlines with good reason. But these names are already on everyone’s radar, and Mickey was likely the only non-guard who made enough of an impact to get some consideration here.

Another guy with fantastic length for his size (a 7’3.25 wingspan on his 6’8 frame), Mickey was a force inside for the Celtics in each of his three games. He averaged nearly two offensive boards per game and had six blocks total – he may not ever be a bona fide rim protector at the NBA level due to being undersized, but is an excellent help side shot-blocker and should see this translate well.

Mickey has a long way to go offensively, but has a smooth stroke and has shown he can hit the midrange shot with some effectiveness. He only turned 21 on the final day of the tournament, and if he can add a bit more polish to his offensive game he could be a solid and versatile four-man off the bench.

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

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