2017 NBA Summer League Takeaways

(AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

After more than a fortnight of midsummer hoops, the 2017 NBA Summer League is drawing to a close. Monday’s Las Vegas championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers caps a thrilling stretch of exhibitions from some of the league’s best young talent.

This year’s sessions in Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas were predictably unpredictable. Several prospects shattered expectations and outclassed their peers, while others underwhelmed or succumbed to injuries. There’s only so much stock we can put in Summer League, but at the very least, it gives us something to get excited about entering next season.

Who stood out the most throughout the past couple of weeks? Let’s break down the biggest takeaways as we hand out a few Summer League awards.

Most Impressive Rookie: Lonzo Ball, Lakers PG

Stats (Las Vegas): 32.5 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 9.3 APG, 7.7 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 38.2% FG, 23.8% 3FG, 22.8 PER

I’m admittedly not fond of the hype surrounding Ball, but it’s easy to love his game. L.A.’s No. 2-overall pick was the most dynamic rookie in Summer League. After a wildly underwhelming debut, Ball has thrived in the Vegas spotlight.

Perhaps he’s the most impressive rookie because he’s the most unique. Ball has showcased his rare command of anticipation and precision as a playmaker, dishing 9.3 assists per game and leading the Purple and Gold to Monday’s championship game. Every night, he made passes that no one else in Vegas could make.

Ball also filled up the hoop quite a bit, making nifty drives to the rim while sprinkling in some jumpers. His shooting percentages were ugly early on, but he got a better feel for scoring as the tournament unfolded. I’d be more worried about his defense, which was shaky at times.

A calf injury in the semifinals against Dallas has put his status for Monday’s championship in doubt. But considering his creative impact, he stands out as the most impressive rookie prospect this summer.

Honorable Mentions:

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz G: 28.4 MPG, 20.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 4.4 SPG, 39.6% FG, 31.4% 3FG

Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks PG: 25.9 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 4.2 APG, 45.7% FG, 34.6% 3FG

Best 2nd-Round/Undrafted Rookie: Jordan Bell, Warriors PF/C

Stats (Las Vegas): 21.6 MPG, 5.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.6 BPG, 60% FG, 19.7 PER

Golden State’s latest draft heist flexed his tremendous defensive talent throughout the Vegas session. Bell showed everyone why he probably should have landed in the first round last month.

The 6-foot-9 Oregon product flew all around the court to give the Warriors formidable rim protection. Bell vacuumed rebounds, contested countless shots and disrupted passing lanes. His versatility was best illustrated in a performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves: five points, 11 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and five steals.

When the 2017-18 season gets underway, don’t make the same mistake that every other team made on draft night. Don’t sleep on Bell.

Honorable Mentions

Dwayne Bacon, Hornets SG: 29.4 MPG, 15.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 41.8% FG, 20.0% 3FG

Damyean Dotson, Knicks SG: 25.3 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 2.6 APG, 48.0% FG, 48.0% 3FG

Most Impressive Non-Rookie: Bryn Forbes, Spurs SG

Stats (Utah & Las Vegas): 29.2 MPG, 24.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 41.4% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 27.9 PER

Summer League is not the ultimate litmus test for NBA readiness, but Forbes looks poised to take the next step in San Antonio. In both Utah and Las Vegas, the second-year reserve was confident and aggressive in his role.

Forbes displayed his 3-point potential all month, uncorking 25 triples in eight games. He has a sharp feel for moving without the ball, and he smoothly connected off the catch and on dribble pull-ups.

He also showed an improved slashing repertoire. Forbes drove, got to the free-throw line consistently (7.4 free-throw attempts per game) and made plays for teammates (3.0 assists). His ability to create off the bounce could unlock a sophomore surge next season.

Honorable mentions

Malik Beasley, Nuggets G: 30.8 MPG, 19.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 40.0% FG, 40.5% 3FG

Wayne Selden, Grizzlies G: 30.5 MPG, 22.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 45.4% FG, 33.3% 3FG

Biggest Surprise: Kyle Kuzma, Lakers F

Stats (Las Vegas): 31.3 MPG, 20.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 48.4% FG, 45.0% 3FG, 23.7 PER

Sure, it helps to play alongside the best passer in Vegas. But Kuzma has been smoother off the bounce and more accurate from distance than anyone expected. The Utah Utes product has fit seamlessly in L.A.’s system and pushed nearly all the right buttons as a scorer and passer.

After going 27 of 84 (32 percent) from the college arc for the entirety of his junior year, Kuzma has somehow looked more comfortable from NBA range. He’s 18 of 40 (45 percent) through six games in Vegas.

Kuzma’s off-ball instincts and passing have also impressed. He’s enjoyed a bevy of cutting dunks and lobs,  and made quick, smart passes to keep the offense flowing. And although Kuzma’s not billed as a defensive standout, he’s been alert and had active hands all week.

Honorable mentions

Troy Williams, Rockets F: 26.9 MPG, 22.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 45.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG

Cheick Diallo, Pelicans PF/C: 30.2 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 56.2% FG

Biggest Disappointment: Tyler Lydon, Denver Nuggets F

Stats (Las Vegas): 24.3 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 20.0% FG, 13.3% 3FG, 5.3 PER

Lydon suffered what was arguably the worst summer league of any 2017 first-round pick. He simply could not find a consistent offensive rhythm, and he never scored more than six points in a game. The Syracuse star had trouble connecting from the NBA arc, hitting just two of his 15 3-point attempts in Las Vegas.

He did make a few nice passes to streamline Denver’s offense, and he also plucked a few steals on defense. But it wasn’t enough to compensate for his anemic scoring performance. The good news is that it’s only a five-game sample; Lydon shot 41 percent from deep over two college seasons, so there’s a good chance he’ll eventually acclimate to the Association.

Honorable mentions

Lauri Markkanen, Bulls F: 32.8 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 29.3% FG, 24.0% 3FG

Cameron Payne, Bulls G: 28.5 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 2.5 APG, 3.5 TPG, 34.6% FG, 16.7% 3FG

Markelle Fultz, 76ers G: Injured ankle in first Las Vegas game (third overall game)


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