11 early impressions from 2023 NBA Summer League

Jul 11, 2023, 9:30 AM | Updated: 10:29 am

Victor Wembanyama #1 of the San Antonio Spurs prepares to shoot a free throw against the Portland T...

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Now that we are descending into the second half of the 2023 NBA Summer League, let’s examine who’s stood out, and who hasn’t, in Las Vegas.

Here are 11 impressions from the first weekend of the 2023 summer ball for the NBA.

1. Wemby will be just fine

French phenom Victor Wembanyama has had an up & down first few days in Las Vegas.

The No. 1 overall pick last month played his first game in NBA Summer League action Friday against No. 3 overall Scoot Henderson and the Portland Trail Blazers. It did not go to plan. Wemby struggled mightily with his offense, only scoring nine points in 27 minutes played Friday. He also went 1-6 from the three-point line, finishing 2-13 on field goals. And then he got dunked on by Kai Jones.

Welcome to the NBA, rookie. 

Nerves were obviously in play for the highly-touted prospect, even admitting after the game that he had no clue what he was doing out there. And while it’s easy to write off someone after one game, he made the most of his second game Sunday.

Filling up the stat sheet with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, Wemby gave the Las Vegas crowd what they were looking for. His sweet shooting stroke saw balls fly through the net, and he had numerous defensive plays in the paint that made opposing teams wary, to say the least. He even tried his patented one-legged three-ball in the clutch, which of course clanked off the rim. 

But it’s encouraging, nonetheless, that he wants to take those shots.

His rookie season will be a lot of growing pains as he adjusts to American-Style basketball. And while the added spacing will help him develop his game, he may have some nights where he struggles mightily. But that’s okay, he’s 19 years old.

Wembanyama is years away from his final form, one that many believe could be the best player the league has ever seen. So for now, sit back & relax as the Frenchman continuously improves under Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ tutelage.

2. Brandon Miller a Bust???

The one prospect we should all be worried about is Brandon Miller.

To put it lightly, he’s stunk to start the summer, scoring only 50 points in four games played. He also committed 23 fouls and shot only 28% from the perimeter in Vegas so far. Yikes. 

The biggest concern isn’t even his shooting splits, it’s his defense or lack thereof. Despite coming in at a towering a 6’9″, his skinny frame allows him to get bullied inside the paint, forcing him to commit said fouls. That will have to improve over the course of his rookie year if he wants to remain on the court. Because if he’s having an off-shooting night, the defensive versatility will be his fallback. 

And look it’s early and way too soon to proclaim him as a bust. But the groundwork had already been laid, just saying. 

3. Scoot Henderson could Win Rookie of the Year

Look, it’s early. I mean, it’s still July for Pete’s sake. But Scoot Henderson could be the star of the 2023 class and that’s not an exaggeration.

While playing in less than three quarters over the weekend, it was clear that Portland hit the lottery with Scoot. He looked in command at all times, never rattled, and was able to get to his shot whenever he wanted to. Henderson finished the first quarter of Friday’s game with 13 points on 71% shooting.

Then his shot left him the rest of the game until he was pulled in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Regardless, sometimes you can just see the player’s career arc in your mind, and that was apparent with Henderson on the floor. Simply because he acts like an Alpha at 20 years old.

It’s simply unheard of, to be frank.

And look, he’ll have some bad games as well, nobody’s rookie year is perfect. But the flashes and moments he’ll supply for the Trail Blazers should transcend any doubt spectators may have for the future.

One thing is for sure: Portland needs to trade Damian Lillard ASAP because the new era in Rip City is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. A young core of Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, and Anfernee Simons will be better than you think from Day 1.

4. Amen Thompson has All-NBA potential

The Thompson Twins were the most mysterious prospects coming into the 2023 NBA Draft.

Amen and Ausar both decided to play for the Overtime Elite league instead of traditional routes. And while they showed out there, the NBA is literally a whole different ballgame. So far, they’ve impressed in spurts.

The former mostly, using Game 1 against the Trail Blazers to showcase his unique passing abilities and showstopping athleticism. He dropped 16 points, five assists and four rebounds for the Houston Rockets. Then he hurt his ankle in the third quarter. Amen Thompson has the tools to be an All-NBA scorer if his jumper continues to improve.

Ausar has also been solid, combining for 19 points over two games. While he may not have the same ceiling as his brother, the second twin can be a real starter for the Detroit Pistons in a few years.

It’ll take some time for both to develop, but they’ve lived up to the hype thus far.

5. The Rockets may be better than we thought

Speaking of the Houston Rockets, are they building something real? Tenable? Maybe even good??? Well, it sure looks like it right now, with second-year players Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason filling up the Vegas stat sheets.

Smith is the key to Houston’s success next season, as his Second-year leap could mean a playoff berth.

His summer league has been fantastic, filling up two games with 33 and 38-point performances. The biggest knock on him coming out of Auburn was an inability to get his own shot. That’s not a thing anymore. While it’s still a work in progress, his ability to add separation on pull-up jumpers will allow him to be unguardable in the NBA. Think Kevin Durant-esque.

Eason has also been great, scoring 20 and 26 points, respectively, over the weekend. The 17th overall pick last year is a do-it-all forward that makes winning plays, a player that every franchise revers. And with Ime Udoka at the helm, it’ll be interesting to see how the LSU alum gets utilized.

On top of all that, former No. 2 overall Jalen Green is still there. Now, he needs to take a big step in Year 3, as does Alperen Sengun. But by adding Fred VanVleet in free agency, the Rockets may be able to finally unlock the young guys on both sides of the court.

It’ll be interesting to see what Udoka does with his second head coaching gig, but regardless of the results, it’s must-see TV.

6. Cam Whitmore is proving them wrong

A final thought on Houston: I can’t believe Cam Whitmore fell into their laps at 20th overall.

A player projected to go inside the Top 10, the Villanova alum slid in the draft due to medical & personality concerns amongst teams. Whitmore was passed on by the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, and Golden State Warriors, to name a few. And he’s already proving the scouts wrong.

Whitmore has combined for 35 points over two games, showcasing elite athleticism and an ability to score in space. While his dribbling package is limited, he knows how to create separation effectively. His defensive tenacity and willingness to hustle is also apparent.

The point is: Houston could be one of the big winners of the 2023 draft in a few years’ time.

7. Danny Ainge did it again

It doesn’t matter what franchise it is, Danny Ainge is a hell of a general manager.

Currently in charge of the Jazz, Ainge already revamped the roster by trading away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in 2022. Now a year later, Utah is in a good spot, especially with the emergence of Lauri Markkannen.

So what does Ainge do in his first draft in charge? He finds a diamond in the rough in Keyonte George.

George, 19, has been a one-man bucket machine in the NBA Summer League, scoring 59 points combined in two games. He’s also doing it efficiently on 55% shooting. And, he gets his points in a variety of ways, from running the pick & roll to hitting catch & shoot threes to driving to the lane for a tough layup.

Point being: The kid can score.

At the very least, he’s a Jordan Clarkson replacement down the line. At his peak, a mix between Bradley Beal and Lou Williams? I kinda like that, and so should Utah.

Congrats, Danny.

8. So did Sam Presti

Speaking of a team that always makes the right move, Oklahoma City.

It should be a rule of thumb that whatever GM Sam Presti is feeling around the time of the draft, that’s probably a good idea. Case in point: Trading up to 10th overall to take Cason Wallace.

While at first glance, another guard like Wallace feels redundant with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander there. But Wallace isn’t your typical floor general.

The Kentucky alum excels off the ball, able to find the open space to cut to the basketball, or sit back and drill a three-ball. He showcased that over the weekend, hitting 6 of 10 from behind the arc against the Dallas Mavericks. Additionally, his defense is already there, coming up with two steals as well.

Picture Jrue Holiday and Lu Dort combined, that’s pretty much what Wallace is.

So yeah, congrats again to Sam Presti for drafting another good basketball player.

9. Bilal Coulibaly is one to watch for the future

What if I told you Victor Wembanyama had a teammate in France that could make a future NBA All-Star game?

Well, it’s true, he does. And his name is Bilal Coulibaly.

Coulibaly was drafted by the Washington Wizards at eighth in last month’s draft. The 6’6” lanky wing spent last season in the Metropolitans 92 system, getting promoted to the main roster as the season went on. What started out as a rotational piece, turned into a budding prospect before scout’s very eyes. At only 18 years old, Coulibaly’s ability to impact games is uber impressive.

Except he’s incredibly raw, so he’ll need time to develop.

His first NBA Summer League action made that apparent, scoring 20 points total in two games. While his shooting numbers aren’t great (37.5% in two games), what’s more important is that Coulibaly is taking those shots. He’s not afraid of the stage, just out there to hoop and go home.

His best bucket of the weekend was the stepback two-pointer that sealed the win over Boston Celtics. After making the shot, he ran over to his coach and said “I’m a clutch player”.

You gotta love the confidence of an 18-year-old prospect.

Nevertheless, his shooting will be streaky in the first few seasons, as that will be the key to unlocking his potential. But for now, his defense can shore up any concerns of impact in his rookie year. Additionally, he can run the fastbreak before finding the right cutter to get an easy bucket at the rim.

It’s going to be a long process with Coulibaly, one that will see many ups & downs. But so far, Michael Winger has already done D.C. fans a solid by drafting a player that could be elite by the time he’s 25 years old.

10. Colby Jones is a gamer

Sacramento drafted someone that will have an immediate impact with Colby Jones.

The Xavier alum’s comps before the draft were Josh Hart and Donte DiVinicenzo. And so far, that’s exactly how he plays.

Jones has done a little bit of everything in the NBA Summer League, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and two assists in Monday’s loss to the LA Clippers. What’s most important here is that he shot 3 for 7 from behind the arc. If he continues to hit from deep, that could spell some serious minutes under Mike Brown.

He’s just a gamer on the court, always looking to make the right play and push the tempo. Jones is willing to go the next mile and do that dirty work, a player that the Kings can always use more of.

11. It’s just NBA Summer League

Look, as much as I want to be the one to overreact and predict the future for these prospects from these few Vegas games, it’s just summer league play.

Meaning, these games should not be the end-all be-all for a player’s career arch. For example, Trae Young. The Hawks’ cornerstone point guard was terrible in NBA Summer League action in 2018, and couldn’t hit the ocean with a bucket. But then as the season went along, he turned into a multi-time All-Star who resembles Steve Nash’s game. Not only that, he also lead Atlanta to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021 by knocking off the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

The point is: These games are not the end-all-be-all of player’s careers so let’s pump the brakes on overzealous hot takes. 

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