Monday, March 27, 2023

NBA Summer League winners and losers: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green shine in Las Vegas

Whenever discussing anything related to NBA Summer League action, caveats must be part of the conversation.

These are not true NBA games, as players are just being thrown on the floor with limited time to develop any sort of chemistry. The style is best suited for those with a score-first mentality who can take advantage of disorganized defenses. (Anyone remember Anthony Randolph?) The NBA Summer League offers such a small sample size that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is often the best approach when it comes to evaluations.

With that said, there is reason to be excited about the Class of 2021, especially the prospects that landed at the top of the NBA Draft board. They shined under the bright lights of “Sin City,” as did a few players with legitimate NBA experience.

Let’s do a quick review of the 2021 NBA Summer League, starting with the No. 1 overall pick.

MORE: When does the NBA season start 2021-22?

NBA Summer League winners

Cade Cunningham, Pistons

The former Oklahoma State star only needed one play to show why the Pistons view him as a franchise cornerstone, but he did plenty more in his three Summer League games. Cunningham averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range on high volume. His assist numbers will likely be much higher when he is creating open looks for NBA talent.

Sure, he can be a bit turnover-prone and must improve on finishing around the basket, but this was a great start to what should be a long professional career.

Jalen Green, Rockets

The Rockets rookie has been happy to tell anyone within earshot that he is the best player from his class — and he may just end up being correct. The 19-year-old put his scoring ability on full display in Las Vegas, averaging 20.3 points over three games on 51.4/52.6/92.9 shooting splits (field goals/3-pointers/free throws).

Green will need to develop in other areas and fill out his lanky frame in order to hit his ceiling, but he will walk right into the league as a threat to score 20-plus points each night. He is already such a dynamic offensive weapon.

Jalen Suggs, Magic

It was a surprise to see the Raptors select Scottie Barnes instead of Suggs with the No. 4 overall pick at this year’s draft. While Barnes may very well develop into a terrific wing, the Magic have to be thrilled with the way Suggs fell right into their lap.

Suggs performed at a high level in his short stint at the NBA Summer League, but perhaps just as important, he established himself as someone who could be the face of the team because of his attitude, leadership and work ethic. That would be a huge development for Orlando, which has severely lacked a star presence in recent years.

Davion Mitchell, Kings

Sacramento’s backcourt is crowded with De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield set to eat up major minutes. But man, how can you not be excited about Mitchell after witnessing him destroy opposing guards?

Mitchell’s tenacity and intensity is a welcome sight for a Kings team that finished dead last in defensive rating last season. Just watch him become James Bouknight’s shadow on this possession:

The former NCAA champion was a big reason why the Kings left Las Vegas with the Summer League title, and he could be part of an eventual turnaround in Sacramento if the organization can keep building around its young core.

Payton Pritchard, Celtics

How about we give credit to a “veteran”? Pritchard struggled in the Summer League final — because Mitchell guarded him, of course — but he was incredibly efficient in the previous three contests, averaging 20.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting, including 57.7 percent from beyond the arc. He also appeared to be more comfortable operating as a point guard and working off the dribble.

Simply put, Pritchard looked like he was too good to be an NBA Summer League participant. Don’t be surprised if he carves out a significant role in Boston’s rotation.

Greg Brown III, Trail Blazers

Because a casual through-the-legs dunk in an NBA Summer League game is cool as hell.

NBA Summer League losers

Josh Giddey, Thunder

Unfortunately for Thunder fans, the Giddey experience didn’t last long. The No. 6 overall pick played only five minutes in his NBA Summer League debut before exiting with a sprained ankle.

The good news is that the injury isn’t serious, but it would have been nice to see Giddey working with some of the other Oklahoma City youngsters.

Cole Anthony, Magic

Anthony’s numbers were, uh, not great: 7.5 points per game on 28.9 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent on 3-pointers. If Pritchard had an ideal run for a second-year player, Anthony landed on the other end of the spectrum.

It may have been difficult for Anthony to play off the ball next to Suggs, but both Suggs and Markelle Fultz (when fully healthy) will be controlling the offense during the regular season, too. Can Anthony adjust?

The Pistons’ backcourt chemistry

Cunningham was clearly Detroit’s best option as an on-ball creator, which made it all the more frustrating when Killian Hayes or Saben Lee turned him into a spot-up shooter for extended stretches. Cunningham is certainly capable of drilling 3-pointers, but that’s not the best way to maximize his skill set.

We’ll just call this a work in progress.

Teams that passed on Alperen Sengun

Green was the headliner for Houston, but Sengun was a steal at No. 16. The Turkish big man flashed his potential in four NBA Summer League games, averaging a double-double of 14.5 points and 10.8 rebounds. He was physical in the post and stepped out to the 3-point line on the offensive end, and his defense was better than expected.

Some of the teams in the 10-15 range may ultimately regret not selecting Sengun.

Teams that passed on Cameron Thomas

Well, the Nets definitely needed more offensive firepower. Thomas led the Las Vegas Summer League with 27 points per game, scoring at every level and drawing a ton of fouls.

How did the rest of the league let this dude slide to No. 27? The rich get richer.


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