8 Players to Watch at 2016 NBA Summer League in Las VegasJuly 8, 2016
The 24 teams of the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League include 2016 first-round picks, potential breakout sophomores and plenty of NBA hopefuls.
Some prospects are more compelling than others, but the following aren't just the top players in attendance.
These are the names with the most interesting storylines attached to them. A few never played college basketball. One player stands under 5'10". Another has suddenly become a critical asset for a high-profile franchise looking to bounce back.
Keep an eye on these eight names as they look to make strong first impressions with coaches and fans.
Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/PF)
Simmons was an obvious must-watch even before coach Brett Brown talked about using his rookie at point guard.
Through two summer league games, he's been used as the team's primary playmaker. At 6'10" and 240 pounds, Simmons validated the scouting report in Utah with flashy passing (11 total assists), unreal vision, tight ball-handing—and limited scoring ability (combined 4-of-17 shooting).
Ever since his final college contest—back on March 12, when LSU's season ended in a humiliating 33-point blowout loss to Texas A&M during the conference tournament—there have been a number of questions concerning his fit, usage, shooting and intangibles.
Can he dominate without a jumper? Is it actually better than advertised? Will he take the lead and demonstrate positive body language and communication?
One of the most unique prospects in recent memory, he could mirror Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo as an effective facilitating big. Assuming he dominates the ball, Las Vegas should help paint a reasonably accurate picture of what he can do and where he'll need work.
Bobby Portis (Chicago Bulls, PF/C)
Portis has quietly become an important building block in Chicago following the free-agency departures of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.
If everything works out, he'll emerge as the team's top big man while the newly acquired Robin Lopez settles in as a backup.
Portis has starting-center upside with 6'11" size, shooting touch, post moves and terrific hands. We saw flashes as a rookie, but he wasn't given a long enough leash to play big minutes through mistakes. He could use the summer league reps, both to build confidence and test out anything he added during offseason training.
Don't be surprised if he's the top-performing sophomore participant.
Buddy Hield (New Orleans Pelicans, SG)
Hield just lit up college basketball for one of the most impressive individual years in recent memory. Since 1994, according to Sports-Reference.com, only Stephen Curry hit more threes during a season than Hield, who also connected at a 45.7 percent clip, poured in 25 points a game and led his team to the Final Four.
But Hield also emerged as one of the more divisive players in this year's draft. The adjustment he'll have to make moving from Oklahoma, where he registered a 30.2 percent usage rate, to summer league will be significant.
How effective will Hield be without plays consistently drawn up for him? Will the lack of shots disrupt his offensive rhythm as a jump-shot-heavy scorer?
We'll find out in summer league if he's as NBA-ready as his age, production and maturity suggest.
Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks, PF)
All eyes will be on Maker, since most fans haven't gotten a look yet. Having skipped college after being ruled draft-eligible for 2016 (one year removed from his fourth year in high school), Maker was able to sell the Bucks at No. 10 overall with proven NCAA producers like Domantas Sabonis, Henry Ellenson and Denzel Valentine still on the board.
Maker is polarizing—while it's easy to be enamored by his size, athleticism, skill set and character, there are legitimate questions concerning his fit. He's a 7-footer with bounce, shooting touch and a live motor. Unfortunately, his skinny frame gets pushed around inside, while his perimeter game lacks polish and fluidity.
Is he a tweener, mismatch or simply a high-energy role player? Summer league should help give us a better idea.
Georgios Papagiannis (Sacramento Kings, C)
Papagiannis seemingly came out of nowhere, having played just 12 minutes a game this year in Greece.
We could either be talking about a genius steal from Sacramento or a reach for the ages, considering the Kings gave up the No. 8 pick, where they could have grabbed Marquese Chriss or Jakob Poeltl, a more proven 7-footer who just averaged 17.2 points and 9.1 boards at Utah. Even at No. 13, Sacramento passed on enticing prospects, including Valentine and Wade Baldwin IV.
Papagiannis, who actually spent time playing high school and AAU ball in the United States before agreeing to head back overseas, did generate buzz with his strong play last summer at both the European and World Championships. At 7'2", 240 pounds, he's light on his feet, efficient around the rim and a threat to score with his back to the basket.
But I hadn't seen a board or spoken to a scout who pegged Papagiannis top-20 on draft night. Maybe the Kings saw something nobody else did? Keep an eye on him in summer league and judge for yourself during his debut in Las Vegas.
Kris Dunn (Minnesota Timberwolves, PG)
Philadelphia wanted him. The Chicago Bulls were after him. Dunn ended up in Minnesota to pair with Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio(?).
Beginning the season with Rubio as the starter and Dunn as the bench spark makes plenty of sense. But it's also reasonable to think that an exciting showing from Dunn in Las Vegas will make Rubio expendable or easier to deal.
Ironically, the two share similar strengths and weaknesses, most notably passing and setup ability, defense and weak shooting. Dunn offers more speed, athleticism and scoring potential long-term, but he's also a giveaway machine (career 21.6 percent turnover percentage) who's never hit 70 percent of his free throws. Is he the future franchise floor general or just a change-of-pace guard behind Rubio?
Dunn's summer league debut could be telling with regard to his NBA-readiness. And the results may determine how long Rubio stays in Minnesota.
Kay Felder (Cleveland Cavaliers, PG)
At 5'9", having led the country in assists and finishing top-five in scoring, Felder is must-watch Vegas material. He may remind some of former summer league MVP Nate Robinson, particularly physically and athletically:
|NBA Combine Numbers: Felder vs. Nate Robinson|
Felder is similarly capable of taking over stretches of games, which we saw him do against power-conference competition and highly ranked opponents. He put up 38 points at Washington, 37 against Michigan State and 30 at Virginia earlier in the year.
Summer league's up-and-down tempo and lack of structure could also benefit Felder, who's electric in the open floor and space.
It's unclear whether the Cavaliers will have room for a rookie ball-handler, but with Matthew Dellavedova now in Milwaukee, Felder's spark-plug potential is worth tracking.
Dragan Bender (Phoenix Suns, PF)
The Bender hype has been building for years, only he doesn't have much production to show for it; he averaged just 4.5 points a game this past season with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Long-term potential has been Bender's selling point up to this stage, but just how far away is he?
Summer league competition will be a step down from what he faced overseas. Even as a project, it wouldn't be a great look to see Bender, the No. 4 pick who went before Dunn, Hield and Jamal Murray, struggle to make any noise.
On the other hand, nobody expected Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks' 2015 top-five pick, to look as comfortable and ready as he did last July. And though he isn't as athletic or dangerous scoring in the half-court, Bender offers greater versatility that highlights shooting, ball-handling, passing and perimeter defense.