The NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas enters its tournament phase on Wednesday following a round robin that again found a reliably delicate balance between bad basketball and stellar individual performances.
With three games in the books for all teams, here are some players who are turning heads so far in Vegas:
KEVIN KNOX, F, New York Knicks
Knox was a late-riser in the 2018 NBA Draft, passing the likes of Miles and Mikal Bridges to be selected ninth overall — and if early returns are any indication, he’s looking like an absolute steal.
The six-foot-nine forward who spent one season at Kentucky made his presence known immediately during the Knicks’ first Summer League game over the weekend:
He hasn’t slowed down since. Knox is tied for second among all players with 23.3 points per game and is doing his damage in a number of ways, attacking the rim and showing off an impressive three-point stroke. On Tuesday night he caught fire in the second half and helped the Knicks orchestrate a sizeable comeback:
Summer League is hardly a marker for future success but amid a pool of hopeful players trying out to make the NBA, it can help to easily identify those who are clearly ready for basketball’s biggest stage from Day 1. In that respect, Knox brings to mind rookies Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum at the event in 2017, who were alphas the moment they took the court. Like those two, Knox appears poised to step in and do damage right away as a co-star to Kristaps Porzingis, providing Knicks fans more hope than they’ve had in years.
OG ANUNOBY, F, Toronto Raptors
Anunoby is right near the top of the list of players at Summer League who are almost certainly too good to be playing at Summer League.
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2018
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2018
After a solid showing as a starter in his rookie year and excelling in the playoffs last season, Anunoby heads into the 2018-19 campaign as one of the most important Raptors both now and in the future.
He doesn’t have to prove anything at Summer League, but he’s there anyways and the team and coaching staff — led by new Raptors head coach Nick Nurse — have used the experience as an in-game training session for the 20-year-old, drilling his decision-making on the drive and with his shot selection.
Anunoby is a de facto catch-and-shoot weapon on the Raptors’ NBA roster, but he’s had a chance to have the offence run through him in Las Vegas. His numbers don’t jump out at you — just under 14 points and seven rebounds on just 35 per cent shooting — though it remains a valuable experience.
JOHN COLLINS, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
When it comes to the Hawks, fans entered the Summer League with a keen eye on first-round pick Trae Young, but it’s last year’s first-rounder, Collins, who stole the show.
Averaging a Summer League-best 24 points per game, Collins was an absolute beast in Vegas — we’re using the past-tense because the Hawks have essentially shut him down to avoid injury risks; there’s nothing left for Collins to prove.
John Collins went off for the Atlanta Hawks at the NBA Summer League!
Check out his BEST plays as he dropped 30 PTS & 8 REB. pic.twitter.com/NKK2DkvbnX
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) July 8, 2018
THE BIG MAN ROOKIE CLASS
The top end of the 2018 draft was dominated by big men, all of whom — with the notable exception of second-overall pick Marvin Bagley III — have their respective fan bases giddy with what they’ve seen so far at Summer League.
Phoenix Suns centre DeAndre Ayton (first overall) has flashed all of the physical skills that vaulted him atop draft boards, and an exciting matchup against Orlando Magic centre Mo Bamba (sixth) showed that Bamba is just as electric and could be an even bigger game-changer when all is said and done:
Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. (third overall), projected to be a consummate two-way centre, hit eight three-pointers in his debut at the Utah Summer League, and while his shooting hasn’t quite maintained in Vegas he’s still averaging 2.5 blocks per game.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Wendell Carter Jr. (seventh) has opened eyes with his steady play, averaging 16 points, seven boards, and 3.75 blocks per game in three games so far for the Bulls.
JONATHAN ISAAC, F, Orlando Magic
The sixth-overall pick in the 2017 draft, injuries limited Isaac to just 27 games in his rookie season. He returns to the Las Vegas Summer League looking taller, filled out, and as poised as any player in the event.
Against Summer League competition (a huge caveat), Isaac can do it all. He effortlessly swats shots with his near seven-foot frame and guards the perimeter well, can blow by defenders off the dribble and comfortably shoot the three, and has been too much to handle for opponents:
The Magic have one of the saddest collective rosters in the NBA, but suddenly the prospect of a team led by freakish athletes like Isaac and Bamba (not to mention Aaron Gordon, who recently signed a four-year extension) is worth getting excited about in Orlando.