Thoughts on the 2021 NBA Summer League So Far

August 15th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Houston Rockets’ rookie guard, Jalen Green was impressive at the 2021 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, and he is a contender for the 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images, via SB Nation’s The Dream Shake)

It’s been an eventful first few games in the 2021 NBA Summer League.  Some of the players have played very well, and others have struggled considerably.  After having watched a week’s worth of NBA Summer League games, here are my thoughts on who has stood out so far in Las Vegas.

Most of the top picks have played well in Las Vegas.  Cade Cunningham has shown that he can be a steady scorer and playmaker for the Detroit Pistons, and he also has defended well here.  Both Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs excelled in Las Vegas before getting hurt.  Green did a very good job of shooting, scoring, and passing the basketball, and Suggs consistently made strong plays on both ends of the floor.  There are some questions about Suggs’ jump shot, and if the Orlando Magic can find a way to make it work with the glut of guards they have amidst Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, and R.J. Hampton for the upcoming season, as all four of them are ball-handling, attack-minded point guards that need the ball in their hands.

Amongst the players that were selected in the top five of the 2021 draft, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green have looked to be head and shoulders above the rest so far, and they look to be the favorites to win the Rookie of the Year award for the upcoming season.  Green has been spectacular and exciting to watch, and his tremendous athleticism combined with strong shooting and scoring skills makes him a fan favorite.  Cade Cunningham has been a steady, all-around player, and he looks to be an efficient playmaker that could help lead the Pistons back to prominence someday.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie big man, Evan Mobley has been up and down in the Las Vegas Summer League so far.  He’s shown solid passing and defensive skills, but he’s struggled to consistently make shots, and it’s been hard for him, as he hasn’t had a good point guard to play with out here.  The Cavaliers didn’t seem to get enough playmakers or shooters on their Summer League squad, and Mobley really struggled on offense when they chose to sit Isaac Okoro for a game.

There has been considerable debate on whether or not if Scottie Barnes or Jonathan Kuminga should be rated as the fifth best prospect in the 2021 draft class, as well as if Barnes really deserved to be the fourth overall pick in this draft.  Both will likely be interlinked with each other for a long time, but both players seem to provide different things for their teams. 

Scottie Barnes is a solid, all-around player that provides rangy defense along with very good playmaking skills, and he’s shown that he be a crafty scorer off the dribble.  He still needs to work on his jump shot, but his size, athleticism, and ability to both be a set-up man and defend makes him a very good fit with the Toronto Raptors.  Jonathan Kuminga has excelled as a shooter and scorer for Golden State, and it’s clear that the vastly athletic, 6-7 forward has a lot of potential.  He also has shown solid defensive skills, and he’s brought forth some of his shot blowing prowess to Las Vegas.

NBA rookies have been getting hurt in the Summer League.  Both Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs went down to injuries, and will sit out the rest of the Summer League.  Josh Giddey threw down a scintillating dunk off of a drive, missed two more shots, and then went down to an ankle injury, as he too will miss the rest of the Summer League. As well as Giddey played in the NBL, there are still concerns about his outside shooting and defense, and his rail thin frame could make him prone to injuries, as he banged up his ankle early on despite not much contact seemingly have been made raise questions about his potential fragility as an NBA player.

Davion Mitchell has been solid, as he’s provided scoring, strong defense, and some playmaking skills.  Ziaire Williams has shown flashes of brilliance in Las Vegas so far. While he certainly had a less than stellar freshman season at Stanford, he’s an intriguing prospect that has shown some of his immense upside in the 2021 NBA Summer League. Williams is a very athletic, 6-9 forward that has occasionally shot the ball very well from downtown at this event, and he is also a rangy defender, which has earned him high marks in the Summer League so far.  Franz Wagner has generally struggled, and so has Corey Kispert.  Kispert hasn’t been able to play with a good point guard in the Summer League, so he’s had trouble trying to create his own shot.  With better teammates in the regular season, Kispert could show some of the sharpshooting prowess that he’s struggled to show thus far out here. Wagner hasn’t shot the ball well at all, and he’s struggled to find a consistent role on offense here.

Chris Duarte, Moses Moody, Jalen Johnson, Sharife Cooper, Cam Thomas, Isaiah Jackson, Kai Jones, and Alperen Şengün all have been standouts in the Summer League.  Meanwhile, Memphis Grizzlies’ rookie center, Santi Aldama has really struggled so far, as he has not shot the ball well at all, and Wizards’ rookie big man Isaiah Todd also struggled to make shots in his first game back from COVID.  Both Aldama and Todd faced questions on draft day about their readiness, and so their respective NBA teams may need to take a much more cautious, patient approach in developing both of them to the fullest of their abilities.

B.J. Boston and Sharife Cooper have played very well amongst the second round picks, and both are athletic playmakers that can score, and both have shown a much better outside shot than expected.  Definitely, it was very surprising that Cooper slid all the way to the 48th overall pick, and he’s a speedy playmaker that could prove to be one of the best players in this draft.

One surprising note is that 76ers’ rookie center, Charles Bassey has been missing in action, and he has not played in the Summer League at all, presumably because of a contract dispute.  Because of that, Bassey is missing valuable time, and with the talent and depth on the 76ers’ roster, he may have to be stashed in the G-League or overseas for a year possibly as a result of that. If that happens, then we can expect more of his would be playing time to go to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, Paul Reed, and Filip Petrusev for the upcoming season, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Skillwise, Bassey may be like a poor man’s Andre Drummond, so he could use more time to expand his offensive game and to improve his perimeter defense in the meantime.

Another surprising note was that the Indiana Pacers withdrew their qualifying offer from Cassius Stanley, and so he is technically a free agent.  He did have a rocky rookie season, but it was still surprising nonetheless, because he is a very athletic swingman that played very well as a freshman at Duke.  Stanley has struggled with his outside shot, but he’s shown the ability to project into a defensive specialist role at the NBA level, as he has excelled as a defender at this event. While his outside shot is still largely a question mark, his vast athleticism and ability to defend could still allow him to earn an NBA roster spot in the regular season, and while he may not have as much upside as previously thought, Stanley could still project to be a useful, defensive specialist similar to former Phoenix Suns’ swingman, Torrey Craig in the NBA.

Boston Celtics’ second-year point guard, Payton Pritchard has been phenomenal in the 2021 NBA Summer League, and he has led the Celtics to an unbeaten, 4-0 record in Las Vegas so far.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images, via SB Nation’s Celtics Blog)

Some of the NBA veterans have played really well at the 2021 NBA Summer League, and it’s clear that some of the players that have participated there are over-qualified for this event. Philadelphia 76ers’ guard, Tyrese Maxey showed off impressive athleticism, shooting and scoring skills, and Payton Pritchard also has excelled as a sharpshooter and playmaker for the Boston Celtics. Desmond Bane also has shot the ball really well for the Memphis Grizzlies, and he is a sharpshooter that continues to shoot the ball very well in games. Bol Bol has played pleasantly well for the Denver Nuggets, and the 7-2 point center has shown impressive shooting, playmaking, and shot blocking skills that could make him an integral part of the plans in the future. Also, Obi Toppin has also played very well for the New York Knicks in the 2021 NBA Summer League.

Another interesting thing worthy of note is Charlotte Hornets’ rookie swingman, LiAngelo Ball‘s unexpected emergence in the Las Vegas Summer League. He’s shot the ball very well, and he also was able to make a buzzer beater out here, as he has provided clutch shooting. Ball’s played very well so far, and he may have a decent shot to make the Hornets’ team for the upcoming NBA regular season. Also, Detroit Pistons’ rookie forward and former Georgetown star, Jamorko Pickett made three early threes and proceeded to score 18 points in his team’s win over the New York Knicks on Thursday. Pickett is currently on an Exhibit 10 contract, and he will compete for a roster spot on the Pistons’ team for the upcoming regular season. In addition, Detroit Pistons’ rookie center, Luka Garza has also played very well in the 2021 NBA Summer League so far, as he’s shown versatile scoring skills, and he’s also provided solid rebounding and shot blocking skills, and motor out here.

So far, from what I saw in the 2021 NBA Summer League, the 2021 NBA Draft class looks to be in good shape. A lot of players from this rookie class have played well in the Summer Leagues, and it’ll be a fun and interesting 2021-22 NBA season. Thanks for reading.

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