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2022 NBA Summer League 5-on-5
The gang went out to Las Vegas to experience the 2022 NBA Summer League up close. Here's what we thought about a number of players we saw up close and personal.
2022 NBA Summer League is one of our favorite times of the year here at No Ceilings. Each of us appreciates evaluating talent in a different setting while still enjoying the sport that is basketball and embracing the fun that comes with it.
Even better than watching every single game from the comfort of your own couch, though, is experiencing the action up close. Getting to know other scouts and executives in networking is one benefit of making the pilgrimage to the Thomas and Mack Center, but seeing the newly drafted rookies and budding sophomores up close is a joy in and of itself.
So even though connecting with others, building relationships, AND creating content in the same room were some of our main goals in the desert, we also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to scout guys some of us weren’t able to study in person through last period.
And with those impressions come plenty of thoughts that we who attended wanted to bounce around and share in this special 5-on-5. You know the drill by now if you’re a No Ceilings subscriber, so let’s break down different Summer League topics and relive the madness one last time!
1. Who is the most impressive rookie you saw in Summer League?
Nathan: I think most would answer this question with Keegan Murray, but by my pre-draft evaluations and who impressed ME the most, I’m going to say Tari Eason. I still have the same questions I did a few months ago regarding his halfcourt offensive impact. When he’s met at the rim by bigger, stronger players, he isn’t quite able to finish over and through them in ways that we’d expect someone who’s likely to live in the paint to do. However, it’s also clear that he’s going to get open runs at the rim far more often even at the NBA level than I anticipated, and he is slicker than expected in dropping dimes. Oh, AND he’s sat down and defended on the opposite side of the ball! A transition terror, and a budding corner three shooter, Eason is an awesome get for the Houston Rockets based on their style of play and need for someone with his size and athleticism.
Nick: The first player who came to mind for me for this answer has already been claimed, so I’ll happily go with the homer pick here and say Keegan Murray. He had very quiet first quarters in both of the games that I saw in person–yet he finished with 20+ points in both of them. His calm demeanor and steady play weren’t exactly unexpected, but he still knocked down a three-pointer to tie the game at the buzzer without having scored before that in the fourth quarter, and yet he made it look routine. His movement shooting was spectacular, he made some really solid passing reads, and his positioning on defense was far better than I could have ever hoped for from a rookie. He might not have shown the same kind of dominance as Paolo, but Keegan Murray’s quiet brilliance was truly something to behold.
Tyler: Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero were sensational. I’ve got to go with Keegan Murray here as well. Heading into the 2022 NBA Draft, there were plenty that were questioning how Keegan would be able to create at the next level. Those questions seem to have gotten quieter, which has just been an enjoyable development. Keegan has been exactly what he was at Iowa this year. He’s the terminator. You might stop him and get him off to a slow start, but he continues to chip away and does an outstanding job of not getting rattled. To quote the legendary Duke in Rocky II: “He’s all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don’t need no man like that in our lives.” That’s just what Keegan Murray showcased throughout Summer League. The number of times you look up and realize “shit, he’s got 18 points? With another quarter left?” Murray is “death by a thousand cuts.” He’s going to play for a long time, and he’s going to be a heck of a building block for the Kings franchise to grow with going forward.
Albert: This may or not be, but definitely is the most boring answer. I had to go with Paolo Banchero. My reason for choosing Paolo? The man is an absolute giant in person. I don’t know if his body creates some sort of optical illusion on TV, but he looks way bigger in person than he did on film. It may just be because he’s extremely proportional, but he’s the classic case of the guy who looks shorter than he actually is until you stand next to him and realize he’s way taller than you thought. Beyond the height, Paolo flashed a myriad of the skills that made him the number one pick in the draft. A bunch of guys from our site highlighted his underrated play-making throughout the college basketball season, but he got to show off a ton of that in Vegas. He made a ton of high-level reads, manipulating the defense with the threat of the drive and making plays off of that for his teammates. Paolo was gigantic, showed off the handles, showed off the vision, and I’m glad I got to see it live.
Corey: The thing I was most looking forward to seeing in Vegas besides a steady stream of aces and face cards was Chet Holmgren. I had seen most of the top guys already during the college season, so seeing the number one prospect on my board up close was priority numero uno. And let me tell you, he did not disappoint. I watched other players put up flashier box score numbers, but I was so enamored by the smoothness and versatility of Chet’s offensive game, while being floored by how dominant and impactful he was and will be on defense. He also doesn’t look like the frail bag of bones he’s been billed as all year. I can’t wait to see how the NBA game continues to unlock the things he’s capable of but didn’t get to show off in college. Holmgren looked like the goods.
2. Who is the second or third-year player that impressed you the most?
Nathan: How about Moses Moody for the Golden State Warriors? While Quentin Grimes has arguably been the best player in all of Summer League and deserves mentions below, Moody did a few things I didn’t expect to see at volume in the few games he played. In just TWO contests, Moody got to the line 25 times (!!) and hit those looks at an 88% clip. We know he can shoot from the corners and on the wings, as well as defend multiple positions. The evolution that still needs to come from his game is what happens when he puts the ball on the floor? Can he get all the way to the rim, and then finish or draw contact when he gets there? His body says yes, but improved handling and decisiveness on the move, along with the willingness to hunt contact, really impressed me. An aggressive Moody who’s more than just a 3-and-D prospect is something I want to see more of for the Warriors.
Nick: Moses Moody and Quentin Grimes would have been my top two choices for this category, but since they’ve already been taken, I’m going to go with someone whose box score numbers were nowhere near as impressive as his play on the court (with apologies to Neemias Queta, who easily could have been my second straight homer pick here). Josh Giddey played third fiddle to Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams in terms of scoring punch, but he ran the Thunder offense like an absolute maestro. His hit-ahead passes and dimes to cutters on the baseline stood out even more than usual, given how many shoot-first and shoot-second guards dominate the ball in any sort of Summer League setting. Thunder fans certainly had many positives to take away from the play of their young players in Summer League, but Josh Giddey often looked like he was playing at 60% speed and was still seeing the game two levels beyond anyone else.
Tyler: Quentin Grimes was outstanding…but I’m going in another direction here. We need to talk about Detroit Pistons forward Isaiah Livers. Heading into Summer League, Livers was one of the top names on my list to get a close-up look at. I remain convinced that Livers would have been a first-round pick in 2021 if not for an injury right before the NCAA tournament that kept Livers out for the majority of his rookie season. A sharpshooting threat with a sensational feel for the game, Livers understands his strengths and weaknesses and allows the game to come to him. This isn’t a player that is going to force his shot to fill up the box scores. Livers knows how to be a winning player and take what the defense gives him. For a Detroit Pistons team that looks like they are on their way to fast-forwarding a rebuilding process, Livers is the type of asset that can become a “glue guy” for years to come. He looked fantastic in Summer League on both sides of the floor and should have the potential to be a serious asset in the rotation this year.
Albert: HOMER ANSWER ALERT: Quentin Grimes is the only correct answer here. Grimes definitely showed off some of the skills behind why Danny Ainge and Leon Rose are in the middle of a heated staring contest. Grimes was the best perimeter on the Knicks last year and showed off a ton of that. The thing that I loved was the freedom and aggression he played with on the floor. The Summer League staff for the Knicks empowered him with the agency to try things off the dribble, initiate the pick and roll with bigs, and make decisions. Grimes took a ton of threes off the dribble, off movement, and off the catch. Will it ultimately turn into an audition for the Jazz, or will he be flashing these skills for the Knicks in year two? Only Leon knows, which is fun for us.
Corey: Quick shoutout to Trey Murphy III, who looked absolutely gigantic in person and went out and gave teams buckets, but Quentin Grimes was the second-year player that impressed me the most. The dude was walking around the Thomas and Mack Center court like he owned the joint. Q Dot just had this confidence oozing out of him the whole week. Grimes finished his rookie year strong, and it really felt like he built off of it in the Summer League in a tangible way, as he was taking charge of the offense and doing things with the ball in his hands both as a scorer and playmaker that was really impressive. Even when the shot wasn’t dropping, he was making positive contributions to the team by setting the tone by playing hard-nosed defense. Sometimes a larger Summer League role can be a little bit of fools gold, but none of what he was doing looked like it couldn’t translate in real games. Wherever he ends up, it feels like Grimes is poised for a big year.
3. Who is the player that was better than you expected?
Nathan: I thought Bennedict Mathurin had as good a Summer League as almost anyone. Playing in three games, he averaged 19.3 PPG on efficient shooting splits across the board while making plays defensively, sharing the ball, and keeping his turnovers to a minimum. Wings who can score in a variety of ways, keep the ball moving, and provide defensive versatility are what every NBA team is looking for right now. And Mathurin proved he’ll be ready to do those things from day one while still offering plenty of upside to grow into a more featured scoring option as the years go by. The Indiana Pacers got a real good one in Mathurin.
Nick: I did not expect Tari Eason to be the best rookie on the Houston Rockets Summer League squad, but he clearly was in my book. Even against higher-level athletes in Summer League than the competition he faced in college, Eason looked a step ahead of everyone else athletically. His shot looked much further along than I thought it did at LSU, and his ability to get out in transition was still elite even in a stronger surrounding context. His passing was also quite solid, and was a level beyond what I expected to see from him in his first year in the NBA. I wasn’t down on Tari heading into Summer League, but he probably convinced me to buy more stock in him more than any other rookie I saw in Las Vegas.
Tyler: Tari Eason had the potential to be a heck of an asset if he landed with the right team. So far, it looks as if it’s a match made in heaven for Eason and the Houston Rockets. While Summer League can be a perfect recipe for a certain skillset of a player, Eason was flat-out awesome. There are some players that can “disappear” when they are on the court, Eason was just the opposite. He was all over the place, doing everything in his power to make an impact on each side of the floor. If he can translate that type of player over to the regular season, he’s going to be a player that has to be on the court for the Rockets. Although many of us always view guards off the bench as potential “microwave” options in the rotation, Eason could be a new version of that as a forward.
Albert: Blake Wesley, let’s talk. Heading into the 2022 NBA Draft, Wesley was one of my least favorite players. I thought he had negative touch, which is a fancy way of saying I thought he had such terrible touch that it was detrimental to the game of basketball. I thought his shot selection was gross and that he made so many bad decisions that it hurt my feelings. The Wesley in Vegas still had remnants of what I saw in his college tape, but Vegas Wesley was MUCH better. I thought his jumper looked way smoother with the same confidence, which is really good. I thought he made some really good passes and showed more of a willingness to pass. I still think he will struggle to finish at the rim because of his less-than-ideal touch around the basket and lack of vertical pop. In his first game, he got wrecked at the rim a couple of times by Luke Travers, but overall he did look better at the rim as well. Wesley is far from being a contributing member of the Spurs, but there are whiffs of honk eventually getting there. I’m not a believer yet, but he showed me much more than I expected.
Corey: I can’t help but feel like JD Davison turned some heads in a way that most people didn’t see coming. Rucker and I went over to watch some of the first Celtics game and immediately felt like we had to have the “does Davison look kinda good?” convo. After a wonky year at Alabama, where Davison was probably more productive than most scouts gave him credit for, Davison gave us a glimpse of why he was a projected lottery pick entering the last draft cycle. The athleticism pops even at the NBA level, the shot looked smoother, and while he still made some questionable decisions at times, he looked way more poised than he did in college. Davison will probably be spending the majority of his season in Maine, but he certainly showed off why the Celtics took a chance on him.
4. Who is the player that needs more time?
Nathan: Jared Butler. And before everyone comes at me because he was arguably “My Guy” for the 2021 NBA Draft cycle, I’m legitimately concerned about how highly I valued him as a starting guard. He did average 7.7 APG in Summer League, but he struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket. His handle allows him to still get to certain spots and create passing windows for his teammates, and he rarely makes mistakes as a playmaker. But in terms of separating himself from defenders for easier jump shots or getting all the way to the rim, he wasn’t able to do either effectively, leading to poor splits across the board. If Butler can’t figure out how to leverage more of his dribbling craft into easier points, and he truly doesn’t have the burst to get himself open, then the positives he does bring to the table become harder to ultimately justify the worthiness of a starter’s role. Butler is still only heading into Year Two, so he deserves more time to develop, but in these games, he looked like a bench guard at best. The bright side is I noticed the same issues with Cole Anthony last Summer, and before he was injured, he had an All-Star case heading into the end of December. Maybe the same can happen with Butler for a tanking Utah Jazz team?
Nick: TyTy Washington. I was more of a believer in TyTy than many, and I thought that he was a steal for the Rockets at 29th overall. Watching him in Summer League, however, was more disappointing than I might have hoped. While he showed flashes of scoring potential and threw some pretty impressive passes, he also just looked lost for many of his possessions out there. I hope that he gets some time on the ball in the G League this season, and I’m still fully bought in on him going forward. However, I would have hoped to see more from him in a Summer League setting; there were minutes-long stretches when I didn’t even notice that he was on the court, which is never a good sign for any player but particularly from a point guard drafted in the first round.
Tyler: Johnny Davis. Couldn’t be less worried about Johnny at Summer League. Yes, Wizards fans, I’ve seen all of you on the panic meter when it comes to your overreactions about Johnny in Summer League. I promise it’s going to be okay. The problem with some of the summer league overreactions is you also need to take into consideration the other factors at play. The Wizards roster was surrounded by players who have been fighting to not be stuck on a G-League team for another season. While Johnny showed some struggles, especially when it came to being a little passive offensively, I’m not too worried. Go look back at his basketball career; in every role, Johnny has adjusted and succeeded. For a player that was so great at using his feel and frame to create an advantage against the opposition, Davis simply is going to need some more time to adjust to the next stage. For a player who has consistently figured it out throughout his career, it would seem unwise to rule out a relentless worker like Johnny.
Albert: Wizards fans, chill out. Johnny Davis is a really good basketball player; he really just needs time. The problem with the Wizards summer league team is that the team wasn’t any good. I understand that he struggled and didn’t play very well, but his pedigree tells me he will be fine. Other than Isaiah Todd, the team lacked NBA-level talent. I’ve seen many tweets about Davis being unable to get by people, but I’m just not that concerned. I think Davis is too talented and plays way too hard to fail. Give the man some time; he’ll figure it out.
Corey: I know that this question is probably going to be interpreted as who kinda looked worse than you were expecting, but I’m not approaching it that way. I’m gonna go with James Wiseman. In the lone game that I saw Wiseman play live, he was actually pretty impressive. Outside of foul trouble (some of which were dubious at best), Wiseman showed off the type of big man skills that led the Dubs to select him second overall a few years ago. He was dunking lobs, knocking down outside shots, defending in space, and protecting the rim. I was encouraged by what I saw from a kid who has played limited games over the last three seasons. And that’s the thing, for as good as I thought he looked, he still needs real in-game reps. Having the weight of being a number two overall draft pick carries some high expectations, especially when a guy like LaMelo Ball was the guy taken right after you. Wiseman still has the talent and infrastructure to live up to the hype, but it’s going to take time. The Warriors are looking to repeat, and Wiseman offers something that they don’t currently have elsewhere, but fans need to be patient with him as he re-acclimates to the speed and nuance of the NBA game. The kid is just 21 years old; he’s far from a finished product. Let’s give him some time to grow his game.
5. Which team’s future are you most excited for?
Nathan: The Indiana Pacers are getting my vote here even though I LOVE what the Houston Rockets have done in the last two drafts. The young core, of which includes Tyrese Haliburton and Jalen Smith, who we didn’t see at Summer League, had some really awesome moments capitalized by Bennedict Mathurin, who I detailed above. But Chris Duarte is still a capable scorer/shooter on the wing, Isaiah Jackson remains one of my favorite breakout candidates next year, and Andrew Nembhard, as well as Kendall Brown, seem to have real values as second-round picks who can provide depth off the bench for this Pacers squad. All of these players seem to want to play as a collective unit which plays off of Haliburton’s strengths to a tee. I expect Indiana to be frisky next year and are definitely near the top of my list of “League Pass Teams” for next season.
Nick: The Oklahoma City Thunder get my vote here. Ousmane Dieng showed flashes of being a jumbo shot creator in the future, and he looked absolutely massive in person. Jalen Williams showcased his incredible all-around game; he looked like someone who will be a plus defender sooner rather than later, and he has quite a bit of on-ball equity as well. Chet Holmgren similarly looked like a real defensive presence with on-ball skills who can fill the gaps in basically any lineup construction. Josh Giddey, as I’ve already discussed, was one of the most impressive second-year players that I saw. There was a moment in the Thunder-Rockets game when OKC ran Giddey, Aaron Wiggins (who was very efficient and quite impressive in his Summer League run), Dieng, Jalen, and Chet out there all at the same time–five guys who can grab and go on any given possession. I turned to Albert shortly after they ran out that squad and said “imagine this lineup with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out there instead of Wiggins,” and I could barely contain my excitement. This team won’t just be good going forward–they’ll be a ton of fun this year as well.
Tyler: I absolutely love the OKC Thunder team, but I feel like everyone might go that route. So let’s talk about the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have something really cooking. While plenty are freaking out about Jabari Smith’s shooting struggles in Summer League (relax, folks), they also need to realize what a freak of nature he looked like on the defensive side of the ball. Once Jabari finds his groove, that potential pairing of Jabari and Tari Eason could be just absolutely erotic. Josh Christopher looks ready for another step forward and should be a nice piece in the rotation this year. Rafael Stone and company continue to add fascinating young assets to the roster, and they offer some nice roster versatility. If players like Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun take another step forward, there’s some fun stuff cooking in Houston.
Albert: GO SPURS GO! My answer for this one is the Spurs because I like that they’ve really invested in the youth movement. It’s not every day that you see a team with three first-round picks use all three and keep all three players. I’m really excited to see how Pop and the staff in San Antonio integrate the three young guns into the squad. It’s too bad that we didn’t get to see Jeremy Sochan play in any games, but he did pull off some dope fits while riding the pine. As I mentioned in one of our earlier questions, Blake Wesley was better than I thought he would be, and Malaki Branham showed some of his offensive talents. My Draftdaq co-host, Corey Tulaba, went to town on Branham’s defense, and to his credit, he was right. Branham looked pretty rough on the defensive side of the ball in Vegas. I believe he’s in a good situation to learn and has some good defenders around him to show him the ropes. Beyond the rookies, they just gave Keldon Johnson a nice extension and still have guys like Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, and Joe Wieskamp, who can develop into good players. Victor Wembanyama might enjoy playing with them…
Corey: It’s the OKC Thunder for me in a landslide. I’m actually full-on jealous of what they have going on right now. Chet is one of my favorite prospects of the last few years, Jalen Williams looks like he may end up the steal of the draft, Ousmane Dieng is the perfect upside swing, Josh Giddey is a freakin’ wizard with the ball, Tre Mann is the shifty step-back king, and oh yeah…they still have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander getting buckets in the funkiest ways possible. Add on the mountain of draft capital they still have to use in a future trade, and I’m all-in on Sam Presti’s crazy vision. The puzzle pieces just seem to fit with this squad, and the chemistry these dudes were playing with in Vegas was just pure hoops excellence. These guys are my early favorite for Illegal Stream Team for the 2022-23 NBA season.