Fantasy basketball: These players increased their fantasy value most during NBA Summer League

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The NBA 2K23 Summer League showcases the first professional experience for many of this year’s draft picks, giving us a glimpse at what they may look like on the big stage in the fall. It’s also its own environment, so there’s not a direct 1-to-1 correlation between being productive in Vegas and being productive in the NBA. I mean, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?

Not necessarily. While there are many other factors besides pure summer league production to consider when evaluating a player’s fantasy basketball prospects, performance in Vegas does give some valuable insight. By looking at not just what a player did in Vegas, but also how he did it, and combining that with the fit, opportunity and likely rotations of the team that he’ll be playing for in the fall, we can start to refine our estimates for what their fantasy prospects might be.

Whose performances in Vegas did the most to help their fantasy basketball prospects, suggesting they might be ready to contribute, right now, to your points and/or roto teams? Let’s discuss.

Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

It caught many people by surprise when the Magic selected Banchero No. 1 overall in the draft. After the show he put on out in Las Vegas, Banchero put all that to rest in a hurry.

Banchero played in two games, and faced a fellow top-4 pick in both matchups. In the first game, he faced off with Jabari Smith Jr. — the previously presumptive top overall pick that slid to the Rockets at No. 3 — then in his second he faced No. 4 pick Keegan Murray of Sacramento, who went on to win the NBA summer league MVP.

Banchero was visibly the best player on the court in both games, in ways that went beyond the 20.0 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 1.0 3PG and 1.0 BPG that he put up in his 30.1 MPG. For me, the summer league is more about how a player gets his than anything else. And Banchero displayed several skills that should translate directly to production at the next level.

The Duke product has been touted as a big man that could handle the ball, but in Vegas he played borderline point-forward. He routinely brought the ball up the court, set up the offense and ran the play from out top. He has the handle to run the pick-and-roll as the ball-handler, as well as the size and scoring skillset to thrive as the pick-setter as well. This versatility on the most important offensive set in the NBA will serve Banchero extremely well at the next level.

When Banchero was ready to attack, he was extremely comfortable facing up his defender and using his handle to get where he wanted on the court. When he finished his move, he was just as liable to look for a pass to set up a teammate as he was to look for his own shot. Banchero had the flexibility in Vegas to go for big plays, and that resulted in a lot of turnovers (5.0 TO/game) and missed shots (40.7 FG%, along with 50.0 3P% and 80.0 FT%), but he clearly has a skillset that should generate plenty of points and assists in a Magic frontcourt bereft of offensive talent.

Defensively, Banchero also showed some strong potential. His mobility, athleticism and instincts allowed him to deflect both passes and shots at a high clip. In fact, one of the highlights of summer league came in Banchero’s matchup with Murray and the Kings, which went into sudden death double-overtime. The Kings had the ball and set up what would’ve been the game-winning alley-oop dunk, but Banchero was athletic and timely enough to outleap the finisher and block the dunk attempt from behind. The play had such a high level of difficulty that it was initially called a foul, but upon replay challenge the call was reversed and the Magic got the ball with the chance to win.

Incidentally, on the next play, Banchero again showed his ability to create off the dribble, and hit his teammate with the game-winning dime.

I’ve been coming to the summer league in Las Vegas since 2005, so I’ve seen a lot of future stars play at this level. Banchero reminds me a lot of what I saw from Blake Griffin in the in 2009. Just like I said about Griffin in that link, I came away from this Summer League impressed with Banchero, and I expect him to make immediate impact in both fantasy basketball and as a leading Rookie of the Year candidate from Day 1.


Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

Holmgren is one of the more lightning rod players in this draft. Many, including ESPN Analytics’ NBA Draft projections, have Holmgren as arguably the top prospect of the class. But, there’s also a vocal pushback that Holmgren’s lack of girth (listed at 7-1, 195 pounds) will keep him from being effective at the next level. (Side note: on the jumbotron at the arena, they’d play clips from player interviews under the heading of “Things you don’t know about me.” For Holmgren, his little known fact was that he actually does eat… a lot, in fact. And that he works out, too, even if he doesn’t look like it).

After watching him in Vegas, I believe that Holmgren will be able to be effective in certain areas even before putting on weight. On offense, Holmgren has a skillset more often seen in a shooting guard. He has a strong 3-point shot, particularly off the spot-up, and knocked down 42.9% of his attempts in Vegas with 1.0 3PG. Holmgren’s also got a strong handle for a big man and solid court vision, and is capable of bringing the ball up and setting up offense for either himself or his teammates. Here’s an example of him doing so and setting up teammate Josh Giddey:

Here’s another example of Holmgren’s ball-handling, from a different game, with him grabbing a steal off a pass intended for Keegan Murray and dribbling the length of the court to finish:

One skillset that Holmgren has the seeds of, that will likely get better as he puts on weight, is his post-up offense. His length is uncanny, and with his mobility and touch he’s able to finish at the rim. His lack of strength showed up when defenders were physical, and when they swiped down on the ball he would often lose it (3.3 TO/G in 27 MPG). However, he was also able to show what things could look like when they went well. Such as this iso move against Smith:

Holmgren’s main area of impact is defense. In Vegas, he averaged 2.3 SPG and 2.0 BPG, and on the fantasy hoops front he has a legitimate chance to lead rookies in steals and/or blocks this season. His length and quickness allow him to be an excellent help defender, able to cover a lot of ground and generate weakside blocked shots.

Here’s an example of his help defense in a game-winning situation, leaving a red-hot Murray to protect the rim by helping a teammate that had been beaten off the dribble.

Holmgren’s weaknesses on defense showed up in iso situations. Before coming to Vegas, he had difficulty handling wide big man Kenny Lofton Jr. in the post. In Vegas, he had trouble against both Smith and Murray when they attacked him with quickness off the dribble. To start his career, Holmgren will clearly be better as a help defender than an iso.

All told, if the Thunder give him starter minutes, Holmgren should be effective as a shooter-scorer and help defender from Day 1. He needs to grow into his body a bit to become a true impact NBA player, but he has the capacity to be a strong roto producer in difficult categories like steals, blocks and 3-pointers from jump.


Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Smith spent most of the pre-draft process as the presumptive No. 1 overall selection, before the Magic switched and picked Banchero instead. The Rockets pounced on Smith with the third pick, and in Vegas he showed hints of what he could bring to the table.

Smith’s shot was off, but it was clear throughout that he was comfortable and confident taking the 3-pointer under almost any circumstances. He shot the trey from the spot-up, off the dribble, on fast breaks, in crunchtime… you name it. He only made 25.9% of his 5.4 3-point attempts per game, but I’m confident that percentage will climb into the mid- or perhaps upper 30s in the regular season. He averaged 1.4 3PG in 29.7 MPG in the summer league, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he challenges for two made treys per game during the regular season.

Smith is another big man with a solid handle, but of the top-four picks, he’s the big that operated the least-often off the dribble. He was more likely to play off the ball, get his feet set, and take that jumper. Even off the iso, instead of using the dribble to attack the rim, Smith often went into the triple-threat position only to either pass or rise up for a mid-range jumper:

Like Holmgren, Smith’s biggest impact will likely come on defense. Unlike Holmgren, though, Smith may be more elite as a man- and switch-defender than a pure help defender. Here is an example of Smith winning a 1-on-1 battle on defense, against Holmgren in the paint:

Smith is long and mobile, can move his feet, and is willing to get into his man’s chest on defense. Here is an extended possession, where an opposing big made the decision to attack Smith off the dribble… and immediately regretted it.

Smith wouldn’t have gotten a blocked shot for that, but he did stop the opponent’s shot in its tracks, and ended the possession. He likely was credited with a rebound in the stats sheet, though it also could’ve gone as a steal. Here’s another example of Smith locked in, this time on a guard off the switch in an out-top pick:

Smith’s foot speed on that play was incredible in that clip, as he was significantly quicker than the guard and was thus able to generate the steal. Smith’s ability to potentially detonate the pick-and-roll on defense will serve him in excellent stead in today’s NBA, where the on-ball pick out top is by-far the most common set in the game.

I’ll end with an intangible: competitiveness. In his “Things you don’t know about me” interview, Smith said that he was the most competitive person he knows. That’s an incredibly important trait, particularly for young players trying to develop into stars. Smith gave glimpses of that competitiveness, even in the more relaxed atmosphere of the summer league. Here’s him diving for a loose ball and gaining possession in the last 20 seconds of a one-possession game against Holmgren and the Thunder, to try to preserve a victory:

Fantasy-wise, on offense Smith has the potential to be a mid-teens scorer as a rookie in the best case, with strong 3-pointers and reasonable percentages. Defensively, in Vegas he averaged 1.6 SPG and 1.4 BPG. He’s another with the potential to average more than one each of steals, blocks and 3-pointers per game as a rookie, the unique combo that is so valuable in roto leagues.


Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Murray was named the summer league MVP after averaging 23.3 PPG (50.0 F%, 40.0 3P%, 80.8 FT%), 7.3 RPG, 3.5 3PG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG and 2.5 TO/G in 31.9 MPG over four games. Murray was the only lottery player in this draft to score at least 20 points in all four of his appearances. Murray’s stats were very impressive, and much of the way he generated them seems like it could translate to the next level.

Murray entered the draft as a combo forward with a high floor due to the lack of weaknesses in his game, but a perceived lower ceiling because he’s older than most rookies (he’ll be 22 years old by the time the season starts). In Vegas, Murray played almost purely power forward, and it seems the Kings want to utilize his 6-8, 225-pound frame and long arms to allow him to match up against opposing bigs, where his speed and comfort with the ball in his hands create mismatches in his favor.

Thus, in the Summer League, Murray typically lined up directly against the opponents’ big men. Which meant, when the Kings played against the Magic and Thunder, Murray was often iso’d against the top two picks in this year’s Draft. The Kings vs Magic game is being touted as the best game in Summer League history, a double-overtime affair that went to sudden death to determine the winner. While Banchero was a dynamic scorer that took 14 of his 15 shots from inside the 3-point arc, Murray was almost exclusively a perimeter scoring threat who took eight of his 11 shots from beyond the arc. Murray did attack the rim enough to generate eight free throw attempts, and overall his line of 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 3-pointers, 2 assists and 1 steal was very competitive with Banchero’s 23 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks in the Magic’s 2-point victory.

Against the Thunder, even though the Kings lost by six points, Murray pretty dramatically outplayed Holmgren. Holmgren generated five steals in the game, but managed only 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 3-pointer. Murray, on the other hand, was downright dominant. He led all scorers with 29 points, showing off a much more dynamic offensive attack featuring 9-for-17 shooting from the field, 9-for-11 from the line and 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Murray was just way too quick for Holmgren to handle 1-on-1, and I saw him score in just about every way possible in their iso matchups.

One sequence late in the fourth quarter told the story, where on one possession Murray ISO’d off the dribble near the top of the key, then simply hooked Holmgren with his elbow exploded past him for the dunk. On the next possession, Murray just used a quick first step to blow past Holmgren immediately off the catch and finish through the contact of the help defender for an and-1.

Murray is a mature rookie, and already looks like a professional scorer at the NBA level. He fits well next to Kings All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, and should benefit from open looks created by the penetration and passing ability of De’Aaron Fox. He looks poised to challenge Banchero for the leading scorer among the rookie class, should be a plus in 3-pointers and shooting percentages, draws enough fouls that he could make an impact in free throw percentage, and should be a solid rebounder as well. Definitely draft-worthy in fantasy drafts, perhaps as early as the middle rounds.


Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Ivey played an excellent first five quarters in the summer league, getting progressively better until a sprained ankle ended things in the first quarter of his second game. Ivey started off the first game a bit tentative, but by the end of it and the start of the second game he had loosened up and was showing off all the explosive athleticism that made him the consensus top perimeter prospect in this year’s draft.

My first impression of Ivey was that he was a lot bigger than I expected. Though listed at 6-4 and 195 pounds, in person Ivey looked more like a wing, or even a small forward, than the combo guard I was expecting. He wasn’t just the quickest guard on the court, he was also the most physically powerful. Ivey’s size and strength will be key, with the style that he plays, because he should be able to handle the ball in traffic and finish his explosive drives at the rim even against NBA defense.

Despite playing next to Killian Hayes, who the Pistons drafted to be their point guard of the future two years ago (before passing that title on to Cade Cunningham last season), Ivey played a lot of lead guard in Las Vegas. He routinely brought the ball up, set up and/or ran the offense, with the responsibility to create for the team.

Quick aside: athletic lead guards can often put up dominant offensive production in Vegas purely using their athleticism, because team defense is typically less developed than offense. This type of production can be suspect when trying to project to the NBA level, because obviously at the pro level the team defenses are more sophisticated and straight line speed isn’t enough for a lead guard to dominate.

Thankfully, Ivey didn’t seem to fall into that potential Vegas mirage. Particularly in his second game, he was utilizing the tools such as the out-top pick that NBA lead guards use to attack defenses. Here is a sequence of my bullet point notes from the first quarter of Ivey’s game against the Wizards:

  • Ivey with back-to-back NBA moves

  • Used pick out top, dribbled into open elbow trey, splash

  • Next possession, set up offense out top, hard drive and kick from near top of key to (Isaiah) Livers at elbow trey, splash

  • Ivey another nice move, this time taking his man off the dribble out top and getting to the rim for a finish and-1

  • Ivey uses pick out top, gets to an attack position on dribble then kicks ball to teammate for open baseline trey, though he missed it

If Ivey is knocking down the 3-pointer (he was 3-for-6 from downtown in his five quarters of action) and utilizing the on-ball screen, there is very little that NBA defenses will be able to do to slow him down. He can use either method to create a small bit of separation from his defender, and from there his explosive athleticism would allow him to attack downhill and either finish or set up his teammates. Cunningham’s presence will also be a boon, because he will draw defensive attention and handle most of the floor generalship responsibilities for the Pistons, which will further open up opportunity for Ivey to create.

Ivey has the ability to challenge for the leading scorer spot among rookies this season, but with Cunningham as the featured perimeter player on the Pistons I don’t think Ivey will get enough looks to actually top his class in scoring. I can see him scoring in the mid, or even upper teens on a nightly basis with more than one 3-pointer, a handful of assists and decent rebounding as a starting guard for the Pistons. He should also be drafted in fantasy leagues this fall, particularly in points leagues, in the middle rounds.


Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Mathurin, the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, joined his other top-6 pick brethren in turning in an excellent summer league. He scored almost a point per minute, averaging 19.3 PPG in 22.4 MPG while making 48.8% of his 13.7 FGA, 38.5% of his 4.3 3PA, and 76.5% of his 5.7 FTA.

Mathurin was another that looked like a professional scorer already. A wing with excellent size at 6-7, Mathurin scored at every level — from the 3-point line to the midrange to the rim. He was able to get his shot off the dribble, including from downtown. In the first game I watched, he got out on the fastbreak and calmly pulled up from deep and swished a trey instead of going in for the dunk. A few minutes later, he was able to show off his athleticism as he powerfully finished an off-the-backboard alley-oop from teammate Chris Duarte.

However, Mathurin’s play in Vegas also illustrated some of the weaknesses in his scouting report as well. Namely, that he isn’t much of a creator for teammates, and thus doesn’t do much to make them better. On the fantasy front, this shows up as a lack of assists, and he only averaged 1.3 APG and 0.7 TO/G. Despite the relatively tame defense in the summer league, Mathurin was hardly handling the ball at all outside of shooting situations, and that suggests he has a long way to go before he can create the way elite offensive wings typically can.

Mathurin did average more than a steal per game in Vegas, but he didn’t block a single shot in three games. At his size and with his leaping ability, he should be able to notch a few blocks this season if he’s locked in on defense.

The Pacers traded Malcolm Brogdon this offseason and seem to be rebuilding around their youth, and Mathurin should have the opportunity to produce in the backcourt next to incumbent teammates like Duarte and Tyrese Haliburton. Fantasy-wise, he looks like a plus scorer with the potential for decent percentages, 1-2 3-pointers and maybe a steal per game. He’s worthy of attention before your fantasy draft ends, but his lack of all-around game caps his upside this season compared to the other top picks from the 2022 draft.

Non-rookies looking to break out

Summer League isn’t only for rookies. Many teams send their young players, particularly second-year guys, to get some added experience and work on aspects of their games ahead of the season. One of the most insightful non-rookie matchups I ever saw in Vegas was in 2014, when then unheralded sophomores Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert upstaged lottery teammate rookies Jabari Parker and Dante Exum in a massive head-to-head performance that had me gushing on Twitter.

There may not be future multiple-MVPs and multiple-DPoYs in this season’s non-rookie summer league class, but several players did well enough for themselves that it could be a harbinger to better fantasy basketball production as soon as this season. Much like last season, where if you check this article you’ll find me touting big summer league performances from players like Tyrese Maxey showing he’s ready for the big stage if given the opportunity.

This season, the Warriors sent three of their rotation guys to Vegas. Moses Moody led the league in scoring, averaging 27.5 PPG in 30.1 MPG in his two games. Jonathan Kuminga was ninth in scoring, averaging 19.3 PPG in 25.9 MPG. Both players could clearly get their shot whenever they wanted, and when they locked in they were too good for summer league defenses to stop.

But the most interesting Warrior this summer was James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in 2020 that missed all of last season with a knee injury. Wiseman was clearly using the summer league to work himself into shape, playing in few-minute-bursts, but he showed some positive signs.

This was an example of one of his better post possessions on offense, where he showed he had the touch to knock down a smooth turnaround jumper over a defender:

Wiseman also showed his 3-point range, and demonstrated his ability to finish vertically at the rim on alley-oops and put-backs.

Here’s an example of Wiseman’s defensive potential. In one play, he defends his assignment who faces up off the dribble out to the 3-point line. Then, after forcing the pass, he switches onto the driver off the pick and stonewalls him at the rim with a vertical challenge that ends the possession:

Other veterans that played well include Cam Thomas and David Duke Jr. of the Brooklyn Nets. Thomas was one of the leading scorers in Vegas for the second year in a row (27.4 PPG in 30.3 MPG), and seems ready to put points on the board in the NBA if the Warriors were to actually trade Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and go to a youth movement. Duke produced a solid 19.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 4.0 APG and could be a rotation level player as well.

Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III averaged 26.5 PPG on 50 FG% and 88.2 FT%, with 7.0 RPG and 2.5 SPG in 31.8 MPG of his two games.

Quentin Grimes led the Knicks all the way to the summer league finals, averaging 22.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.0 APG, 3.4 3PG and 1.2 SPG in 30.1 MPG.

Houston’s Josh Christopher often stole the show from his heralded rookie teammates, averaging 19.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 APG and 1.7 SPG in 26.8 MPG. His shot was off all tournament, but he could still clearly do what he wanted to do whenever he locked in. In one game that was close with a handful of minutes left in the fourth, he scored double-digit points down the stretch to turn it into a blowout.

Duarte was one of the most impressive rookies in Vegas last season. He only played one game this time around, but showed that he could do whatever he wanted. He mainly seemed to use the game to build synergy with new rookie teammate Mathurin, which could bode well for their ability to work together immediately to start the season.

Finally, Sandro Mamukelashvili turned in a performance strong enough to make the All Summer League team. He was the best player on a successful Bucks squad, and averaged 17.0 PPG with 8.8 RPG, 2.0 3PG, 1.4 SPG and 1.0 BPG. There were times when he got a bit over-exuberant, such as when he tried to dribble behind his back during crunchtime and fell down (though, to be fair, he did maintain possession on the ground), but on the whole he looked like someone who could contribute at the NBA level if the Bucks were to have need for him.

Other rookies of interest

Lots of other rookies besides the top-6 draft picks also made positive impressions. Tari Eason joined Rockets teammates Jabari Smith Jr. and Josh Christopher as another ready to contribute at the NBA level right away. Juhann Begarin popped with the Celtics. Jalen Duren may have been one of the youngest players in the draft, but he has a major NBA body and made a practice of dunking on just about everyone in the Summer League. Ochai Agbaji struggled with his shot, but showed strong 3-and-D potential. So did Bucks draft pick MarJon Beauchamp. Malaki Branham showed he can stick the 3-pointer at volume and efficiency, while Magic second rounder Caleb Houston showed flashes of the same in some games.

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