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.
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?
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