Summer League Intel Report: Notes, buzz from NBA execs on stars in the making
Are the best point guards in this class players not named Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball?
A look at topics of conversation and the biggest stories in NBA Summer League circles at Las Vegas this week:
The conversation before the games obviously centered on the top picks. But the players who went Nos. 1 and 2, the Philadelphia 76ers' Markelle Fultz and the Los Angeles Lakers' Lonzo Ball, were wrapped up in a new story by the time Summer League was coming to a close.
There were questions about whether either was the best point guard in this class.
Dennis Smith Jr. was the buzz of Vegas for the Mavericks as he averaged 18.3 points, six rebounds and and five assists in his first three games. But more important, Smith's dogged competitive spirit -- combined with his explosiveness -- has created a player scouts, in particular, have loved.
Reviews rang in from front office and coaching staffs about Smith's "fire" and the way was operating at a higher level than his competition.
Smith has averaged 1.054 points per possession in Summer League play, a high mark for a competition level so short on players with efficiency.
Meanwhile, De'Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings showed off unreal speed and a real gift for making inventive and functional passes:
On the other hand, questions arose about the top prospects.
No one is ready to sell their Ball stock after a handful of summer games. Some questions about his shot, and defensive limitations again have spring up. But absence from Monday's showdown against the Kings wasn't much of an issue among scouts I spoke with, nor was Ball's play.
"He was fine," was a commonly held assessment.
Ball was leading the NBA Summer League play in assists, averaging eight per game, and that shouldn't be overlooked. But he was not wowing observers with his top-end speed, defense or shot.
Fultz's play was more interesting. He showed why he was the No. 1 prospect, but there was one nagging question asked around the arena: "Is Fultz a point guard?"
There's a growing sense, in part reinforced by Ben Simmons' comments that he is the starting point guard for the Sixers, that Fultz may not operate as the primary floor general, playing more as a combo guard. One of the talking points from speakers at the Pro Scout School conference during the week was there is nothing more important than shooting. Being able to operate as a point guard just isn't as important with how all five positions have been bent in recent years.
The Tatum debate
1. Incredible talent. His skill and natural scoring ability mean he will play right away, and his aggressiveness is a strong point.
2. Is he going to pass? Ever?
Tatum showcased an array of skills that often takes years to develop in raw prospects. His one-legged step-back "Dirk" jumper caught a lot of eyes.
That wasn't something Tatum picked up at Duke. In fact, he almost never showcased it. It's something he's been developing for years. Tatum has worked with renowned trainer Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Bradley Beal) and can flat-out get buckets. But how is he going to operate in a team format, especially one where he is so low on the totem pole in Boston? Tatum probably clocks in as Boston's fifth or sixth-best offensive weapon. In the Summer League, he has been a black hole on offense. How will that translate to Boston in Year One? It's one reason Tatum may be the most skill-ready rookie, yet a player who struggles as he adapts to a role with a top team in the East.
Donovan Mitchell shines
Outside of Smith, the one name on everyone's lips was Jazz first-rounder Mitchell, who dropped 37 in a loss to Memphis on Tuesday. He wasn't efficient (shot 31 percent) but is definitely aggressive and has the skill to be a scoring force.
Notably, Mitchell looking so good reflects worse on Denver, who traded down from the spot where he was available, to take Tyler Lydon at No. 24. Lydon has looked tentative and lost most of the time. Keep an eye out for this situation, it could become a thorn in Denver's side.
- Miami featured some of the best young talent, with Okari White and Bam Abedayo putting in strong performances.
- The Grizzlies' draft picks from recent years were either absent or disappointing, but Wayne Selden, who signed a multiyear deal this month, put in strong performances and looks to be part of a long and athletic wing rotation next season. That could forecast the departure of Tony Allen in free agency.
- Bucks third-year guard Rashad Vaughn was dominant, shooting 64 percent while looking athletic and locked in. For a third-year player, you expect him to dominate the game that way, but Vaughn still exceeded expectations.
- The Lakers had a couple of exciting youngsters in Alex Caruso (Texas A&M) and Thomas Bryant (Indiana) who seem like borderline rotation guys.
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