NBA Offseason: What to Watch For at the Las Vegas Summer League

NBA Offseason: What to Watch For at the Las Vegas Summer League

This article is part of our NBA Offseason series.

The 15th edition of the Las Vegas Summer League tips off Friday afternoon in the desert, and for the first time ever, all 30 NBA teams will be represented.

In another first, summer league DFS contests will be offered on DraftKings.

Since rotations and active rosters for summer league can be extremely difficult to predict, we won't be publishing daily recommendation articles, as we do during the regular season. However, in an effort to provide some insight for DFS players, we'll offer a series of pieces previewing and recapping summer league as it progresses.

The first of these – the one you're, in fact, reading right now – will highlight players to keep an eye on as the action gets underway Friday afternoon.

But before we begin, a few things:

- Again, summer league is unpredictable. Most teams are using Vegas as a chance to get a look at several players for potential training camp invites or even rosters spots. As a result, rotations can vary rather drastically from game-to-game as teams experiment with various lineups and situations.

- Consider rookies and draft picks above most free agents. While older players, who often have G League or overseas experience, may be better players right now than a lot of incoming rookies or second-year players, teams generally give the players they have under contract a longer leash – and for obvious reason. Each of the top 24 per-game scorers at the 2017 summer league played in the NBA last season, and only a handful of the top 50 scorers didn't spend time on an NBA roster. Summer league is a proving ground for everyone, but teams want to get the most out of the players they're already paying.

- Big-name players may see limited action. Technically, last year's scoring leader was Brandon Ingram. He came in, scored 26 points in the Lakers' first game, then sat out the rest of summer league. While the Lakers cited "cramps" as the reason for Ingram's absence, it's more likely that the team saw what it needed to see in Game 1 and didn't want to risk anything in what's ultimately a meaningless tournament. Sacramento did something similar with Buddy Hield, while a number of players – Lonzo Ball, Jonathan Isaac, Josh Hart – were limited with minor injuries. Bottom line: teams don't take chances in summer league, especially with their best assets. This time around, players like De'Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson, Jarrett Allen and John Collins – who all had reasonable levels of success as rookies – could be pulled after a game or two.

What To Watch For

Sacramento's young core: We've already gotten a good look at Sacramento, which hosted the inaugural California Classic over the past week. The Kings' summer league roster doesn't look all that different from their regular season roster, with names like Fox, Frank Mason, Justin Jackson, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles all set to contribute at the NBA level next season.

A noticeably more chiseled Fox looked like the best player on the court in his lone California Classic appearance, logging 35 minutes and finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds, six assists and and three steals. Fox was slated to play in all three games in Sacramento, but he picked up an Achilles injury that kept him out of the Kings' last two contests. Injury aside, Fox will not be on Sacramento's roster in Vegas, making Mason the more intriguing DFS play for Saturday's opener against Phoenix.

The California Classic gave us a peek into how the Kings' rotation might look in Vegas. Here are the three-game averages for Sacramento's key pieces:

Mason: 32.7 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 42% FG
Jackson: 37.7 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 53% FG
Giles: 33.0 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 48% FG
Bagley: 31.3 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 31% FG

Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson: Like the Kings, the Suns will send a contingent to Vegas comprised of a number of players who will be in the rotation next season. There's a reason they're the betting favorite to win the LVSL title. Ayton, Jackson, Dragan Bender and Mikal Bridges are the four to keep the closest eye on – Jackson, especially, should be looking to prove he's above playing summer league – while Shaq Harrison, Alec Peters and Davon Reed all saw NBA action last season, albeit for a team that wasn't trying to win basketball games.

Outside of those seven, the Suns' roster also features Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson – that's Rondae's younger brother – former Notre Dame standout Jack Cooley, high-upside second-rounderElie Okobo, and Colorado product George King, who inked a two-way contract with Phoenix on Thursday.

Dennis Smith, Jr. and Jalen Brunson: Smith, Jr. joins Jackson as one of the sophomores who should stand out in Vegas. He's arguably the best rookie playing and could certainly see his minutes and games monitored, especially if he plays well early on. The Mavs also feature the reigning National Player of the Year in Brunson, who should play a ton of minutes, regardless of Smith's status.

Luka Doncic is on the Mavs' roster but is still dealing with some contractual issues that may prevent him from playing. Even if he's cleared, it remains to be seen whether the Mavs would actually throw him out there on the heels of a grueling season with Real Madrid. Second-round pick Kostas Antetokounmpo will be a player to keep an eye on, whiel Dallas' roster is also home to several players – Johnathan Motley, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Jones, Jacob Wiley – who played in the NBA last season.

Malik Monk: With a few notable exceptions, most of the big-name sophomores – Ball, Kuzma, Markkanen, Tatum, Simmons, Mitchell – will sit out summer league. Heading into last season, Monk probably hoped his name would belong on that list, but he struggled for much of the year and will now have plenty of skeptical eyes on him in Vegas.

Monk shot just 36 percent from the field as a rookie and was in and out of the rotation for a team with one of the shallowest backcourts in the league. He did end the season on an encouraging note, however, averaging 19.8 points on 46.7% shooting – 40% 3PT on 9.2 3PA/G – over Charlotte's final six games. If you're looking for summer league props, Monk leading the league in scoring will likely be a popular one.

Other Hornets to watch: Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon and Willy Hernangomez.

Jarrett Allen: It sounds like the Nets left the decision to play up to Allen, who told the media last month that he's looking forward to showing off his improved shooting and facilitating skills. Allen exceeded most expectations as a rookie and should be among the best big men in Vegas. The Nets will also roll out NBA'ers Caris LeVert, Semaj Christon, Milton Doyle and James Webb III, as well as (relatively) intriguing rookies Dzanan Musa (Bosnia), Rodions Kurucs (Latvia), Theo Pinson (North Carolina) and Tyler Davis (Texas A&M). Of those four, Musa, one of the better scorers in Europe last season, is the one to watch most closely.

Wendell Carter, Jr.: The No. 7 overall pick is the clear headliner on a Bulls roster that, again, won't include Lauri Markkanen. Carter should see time at both the four and the five, which will hopefully keep him on the court for longer stretches. Chicago begins play Saturday against the Collin Sexton-led Cavaliers.

John Collins and Trae Young: The Hawks spent their first two draft picks on what they hope will be their backcourt of the future in Young and Kevin Huerter. Unfortunately, only one half of that duo will be available in Vegas, as Huerter will sit out while recovering from torn ligaments in his shooting hand. All eyes were going to be on Young either way, but he'll be tasked with carrying even more of the scoring burden for a team that also includes promising sophomore John Collins, who was one of the best players in the Utah Summer League.

Collins rested during Thursday's third and final game, but he averaged 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in 22.5 minutes of action across Atlanta's first two contests. Young had his fair share of struggles, beginning the week with a 4-of-20 shooting performance – including 1-of-11 from beyond the arc – and failing to bounce back over the next two games. Young finished the Utah league with averages of 12.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 steal while shooting 23% from the floor. It's only summer league, but to say the pressure is on Young to turn things around in Vegas would be an understatement.

Atlanta's leading scorer in Utah was actually second-year guard Tyler Dorsey, who put up 16.3 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Rookie Omari Spellman added 10.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in 23.3 minutes per game.

Tyler Lydon and Malik Beasley: This will be an opportunity for Lydon to showcase his development after missing nearly his entire rookie season. It remains to be seen what, exactly, Denver has in the 2017 first-rounder – he who the Nuggets selected with the pick they got from the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell deal – but he should be given plenty of opportunities. Beasley is probably the best player on the roster, which is also home to Monte Morris, Kennedy Meeks and Scott Machado.

Mo Bamba: Not much to explain here. We've never quite seen a player with Bamba's physical and athletic profile. Don't expect him to step in and dominate, but Bamba will surely provide a few highlight plays on both ends before the week is over. Bamba will be tested right away when the Magic open play Friday night against Jarrett Allen and the Nets.

Also of interest when it comes to the Magic will be second-year wing Jonathan Isaac. Injuries prevented the Florida State product from ever really getting his footing as a rookie – he appeared in only 27 games – but when he was on the floor, he had some impressive stretches, particularly on the defensive end. Per 36 minutes, Isaac averaged 9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.0 blocks.

Jaren Jackson, Jr.: Jackson cooled off a bit after lighting it up with eight three-pointers in the Grizzlies' opener in Utah, but he still finished the three-game set with averages of 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, though he didn't record a single assist or steal. Wayne Selden (23.0 PPG) and Kobi Simmons (17.0 PPG) led Memphis in scoring.

Grayson Allen and Tony Bradley: Utah's roster doesn't feature many notable names, but it'll be led by perhaps the most notorious college player in the country over the last few years. Allen acquitted himself well in two games at the Utah League – he sat out one to rest – averaging 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals while leading all players in assists (7.5 APG). Bradley led the the league in rebounding (12.3 RPG) to go with 14.7 points and 2.0 blocks per game.

Derrick Jones, Jr. and Bam Adebayo: Adebayo averaged a double-double in the California Classic, though he shot just 34% from the field. Jones has been a fringe-roster player for the last two seasons and is the owner of the best nickname in at summer league:

Mo Wagner: The rookie out of Michigan looked like he belonged during California Classic play, averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds across three games. Wagner, Josh Hart, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes will lead the defending summer league champions. Hart, who said he doesn't plan on skipping any games, should be one of the 10 best players in Vegas, while Rathan-Mayes led the California Classic in assists (8.3 APG).

Donte DiVincenzo and D.J. Wilson: Milwaukee's roster is mostly underwhelming, but it does feature the team's last two first-round picks, as well as 2017 second-rounder Sterling Brown (and also Perry Ellis). An undisclosed injury may keep DiVincenzo out of the opener, but the hope is that he won't miss more than a day or two. No one seems quite sure what to expect from Wilson, whom the Bucks took with the 17th pick a year ago. Wilson was a complete non-factor as a rookie for a team that desperately needed bench contributions. In 11 games for the Wisconsin Herd, Wilson averaged 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Anfernee Simons: Portland's first-round pick was one of the draft's biggest mysteries, and this will be his first real taste of high-level basketball. Simons probably won't get much of a look at the NBA level this season, but his long-term upside is high.

The Blazers' roster is littered with current and former NBA players, including Gary Trent, Jr., Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Wade Baldwin, Georgios Papagiannis, Jake Layman, K.J. McDaniels, John Jenkins and Archie Goodwin. Swanigan was a First-Team All-Summer League performer a year ago, while Collins was a regular rotation player for most of his rookie season. The Blazers are tied for the fourth-best odds to win the tournament, behind only Sacramento, Charlotte and Dallas.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson: The Clippers passed on Michael Portertwice to grab both Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson, adding even more depth to an already-crowded backcourt. The pair's contrasting styles should be fun to watch, and the Clippers' roster also houses second-year guards Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, as well as Tobias Harris' younger brother.

The young Knicks: A lot of the focus will be on ninth overall pick Kevin Knox, and for good reason. But the Knicks will also send last year's first-rounder, Frank Ntilikina, as well as second-round-pick Mitchell Robinson, who David Fizdale recently said is "in the one percentile of high flyers and runners."

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Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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