Initial Summer League Reactions after Night 1 in Vegas
Jaden Ivey lives up to my "best player in the draft" billing and Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren show out early on
Advanced Statistics used in this article are gathered from ESPN.com, StatMuse.com, and NBA.com.
Jaden Ivey has basektball in his blood. His mom is the Women’s Basketball Head Coach for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and was also a fantastic athlete as she was in the WNBA. His Dad, Javin Hunter, played in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. Ivey’s grandfather James Hunter is a Detroit Lions legend and ties Jaden to the Motor City. The Pistons couldn’t be a better fit for Ivey, as his lineage resides in the city and his insistence on bringing the Pistons back to the promised land gives Detroit fans goosebumps.
Thanks for reading Baller Sports Dialogue! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
What is even more impressive about Jaden Ivey is his determination to win every single game, even the ones that “don’t matter”. This was evident when Ivey willed the Pistons’ Summer League team to win against the Trailblazers’ Summer League team in his debut last night. Instead of waiting for the Blazers to foul him with a 3-point lead and 35 seconds to go, Ivey found an open lane and used his quickness and explosiveness to get to the hoop for an easy lay-in to take a 5-point lead. Ivey had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in his first Summer League game and that performance was simply a tantalizer of what is to come from him. Ivey and Cade Cunningham will wreak havoc over the Eastern Conference for years to come and it is going to be fun to watch.
Paolo Banchero had a great debut finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists with a team-high +20 plus-minus. Banchero’s impact offensively was unparalleled as his playmaking gave his teammates open looks, and his shot-making ability opened the floor. Nonetheless, Banchero still has a lot to work on including his decision-making offensively. He can get to the rim whenever he wants, yet a lot of times settles for step-back long two-pointers that are very low percentage shots. Banchero also does this at the 3-point line being reluctant to shoot the 3 then doing a two-dribble step back into a low percentage long two-pointer again.
Banchero needs to make a decision on whether he is going to the hoop or shooting the 3-ball because those low percentage two-pointers won’t do him any favors in the association. People say Banchero’s defense was good against Jabari Smith Jr. last night, and it was okay, but more about Smith being unable to get into a rhythm than Paolo being a “good” defensive player. He still has a ton to work on defensively as he gets beat very easily even if Smith Jr. wasn’t able to take advantage of that deficiency yesterday. Either way, Paolo Banchero showed everyone why he was a highly-touted prospect last night.
Chet Holmgren set a Summer League record in blocks with 6 in his debut and really hasn’t missed a beat since. Holmgren has scored 17+ points in each of his first two games and the offensive versatility he has shown is quite impressive. #2 on my big board, Holmgren has been uber consistent on the offensive end, but in the second game defensively he got bodied regularly by a much bigger (weight-wise) Kenny Lofton Jr, who is only 6-7.
This was an introduction to what is going to happen to Chet defensively in his first couple of seasons in the NBA until he adds more weight. In some games, Holmgren will put on a clinic defensively as he did in the first Summer League game of his, and in other games, when he has to guard bigger and stronger power forwards/centers he will struggle tremendously. Nonetheless, I still stand by what I said in the pre-draft process; both Ivey and Holmgren will be NBA superstars and Shaedon Sharpe, Nikola Jovic, and Jabari Smith Jr. have the ability to become superstars as well.
Another player that stood out to me on night 1 of the NBA Summer League was Caleb Houstan, the 6-8 SG/SF out of Michigan that the Magic drafted with the 32nd overall pick. My sources tell me that if Houstan had been available just 3 picks later for the Lakers, that likely would have been the guy that they drafted.
Darvin Ham, Rob Pelinka, and the whole Lakers scouting department were in awe of Houstan’s shooting ability at the NBA Draft Combine. Houstan showed exactly why in the Magic’s win over the Rockets last night scoring 20 points and taking over the game with his 3-point shooting in the 4th quarter. I was always high on Caleb Houstan being a first-round pick and possibly even a lottery pick, and teams are going to be very regretful that they passed on him.
Houstan played even better than #3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. last night, and Smith Jr. struggled to get going all game and didn’t show up on the defensive end of the floor either. I also think it’s one game and too early to question Jabari Smith Jr’s ability after one 4-10 shooting night. Josh Christopher and Daishen Nix weren’t getting Smith Jr. the ball enough (hence only the 10 shots Smith took) and as a result, he couldn’t into a serious rhythm all game long. His jumper was as advertised even if the shots didn’t fall, smooth as butter and unblockable with his size and wingspan.
What does concern me is that Smith Jr’s first step was extremely slow not allowing him to get by Paolo Banchero, who isn’t a good defender at all. If Smith can’t create space when guarded by Paolo Banchero how is he supposed to create against legitimate NBA defenders that can match his size and length? Because of the lack of quickness in Smith Jr’s first step, his ability to create could be limited in year one.
As of right now, he is a 6-10 spot-up shooter who can do occasional damage in the post, and that isn’t quite what the Rockets were expecting with the 3rd overall pick. I still think that Smith has the ability to become a superstar, but he needs to work on that first step and his overall offensive bag religiously to have any shot of reaching that potential and living up to his billing.
Even though this article details primarily with the two games played in the Vegas summer league last night (Portland Vs. Detroit and Houston Vs. Orlando), I have to give a shout-out to what Ziare Williams is doing for the Grizzlies Summer League team in Utah so far. With 19 points on 7-15 shooting from the floor to go along with 2 steals, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds, Williams showed off his versatility on both ends of the floor. Toward the end of last season, Williams started to become a reliable 3PT shooter, secondary shot creator, and an amazing defender for the Grizzlies, but through the first two Summer League games, Williams has shown the ability to take over games when he is the #1 option.
What made Williams’ performance even more impressive was his ability to get to the lane and score despite his 3-point jumper not being there (1-7 from 3). Even on his worst shooting night arguably of his career so far, Williams still found a way to take over the game with his athleticism and ability to get to the rim. Originally thought of as a “project” when the Grizzlies drafted him last year 10th overall, Williams has seen rapid development on both ends of the floor and will be one of the main options on a championship-contending Grizzlies team next year. I couldn’t be higher on this guy.
Another player that many people were looking forward to seeing was Shaedon Sharpe and his first “official” basketball game that he has played in almost a year. After just 6 minutes on the court, two erratic shots, and one nice pivot-mid-range-fade Sharpe hurt his shoulder and was taken to the locker room. Although he came back to the bench appearing to want to continue in the game, the medical staff deemed him out and set up an MRI for Sharpe according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Regardless, his 6-minute performance was far from disappointing, but it was also far from impressive too. He threw a pass 10 feet above his teammate’s head on a fastbreak early on and missed two 3-pointers badly. This kind of rust is expected from a guy who hasn’t played an organized game in a very long time, so people high on Sharpe shouldn’t worry about this performance. They should be concerned about his health though.
Two bright spots for the Trailblazers were second-year guard Keon Johnson, and 57th overall pick in this year's Draft Jabari Walker. Johnson is most famously known for breaking the vertical jump record at last year’s NBA Draft Combine, while Walker has a reputation as a tenacious rebounder, a high-energy defender, and a guy who can go get a bucket when the team needs him to. Johnson struggled immensely for the Clippers and Blazers last season as he could not get any shots to fall and looked a little bit lost on the basketball court. However, in many scouts’ defense, Johnson was always going to be a high-upside guy anyways and wasn’t expected to translate to the league smoothly.
His first Summer League game of year 2 was a memorable one as he kept the Blazers in the game through all four quarters. Johnson had 21 points, 2 assists, and 2 steals in 33 minutes outshining fellow young talented Blazers players Brandon Williams, Trendon Watford, and Greg Brown III. Jabari Walker played just 15 minutes but made his presence known asserting his dominance in the paint pulling in 7 rebounds, making some easy buckets inside, and showing off his range hitting the only 3-pointer he attempted for 11 points on the night. After years of trying (and still trying) to compete with Damian Lillard, the Blazers now have some good young players in Johnson, Walker, Watford, Anfernee Simons, and Sharpe when he gets healthy.
I mentioned earlier in this article that Josh Christopher was the primary offensive player for the Rockets yesterday and rarely gave the ball to #3 pick Jabari Smith Jr, but it was mostly for good reason. Christopher was on a roll scoring a game-high 22 points to go along with 3 blocks. Christopher was getting to the lane with ease and made 7 out of 8 free throws as well. Watching the game, it was evident that Christopher is a good NBA player and has no business being on the Summer League roster.
Finally, the last guys I was impressed with were the two young bigs on the Pistons: Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart. Duren, the 13th overall pick in this year’s Draft showed off his athleticism and elite shot-blocking ability with a couple of lob dunks as well as 2 blocks in just 12 minutes played. Duren had a total of 9 points. Stewart is going into his third season and showed an incredible improvement in his game as he now can knock down threes with consistency. Stewart went 3-4 from downtown and finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds in 27 minutes played. Both Duren and Stewart are solid NBA players already at the center position and both will be able to play on the court together if Stewart can continue to be consistent from 3-point range.
In conclusion, there were a lot of talented players on display last night and even more, will be on display throughout the rest of the NBA Summer League. I will be coming out with a “Guys to keep an eye on in the rest of the NBA Summer League games” article on Monday so stay tuned for that.
Thanks for reading Baller Sports Dialogue! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.