NBA Summer League 2019: Previewing Biggest Games on Las Vegas Schedule

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2019

New Orleans Pelicans first-round draft pick Zion Williamson, second from right, poses with, left to right, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, coach Alvin Gentry, and team owner Gayle Benson, at his introductory news conference at the NBA basketball team's practice facility in Metairie, La., Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

The NBA Summer League provides us with the chance to see the top 2019 NBA draft picks in action for the first time with their respective teams.

The main attraction of the summer schedule is the Las Vegas Summer League, which kicks off July 5 at two different venues. 

Some of the top rookies in the league have the opportunity to face off against each other right away, while others have to wait a day or two to test their skills against each other. 

The Summer League is also a proving ground for players attempting to make NBA rosters, but the players we will all be watching closely were recently selected with the top picks in the draft. 


Biggest Games on Las Vegas Summer League Schedule

New Orleans vs. New York (July 5, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett will don the jerseys of the New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks for the first time July 5 in a head-to-head showdown. 

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 20: Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett shake hands before the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photogr
Michael J. LeBrecht II/Getty Images

Williamson, who was taken No. 1 overall Thursday, will not be able to jell with some of the New Orleans stars until preseason, but he has an opportunity to show off his strengths in head coach Alvin Gentry's system while in Las Vegas. 

The same can be said about Barrett and the Knicks as he attempts to make a good first impression on his coaching staff. 

Since Williamson is a power forward and Barrett is a wing player, it is unlikely that they will be matched up on every possession, but the second one of them goes to defend their former Duke teammate, the crowd should audibly erupt. 

Williamson's athleticism in the paint on both sides of the court should be on display like it was at Duke, but he should use Summer League as a chance to work on his outside game. 

If Williamson is able to develop a three-point shot, it would make him an even tougher player to stop. 

As for Barrett, he has to refine his scoring skills with the potential of being the top scorer next season for the Knicks staring him in the face right now. 

Both Duke stars will shoulder an incredible load of responsibility in their rookie seasons, and their respective Summer League openers will provide us with an early glimpse at how each player handles the pressure. 


Atlanta vs. Minnesota (July 7, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) 

Thanks to the draft-day trades made by Atlanta and Minnesota, two of the top players in the rookie class are set for a head-to-head rematch on the third day of action in Las Vegas. 

In April, De'Andre Hunter's Virginia got the best of Texas Tech and Jarrett Culver, but Culver now has a chance to earn revenge as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Hunter went to the Atlanta Hawks at No. 4 after they acquired the pick from New Orleans, who took possession of it from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade. 

Minnesota sacrificed the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric to move up to No. 6 to select Culver, who was bypassed by Cleveland as it took Darius Garland at No. 5.

In the national title game, Hunter went off for 27 points while Culver struggled from the field by going 5-for-16 with 15 points. 

It is likely the two will square off head-to-head on some possessions just like they did in April, and you would have to think Culver will carry more motivation into the contest because of his showing against Virginia.

Although the championship game will be three months behind them July 7, expect Culver to carry a bit more motivation to try and pull off a victory for Minnesota two days after facing Garland and the Cavaliers in his team's Summer League opener.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from Sports Reference.