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The biggest storylines heading into NBA Summer League in Las Vegas

Credit: San Antonio Spurs

The NBA Summer League had its unofficial launch over the last few days in Sacramento and Utah, but tonight, is where the action really begins - as all 30 teams descend upon Las Vegas.

Between draft picks and unproven guys, Summer League is the perfect place to showcase their talent and ability, especially with just about every prominent person in basketball and all 30 teams being in Las Vegas starting today. Here are the biggest storylines to watch heading into the 10-day Summer League in Sin City.

Victor Wembanyama Takes the Floor for the First Time

After many speculation and questions about if the French phenom would be suiting up in Las Vegas, we finally have an answer: The No. 1 overall pick will make his highly anticipated Summer League debut for the Spurs on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller. The hype for “Wemby” is already through the roof, considering tickets to get into Friday’s game were going for around $200 and the game is already sold out.

Wembanyama’s season in France did end a little late compared to the normal college basketball schedule, with the Metropolitan’s 92 season not ending until the middle of June, so it's hard to know just how much Wembanyama will play.

Still, we have all been waiting to see Webanyama up close since the hype started to come about a year and a half ago, and that day is finally here.

Brandon Miller Draws Mixed Reactions in First Look with Hornets

The No. 2 overall pick in last month’s draft took the floor for his Summer League debut in the California Classic earlier this week, and there were some mixed reviews. Foul Trouble in particular has been something that has plagued Miller early, as he has collected 15 personal fouls in just two games, something only allowable due to the Summer League’s rules. In those two games, he did have 24 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists and 10 turnovers. Miller had just six points on four shots during Wednesday’s loss against the Warriors.

And while statistics for a few individual games shouldn’t be something to completely panic over, there were some questions about Miller’s aggressiveness entering the league and that hasn’t necessarily changed after his first two Summer League games.

It's worth noting of course that Miller’s college season didn’t end in great fashion either, as he didn’t score a single point on 0 of 5 shooting in Alabama’s opening round NCAA Tournament victory over Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and even struggled in the Tide’s tournament loss to San Diego State with only 9 points on 3/9 shooting.

Miller’s struggles could be something to monitor if it continues throughout the Summer League and into next season, however no Hornets fan should panic yet, with Miller’s recent struggles coming in a small sample size. There will be many eyes on Miller on Friday against Wembanyama in a battle between the top two picks, and Miller should be motivated playing on this big of a stage.

Don’t Forget About Chet

While so much of the focus is on the 2023 NBA Draft rookies, the No. 2 in the 2022 Draft was on an NBA floor for the first time as a professional this week in Salt Lake City, and it didn’t disappoint. That would be Oklahoma City's Chet Holmgren scored 15 points, collected nine rebounds and had four blocks in his return to the court on Monday against the Jazz. He followed up his debut with 10 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, two steals, one assist and six turnovers against the Grizzlies on Wednesday. Shooting 3-of-8 from the field and missing all four of his three-point attempts.

While the concern with Holmgren is how he will do against length and above average size, it is just really good to see Holmgren back on the floor after missing all of his rookie season with a foot injury. It is forget just how high his ceiling is and the fact that the Thunder were able to win 40 games this season without Chet, is a great sign for the franchise going forward.

In addition, Oklahoma City pulled a surprising upset in the Play-In Tournament over a Pelicans team with much more playoff experience and that was in first place in the Western Conference, earlier last season. With guys like Shai Gilgeous- Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams all ready to explode onto the scene, the Thunder’s future is super bright, and that will only continue with Chet coming back to form.

Second Year Players Who Are Too Good for Summer League

Each and every season in the Summer League, there are a handful of second year players that suit up and very quickly it is clear that they have zero business still playing at this level.

As an example, Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings played in 78 Regular Season games this past season, starting 76 of them and even starting all seven of the team’s playoff games. Just a few months later, Murray was on the Summer League Floor and it was immediately noticeable just how advanced he was compared to his counterparts. The rising Sophomore from Iowa scored 41 points in the King’s Summer League victory over the Heat on Wednesday Night in front of their home crowd. Murray was a very efficient 11 of 20 from the field, on 6 of 11 from beyond the three-point arc, with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. Unfortunately, Kings Summer League coach Luke Loucks did say Murray is done playing in Summer League games, and after watching the Kings on Wednesday you understand why.

Jalen Williams of the Thunder, who also had a prominent role for the team as a rookie playing in 75 games, also suited up in the Thunder's early Summer League. The Rookie of the Year runner up, scored the first nine points for the Thunder against the Jazz on Monday and finished with 21 points.

Similarly, to Murray, should probably be shut down sooner rather than later, as it is clear they are close to established NBA players by now.

Heat Show Off Young Assets for Portland

It is no secret by now that Damian Lillard wants to play for the Miami Heat. With all reports hinting that Lillard will be a member of the Heat at some point in the future, it is now up to Portland, Miami and possibly other teams to find out a package that works for all parties.

While there are different opinions on which deal might be best for the Blazers, there is no doubt some of Miami’s young assets have looked really good to start the Summer League.

The No. 18 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft Jamie Jaquez Jr. from UCLA scored 22 points in Miami’s opening game of the California Classic against the Lakers. Another young player for Miami is Nikola Jovic, who was the No. 27 pick in the 2022 Draft, also scored 22 points in the team’s second game against the Kings.

Both Jaquez and Jovic will likely be included in any trade that would send Dame to Miami, and it is evident that Pat Riley would like to raise these guys' stock and show everyone just how good they can be if their futures are elsewhere.

National Basketball Association: No Bigs Anymore?

One of the many things that was noticeable during the 2023 NBA Draft, was the lack of traditional big men going in the first round. While it has been evident for a while now that you need to at least be a threat shooting the ball from deep if you want to play in the NBA, only Victor Wembanyama and Dereck Lively II were Centers among players drafted in the first round. Guys like Drew Timme from Gonzaga who is a multiple time All American and former National Player of the Year and Adama Sanogo who just led UConn to a National Title, were not drafted. The same thing can be said for Oscar Tshiebwe, who returned to Kentucky after winning the National Player of the Year in 2022, because he likely wasn’t going to get drafted.

While each of these players will be playing in the Summer League, they likely will have a long path ahead, if they want to get to the NBA, due to their position being virtually extinct. Had any of these guys been drafted fifteen or twenty years ago, there is zero doubt they are a first round pick. Even guys like Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson and Armando Bacot returned to school for the 2023-2024 seasons, for similar reasons as Tshiebwe.

There is just not a ton of room in today’s NBA for big men that cannot shoot the basketball.

Which Undrafted Player Comes Out of Nowhere?

Part of what makes the NBA Summer League so appealing, is that every year there are at least a few players that come out of nowhere and make an impact that no one saw coming. In some instances, they make a big enough impact to even gain a legitimate role in the NBA. There have been many examples of this, from guys like Kenny Lofton Jr. who earned himself a roster spot with the Grizzlies based on his Summer League performance last season.

One player that will fall into that category this season, is former Arkansas Guard Ricky Council IV, who is playing with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The high-flying guard had a handful of highlight reel plays to start off his time in Philly, and for a Sixers team that doesn't have a ton of noticeable athleticism on their roster, Council is someone that can make an immediate impact right away. The former Razorback shot 4-of-8 from the field with 11 points, six rebounds and one steal in his first Summer League game.

In a league that runs athleticism and the ability to shoot the basketball, Council is someone that will fit great in the NBA and is a steal for someone that went undrafted. In his one and only season at Arkansas, Council averaged 16.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and he is someone who will make an impact in the NBA.

Follow Zac Krull on Twitter - @ZacKrull_


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