This year’s draft is being talked about as one of the deepest and most talented drafts in recent memory. The NBA summer league gave them a chance to display their skills for the first time on professional hardwood. The top pick Cade Cunningham, averaged 18.7 PPG, 5.7 REB, and 2.3 AST in three games. The second pick and seemingly budding rival of Cunningham, Jalen Green put up 20.3 PPG, 4.3 REB, and 2 AST in three games as well.
Although all eyes were on those two, they were not the top performers of this year’s summer league in my opinion. The ninth pick in the draft Davion Mitchell helped lead his team to a summer league championship going 5-0 as the Kings stood as the only undefeated team in the tournament.
The top scorer throughout the summer league was Brooklyn Nets rookie Cameron Thomas. The LSU guard averaged 27 PPG along with hitting the game-tying and winning shot to send the Wizards home. This kid is an absolute bucket and will just add to the immense talent the Nets will have next season.
As for the Denver Nuggets, they had a couple of standouts. Bones Hyland and Bol Bol demonstrated how dangerous they could be to opposing defenses. Bol Bol only appeared in three games, but he was top 6 in the tournament in scoring at 21.7 PPG and was held out for the rest because Denver’s coaching staff thought he showed enough.
Bones Hyland was very impressive. There was confusion about whether he would even play due to health and safety protocols, but when he flew out to Las Vegas he came with a mission. Without much practice time, he stepped into a new role and flourished. He’s a 6’3” guard that can play the point, but his college game seemed to mirror more of a two-guard.
In his first professional stints, the Nuggets made him the primary ball-handler, facilitator, and scorer. Again, this guy barely had any practice time, he gets on a plane hours before his first game and proceeds to average 20 PPG throughout the tournament. I wouldn’t say it was an unfamiliar role to him but definitely unfamiliar with the team and the scheme, and he proved he is a player at the next level.
No, this does not mean he will immediately step on the NBA hardwood and be a star or even get significant playing time, but this is an excellent sign because he showed he loves to work. Another thing I love about him is his competitive spirit. When the All-Summer League roster was announced and Bones wasn’t on it, he took note of that and motivated himself.
This only adds more fuel to the fire for Bones, and his fire will shine bright when he gets the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. As for that infamous All-Summer League list, it is pictured below.
The 2021 All-Summer League Teams pic.twitter.com/9nTqZqt6wS— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 18, 2021
Do I share the same sentiments as those who created this list? No. I didn’t base my list off stats, rather the impact the player had on each possesion. So here are my top five players of the summer league:
This guy is an absolute problem folks. No, his scoring numbers are not at the top of the list, averaging 16.5 PPG on 42% shooting, but he only played two games and his impact was evident on both ends of the floor.
I can’t remember the last time the Kings had a guy like this. Words don’t describe how stifling his perimeter defense is, and his offensive game, more specifically his movements, mirror that of Donovan Mitchell. He might not have as much offensive explosion as Donovan but his defense is two or three times better. Here are some examples:
He shoos off screens like their mosquitos and hounds the ball handler like he owes him money. It’s so difficult to create space against him, and this is the exact reason why he can make an immediate impact for the Kings next season.
Mitchell has a real chance to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. His motor is unmatched by many accounts so he will only get better with more experience. I was watching ESPN the other day, and I heard the Kings coaches actually had to kick him out of the weight room because he was working out too much.
Sacramento has been looking for an impact player on both ends for a decade, and they might have hit a gold mine with Davion Mitchell.
This kid fell all the way to the 27th pick to a team that already has championship expectations. Not only will he learn from three of the best scorers of all time in Durant, Harden, and Irving, but he already has the skill set to put up numbers in bunches for the Nets next season.
As I said before, he was the top scorer of the summer league, but it’s not just how many points he scored but how he scored them. Off one foot, in traffic, step back, it didn't matter. He was finding the bottom of the net with regularity and in key moments of the game.
He dropped 31 points against the Wizards including a game-tying and winning basket in OT. He followed that up by scoring a summer league-high with 36 against the Spurs.
With that being said he did play a ball-dominant role in the summer league, which will not be afforded to him as much when the season begins. He’s a volume scorer that has the ability to thrive from the mid-range and three-point line, so you give him the opportunity to sit behind the game’s most efficient scorer in Durant, and he will obtain more consistency.
Offensively, he was the best during the summer league there’s no doubt about it. With all the big names in this year’s draft ready to showcase their talents, Cam Thomas outperformed most of them. Now, he is on the path to prove those wrong who passed on him in the draft.
With or without considering how Hyland missed time, he was impressive. He got better with each and every game putting up 15 points, then 16, 20, and finally 28. If he had adequate practice time, I believe this guy would have scored at least 22 a night. The Nuggets did not perform well during the summer league, but he and Bol Bol kept this team afloat.
His game is so smooth. I profiled him during our draft coverage, and how he plays is a spitting image of Will Barton. Yes, he has certain shot selection tendencies like Will, but he is a tough shot maker and that is sometimes what is needed in today’s NBA. His ceiling is definitely higher than Will’s was coming out of college. Hyland profiles to be a better three-point shooter and there is no doubt his range is far better than Will’s.
Bones was scoring from anywhere on the floor in the summer league. Whether it was driving to the hoop, mid-range, or from three, he created space well and finished among contact. If he is offered space to operate, he will have defenders shaking because his start and stop ability with the ball creates so much havoc.
What impressed me the most was his playmaking ability. That was one of the knocks on him coming out of college, but he showed in the summer league, he has some real potential there. He displayed some flare with some fancy passes and alley-oops, but he also was effective in the pick and roll at times.
Sure, there were bad turnovers but he was in an unfamiliar role and still averaged 5 assists which more than doubled his college numbers. That shows me he is open to playing any role they give him which is crucial. Coaches always want a player who is coachable, but this guy also lives and breathes basketball, so with more experience he can be an impact player.
Johnson may have had a disappointing season at Duke last year, but he did not disappoint in summer league. He showed flashes of being an all-around talent, whether it was being in transition, rebounding, passing, scoring, etc. he had it going. He averaged 19 PPG, 9.5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.5 blocks a game.
One of his improvement areas was his shooting, but he shot 42% from three and 57% overall from the field. He’s also a comfortable ball-handler which is why he was highly touted out of high school, but his season at Duke facilitated him dropping in the draft all the way to 20. This summer league put him back on the map because he reminded people he is an all-around, two-way wing which is golden in today’s NBA.
His focus area is being active and controlled. Once he maintains both, he sees the floor so much better and understands his role in each possession. He already has all the tools except for a smooth jumper but it doesn't need to look pretty for it to go in. He already had a great coach in Mike Krzyzewski, and now he receives another very good coach in Nate McMillan. If he can absorb all the information coming his way, and be patient until his time arrives, he can be a force at both ends of the court.
This Atlanta team has so much depth already, and adding Johnson is just icing on top of the cake. He’s going to do the majority of his damage in the paint, but the Hawks could use another effective, big body aside Clint Capela on the bench. Johnson absolutely has starting upside, but he will have to pay his dues to crack that Atlanta lineup, but his summer league showing might have others fearful for their job.
This was the most impressive summer league performance of a guy not a lot of people know about. The former Duke Blue Devil was the 41st pick in the second round of the 2020 draft, and he put his name back on the map this summer. He absolutely filled the box score averaging 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists a game while shooting 51% from the field.
Although he’s 6’1” he plays bigger than his size, and his high motor helped him grab rebounds and finish amongst the trees. Among most, if not all, summer league players, he filled out the box score the most. He had a great game against the Hornets dropping 34 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds and hitting the game-winner. His game-winning bucket was a tough, physical drive in the paint where he withstood contact, hung in the air, and finished.
Offensively, he was excellent in the paint. He recognized the openings and attacked them with regularity. Off the pick and roll, he slithered throughout the defense, storming through their weak spots. He played with high energy but also with control which is a must in a Gregg Popovich coached team.
We all know the Spurs are one if, if not, the best at player development. Jones flew under the radar last year and this year, but he seems to have put in the work to earn minutes in San Antonio.