Who stood out at the NBA 2K24 Summer League in Las Vegas over the past week and a half?

Summer action on the court wrapped up Monday as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Houston Rockets 99-78 for the championship, far removed from the hype and sellout crowd that kicked off play with the debut of No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama 10 days ago.

Wembanyama’s summer ended early, as did those of fellow top-four picks Scoot Henderson and Amen Thompson, who both suffered injuries while squaring off against each other as the undercard to Wembanyama’s debut. And while that first appearance of the 7-foot-3½ French standout in front of a large crowd in the U.S. fell flat, there was still plenty to like about Wembanyama’s play and the rest of the summer league action.

Let’s recap who stood out — and occasionally who didn’t — In Las Vegas via superlatives to help understand what we might see during the 2023-24 regular season and beyond.

Best rookies:

1. Keyonte GeorgeUtah Jazz

2. Cam WhitmoreHouston Rockets

3. Hunter Tyson, Denver Nuggets

George looked different playing for the Jazz, who also hosted the Salt Lake City summer league before making the short trip to Vegas. He told Utah reporters that he was down to 190 pounds, his high school weight, after playing his lone season at Baylor around 215 pounds.

The results were noticeable in his explosiveness. George was able to get to the hoop to set up teammates, averaging 6.3 assists per game and posting an assist-to-turnover ratio near 3. George also hit 44% of his 3-pointers en route to 21.7 points per game, the most among 2023 draft picks. That accuracy might be hard to sustain for George, who hit 34% from the shorter college line, but he showed why he was projected as a top-10 pick entering college.

The same was true of Whitmore, who was widely expected to go in the top 10 before sliding to 20th on draft night. It’s impossible to evaluate long-term concerns about Whitmore’s knees in this setting, but his game looked top five as he led the Rockets to the title game and was named NBA 2K24 Summer League MVP. Whitmore averaged 19.3 PPG by relentlessly attacking the basket, while his high steal rate (2.5 per game) also carried over.

As compared to those one-and-dones, Tyson’s story is totally different. He averaged just 1.8 PPG as a freshman at Clemson before developing into a nightly double-double threat as a fifth-year senior. Drafted by the Nuggets in the second round, Tyson showed potential as a versatile stretch big, knocking down 3.6 3s per game at a 50% clip en route to 20.8 PPG.

Most promising rookies:

1. Victor WembanyamaSan Antonio Spurs

2. Scoot HendersonPortland Trail Blazers

3. Amen ThompsonHouston Rockets

As ESPN’s Tim Bontemps has noted, Wembanyama’s rough debut (nine points on 2-of-13 shooting) might have been the best possible thing for him in the long term. The hype about Wembanyama’s ability to dominate the NBA as a teenager was an enormous amount of pressure. There will be nights like that when his shot doesn’t fall during the regular season, although balanced by efforts like his second game in which Wembanyama had 27 points and 12 rebounds to go along with strong rim protection.

Playing just 21 minutes before a shoulder injury ended his summer, Henderson looked very much like the prospect who was second only to Wembanyama going into last season. He controlled the action, putting up 15 points and six assists in that brief span. Ideally, Henderson would get all the way to the rim more frequently than he did, with just three of his 13 shot attempts coming within five feet. Better floor spacing with the Blazers’ full roster around him should help in that regard.

Going against Henderson, Thompson had 16 points and five assists in 28 minutes before suffering his own injury (an ankle sprain). By contrast to Henderson, Thompson lived in the paint, taking 11 of his 13 shots there. That’s more necessary for Thompson, who did hit a 3-pointer but is not known for his outside shooting. I was also impressed with Thompson’s defensive activity, which resulted in four blocks and three steals.

Slowest-starting rookie

Kobe BufkinAtlanta Hawks

Bufkin’s 4-of-29 shooting from 3-point range (13%) isn’t particularly concerning given the small sample. We know Bufkin, who hit 35.5% from the shorter college line, is more accurate than that. Given the keys to the summer Hawks’ offense, however, Bufkin also led all players with 4.6 turnovers per game against 3.6 APG.

With Dejounte Murray signing a contract extension to stick alongside Trae Young, Atlanta doesn’t really need Bufkin to run the offense for extended stretches any time soon, so he can develop as more of a combo guard. On the plus side, Bufkin scored the game winner last Thursday as the Hawks beat Philadelphia

Best veterans

1. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

2. Chet HolmgrenOklahoma City Thunder

3. Orlando RobinsonMiami Heat

As Henderson and Thompson went at it in the first half of the Rockets’ Vegas opener, Smith was largely a bystander, putting up four points on 1-of-6 shooting. From there, Smith took control, scoring 67 points in 49 minutes over the next game and a half before being shut down.

More exciting than Smith’s production was how it came, particularly against the Detroit Pistons when he had six assists to go with his 38 points — as many as the No. 3 pick in 2022 had in any game as a rookie. Smith was creating offense off the dribble, something we saw at Auburn but almost never as an NBA rookie. It’s worth remembering that Smith didn’t turn 20 until May, making him four months younger than rookie teammate Thompson.

Holmgren, picked one spot ahead of Smith, is a veteran only in terms of summer league after missing his first NBA campaign because of injury. I already broke down what we saw from Holmgren in his return to the court.

There were no shortage of candidates for the last spot in these rankings. Jaden Springer averaged 22.3 PPG in three appearances for the Philadelphia 76ers, Smith’s teammate Tari Eason was active at both ends and Dyson Daniels filled up the box score. I went with Robinson, a candidate to be Miami’s next undrafted success story. Promoted from a two-way contract, Robinson averaged 25.8 PPG and 9.3 RPG and will battle Thomas Bryant for backup frontcourt minutes this season.

Best free agent

Michael Devoe, Portland Trail Blazers

Henderson’s injury prevented us from seeing Scoot square off with Wembanyama for a third time, following their two exhibition matchups last season. It also created an opening for Devoe, who was a part-time starter in the G League for the Ontario Clippers last season. Devoe scored a game-high 28 points against San Antonio and shot 65% on 3s for the Blazers, though his ability to run the point (4.5 APG) might be more important for his chances of cracking an NBA roster at 6-foot-4.

Best game: Houston-Portland

What was supposed to be the undercard for Wembanyama’s debut against No. 2 pick Brandon Miller proved the most entertaining game of the night by far. Although Henderson and Thompson were both off the court for the finish, Smith delivered a winning 3-pointer from a step in front of the summer league logo on a play that started with 0.6 seconds on the clock.

Source: ESPN

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