The third and biggest of the NBA’s summer leagues tipped off Friday. Once again, the eyes of the NBA world cast their gaze upon Las Vegas, where all 30 NBA teams are being joined by national teams from China and Croatia to give you all the basketball you can handle over the next two weeks.
Which rookies are putting on a show? Keep it here for your daily roundup of the players, matchups and storylines to watch each night of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Wednesday’s must-see game
Even without No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, whose NBA summer league is over due to a knee bruise, the Pelicans established themselves as the most fun show in Las Vegas with Monday’s 109-72 win over the Chicago Bulls. The combination of first-round picks Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes produced several highlights out of the pick-and-roll game, most notably Hayes’ high-flying dunk over Chicago Bulls defender Mychal Mulder. We’ll see whether New Orleans’ rookies, who were making their summer debut Monday, can be as effective the second time out.
— Kevin Pelton
The highlight wasn’t Hayes’ only time finishing above the rim. Of his 10 field goals Monday, eight were dunks. Such high-percentage attempts allowed Hayes to shoot 73% in his lone season at Texas. Hayes is a constant lob threat, either on designed plays after timeouts or out of the pick-and-roll. Watch for the Pelicans to look for him on an alley-oop to start Wednesday’s game. At the other end, Hayes is a dominant presence in the paint as a shot-blocker. He chased down Chandler Hutchison in transition for one of his three blocks Monday.
What happened in Vegas: Tuesday
Silver: NBA needs ‘enforceable’ free-agency rules
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said multiple times during his annual news conference in Las Vegas during NBA summer league that the NBA has “work to do” when it comes to free agency and the rules governing it.
Silver’s comments came after a free-agency period in which several star players changed teams through deals that were apparently agreed upon before the official start of free agency at 6 p.m. ET June 30.
Expectations ‘growing’ for new-look Nets
Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks, sitting alongside head coach Kenny Atkinson, spent a half-hour discussing what has been one of the more eventful offseasons in the NBA — one that saw Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan choose to team up in Brooklyn. The fact that they all agreed to do so at the stroke of free agency was one of many signs that this summer was a lot different from past ones.
What happened in Vegas: Monday
Zion understands the big picture
Zion Williamson took in the New Orleans Pelicans‘ Monday night game from the sideline, having been shut down after playing just nine minutes on Friday. The team said he knocked knees with another player in Friday’s game and suffered a bruised left knee.
“It was more precautionary,” Williamson said of sitting out the remainder of Las Vegas Summer League.
Victor Oladipo’s injury made him appreciate the game more
Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, who suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January and was lost for the rest of the season, dropped into Las Vegas Summer League looking spry, energized and slim.
Although Indiana’s franchise player would not predict a return date, he said he has been strenuously training in Miami with Micah Lancaster and Bryce Stanhope from ImPossible Training and has amped up his skill work, including shooting, dribbling and defensive slides.
Pelton: Scouting the Pelicans’ potential NBA draft steal
While Zion Williamson‘s summer was cut short after less than a half of basketball due to a knee bruise, Monday night saw the long-awaited debut of the Pelicans’ other two first-round picks. Because they were acquired via the Anthony Davis trade (and a second trade with the Atlanta Hawks), No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes and No. 17 pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker were previously unable to play for New Orleans. So too was second-round pick Marcos Louzada Silva.
Before Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, a member of the Pelicans’ front office said the rookies were so excited to play that Alexander-Walker had to be reminded to breathe when he got on the court. They proved to be worth the wait, stealing the show in a blowout 109-72 win over the Bulls. Let’s take a closer look at what we saw from New Orleans’ other three rookies.
What happened in Vegas: Sunday
The Clippers’ polarizing pursuits of Leonard and George
Kawhi Leonard’s choice to join the LA Clippers might have been surprising considering he became the first NBA Finals MVP to leave the team with which he had just won the Larry O’Brien Trophy and because he picked L.A.’s other NBA franchise, but many saw it coming.
Pelton: Scouting the Knicks’ top prospects
When the Brooklyn Nets beat the New York Knicks to sign free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last week, they also offered the Knicks a template. In order to change their fortunes in free agency, the Knicks must develop the kind of quality young talent the Nets are able to put around Durant and Irving.
That process continues for New York at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, where the Knicks have several members of their regular-season roster in action. That group includes recent lottery picks RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox, overachieving 2018-19 rookies Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier, and 2019 second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis. With so much talent, the Knicks were installed as favorites to win the Las Vegas Summer League by Caesars Sportsbook before starting 0-2.
What happened in Vegas: Saturday
Lillard: Recruiting gives players “powerful” approach to free agency
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was just as surprised by the news that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had decided to join forces in Los Angeles as the rest of the world. Lillard spoke about the previous night’s news Saturday during a news conference to announce his four-year, $196 million extension. He suggested that players recruiting one another has become a “powerful” way to join forces in free agency, straying from the traditional pitch meetings with franchises. The addition of Leonard and George will instantly make the LA Clippers a Western Conference powerhouse and a tough competitor for Lillard’s Blazers, who were swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
Damian Lillard doesn’t see a problem with players teaming up, but he doesn’t think that’s the strategy for him because he wants the challenge.
Pelton: Clippers-Thunder trade grades
In a stunning change of direction, the Oklahoma City Thunder granted All-Star forward Paul George‘s wish for a trade to the LA Clippers, dealing George for an unprecedented package of draft picks plus young talent.
Just how big a price did the Clippers pay to pair George with free agent Kawhi Leonard (who picked the Clippers over the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors shortly before the trade was reported)? And how does this massive haul set up Oklahoma City’s future?
What happened in Vegas: Friday
Earthquake postpones late games
During the fourth quarter of the game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the New York Knicks, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Ridgecrest, California, about 250 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The earthquake caused the scoreboard and speakers above the court at the Thomas & Mack Center to sway, and play was immediately stopped. Eventually, officials decided to postpone the remainder of the game, as well as the Denver Nuggets–Phoenix Suns game scheduled to tip off after the completion of Pelicans-Knicks. The NBA also ended the game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Orlando Magic — being played in the adjacent Cox Pavilion — for precautionary reasons.
The hours leading up to Zion
The lines began to snake around the outside of Thomas & Mack Pavilion hours before the doors to the arena opened. Amid the LeBron James Lakers jerseys and Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks jerseys were fans donning Duke Zion Williamson jerseys. They waited, in the unrelenting sun, for a glimpse at the dunktastic No. 1 draft pick. Eight hours after the lines began to form, Williamson made his summer league debut.
Scouting Zion and Barrett
Like the rest of the rookies in action, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson were playing their first competitive game since the end of their college season in March. The night ended prematurely for both Williamson (who took a knee to his knee in the second quarter) and the game as a whole. It’s advisable to not read too much into their performance. Nonetheless, our first look at Barrett and Williamson in the uniforms of their new teams offers a good starting point for understanding how their games will translate to the NBA.