Ranking the Must-Watch Teams at 2022 Las Vegas NBA Summer League

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVJuly 8, 2022

Ranking the Must-Watch Teams at 2022 Las Vegas NBA Summer League

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    The NBA tracks team stats and results at the Las Vegas Summer League. It even crowns a champion at the end of the event.

    That's not why a lot of fans tune in, though.

    They want to see the stars of tomorrow and the early flashes of that sky-scraping potential. The following teams—ranked by prospect quality and excitement of their play—all arrive in Sin City with a significant number of eye-catching up-and-comers.

Honorable Mention

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    Indiana Pacers

    If Chris Duarte's toe injury doesn't keep him off the floor, he'll immediately form one of Vegas' most perimeter-friendly partnerships with No. 6 pick Bennedict Mathurin. Rookie second-rounder Andrew Nembhard should shine as the table-setter between them, Isaiah Jackson could swat everything in sight and undrafted rookie Fanbo Zeng is a name to watch with an intriguing blend of size (6'9", 200 lbs) and shooting.


    Orlando Magic

    The Magic arguably belong on the actual list on the strength of top pick Paolo Banchero alone. The 6'10", 250-pounder boasts a wide array of scoring tricks and an impressive number of polished skills for a teenager. Still, Orlando's roster loses a lot of steam after Banchero, although 2020 first-rounder R.J. Hampton is worth tracking ahead of a critical third season.


    Portland Trail Blazers

    All eyes are on the 2022 draft's mystery man, Shaedon Sharpe, who was selected seventh despite never taking the floor at Kentucky. There's a non-zero chance he looks like the best player in Las Vegas despite the lengthy layoff. Beyond Sharpe, the Blazers have a few ultra-bouncy wings in Keon Johnson and Greg Brown III, plus skilled center Luka Garza, who could put up massive numbers.

5. San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs had a decent chance to take over Sin City. They lost a little steam recently, though, with No. 9 pick Jeremy Sochan (COVID-19) and 2021 second-rounder Joe Wieskamp (ankle) both being ruled out.

    Still, you know what that leaves on the roster? Two additional 2022 first-rounders, a 2021 lottery selection and more.

    Joshua Primo, last year's No. 12 pick, is the headliner. His rookie year saw more downs than ups, but that was to be expected. Despite playing a full NBA season, he's still five months shy of his 20th birthday.

    Malaki Branham, the No. 20 pick, is such a smooth operator he drew a predraft comparison to three-time All-Star Khris Middleton from B/R's Jonathan Wasserman. Blake Wesley, the No. 25 pick, is a scoring threat from everywhere. Either one could put on a show, and it'll be fireworks if both get rolling at the same time.

    Rounding out the roster, the Spurs have 2020 second-rounder Robert Woodard II, 25-year-old point guard Ky Bowman, who spent the 2019-20 season with the Golden State Warriors, and well-regarded undrafted prospects Jordan Hall and Dominick Barlow.

4. Houston Rockets

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    If the Houston Rockets brought all of their young players to Las Vegas, they could have resembled a summertime superteam.

    Instead, they left Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun at home, which gives everyone else a chance to compete and puts Houston in our No. 4 spot.

    The top draw is Jabari Smith II, who seemed destined to be the top pick until just before Banchero was announced at No. 1. Houston had to be thrilled with Smith falling in its lap at No. 3, and Rockets fans should start seeing their good fortune in Vegas. His shot-making already looks elite, and his defensive versatility is right out of a coach's dream.

    However, Smith is only one of three rookie first-rounders for the Rockets, along with athletic glue guy-in-training Tari Eason (No. 17 pick) and methodical table-setter TyTy Washington Jr. (No. 29). Houston also has a pair of 2021 first-rounders on the roster in scoring guard Josh Christopher and do-it-all defender Usman Garuba.

    And don't forget about Daishen Nix, who has great size (6'5", 224 lbs) for being a pure point guard.

3. Detroit Pistons

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    On paper, the Detroit Pistons look like a strong candidate for the No. 1 spot, but looks can be deceiving.

    Cade Cunningham is on the roster but won't suit up. It also isn't clear how much (if at all) Detroit plans to play Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart, both of whom started every game they played last season.

    Still, even with all of the questions swirling, the Pistons are a clear choice for the top three. Why? Well, it starts with the fact that they're one of two squads sending multiple lottery picks to Las Vegas.

    Jaden Ivey, the No. 5 pick, and Jalen Duren, the 13th, could work so much two-man magic together they might score a Vegas residency. Each plays a highlight-friendly brand of basketball, with Ivey enjoying elite burst and moon-boots bounce and Duren supplying absurd amounts of size (6'11", 250 lbs), length and athleticism.

    Get past the lottery picks, and you still have: Killian Hayes, the seventh pick in 2020; Isaiah Livers, who could handle a major role this season; Saben Lee, who has logged nearly 1,400 minutes with the big league Pistons; and brothers Buddy and Jimmy Boeheim, sons of legendary Syracuse skipper Jim Boeheim.

2. Golden State Warriors

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    AP Photo/John Raoux

    Folks, this is the true definition of being light-years ahead.

    The Golden State Warriors, who just won the actual NBA title, have a legitimate chance of also snatching the Sin City crown. There are summer-league rosters with more seasoning, but you could argue none is as talented.

    Jonathan Kuminga has the tools to be the next great two-way wing. Moses Moody is already a snug fit as a three-and-D wing. Patrick Baldwin Jr. had a bevy of glowing scouting reports before a rocky, injury-riddled season at Milwaukee.

    "He was modern-day basketball," an NBA scout told CBS Sports' Matt Norlander. "He was what you look for: (6'10"), can move, dribble, shoot, really good kid, son of a coach. ... You assume he was so talented and had that much potential as a shot-maker, you're like, 'Screw it, man. There's no bust factor there at all.'"

    That's the kind of buzz Baldwin produced in the not-so-distant past, and yet, you could argue he's no more than the fourth- or fifth-most interesting prospect on this roster. Mac McClung might outrank him after he ditched the Los Angeles Lakers for the summer-league Warriors.

    The most interesting, by the way, hasn't even been mentioned yet. That's 7-footer James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick from 2020 who lost the last month of his rookie year and all of his sophomore season to a torn meniscus. If he can get his body right, he brings an enviable blend of length and bounce.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    AP Photo/John Minchillo

    Given the Oklahoma City Thunder's level of investment in the draft, it should come as zero surprise that the Sooner State summer-leaguers are absolutely stacked.

    Chet Holmgren, this year's No. 2 pick, is the showstopper and, if everything breaks right, perhaps the Thunder's rebuild-stopper, too. He needs to bulk up his 7'1", 195-pound frame and polish his shot-creation skills, but his ceiling is incredibly high. He could be Las Vegas' best shot-blocker while dazzling as a distributor and long-distance shooter.

    Josh Giddey, last year's No. 6 pick, is the co-headliner. The 6'8" playmaker didn't even log 55 games as a freshman and still made the All-Rookie second team by stuffing the stat sheet with 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per contest. If you can get odds on the Vegas leader in triple-doubles, feel free to put a fortune on Giddey.

    As for the supporting cast, well, it's loaded like a Marvel blockbuster.

    There are two other 2022 lottery picks (Ousmane Dieng, No. 11, and Jalen Williams, No. 12) and an early second-round selection (Jaylin Williams, No. 34). There is another first-round pick from last year (Tre Mann, No. 18) and another who just missed the cut (Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, No. 32). And who could forget the always fascinating Aleksej Pokusevski, a rail-thin 7-footer with budding perimeter skills.

    The Thunder should be all kinds of fun to watch and all kinds of tricky to play against. If you can't squeeze any more into your summer-league viewing schedule, at least get OKC's games on your nearest streaming device.

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