NBA Summer League First Timer's Diary (Part Two)
Another account of 2022 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas from a first-timer's perspective.
After covering the first day and a half of my first time at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, I had to return for Part Two. The Sacramento Kings played in two games that I saw in person during my remaining time in Las Vegas, and I suppose some other cool things happened as well.
I hope that those of you who read this article enjoyed my first foray into my Summer League diary, and there’s certainly plenty more excitement ahead in this installment. As I said in that first installment, there is nothing in sports quite like Summer League in Vegas. What happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas when it comes to this article—especially when it comes to discussions of Keegan Murray and Neemias Queta.
Nathan and I arrived a bit early for the day’s games, getting to Thomas and Mack Center at 12:20 PM, where we planned to spend the rest of the day since our most-anticipated games of the day were all in that building. The rest of the crew was delayed for…reasons.
Still, I was not going to let myself be delayed for any reason. Day One of the games was a spectacular event, but Day Two had the real main event (for me, at least): the Sacramento Kings and Keegan Murray against the Orlando Magic and Paolo Banchero.
The Kings arrived on the court at 12:40 PM, and one thing jumped out to me right away. I was a pretty big Neemias Queta fan after last season, but there was something special about seeing him in person. Even compared to other NBA players, he looked MASSIVE.
Then again, Paolo Banchero also looked massive when he did step out for warmups—not quite Queta-sized, to be clear, but Paolo was definitely closer to being a 7-footer than I had expected.
The game started out on a positive note for Kings fans, with Neemias Queta taking a pass from Keegan Murray in the post and putting Stockton Kings legend Emanuel Terry under the basket, converting the and-1. On the other end, Paolo Banchero committed an absolutely atrocious turnover. The Kings gave up a three-pointer to Devin Cannady and a couple of free throws to Admiral Schofield, but they responded with a dunk from Jared Rhoden and an alley-oop dunk from Queta off a pass from Keon Ellis. They were up 7-5 after the first three minutes, and they looked like they might cruise from there.
Then, Paolo Banchero arrived. He made a layup, then drove to the rim for a dunk a couple of possessions later. After that, he bullied his way to the line and then got fouled on a three-point attempt. Immediately after knocking down two of three free throws, he jumped the passing lane on an errant pass from Keegan Murray and cruised to the rim for a 360 dunk. He looked every bit the part of the #1 overall pick.
Keegan Murray, on the other hand, faded into the woodwork in the first quarter. He had just three points on one triple along with one rebound, and he turned the ball over three times (including the pass that led to the 360 from Paolo) against his one assist on the opening basket.
Thankfully, Neemias Queta showed up to work; he was clearly the best player for the Kings in the opening quarter, and Keon Ellis and Jared Rhoden filled in well around him. Despite the nearly invisible performance from Keegan in the opening quarter, the Kings were up 24-18 at the end of the first quarter.
The Kings then proceeded to give up an 8-0 run to start the second quarter. Admiral Schofield helped Paolo to lead the scoring charge, and the Magic led for most of the second quarter heading into halftime. Keegan played a much better second quarter than his first; his defense was more steady after a few bad possessions against Paolo in the first quarter. Keegan also hit the boards in the second quarter, and he got to the line a couple of times as well to get his scoring going.
Keegan really took off in the third quarter, opening the second half scoring for the Kings with a triple off an assist from Queta. He knocked down another triple to tie the game at 55-55 with 4:39 left in the third quarter, bringing his scoring total up to an astonishing 17 points that didn’t seem to fit with how quiet he had been to start the game.
Sadly, Orlando went on another run after that. They managed to widen the gap to double digits by the end of the third quarter, taking a 70-59 lead into the final period. That gap widened to 82-64 with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter. By all indications, the game was over.
Then, something incredible happened. Keon Ellis hit a three off a pass from Jared Rhoden. A few scoreless possessions passed with one Terry free throw in the middle, then Neemias Queta tipped in a layup, got fouled, and knocked down the subsequent free throw. RJ Hampton missed a couple of free throws, and then Queta fed Keon Ellis for another triple. Queta knocked down two free throws with 1:57 left on the clock, and suddenly the Kings had cut down the double-digit Orlando lead down to just an 83-75 advantage. Unfortunately, it looked like it wouldn’t be enough—the Kings were down 87-81 with just 7.4 seconds left on the clock.
The following 7.4 seconds were truly special, and I’m still not quite sure I understand what happened. Neemias Queta, who has attempted zero three-pointers in the NBA and missed his one long-range attempt for Stockton last season, got the ball from Keon Ellis near the top of the arc and splashed in a three. It wasn’t the prettiest basket in the world, but all of a sudden, the Kings were within three points. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Ade Murkey deflected a pass from Paolo Banchero, which landed in the hands of Keegan Murray beyond the arc, and…
BANG. Tie ballgame.
The arena went wild.
Sure, the game technically ended with an Orlando Magic win in 2OT, after a questionably overturned Paolo Banchero foul on Neemias Queta led to an Emanuel Terry layup to win the game. Sure, it was “just” Summer League.
But at that moment, after that Keegan Murray three-pointer, it was hard not to be excited about his future and the future of the Sacramento Kings.
The next game on the docket for the day was between the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards. There was no way that it was going to live up to the previous game in my mind (despite the Sacramento loss), but I was really excited to see the Jaden Ivey-Johnny Davis matchup.
Unfortunately, that matchup did not live up to the hype, and for very disappointing reasons. Jaden Ivey was spectacular in the opening minutes—he and Isaiah Livers combined for 11 points in the first two minutes, and Ivey looked especially promising in the open court. He added a couple of assists, including a beautiful hit-ahead pass to Braxton Key with 5:20 left in the first quarter. After an up-and-down first three quarters to his Summer League debut followed by an awesome fourth quarter, he appeared to have carried over that stellar fourth quarter to his second game.
Then, Ivey rolled his ankle after being fouled on a three-point attempt. He knocked down all three to finish his night with 11 points and two assists in five minutes, but his Summer League was unfortunately over.
Johnny Davis also did not live up to expectations, although his disappointment was not of the same variety as Ivey and his injury. Davis was very quiet throughout the first half, finishing with two points, two boards, and an assist. He didn’t really pick it up in the second half, either—Davis finished with six points on an abysmal 1-11 mark from the floor, and he missed both of his three-pointers. He did manage to grab a couple of steals, and he looked good defensively when he wasn’t dealing with Ivey early on, but I had hoped to see more from him in that game.
With Ivey out of the game early, Isaiah Livers and Isaiah Stewart controlling much of the action, and Johnny Davis on the sideline, the game quickly turned into a blowout—Detroit led by 22 at halftime. Livers put together an impressive 20-point effort and looked like someone who could be a key rotation piece on the wing for this Pistons squad after a solid end to last season.
The Wizards did get an excellent scoring effort from Jordan Shackel, who put up a comfortable 24 points and looked like someone who might spend some time on the Washington bench this season after spending all but four games with the Capital City Go-Go last year. Jordan Goodwin also helped the Wizards get back in the game, particularly in the second half, but Detroit still came out on top in this one.
The next game was the most-anticipated game of the night for pretty much everyone but me: the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chet Holmgren against the Houston Rockets and Jabari Smith Jr.
Both teams also featured two other recent first round picks beyond their Top 3 guys—Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng for the Thunder and Tari Eason and TyTy Washington Jr. for the Rockets.
This is becoming somewhat of a pattern for me, but the first thing I noticed was an NBA player looking tall—Ousmane Dieng looked gigantic in person. If he ends up being closer to 7’0” than 6’10” (which didn’t seem out of the question when I saw him in Vegas), the Thunder’s potential future matchup nightmares become even scarier for opposing teams.
The game started off with an Aaron Wiggins triple off an assist from Josh Giddey, who proved himself as belonging in the Moses Moody/Quentin Grimes category of “wait, why is he still playing in Summer League?” pretty quickly in the early going.
Still, the real story of the opening half was Tari Eason. In a game with the #2 and #3 overall picks in the 2022 NBA Draft and the #6 overall pick from 2021 showing out, Eason was the one who stood out the most. He appeared to be a level above everybody else on the floor physically—he jumped passing lanes with ease, bodied everyone in front of him, flew to the rim with ease, and even knocked down a three-pointer early in the first quarter. He finished the first half with 11 points and seven rebounds, and it felt like he had 15 and 10 in the first half based on his omnipresent dominance.
Josh Christopher brought the ball up a surprising amount and did quite well as a distributor; he finished the first half with a very impressive 7-5-5. Jabari Smith Jr. put up a ton of shots but barely made any; he let out an audible scream when he finally knocked down a triple with just over a minute to go in the second quarter.
On the OKC side, Giddey and Aaron Wiggins were the ones who stood out. Giddey barely looked for his own shot and still looked dominant running the show, while Wiggins scored eight quick points in the first quarter and finished with 10 at halftime. Chet was quiet early on, and Ousmane Dieng would have been invisible if he wasn’t so huge. Jalen Williams played excellent defense in the first half but only scored one basket, and the Thunder trailed 45-40 at halftime.
Josh Christopher scored the first bucket of the second half, continuing his excellent run in the first half. The first play of the half, though, was a Chet Holmgren block on Daishen Nix for his first block of the game; Chet missed his subsequent three-pointer on the other end, but he appeared to be coming alive. Jalen Williams scored the first basket in the second half for the Thunder, and he appeared to be coming alive as well. The next few minutes were beautiful to watch for Thunder fans; Chet picked up two more quick blocks, and Jalen added two more buckets to push the Thunder ahead.
The rest of the game was a seesaw affair, with Jalen Williams leading the scoring charge for the Thunder and Josh Christopher leading the way for the Rockets. Tari Eason had a very quiet second half after his spectacular effort in the first, and Ousmane Dieng looked much better in the second half and somehow ended up with 10 points and six rebounds. The Thunder ultimately lost the game after Josh Giddey missed a layup at the buzzer, preventing a second overtime finish for the day.
The next game was the last game of the night, between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers. Our crew was starting to get hungry, so we decided to head out after the first quarter—after all, Shaedon Sharpe was not playing, so that took a decent chunk of the excitement out of the contest. Clearly, we were wrong to underestimate Portland’s Summer League squad given their eventual destiny, but their start to this game didn’t wasn’t exactly indicative of their future.
Judging by how the game went in the early going, it certainly felt like the right call—after five minutes, the score was 10-6 New Orleans, with a lot of missed shots and ugly turnovers along the way. We made the executive decision to get dinner instead of sticking around, before recording a late-night podcast after dinner and calling it a night.
Day Three started on a bit of a sad note, with Albert and Nathan heading back home early in the morning. While I knew it wouldn’t be the same in Vegas without them, there was at least another Kings game for me to get excited about watching. This one was in Cox Pavilion, so I was even closer to the court and the Sacramento Kings squad than I was the day before.
The game started out on a great note, with Keegan Murray passing to Frankie Ferrari for a three-pointer to open the scoring for the Kings. Ferrari had been in pure facilitator mode in the game the previous day; those three points were his first points in Vegas for the Kings.
Ferrari continued to put up shots for the Kings after his quiet scoring game the day before, and it was encouraging to see him doing more than just facilitating. Keegan started slowly for the second game in a row but with more volume than the previous game; he put up a couple of really bad early misses in the first quarter, but he gathered himself in the second quarter. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had 10 points and three assists at halftime.
Keon Ellis had a similarly slow start on offense, but his defense was truly something to behold. He picked up Andrew Nembhard for the full 94 feet more than once, and his footwork on the defensive end was stellar. Ellis certainly looked the part of a 3-and-D guard in both games, but his defense particularly stood out to me in the first half of this game. He will almost certainly spend some time in Sacramento on his two-way contract, and he might even get that deal converted before the year is over.
Jared Rhoden also had another solid performance for the Kings in this one. He made the right reads on offense, knocked down a couple of three-pointers, and just generally fit the bill as a versatile forward type. While he isn’t one of the two-way players for the Kings, I would not be surprised at all to see Rhoden on an NBA roster by February of next year.
The other two-way player for the Kings was arguably the best player on the floor for a second straight game. Neemias Queta was simply exceptional in this game. He knocked down another three-pointer after his critical triple the day before, hit five of his six shots overall, grabbed seven rebounds, and rejected five shots in just under 17 minutes of playing time. Queta sat out for most of the second half, but he had already done more than enough to prove himself against Summer League competition.
On the Indiana side, Bennedict Mathurin was solid but nowhere near as impressive as he was in the previous game. He scored 15 points but took 16 shots to get there, and he didn’t really stand out on the defensive end either. Andrew Nembhard really led the charge for the Pacers in this one, which I was not expecting. I admittedly was much lower on Nembhard than his ultimate draft position of #31 overall, but he looked every bit the part of a long-term backup point guard. I’m not exactly looking to draw definitive conclusions about his future from Summer League, but he certainly played better than I expected.
The second half of this game was a rather different affair from the first half. Neemias Queta quickly went to the bench, and Frankie Ferrari cooled down after his scorching-hot first half. Luckily for the Kings, Sean McDermott came to play. After receiving a scary knee to the head late in the third quarter, McDermott hit back-to-back buckets to start the fourth quarter for the Kings and keep them in the game. McDermott continued his impressive run after a strong performance in the California Classic, and he was a huge piece for the Kings in this game.
Keegan Murray also picked it up in the fourth quarter, and Keon Ellis boosted his offensive output after a quiet first half from the field. Murray poured in 10 points in the final four minutes, and Ellis added 10 second-half points of his own.
On the Indiana side, Terry Taylor put up 11 second-half points, and he chipped in on the boards as well with seven rebounds—including four on the offensive glass. His play in Vegas was very productive and very under-the-radar. He was quietly super-productive for Indiana in limited minutes last season, and I expect him to be an underrated cog in their rotation this season as well.
Ultimately, the Kings managed to come out on top in this one, as a late Keon Ellis block on Bennedict Mathurin sealed the deal for the Kings. Sacramento may have gone 1-1 in the two games that I saw in person, but it was about as encouraging of a two-game stretch as I could have hoped to see from the Kings in Las Vegas.
We decided to stay in Cox Pavilion for the next game between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. Albert sadly wasn’t in attendance to cheer for his Knicks, but Corey at least got to be in the building to watch the Summer League Bulls again.
Unfortunately, this game was not exactly a fun performance from a Bulls fan perspective. Feron Hunt and Jericho Sims controlled the game early with their athleticism, and Quentin Grimes and Trevor Keels locked down on defense. For the second straight game, Keels struggled mightily on offense but looked every bit the part of a future lockdown defender.
After a brutal 13-0 New York run to start the game, the Bulls swapped out all five players on the court. Sadly, it didn’t get much better for them from there. With the Knicks up 27-11 at the end of the first quarter, we decided to move back to the Thomas and Mack Center to watch the Phoenix Suns play Johnny Davis and the Washington Wizards.
This game was more entertaining than Knicks-Bulls, but sadly not by much. Vernon Carey Jr. kicked off the scoring with an easy layup, and things did not get much better for the Suns from there. Sacramento Kings legend Louis King looked solid, scoring four of the first six points for Phoenix and moving well on defense, but the rest of the Phoenix squad struggled to keep up with the Wizards. Carey outscored the Suns by himself through the first five and a half minutes; while his dominance in the paint was certainly encouraging, it was hard to tell just how much I could take away from it.
Johnny Davis unfortunately had another rough go of it in this game, even though the Wizards were cruising. He had a troubling 0-1-0 line halfway through the second quarter, and he looked hesitant whenever he had the ball in his hands. Even when he started putting up more shots in the second half, he was still way too tentative out there.
The Wizards led this game 51-32 at halftime, and not all that much changed in the second half beyond Davis putting up a few more shots. Vernon Carey had 13 points and 10 rebounds with 6:00 left in the third quarter, and he finished with 15 and 11 with two blocks in just 19 minutes of playing time. The Suns did manage to cut the lead to 10 points midway through the third quarter with a few timely free throws, but that was as close as it got.
Johnny Davis did finish with 11 points and four rebounds, and he did look solid on the defensive end. His hesitance overall was more concerning than anything in the box score for him, but I was encouraged by how he played in the second half of this game—especially in comparison to the six previous quarters I had seen from him.
Still, we had to stay in the Thomas and Mack Center for the next game. If Kings-Magic was the most-anticipated game on my schedule, Warriors-Spurs was definitely the most-anticipated game for Tyler Rucker. James Wiseman was getting his first Summer League action, and Rucker couldn’t wait to see him dominate.
The good news is that Wiseman scored the first five points of the game, slamming home an alley-oop from Kuminga, blocking a Blake Wesley jumper, and knocking down a triple to start the scoring for the Warriors. The bad news is that we had chosen the end of the Suns-Wizards blowout as the time to get up and make a bathroom run—so of course, we settled into our seats just after the spectacular Wiseman sequence to start things off.
The Warriors subbed Wiseman out with 6:12 remaining in the first quarter, which deflated the excitement a bit in our section. Quinndary Weatherspoon scored a couple of quick baskets for the Warriors, and Wesley and Josh Primo led the charge early for the Spurs. Mac McClung put up six quick points with Kuminga and Wiseman on the bench. Darius Days, however, responded with eight quick points of his own; he was one of the more impressive under-the-radar players in Summer League, and I was not surprised in the slightest when Miami inked him to a two-way contract before the end of Summer League.
The second quarter was sadly a bit of a foul show for James Wiseman, and a few of those fouls were questionable at best. Still, the Warriors hung around until the closing minutes of the second quarter, mostly due to Jonathan Kuminga. While he struggled mightily at the free-throw line, Kuminga was quite adept as the primary playmaker for the Warriors; he also did an admirable job on defense, trying to fill gaps for the Warriors whenever Wiseman went to the bench. Kuminga wasn’t able to prevent Darius Days from feasting whenever Wiseman sat, though; Days led all scorers at halftime with 13 points.
Kuminga finished the half with 12 points and five rebounds, and he looked much improved as a playmaker when he had the ball in his hands. However, Kuminga’s all-around efforts and Wiseman’s excellence (on the rare occasions when he got the ball) were not enough to prevent the Spurs from running out to a 48-34 halftime lead.
The second half started with a Blake Wesley jumper off a Josh Primo assist, and it looked like things were about to go from bad to worse for the Warriors. Then, Mac McClung started dominating the ball and putting up points. After his six quick first quarter points, he went silent in the second quarter but put up eight points in the third and dished out a couple of assists as well. His level of ball dominance was a bit frustrating, especially for those of us who wanted him to get the ball to Wiseman, but McClung did at least help to cut the San Antonio lead back down to double digits.
McClung continued his hot streak to start the fourth quarter, scoring six of their first eight points and dishing out to Quinndary Weatherspoon for a triple to tie the game at 72-72 and then converting a Kuminga feed soon after to tie the game back up at 74-74. Still, James Wiseman had been subbed out just before that McClung bucket, and the Spurs ran off five quick points after that. We assumed that Wiseman was done for the day and decided to pack it in and head home. Of course, Wiseman did end up getting subbed back into the game, and he threw down a dunk on a cut to the rim following a Jonathan Kuminga feed. Kuminga, who went 7-for-18 from the free-throw line on the day, knocked down a free throw in the final seconds to put the Warriors ahead, and Golden State closed out their 86-85 victory just as we pulled up to our place.
You win some; you lose some. Still, as we left the arena for the final time during my stay in Las Vegas, it was hard not to feel like a gambler on a serious hot streak. The peaks were spectacular, and even the valleys would make for great stories.
After three incredible days of basketball in the Summer League arenas and one night of watching games on TV with the No Ceilings crew, it was finally time to go home. Corey and Rucker got in one car, and I got in my car to make the long drive back home to Sacramento.
Even after thousands of words in this diary and many hours watching Summer League games in Las Vegas, it’s still honestly hard to process the trip. I thought I had some idea of what Summer League was like from hearing other people talk about it, but no description could quite live up to the full experience.
For a few days, I was one of the asteroids orbiting the center of the NBA universe, mere feet away from countless NBA stars and not that much further away from the players on the court. I had the incredible experience of watching the future of the NBA unfold before my very eyes at two connected gyms in Las Vegas.
It was one hell of a trip.
I can’t wait to do it all again next year.