Debating the highs, lows and everything in between at NBA summer leagueon July 15, 2022 at 12:42 pm

The 2022 Las Vegas summer league has officially been underway for a week, with plenty of highlights. Several members of the 2022 rookie class debuted in the desert, including No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr.

The top picks have battled it out, including one matchup between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers that featured a sudden death double-overtime ending. In addition to rookie debuts, Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman made his long-awaited return to NBA action after tearing his right meniscus in April 2021.

In addition to all the action on the court, the NBA’s board of governors has been busy, too. The board finalized a change to the transition take foul rule on Tuesday, awarding a free throw to the team that gets fouled.

The league also made the play-in tournament a permanent fixture as of Tuesday, voting to keep the four elimination games in place after two successful seasons.

What has been the biggest surprise so far? What about the biggest disappointment? Did the NBA get it right by adding a new penalty? Our insiders break down the biggest storylines through the first week in Las Vegas.

MORE: Wiseman’s return, the latest on rookie contract extensions and more intel from Vegas

1. What has been the biggest surprise so far?

Dave McMenamin: Two sudden death double-overtime games … and the way each was received by the crowd. I was at Thomas & Mack for both the Orlando Magic‘s double-OT win over the Kings and the Charlotte Hornets‘ double-OT win over the Lakers and one was not like the other. The Magic win was in the middle of the day and the crowd was rabid with excitement. Easily the best atmosphere I’ve seen in more than a decade going to the Vegas event. The Hornets’ win, on the other hand, had the crowd in fits. It was the last game of the night and the mostly pro-Lakers crowd seemed to just want it to end so they could hit the casinos.

Bobby Marks: The crowds. COVID-19 canceled all summer league games in 2020 and had an impact on attendance last year. Judging by the size of the crowds, not only in the first few days but the entire week of games, the NBA is back to where it was before the pandemic. Cox Pavilion was close to capacity for nearly every game and Thomas & Mack (the larger venue) saw the lower bowl almost reach full capacity every day.

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Kendra Andrews: How few second-year players are showing up. I can’t offer the voice of, “I remember when…,” when it comes to covering summer leagues where a lot of sophomores played, but I do know they happened. Watching Warriors sophomores Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, and how the coaching staff talks about using summer league as a way for them to work on the areas of their game they need to improve on for the Warriors to remain atop the league next season, it’s curious why more teams don’t want their players in similar scenarios in Las Vegas. The same goes for how the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s Josh Giddey has used summer league to build chemistry with Chet Holmgren.

Ohm Youngmisuk: Mfiondu Kabengele didn’t get many opportunities with the veteran-ladened LA Clippers after being drafted No. 27 overall in 2019. But his physique and game bulked up for summer league. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 14 points and 9.3 rebounds in his first four games for the Boston Celtics. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Warriors, who played Wiseman and Kuminga in that game.

Andrew Lopez: Houston Rockets rookie Tari Eason has made the most of his time on the floor in Vegas. With plenty of eyes on Houston because of No. 3 overall pick Smith, a good amount of people have gotten to see what Eason, the No. 17 overall pick from LSU, can do too. Through the Rockets’ first four games, Eason is averaging 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds with three double-doubles, while also showing off the defensive instincts that helped him so much at the collegiate level.

2. What has been the biggest disappointment so far?

Lopez: That we only got to see No. 1 overall pick Banchero for two games. Banchero had 40 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocks in those two contests before the Magic decided to shut him down for the rest of summer league. Banchero told reporters that he wanted to keep playing, but wasn’t going to fight the Magic on the decision. Averaging 20.0 points over the two games, Banchero becomes the first No. 1 overall pick to average 20 a game in summer league since John Wall in 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Marks: The top five picks in the 2021 draft. Call me old-school, but have we reached a point when players entering their second year in the league get a free pass when it comes to summer league? The teams will argue that players like Magic guard Jalen Suggs worked out with the varsity club in Vegas, but nothing helps development on the court more than real action. On the other hand, lottery picks Giddey, Kuminga, Moody and Joshua Primo all stood out.

Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs sat courtside for his team’s opening night matchup against the Houston Rockets, one of many second-year players forgoing summer league action. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Youngmisuk: Teams deciding to keep young stars from playing. It would’ve been nice to see more second-year players play and grow. Heck, I understand why teams hold out their top rookies after the first few games, like Orlando did with Banchero. But I’m old enough to remember when the Lakers had their scintillating run in summer league with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso and Co., and the fans loved every single minute of it.

Andrews: I was disappointed we didn’t see some of this season’s top picks because of injuries. Jaden Ivey hurt his ankle and was shut down. Dyson Daniels hurt his ankle in his first game. Perhaps the most disappointing one was Shaedon Sharpe‘s left shoulder injury.

McMenamin: Sharpe. After sitting out the entire season for Kentucky, summer league was supposed to be where we got to finally see what Damian Lillard‘s new running mate could do against stiffer competition. Instead, the No. 7 pick didn’t even play seven minutes in his debut before suffering a small tear in his left labrum, causing him to shut it down. So, we wait.

3. Who has been summer league MVP?

Andrews: Watching the Kings in Las Vegas and in the California Classic, it’s hard not to get excited for No. 4 overall pick Keegan Murray. His scoring has been spectacular and he’s led his team to multiple tight games.

Marks: It was only a handful of summer league games, but Murray proved that he could play starter minutes in the NBA right now. Murray followed up a 19.7 PPG performance in the 2022 California Classic with 24 points on 37% shooting from three in Las Vegas.

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McMenamin: Can I say Jason of Beverly Hills for those sweet summer league championship rings he designed? If we have to pick a player, how about Kabengele? The Celtics prospect put up 14 points on 55.9%, 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games for Boston and was dunking all over the place.

Lopez: New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III would have a case after putting up 26.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in two games, but since he’s being shut down for the rest of summer league, let’s focus on Milwaukee Bucks big man Sandro Mamukelashvili. In his first four games, Mamukelashvili is averaging 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds on 48.1% shooting — and 50% from deep. Honorable mention to Mamukelashvili’s teammate Lindell Wigginton, who has put up 20 points and 5.5 assists a game off the bench. So maybe we give Wigginton the fictitious Summer League Sixth Man of the Year Award?

Youngmisuk: The Brooklyn NetsCam Thomas averaged a summer league-leading 28.7 points in three games. He showed the ability to score points at times last season, and he could be in store for a much bigger role if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are moved before next season. The Nets will need him to do more than just score and will look for more performances like the one he put up against Philadelphia in his second summer league game when he had 26 points and seven assists.

4. True or false: The NBA made the right call in penalizing the take foul and cementing the play-in tournament?

Marks: True with a capital T. The change in the take foul rule was long overdue, and games should flow at a better pace moving forward. Keeping the play-in tournament was a no-brainer. Not only has it eliminated teams playing out the string of games at the end of the season, but has already helped in the development of young rosters in Memphis, New Orleans and Minnesota.

McMenamin: True. Credit where credit is due, the NBA got it right with these two. Although, I would like to see the play-in tournament amended so that the teams in 9th and 10th have to be within a certain amount of games of 7th and 8th to qualify.

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Kendrick Perkins details how the addition of the play-in tournament will add more quality games to the NBA regular season.

Andrews: As true as ever. Upping the penalty for the take foul should lead to more dunks and speed up the game — all things we should agree will make basketball more exciting. As for the play-in tournament, it not only gives teams motivation from tanking, but it also gives young teams a taste of what the playoffs feel like.

Youngmisuk: A resounding true for both. The take foul became one of the most annoying things in the game, halting so many would-be highlight breakaway plays. And the play-in tournament has proven to be an exciting layer.

Lopez: Absolutely true. Everyone has been clamoring for a take foul rule change for quite some time, so testing the policy out at summer league and then making it a permanent rule change is a big plus. As for the play-in tournament, do the Pelicans trade for CJ McCollum at the deadline last year if there weren’t a play-in? The push for the play-in led to a first-round playoff berth and has given the Pelicans momentum heading into the 2022-23 season.

5. The biggest takeaway after one week?

McMenamin: Kudos to Giddey and the Thunder. The best way for young players to get better and develop a cohesion with one another is to play together against the best competition available. Novel concept, right? Giddey’s inclusion in the summer league as a rising sophomore was the exception, not the rule. Smart decision by Oklahoma City.

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Lopez: The Thunder are going to experience a big jump in NBA League Pass viewership. Already equipped with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, the Thunder added Holmgren to the mix. He’s already showing off what he can do on the offensive end in Utah and Las Vegas. But the question of whether he’ll be as effective on the defensive end remains to be seen. He did put up 14 blocks in four games but has struggled at times against bigger players — namely the Memphis Grizzlies‘ 6-7, 275-pound Kenneth Lofton Jr.

Andrews: Even with the high bar of being the No. 2 pick, Holmgren has really impressed me in Las Vegas. There were some question marks around how exactly he’d fit in the NBA system. While it’s just summer league, it appears Holmgren could be built for the NBA. The Thunder — even if they don’t take a monster step this season — will be fun to watch.

Youngmisuk: It should be one heck of a race for rookie of the year with Banchero, Holmgren and Murray all showing flashes early on. Speaking of Holmgren, the Thunder may continue to lose a ton of games, but at least they’ll be more entertaining with him and Giddey.

Marks: The race for the rookie of the year honors should be wide open. All of the top picks in this year’s class had moments where they were the best player on the court. Like last season when relative underdog Scottie Barnes won top honors, do not be surprised if Murray garners strong consideration this year.

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