Everyone enters NBA Summer League with something to prove.
For rookies, it's their first opportunity to show they belong at
the highest level of professional basketball. To veterans, it's a
chance to assert themselves, showcase their development and prove
that they deserve a roster or increased minutes in the
Even in the relative nonchalance of the Las Vegas heat, for some
young talents, the next 11 days will take on extra significance.
For 10 in particular, this is a pivotal offseason for their pro
career, and a standout Summer League could put them on a
much-needed course correction.
I did not list any rookies here; it's their first shot in the
league, so it's a bit unfair to stamp such high stakes on their
inaugural action. Everyone on this list has at least a year of NBA
experience under their belt, and one has been around the league for
close to a decade. Beyond the top prospects, here are some players
you should keep an eye on as they make their cases during Summer
Bruno Caboclo, Utah Jazz
Caboclo is one of the most experienced players on this summer's
rosters. The No. 20 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Caboclo is
remarkably still just 26 years old, but spent seven seasons with
six teams in the NBA before suiting up for Sao Paulo FC in Brazil
This is probably one of Caboclo's last shots at sticking in the
league. He has averaged double-digit minutes per game just once in
seven years, when he put up 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds across 23.5
minutes per game with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19. He's far
from the intriguing, raw prospect he was when entering the
Association, so if Caboclo is going to earn a roster spot, even on
a G League team, he has to show out.
Several other prospects enter Summer League in a similar
situation. DJ Wilson (Raptors) and Chandler Hutchinson (Hawks) were
first-round picks in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Drafts, respectively.
They played 10 NBA games combined in 2021-22.
Usman Garuba, Houston Rockets
Jalen Green backed up his No. 2 overall draft slot with a
stellar finish to last season, landing on the All-Rookie First
Team. Alperen Sengun dazzled fans with his passing and put up 11.7
points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game after the All-Star
break. Josh Christopher battled typical rookie inconsistencies, but
closed out his year with three games of 20-plus points in his last
Houston's fourth 2021 first-round pick, however, went relatively
unnoticed. Usman Garuba appeared just 24 times and averaged 10
minutes per game. He was billed as a versatile defender who could
pair with Sengun, but injuries slowed his progression, though he
flashed promise in limited G League action.
Sometimes, rebuilds move too quickly for player development to
keep up. Houston drafted Jabari Smith Jr. with the third overall
pick and Tari Eason at No. 17. Both figure to occupy one, if not
two, forward spots, with Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate firmly
in the mix as well. Garuba must demonstrate a stable offensive
floor to balance his stellar defensive tools. I'll be interested to
see how he's used in Las Vegas as a smaller center.
RJ Hampton, Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs have graduated from
Summer League play. Hampton is the lone young Magic guard returning
to the roster. Orlando acquired the high-flying playmaker in March
2021, but he hasn't synced up with his backcourt mates quite yet,
and playing time will only grow more scarce as the core
The 21-year-old has just struggled to score efficienctly at any
level. Despite his athleticism and power, Hampton made just 52.5%
of his attempts at the rim last season and finished with a 48.1%
True Shooting percentage.
In a featured role with this Magic summer group, he needs to
display some takeover playmaking ability and consistent shotmaking.
Hampton seems to be embracing the extra reps, which offer a
promising chance for him to ball out with No. 1 pick Paolo
Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons
Our Nekias Duncan highlighted Hayes' solid end to the 2021-22
season. Though the overall stats might not show it, the former
No. 7 pick did take meaningful strides as an off-ball player next
to Cade Cunningham and a downhill driver when he had opportunities.
Duncan also called Hayes "one of the most underrated guard
defenders in the sport already."
That didn't stop Detroit from selecting Jaden Ivey to be Cade
Cunningham's backcourt partner. Hayes is still very much part of a
talented Pistons core, but his long-term projection with the
franchise is murky right now. A standout effort in Vegas could
solidify his standing, not only in the rotation, but also in the
eyes of other teams around the league.
Kai Jones, Charlotte Hornets
Most expected Jones to be more of a developmental draft pick
when Charlotte selected him No. 19 overall last year. He played
just 63 total minutes with the Hornets and appeared in eight games
for the G League affiliate Greensboro Swarm. Then, the Hornets went
back to the NBA Draft for frontcourt help, selecting Mark Williams
at No. 15 overall a few weeks ago.
What does this mean for Jones? Summer League head coach Jordan
Surenkamp said more time at the four might be a possibility:
"Yeah, I still think that's up in the air. I think it kind of
depends on what we're looking at from an organization standpoint in
terms of rotations and things like that," Surenkamp said. "But like I
said, he's been very willing to play at that position so far just
as much as he has been at the five, which is more of what he's done
in this league up to this point. In terms of how many minutes and
how often, those are still things that are up in the air. Those are
conversations that we'll have before Friday."
I'm admittedly a skeptic toward this type of role shift for
Jones. But Summer League is an excellent laboratory for him and the
Hornets to try out the fit.
Aleksej Pokusevski, Oklahoma City Thunder
One of the most unique players in the entire NBA enters his
third season with the Thunder. But this will actually be
Pokusevski's first NBA Summer League experience after OKC decided
not to have him join the team last year (and there was no
competition in 2020).
Pokusevski has his staunch advocates and critics on either side
after another up-and-down season in 2021-22. But he was much better
after the All-Star break, averaging 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and
4.3 assists across 19 games. Poku still has a ways to go in his
individual development, and the Thunder have shown a willingness to
be patient as the seven-foot wing progresses. A strong summer
showing against less experienced competition would help justify the
franchise's belief in him.
Paul Reed, Philadelphia 76ers
Big-man depth behind Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris was one of
the more pressing concerns for the 76ers in the postseason, and the
franchise has done nothing in the offseason to bolster their bigs
so far. For now, the responsibility falls on Reed and/or Charles
Bassey to take the mantle as a backup.
At 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Reed has a bit more in his tool kit
offensively then Bassey and really battles hard on the glass. This
is an atmosphere where he can physically dominate. Reed already
posted 20 points and 15 rebounds in a Salt Lake City Summer League
showing against the Grizzlies.
Xavier Tillman, Memphis Grizzlies
The No. 35 pick from the 2020 NBA Draft logged a really solid
rookie season with Memphis, but saw his playing time and efficiency
scale back in 2021-22. Tillman struggled to finish at the basket
and lost the flashes of three-point promise that appeared in his
first year. With Brandon Clarke surging back as a notable piece,
Jaren Jackson Jr. healthy and Steven Adams locked in at center,
Tillman only had scraps of big-man minutes left over.
However, he's still a notable Grizzlies prospect. Tillman is the
type of multifaceted big defender that today's game craves, and he
can rebound and pass well for his position. Like Reed, Tillman has
the chance to impose his will inside against younger, leaner Summer
League players, and he can state his case for more playing time to
Brandon Williams, Portland Trail Blazers
Lost in the Trail Blazers' aimless second half was the emergence
of Williams, an undrafted rookie guard whom Portland locked up on a
two-way contract in February. He had played just two NBA games
before the All-Star break, but averaged 13.7 points, 4.2 assists
and 3.3 rebounds per game in 22 contests afterwards. Nekias Duncan
even highlighted him in that same
piece for his pick-and-roll passing promise.
Was Williams' opportunity solely because Portland was marred
with injuries and well out of the playoff picture? Or does he have
a real chance at a rotation spot this season? It's admittedly tough
to envision with Damian Lillard getting healthy, Anfernee Simons
secured on a lucrative extension and Keon Johnson on the rise. But
there's no better case for Williams to assert his talent than at
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Warriors Summer League coach Jama Mahlalela said that he expects
Wiseman to participate in Vegas at some point. It's been a long
road of recovery for the 2020 No. 2 overall draft pick, who missed
all of last season while rehabbing a torn meniscus. Wiseman's
absence has fueled a chorus of critics to question his place with
the defending champions.
Obviously, there's only so much Wiseman can do here as he
continues to focus on his body. NBA training camp and the actual
season far surpass any importance Summer League can provide. But if
Wiseman does make appearances over the next two weeks, he'll
assuredly be one of the summer's most-discussed players.