NBA Summer League in Vegas was a great precursor to the 2021 season, culminating with the Sacramento Kings winning the championship.
But most fans who were locked in were focused on the individual performances of this year’s lauded draft crop. The summer gave us a glimpse of what we can expect from certain rookies this season.
RELATED: NBA Summer League Surprise Players
Top 5 Rookie Rankings following the Summer League
1. Jalen Johnson
The Atlanta Hawks drafted Johnson out of Duke and he looks like a great fit alongside John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, Clint Capela, and Onyeka Okongwu as the future of the Hawks frontcourt.
Entering the Draft, Johnson was considered a risky pick due to his early withdrawal from Duke midway through the college basketball season, but the 6-foot-8 small forward possessed too much upside to overlook.
Atlanta is loading up on high-potential wing players and based on early returns, choosing Johnson looks to an excellent decision. Johnson averaged 19.0 points, 9.5 rebounds while shooting a sizzling 57.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep in four Summer League
He’ll have to cut down on his turnovers (2.7 per game), but his shooting percentages were elite. He’ll be a key rotation player for Nate McMillan in the ATL.
2. Cameron Thomas
The Brooklyn Nets have the three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving in tow, but their bench could use a little pop.
Adding LSU’s Cameron Thomas gives them just that. The No.27 overall pick is looking like a draft steal. He led the entire Summer League in scoring at 27.0 points per game.
Thomas will need to improve his efficiency, but that won’t hurt him in his current role as a bench scorer for an offensively stacked squad. Projected to go in the low 20’s on draft night, Thomas slipped a bit, so you know he has a chip on his shoulder, and it shows up when he plays.
What a great situation for Thomas, who showed out in Summer League.
3. Jalen Green
Jalen “D Unicorn” Green, showed why he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and widely considered the best prospect. Green only played in three Summer League games, but he had monster shooting percentages in those contests.
He ended the showcase averaging 20.3 points per game, on a 51.4/ 52.6/92.9 split for field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage.
Houston could’ve gone several different directions with their second pick, but chose to bank on Green’s G-League experience, elite scoring potential. In addition to that, the modern day Billy D Williams probably has the best hair in the L.
He did nothing in Vegas to dispel any notion that he’s gonna be one of the top contenders for Rookie of the Year.
4. Chris Duarte
Duarte is the elder statesman of this draft class at 24 years old. He’s mature and savvy. Considered a reach with the 13th pick for the Pacers, the lethal sharpshooter from Oregon showed he has more to his repertoire than just range shooting.
He averaged 18.3 points per game during Summer League, but it’s how he executed other facets of his game that impressed everyone. Duarte also averaged 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
Indiana has Malcolm Brogdon as their primary ballhandler, and although it’s unlikely Rick Carlisle calls on Duarte to initiate offense, it has to give them a sense of calm knowing he’s more than capable of it. His play in Vegas raised his ceiling and he still knocked in 48.3 percent of his triples.
A definite sleeper who will have an impact for the rebuilding Pacers.
5. Luka Garza
The Iowa center was the “College Player fo the Year” and yet he wasn’t drafted until late in the second round (No. 52 pick)
Most second-round picks usually don’t turn into NBA All-Stars or MVPs, but they can be useful contributors. If you watched what Khris Middleton, PJ Tucker and Pat Connaughton just did for the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, you know these selections are no longer throwaways.
Or how about what Draymond Green has done for the Warriors during his tenure?
All were second-round selections not expected to have such big roles on championship teams. Garza will be an immediate contributor for Troy Weaver and Dwayne Casey in the “Motor City.”
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) August 24, 2021
Playing on a two-way contract for the Pistons, the skilled stretch big averaged 16.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in Summer League. He also shot 50 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three. His defensive ability was also evident. Garza had five blocks in a game.
He’ll get time with the Pistons this season during a rebuilding year and could wind up being the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft.