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

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 8, 2021

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

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    Though NBA summer league teams are gunning for a championship in Las Vegas, winning isn't always a priority for fans.

    Most want to see young players and signs of potential.

    We ranked the must-watch teams based on their rosters' rookies and returning prospects and the excitement around their styles of play.

Honorable Mention: Portland Trail Blazers

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Names to watch: Michael Beasley, Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, Nassir Little, Greg Brown III, CJ Elleby

    Sleeper prospect: Trendon Watford

    The Portland Trail Blazers don't have your traditional summer league team, but they have to be Las Vegas favorites with the 32-year-old Beasley, 31-year-old Faried and 25-year-old Mudiay. Portland could be checking on their conditioning for potential roster spots, or it could see value in giving its young prospects veterans with whom to play.

    Brown is the rookie to watch despite his fall to the middle of the second round in July's draft. The 6'9" forward is loaded with bounce and shot-making skills, which, in a limited role, could be potent enough to offset a poor feel for the game.

    Watford is also worth tracking for his face-up scoring and playmaking versatility at 6'9".

    The Blazers will be hoping for a breakout season from Little, the team's 2019 first-round pick who showed signs of improved shooting in 2020-21. Elleby can also score from three levels and potentially build a case for minutes behind CJ McCollum and Norman Powell.

15. Denver Nuggets

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    Names to watch: Nah'Shon Hyland, Bol Bol, Markus Howard

    Sleeper prospect: Zeke Nnaji

    Summer league feels tailor-made for Denver Nuggets first-round pick Bones Hyland. Just as he took over the first NBA combine scrimmage, he is built to thrive with more space and freedom. He'll give fans and coaches a taste of his microwave scoring fueled by self-creation, high-level shot-making and deep range.

    Howard, the NCAA Division I men's leading scorer in 2019-20, also figures to put up points in a hurry. And there will be a good chance to see where Bol is physically and fundamentally. His highlights are always outrageous, given his 7'2" size and skill level. But will he have the strength and durability to play regular minutes for a full season?

    Nnaji isn't that big of a sleeper, but expect him to win a role in the rotation after he got few rookie minutes. His 6'11" size, hands, instincts, nose for the ball, mid-range touch and defensive mobility should earn him time.

14. Atlanta Hawks

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    Names to watch: Jalen Johnson, Sharife Cooper

    Sleeper prospect: Skylar Mays

    It's possible the Atlanta Hawks grabbed the steal of the draft.

    The No. 8 player on Bleacher Report's board, Johnson dropped to No. 20. He will have more freedom and space in Las Vegas to show off his unique playmaking and face-up game for a 6'9" forward. And summer league's tempo should benefit Cooper (B/R's No. 16 prospect), the No. 48 pick and the draft's leader in 2020-21 assists per game.

    Between Danilo Gallinari's injury history and Onyeka Okongwu's shoulder surgery, Johnson could be looking at minutes. Delon Wright may back up Trae Young next season, but Cooper clearly offers more upside with his elusiveness and knack for creating easy shots for teammates.

    Mays is the sleeper prospect and ranked No. 24 on Bleacher Report's 2020 board. Expect breakout flashes by the versatile shot-making guard in summer league.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Names to watch: Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Lamar Stevens, Trevon Bluiett

    Sleeper prospect: Mfiondu Kabengele

    It'll be worth tuning in to the Cleveland Cavaliers just for Mobley. Forget the long-term potential—Mobley figures to be one of the most effective big men in Las Vegas.

    Forwards his size aren't used to defending 7-footers who can handle in the open floor, face up and attack, pull up off the dribble, hit catch-and-shoot threes and finish high above the rim. And Mobley will still affect games most with his defensive versatility.

    He'll flash All-Defensive potential with his rim protection and foot speed for sliding laterally.

    It's also good to see Okoro listed on the roster. He's another promising defender who seems poised to break out offensively.

    As for Kabengele, a 2019 first-round pick, this is a critical summer league. There is still potential value tied to his shot-making and finishing, but inconsistency has been a problem.

12. Brooklyn Nets

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    Names to watch: Cam Thomas, Day'Ron Sharpe, Reggie Perry, Brandon Knight, Kessler Edwards, Alize Johnson, Marcus Zegarowski, RaiQuan Gray

    Sleeper prospect: David Duke

    The No. 9 prospect on Bleacher Report's board, Thomas fell all the way to the Brooklyn Nets at No. 27. He led all freshmen in scoring, and though some scouts don't love his wild shot selection, there is no denying his special ability to create space and make shots with NBA range.

    Sharpe should also be ready for minutes in a simplified role that calls for him to offensive rebound and show off his passing.

    Brooklyn drafted three players in the second round who could surface as pros, whether it's for the Nets or another team. Edwards was picked at No. 44 after three years of consistent shooting and has a solid frame (6'8", 215 lbs) and the IQ to defend. Zegarowski lacks tools and athleticism, but he's a threat from deep with a high playmaking skill level. And Gray is unique, sporting an enormous frame (6'8", 260 lbs), face-up game and defensive mobility.

    Nobody drafted Duke, and he has as good a chance at sticking as Zegarowski and Gray. The Providence standout has traditional 2-guard size (6'5", 205 lbs), a sharp one-on-one game and a tough jumper from the second and third levels.

11. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Names to watch: Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

    Sleeper prospect: Aaron Wiggins

    With Jonathan Kuminga, James Bouknight, Franz Wagner and Davion Mitchell on the board, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Josh Giddey at No. 6. A 6'8" point guard from Australia, he will be one of the most fascinating prospects in Las Vegas—and a must-hit draft pick for the rebuilding Thunder.

    Giddey, who led the NBL with 7.4 assists per game at 18 years old, possesses unique positional size and feel for the game as a passer.

    Meanwhile, Mann, the team's third first-rounder (it traded No. 16 pick Alperen Sengun to the Houston Rockets), is another ball-handler but specializes in self-creation and scoring. He had one of the top pull-up and floater games in the draft, and with Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander set in the backcourt, Mann figures to be auditioning for a sixth-man role.

    The Thunder also traded for Robinson-Earl, a fundamentally sound forward with great hands, mid-range touch and high IQ.

    Wiggins is the sleeper who could surprise during summer league with his scoring package, just as he did at the G League Elite Camp.

10. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Key names to watch: Kira Lewis Jr., Trey Murphy III, Herbert Jones, Didi Louzada, Naji Marshall

    Sleeper prospect: Jose Alvarado

    Though Devonte' Graham is set to replace Lonzo Ball, the New Orleans Pelicans will still bank on 2019 lottery pick Lewis for key minutes. The hope should even be for him to emerge as the starting point guard with Graham playing a sixth-man role.

    Entering his second season, a more confident Lewis will bring speed and shot-making to Las Vegas and the Pelicans rotation.

    Murphy figures to receive equal attention after his predraft rise. He'll give New Orleans a 6'8" shooter with bounce around the rim and some defensive versatility.

    Louzada went from draft-and-stash to signing a four-year deal before he played a minute for the Pelicans. He played well in the 2019 summer league, so the three-and-D wing should be prepared.

    Second-round pick Jones is a decent bet to crack the rotation right away, with the team needing more defense. It was drawn to him for his ability to guard multiple positions and pass.

    And the undrafted Alvarado should become a fan favorite during summer league for his pesky defense, scrappy play and competitiveness. Though a long shot to play NBA minutes this season, Alvarado could spend time with New Orleans' new G League team, the Birmingham Squadron.

9. Boston Celtics

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    Names to watch: Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards, Juhann Begarin, Yam Madar

    Sleeper prospect: Sam Hauser

    The Boston Celtics will have one of the summer league's more experienced teams with Langford, Nesmith, Pritchard and Edwards.

    Nesmith possesses the most promise and upside with his special shot-making skills and hustle plays. It's a more important season career-wise for Langford, a 2019 lottery pick who's played just 50 games since he was drafted.

    Another interesting storyline should follow 2020 second-round pick Madar. After playing last season in Israel, he will audition for a regular role to bring pace, rim pressure and defense. He's arguably the purest point guard option on the Celtics roster.

    And it's worth keeping an eye on Hauser, the undrafted career 43.9 percent three-point shooter out of Virginia.

8. Charlotte Hornets

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    Names to watch: Vernon Carey Jr., Grant Riller, James Bouknight, Kai Jones, LiAngelo Ball

    Sleeper prospect: Scottie Lewis

    Even without LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets roster is one of the summer league's most watchable.

    Bouknight, the No. 11 overall pick, will be the main attraction with his smooth creation, shot-making skills and athletic finishing at the rim. While he offers the long-term upside of a top-two offensive option, Bouknight is poised for a regular rookie role now that Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk are gone.

    Jones won't play as many minutes next season, but he figures to create plenty of highlights in Las Vegas with his open-floor speed and athleticism around the basket. Charlotte could find his finishing and defensive versatility useful, even before his skill set develops.

    We'll see some of Ball's brother LiAngelo, though coaches and fans should watch second-round pick Scottie Lewis, who has realistic NBA hope. Lewis was one of the draft's top athletes and quickest defenders, and an average jump shot could be all he needs to make a roster or rotation.

    Otherwise, expect Carey to feast inside and Riller (B/R's No. 20 2019 prospect) to flash breakout potential.

7. Golden State Warriors

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    Names to watch: Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Gary Payton II

    Sleeper prospect: JaQuori McLaughlin

    The Golden State Warriors are worth watching just for lottery picks Kuminga and Moody. Both looked the part during their debuts in the Sacramento summer league. And they each offer specific skills and strengths that the Warriors rotation will be able to use at different points throughout the season.

    Kuminga actually received minutes at center, and he caused problems with his face-up burst and agility. He'll make mistakes with his shot selection and turnovers, but his scoring versatility and physicality are advanced for a teenager.

    Moody should fit right in to the Golden State system with his shooting and knack for capitalizing off the ball. Coach Steven Kerr should already see a plug-and-play wing from day one, especially given Moody's IQ at both ends.

    Keep an eye on McLaughlin, the 2020-21 Big West Player of the Year. He's a skilled, three-level scorer who graded as one of the nation's top spot-up and pick-and-roll players at UC Santa Barbara.

6. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Names to watch: Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, Jaden Springer, Filip Petrusev, Daishen Nix, Charles Bassey, Paul Reed

    Sleeper prospect: Aaron Henry

    The Philadelphia 76ers' summer league roster includes an intriguing mix of potential breakout sophomores and 2021 steals.

    Bleacher Report was a lot higher on the Sixers rookies and sophomores predraft than most of the NBA. With Springer (B/R's No. 13 prospect in 2021) and Maxey (B/R's No. 10 prospect in 2020), Philly will have two picks from the 20s whom B/R gave lottery grades. It also has Isaiah Joe (B/R No. 29 in 2020), who was picked at No. 49, and Aaron Henry (B/R No. 30 in 2021), who went undrafted.

    Sixers fans should have already seen enough flashes of Maxey's shot-making, crafty finishing and touch to feel confident that Philadelphia added a quality scorer. It's also worth monitoring Joe for his shooting specialist potential.

    Springer is the rookie to watch. His combo guard versatility, strength for an 18-year-old and defensive impact could earn him spot minutes as a rookie. Henry was by far my highest-ranked prospect to not get picked. The 76ers should value his wing defense, slashing, post play and secondary playmaking.

    Petrusev will be an interesting prospect to track after he left Gonzaga for Serbia, added a three-ball and won MVP of the Adriatic League. Bassey ranked in the top five in college basketball in shot-blocking and offers a 7'3" wingspan for finishing. And Nix's storyline remains intriguing, considering he passed on UCLA for the G League Ignite and went undrafted.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Names to watch: Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Ziaire Williams, John Konchar, Yves Pons, Killian Tillie

    Sleeper prospect: Romeo Weems

    Already one of the NBA's top shooters after a season, Bane has quickly become a key cog in the Memphis Grizzlies' rebuild. The only reason for him to play in summer league is for conditioning purposes and to create spacing for the younger players.

    We're still waiting to hear on the availability of Williams, whom Memphis traded up to get at No. 10. The Grizzlies looked past inefficient percentages at Stanford for long-term potential tied to his positional size, three-point stroke and ball skills to create separation and pass.

    Tillman, a defensive ace, could use this time to improve his offensive game, while Tillie can look to further establish himself as a useful stretch big.

    Pons will make highlights with his outstanding physical profile and athleticism for finishing and defense. But Weems is the Grizzlies' key sleeper prospect. Despite being left off the NBA combine and G League Elite Camp lists, Weems is interesting for his wing defense, athleticism for slashing and flashes of shooting.

4. New York Knicks

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    Names to watch: Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Luca Vildoza, Jericho Sims

    Sleeper prospect: Rokas Jokubaitis

    Toppin and Quickley are the marquee names for the New York Knicks summer league roster. While Quickley's shot-making gave the rotation a boost last year, Toppin's development may be the more crucial storyline this season. Already 23 years old, the front office will be hoping for a sophomore jump to strengthen both the frontcourt depth and Toppin's trade value (should a disgruntled star become available).

    The Knicks' highest pick was Grimes at No. 25—even though they entered the draft with Nos. 19 and 21—but their summer league roster still includes a handful of interesting rookies.

    Grimes buried 100 threes last year while leading Houston to the Final Four. McBride should check the right boxes for the NBA Knicks with his pace, dangerous pull-up game and pesky defense.

    And though the Knicks are expected to stash second-round pick Rokas Jokubaitis overseas, he'll play in Las Vegas. He can be a key prospect for this franchise, especially if he develops next season with Barcelona in the EuroLeague and Spanish ACB. This summer league represents his opportunity to excite New York about his skill, IQ and future arrival.

    Don't forget Sims, a center who recorded the second-highest vertical ever at the NBA combine.

    Vildoza will also be interesting to watch, partly because of his flashy style of play but also because his performance may decide whether the Knicks choose to guarantee his contract or let him go.

3. Houston Rockets

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    Names to watch: Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, KJ Martin, Khyri Thomas, Armoni Brooks

    Sleeper prospect: Matthew Hurt

    The Houston Rockets left the draft with four first-round picks, including Green, the No. 2 pick and now the franchise's centerpiece.

    Given how comfortable he looked in the G League bubble, it's safe to picture Green lighting up Las Vegas with his world-class athletic ability, advanced creation skills and lethal shot-making. But the Rockets summer league roster will also feature Sengun, the Turkish League MVP, and Christopher, another explosive scorer.

    Scouts have been itching for a chance to watch Sengun against NBA pros considering his unprecedented production (for an 18-year-old) overseas with an older-school skill set. Meanwhile, the summer league's and NBA's space and pace figures to benefit Christopher, one of the NCAA's top transition players and a dangerous one-on-one threat.

    Martin will be in Las Vegas to build on last year's flashes of bounce and versatility. And the front office figures to pay close attention to Thomas, who averaged 16.4 points in five games for the Rockets toward the end of last season.

    The ACC's leading scorer, Hurt also deserves a mention for his 6'9" size, accurate shooting, high release and ability to hit jumpers in various ways. He's a stretch big with a valued speciality skill that could allow him to stick.

2. Orlando Magic

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    Names to watch: Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner

    Sleeper prospect: Amar Sylla

    Attention will be on Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner, the Orlando Magic's top-10 picks.

    While Markelle Fultz's creativity had started to come alive before his injury, and Anthony flashed exciting scoring potential, Orlando is presumably banking on Suggs to emerge as the franchise point guard. More complete with his transition passing, downhill athleticism, pull-up shooting and defensive activity, Suggs could be the prospect who impacts Orlando's rebuild most.

    Wagner figures to also play a key role. Versatility at both ends of the floor could separate the 6'9" shot-maker, passer and wing defender from other forwards.

    Anthony will look to build on last year's spurts of shot-making and streak scoring with more consistency and playmaking. And Hampton figures to get a larger workload in a bench role that values his explosion in the open floor and combo skills.

    Sylla is someone to watch after he went undrafted. The 6'9" forward had some big games this season in Belgium, and Orlando could stand to add more frontcourt athleticism.

1. Detroit Pistons

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    Names to watch: Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Sekou Doumbouya, Luka Garza

    Sleeper prospect: Balsa Koprivica

    Cunningham makes the Detroit Pistons summer league's most watchable team.

    Even with Jalen Green and Evan Mobley in the draft—who would've each had a strong case to be the No. 1 pick in most years—it never seemed like the Pistons would pass on Cunningham. Hype has led to some enormous expectations for the 6'6" scoring playmaker to become the franchise's centerpiece and the league's next superstar.

    Another interesting storyline in Las Vegas will follow how Cunningham fits alongside Hayes, the 2020 No. 7 pick. He missed most of his rookie year with a right hip injury, and now he'll lose more ball-handling touches to the team's new star. Will Hayes benefit from the pressure Cunningham will take off him? Or does he needs more reps to create for his development?

    Bey is listed on the roster after making first-team All-Rookie, though it wouldn't be surprising if the proven shooter plays only a few games.

    The Pistons will also get to see how the Naismith Men's Player of the Year looks in a different setting. Despite incredible production at Iowa, Garza entered the draft with questions about his quickness and post-up heavy style—until he lost over 20 pounds and started surprising scouts with his shooting range during workouts.

    Koprivica, who played with Cunningham for a year at Montverde Academy, caught scouts' attention this year with his mobility and shot-blocking for a 7'1" center.

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