NBA Summer League Takeaways: Davion Mitchell Shines, Obi Toppin Flashes, More

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2021

NBA Summer League Takeaways: Davion Mitchell Shines, Obi Toppin Flashes, More

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Welcome to the portion of the NBA offseason during which we place waaay too much stock into Las Vegas Summer League performances.

    Just kidding.

    This is not that type of space. Not entirely, anyway.

    Our summer league takeaways aim to focus on players who will have a legitimate crack at rotation minutes during the regular season but will, for the most part, fall short of forecasting future perennial MVPs and eventual first-ballot Hall of Famers. Interpret these observations as "Hey, look at this!" moments and feats rather than exegetic declarations.

    Every summer league note will be inspired by the most recent slate of games, but hearkening back to previous contests and zooming out for bigger-picture musings remains on the table as part of the process. 

    Let us now explore the latest batch of Las Vegas standouts before Davion Mitchell forces me to turn them over.

Desmond Bane Did What?!?

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Memphis Grizzlies have been searching for a cornerstone wing since before Chandler Parsons' face became a yoga mat logo. It is a quest that predates even Rudy Gay, one that feels, even on the most optimistic days, never-ending.

    If Desmond Bane's Monday detonation against the Brooklyn Nets is a sign of what's to come, the Grizzlies' search may be nearing its conclusion...or at least have a chance to do so.

    Last year's No. 30 pick went for 32 points and four assists on 11-of-19 shooting, including a scintillating 6-of-8 clip from beyond the arc. His buckets were not gimme opportunities teed up by others, either.

    Bane dribbled into threes, hit a step-back triple in transition and froze defenders while attacking at varying speeds. He even set the table for teammates coming over screens—not in a way that suggests higher-power point forward magic, but with enough patience and handle to plumb the depth of his ball skills next year.

    Summer league is seldom telltale of regular-season roles. Bane will not be the first or second option in Memphis. But the Grizzlies voluntarily prioritized their bigger picture when they took on the contracts of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams and didn't do much of anything during free agency. That implies a willingness to experiment during the 2021-22 campaign.

    And right now, "expanding Bane's offensive role" should top the list of trials they're prepared to run.

Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin Are Coming

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Immanuel Quickley showing out in summer league doesn't come as much of a surprise. He carved out a consistent role on a playoff-bound New York Knicks team last season with megadeep threes, a nifty floater and generally fearless volume.

    And yet, his 32-point, eight-assist outing against the Indiana Pacers on Monday exceeded expectations even by those standards. A 4-of-12 clip from three isn't earning him any awards, but he spaces the floor by virtue of his threat level. He appears extra comfortable getting off step-backs and is standing far enough behind the rainbow without the ball to stretch defenses into a tizzy.

    There also seems to be another layer to his drives. Against the Pacers specifically, it became tougher to discern whether he was lofting a floater, angling for a layup or throwing a pass. That unpredictability after he picks up his dribble will be huge if it translates.

    The same goes for his willingness to test his shot-making from two-point range at different angles and spots as opposed to dead-on, straightaway looks. It isn't yet clear whether he'll top out as a score-first combo guard or make the jump to authentic floor general, but let me tell you, I'm still thinking about the deep, perfectly placed jump lob he threw to Obi Toppin early in the first quarter.

    Speaking of Toppin: Wow.

    Anyone who choppered in to watch the Knicks over the latter half of the season saw him make the transition from unplayable to actual NBA player, but his 22-point, nine-rebound, two-assist line against Indy offered snapshots into an even more comprehensive threat. Beyond just running the floor and dotting the arc, Toppin is more at-home on the ball. He feasted in some one-on-one situations and has made buckets after dribbling coast-to-coast in each of his first two games.

    Touches for Toppin will be harder to come by when games start to matter. But the Knicks aren't exactly settled at the 4 spot behind Julius Randle. Toppin will have a chance to vie for regular minutes if he's going to splash threes, finish through contact and navigate around defenders going north-south and on the infrequent post-up.

    Whatever his role next year, this is my plea to Tom Thibodeau and New York's offense at large: Please, for the love of offense, push the pace when Toppin is on the court so he can be thrown and subsequently finish real, actual, genuine transition lobs.

Jalen Suggs Is Magic

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    Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Here's some free advice: Go visit your preferred sportsbook, find the over/under lines for how many points, rebounds and blocks Jalen Suggs will average during his rookie season and smash the heck out of the over.

    Maybe this is an overreaction to his 24-point, nine-rebound, three-block showcase in the Orlando Magic's overtime win against the Golden State Warriors.

    Or, and go with me here, maybe it's not.

    Suggs showed moxie wire-to-wire. His 9-of-22 clip doesn't bend the brain, but he drilled shots from every level while playing with a gnarly combination of force and finesse. He knows how to use his back shoulder to create separation, and the ease with which he dribbled into jumpers portends more efficient scoring nights.

    It's probably too early to assume Suggs will contend for best-shot-blocking guard honors as a rookie. But he might as a sophomore or junior—or, hell, even as a rookie. His crunch-time stuff at the rim in overtime—where he scored all but two of Orlando's points, by the way—was an adult-among-children play. He should lead all first-year non-bigs in total swats.

    Regular-season basketball is different. And the Magic have an awkward roster on their hands. (Aside: I'm not loving the Suggs-Cole Anthony backcourt right now.) But Suggs is guaranteed opportunity. Orlando doesn't have anyone else who profiles as a literal bucket. His counting stats are bound to be through the roof, and if his defensive hustle holds across games that matter, his Rookie of the Year case could verge on ironclad, no matter how much Cade Cunningham inevitably has to say about it.

Davion Mitchell Will Haunt Your Dreams

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Every day, at an undisclosed time, before going to sleep, James Bouknight checks to make sure there's no monster under the bed. 

    And if he's lucky, there will be no signs of Davion Mitchell.

    Sacramento was largely trolled for selecting the 22-year-old at No. 9. Sure, he helped lead Baylor to a national championship. And yes, he defends with the fury of a Prime Patrick Beverley-Disney Bubble Jevon Carter hybrid. But adding a six-foot guard to a backcourt rotation that already includes De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield feels counterintuitive.

    Shipping Delon Wright to the Atlanta Hawks does little to change that. The Kings still seem guard-heavy and too light on actual wings. (Of note: Harrison Barnes and Maurice Harkless are less actual wings and more should-be 4s.)

    Mitchell's Monday performance in Las Vegas—and at the California Classic last week—begs to differ. His 27-plus minutes of action included flashes of off-the-dribble jet fuel on offense and, most critically, suffocating individual defense. He didn't blanket Bouknight so much as wear his skin for decoration. There was no daylight between Mitchell and the ball, and he might be one of the world's five toughest six-footers to screen.

    Energy and mindset can translate to the regular season. The results are a different story. Mitchell's aggression can turn into foul trouble—he had five personals against Charlotte—and guarding up won't be as easy against seasoned NBA bodies.

    Still, given the ferocity with which he defends and the glimpses of burst and decision-making he showed at the other end, the Kings no longer look as Kingsy for the moment. And they can further endear themselves to yours truly in the regular season by playing all of Fox, Haliburton and Mitchell together, size be absolutely, positively, unequivocally damned.

LaMelo Ball Is Going to Be a Godsend for James Bouknight and Kai Jones

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    James Bouknight exited Monday's 80-70 loss to the Kings on the wrong side of Davion Mitchell's summer league mixtape, but do not mistake his relative struggles—4-of-11 shooting, 1-of-5 from three, five turnovers—as a harbinger of anything other than circumstance.

    Charlotte had the 20-year-old, who they scooped up at No. 11, on the floor with approximately zero other playmakers. He was the focal point of the Kings defense and, by extension, Mitchell's appetite for SFPOTOTs. (Souls from players on the other team.) Bouknight will not face as much tunnel-vision coverage in the big leagues. He will have the opportunity to share the floor with LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. Ish Smith will even count as relief.

    Nudging him down a peg or three in the offensive pecking order should do wonders. He has the ball skills and footwork to create separation from defenders who don't list "Human Eclipse" under the "Special Skills" section of their resume.

    Bouknight is definitely going to knock down a mix of step-backs and difficult jumpers that leave you slack-jawed. He should also get the opportunity to attack more in open space, fan out around LaMelo in transition and just generally spritz in catch-and-shoot jumpers. Summer league is summer league is summer league, but he looks like he can fill enough offensive gaps—and make enough defensive plays—to crack the playoff-hopeful Hornets' rotation.

    Ditto for Kai Jones. His showing against the Kings was largely unspectacular (1-of-5, four points, three turnovers), but he, too, is someone who will benefit from being around more experienced decision-makers. He has already shown pogo-stick hops and crushing finishes, and it's become inarguably clear that offensive rebounds rank among his most important food groups.

    Here's also hoping the Hornets don't dissuade his agency coming off the boards. Jones will hit the defensive glass and run the break on-ball and does a nice job looking for his teammates. Most of his dimes include an emphatic pass, too. It's like Carmelo Anthony cussing on rebounds; he's doing something and wants you to know it.

    Charlotte will probably shuttle Jones to and from Greensboro. But the center rotation remains unpolished enough to gift him the occasional chance. Mason Plumlee doesn't have the same shot-swatting bandwidth, Vernon Carey is more offense-first, and after that, the Hornets are back to small-ball. Jones will require a learning curve; his summer league defense is utter anarchy. But he could be good for some flash-bulb moments from the onset when surrounded by better, actual-NBA teammates.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.