By Matt Citak
With this summer’s free agency being one of the craziest in recent memory, many people have forgotten about the NBA Summer League games occurring in Orlando, Utah, and Las Vegas over the last few weeks. Many of the NBA’s young players have been using these contests to showcase their skills in front of coaching staffs from around the NBA, with a majority of them hoping to turn a solid Summer League performance into an invite to training camp. Here are the top performers from each of the Summer League tournaments thus far.
PF/C Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
While many questioned Miami for making Adebayo a lottery pick last month, Pat Riley was certainly happy with the play of his soon-to-be 20-year old rookie in Orlando. In four games, Adebayo averaged 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.30 blocks in 30.8 minutes. He finished fifth in the Orlando Summer League in scoring, tied for second in rebounding, and second in blocked shots. It was not all smooth sailings for the former-Kentucky Wildcat though, as Adebayo struggled to shoot the ball consistently and finished with a 35.2 field goal percentage. But the 6-foot-10 big man made up for his poor shooting with solid defense, showing his above-average athleticism by defending multiple positions.
PF Henry Ellenson, Detroit Pistons
After spending most of last season with the Grand Rapids of the NBA G-League, Detroit’s 2016 first round pick showed up to Summer League ready to prove he belongs in the NBA. Appearing in five games in Orlando, Ellenson averaged 17.4 points on 44.0 percent shooting, adding 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. The 6-foot-11 forward seemed to have worked on his perimeter shooting during the offseason, as he entered the Orlando Summer League championship game shooting 39.3 percent (11-for-28) from the three-point line. If he can continue to help spread the floor by knocking down three-pointers, Ellenson has the chance to make a real difference in Detroit this season.
C Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, Johnson has spent the last two seasons with the Thunder’s G-League affiliate after failing to crack the NBA roster. However based on his performance in Orlando, Johnson seems ready for his shot with the Thunder. The 7-foot-1 center played in four games during the Summer League and averaged 18.0 points on 56.9 percent shooting in just 27.5 minutes per game. Johnson was able to score and rebound with relative ease, and his hustle reminded everyone that he is still only 21-years old. With only two centers currently on Oklahoma City’s roster, Johnson might finally get the opportunity to join his former-Kentucky teammates in the NBA.
PG Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
Exum has missed majority of the last two seasons due to an ACL injury suffered while playing for the Australian national team in August 2015. But this summer, the point guard has shown everyone around the league why he deserved to be drafted fifth overall a few years ago. Exum scored 20.0 points on an impressive 52.4 shooting percentage, while adding a league-high 6.3 assists in 27.3 minutes per game. The 6-foot-6 guard, who turns 22 on July 13, proved he is still a playmaker with the ability to get to the rim with little-to-no difficulty. Exum looks like he could be a significant contributor to the Jazz next season.
SF Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
In his three Utah Summer League games, Tatum made Danny Ainge look brilliant for trading back in the draft to select the forward out of Duke. Tatum averaged 18.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.30 steals per game in Salt Lake City, including hitting a game-winning shot and throwing down a rim-rattling dunk. A lot of the damage done by Tatum in Utah was from a wide range of fadeaway shots and step-back jumpers, moves the 19-year old proved at Duke he can make with ease. Tatum’s skills in the mid-post will turn out to be very valuable to the Celtics, especially if he can keep his shooting percentage up near 47 percent as he did in Utah.
F Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Brown entered the Summer League with a chip on his shoulder after logging only 17.2 minutes during his rookie season. If his performance in Salt Lake City last week is any indication of how he might play this upcoming season, then Brown should look forward to a lot more playing time in his second year. The 20-year old was able to score at will, averaging 17.5 points on 54.5 percent shooting in his two games in Utah. Brown showed off his length and athleticism by blowing past opponents, along with simply elevating and scoring over them. Brown held his own on defense as well, and pulled down a Utah Summer League-high 10.5 rebounds per game. Between Brown and Tatum, the future is very bright in Boston.
Mitchell put on a show for the Jazz fans who attended the Summer League games at the University of Utah last week. The young point guard showed a flash of his uncanny athleticism on his way to averaging 15.3 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.3 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game. Even more impressive than his scoring ability was his defense. Mitchell (the 13th overall pick in last month’s draft) helped limit Tatum (the third overall pick) to 12 points on just 4-of-12 shooting when the two faced each other in Salt Lake City. This was just one example of Mitchell’s defensive prowess, which included averaging 3.30 steals during the three games in Utah last week. Mitchell’s play in Vegas has looked even stronger,with averages of 28.0 points and 6.0 steals through two games.
SG Bryn Forbes, San Antonio Spurs
Forbes led the Summer League in scoring in Utah and is currently leading in Las Vegas, but it’s his numbers in Vegas that are truly eye-opening. Through three games, Forbes is averaging a whopping 29.3 points in 30.7 minutes while shooting 44.1 percent from the field. The 23-year old shooting guard shot just 11-for-26 from the field on Tuesday against the Trail Blazers, but finished with 35 points after going 6-for-11 from the three-point line and making all seven free throw attempts. Forbes barely played during his rookie season, earning under eight minutes of playing time per game in only 36 contests. If Manu Ginobli decides to retire, a spot in the rotation could open for Forbes, who is doing everything in his power to prove to Greg Popovich this summer that he deserves more time on the court.
SF Troy Williams, Houston Rockets
Unlike some of the other young players on this list, Williams does not have a guaranteed contract for the upcoming season. Based on his play in Las Vegas this summer, one would never have guessed that. Williams is the fourth highest scorer in Vegas thus far, averaging 25.7 points on a 46.8 field goal percentage in just 26.3 minutes. The 6-foot-7 small forward has also impressed from long range and the free throw line, shooting 38.5 percent on three-pointers and 85.2 percent from the charity stripe. Williams’ dominance in the Summer League puts him in a great position to earn a roster spot with the Rockets this year.
G Wayne Selden, Memphis Grizzlies
Selden has been one of the biggest stars on both ends of the floor in Las Vegas this summer. The undrafted guard out of Kansas is averaging 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists through his first three Summer League games, and hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to beat the Wizards a few days ago. Selden has shown the ability to easily create his own shot and get to the rim. More importantly, Selden has looked brilliant on the defensive side of the court, averaging 2.3 steals per game. His strength and lateral quickness will make it very difficult for opponents to score on him, and is the perfect type of gritty player to help make up for the loss of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph.