The 2019 NBA Summer League will forever be remembered for the earthquake that made a path through Las Vegas on the opening night of play (more on our personal experience with the quake, below). Unfortunately, not even the brilliant play of Brandon Clarke could upstage a magnitude 7.1 earthquake centered in Ridgecrest, California, that was felt strongly in Las Vegas. The rolling quake hit at 8:19 pm, Friday night. The final 7:53 of play in the New Orleans Pelicans / New York Knicks game was canceled. The Orlando Magic / San Antonio Spurs game was halted after three quarters, and the Phoenix / Denver game was called off.  

There were serious questions about whether any games would be played the following day but after two structural engineers declared the sites safe, games did in fact resume on schedule Saturday. The eleven day event culminated with Memphis defeating Minnesota for the Summer League Championship. Brandon Clarke was rightfully named the Most Valuable Player after averaging 14.7 points (55% FG), 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocked shots per game for the Grizzlies.

Brandon Clarke played like a seasoned pro in Las Vegas.  

As we do annually, we offer an extensive look at what REALLY happened in Summer League. Our goal is to cut through the noise and hype of the mass media that pre-determines who they will focus on.

It is important to realize that the player that played the MOST minutes in Summer League did not play 300 minutes total. In general, we have found that “numbers” begin to stabilize at around 300 minutes played. Suffice it to say that any Summer League statistics represent a small sample size.

The Hoop Obsession All Summer League Teams:

First Team: Kendrick Nunn (Miami), Lonnie Walker IV (San Antonio), Brandon Clarke (Memphis), Jock Landale (Milwaukee), Tony Bradley (Utah)

Second Team: Bruce Brown Jr. (Detroit), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans), R.J. Barrett (New York), Ignas Brazdeikis (New York), Mitchell Robinson (New York).

Third Team: Brandon Goodwin - Denver, Gary Trent Jr. (Portland), Antonius Cleveland (Dallas), Mfiondu Kabengele (Clippers), Chris Boucher (Toronto).

MVP: Brandon Clarke - Memphis.

How did the lottery picks perform?

The 2019 NBA Summer League was the first where "load management" made a significant, league-wide, appearance. The latest term for resting players, load management, is gaining steam. Kawhi Leonard won the NBA Championship as the Raptors best player. He played in just 60 of 82 regular season games. Conservative approaches with Joel Embiid, and Harry Giles have recently proven successful. As a fan of basketball, it is hard to stomach missing the opportunity to see players play. But Load management isn't going away. The new generation of players is much more savvy to the "big picture" of their careers. Many seem to view Summer League as a risk.

Some players were recovering from off-season medical procedures. Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Romeo Langford and Cam Reddish fall into that category. Others were victims of the NBA rules regarding draft night trades that included other veteran players. Because some of the trades had not been finalized until as late as July 6th (one day after Las Vegas play started), there were drafted players that were not allowed to practice with their summer teams. Cam Johnson was in this predicament. Jarrett Culver was too. We understand that it would not be fair to the players to just throw them into a game situation without any time to practice with the team and learn plays and defensive schemes. It stinks for the fans, and Commissioner Adam Silver indicated that the NBA must address the issue.

Ja Morant did not play in Summer League. Zion Williamson played nine minutes.

Of the 14 lottery picks, only five players played more than one game. A quick synopsis follows...

Zion Williamson - New Orleans. Zion only played nine minutes before being "shut-down" by the Pelicans.

R.J. Barrett - New York. Barrett was dreadful in his first two games. He literally was a "minus" on our efficiency per-minute scale. However, he adjusted nicely and actually played very well in his final two games. Overall, he was 6 of 21 (28.6%) from beyond the NBA arc. He did display solid decision making. he had a 1.67-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in four games.

DeAndre Hunter - Atlanta. Hunter only played one game, 20 minutes total. in that 20 mins, he scored six points and had four turnovers.

Coby White – Chicago. White really struggled. He did not look like a point guard at all. He shot 3 of 30 from beyond the NBA three-point line, and his assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.26-to-1.

Jaxson Hayes - New Orleans. By now, you have probably seen Hayes' super-insane dunk highlight from Summer League at least 15 times. To be sure, Hayes had a good run in Vegas. He shot 62% FG in his four games. We would rank Hayes among top nine Centers that played this Summer.

Hoop Obsession Top-Ten Centers that played at least 80 mins in 2019 Summer League...(ranked by how they performed in Summer League)

1. Tony Bradley - Utah, 2. Mitchell Robinson - New York, 3. Chris Boucher - Toronto, 4. Jarrett Allen - Brooklyn, 5. Amile Jefferson - Orlando, 6. Daniel Gafford - Chicago, 7. Kevin Hervey - OKC, 8. Alize Johnson - Indiana, 9, Jaxson Hayes - New Orleans, 10. Jared Vanderbilt - Denver.

Rui Hachimura - Washington. Rui Hachimura played in three games and he was as advertised. He is skilled, with the ability to score inside or outside. He made two of his six three-point attempts.

Hachimura played well in Vegas.

Cameron Johnson - Cam was a part of a Draft night trade and he could not join the Suns until July 6th. By then, the team had practiced in a mini-camp without him. The Suns brass felt it was right to hold him out of Summer League.

PJ Washington – Charlotte. Washington did not participate in Summer League due to a sore left foot. The same injury kept Washington out of two NCAA Tournament games in 2019.

Tyler Herro – Miami. Herro received a ton of media coverage during Summer League. He played well but probably not as well as some media outlets would lead you to believe. Herro averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He shot 39% FG, 33% 3-pt.FG, and as advertised, he was virtually automatic at the free throw line. Herro made 24 of 25 foul shots across six games (he played in Sacramento's Summer League prior to Vegas). Herro had a 1.77-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Reaffirmations

It is always great to see a player perform at a level you expect him to perform at. Each year at Summer League we are reminded why we are higher on certain prospects than others. This summer was no exception. Among those that continue to stand out...

Anfernee Simons - Portland. This kid (20 years-old) has a real chance to be a special player in the NBA. He shot 55%FG, and a crazy 64% 3-pt. FG in three games. Simons is a 6'4" shooting guard headed into his second NBA season. He has a quick twitch that he uses to gain space. His accurate jump shot is a weapon. If can figure out how to involve his teammates more, look out. (Video highlights of Simons below)

Mitchell Robinson - New York. Robinson was outstanding in the four games he appeared in. He made 26 of his 30 field goal attempts (86.7% FG)! That is insane! He was also strong as a shot blocker, with 13 swats total for an average of 3.25 per game.

Bruno Caboclo - Memphis. Caboclo is now 23 years old. He is finally hitting his stride. On day two in Vegas, Caboclo scored 19 points (7-9 FG, 2-4 3-pt., 3-4 FT), grabbed five rebounds, and came up with a pair of steals and blocked shots in 22 minutes for the Grizzlies. He is 6'9" but has a 7'7" wingspan. He signed a a multiyear contract with the Grizzlies in February.

Thomas Robinson - People around Sacramento love to repeat that "Thomas Robinson can't play". Certainly, Robinson's career did not meet the lofty expectations that come with being the fifth pick in an NBA Draft (2012). That was a long time ago. In our seemingly unpopular opinion, Robinson, now 28 years old, is better than many present NBA BIGs. Robinson scores near the basket with ease. He runs the floor with power and speed. He out muscles opponents. He shot 60% FG, and 79% FT in Vegas, while gobbling up rebounds at a high rate. If viewed as a Center, which is his only correct position, Robinson can be efficient enough to help a NBA team.

Kennedy Meeks - Meeks played for the Hornets in Las Vegas. We continue to believe there has to be a spot for him in the NBA. He's skilled as a scorer and a rebounder. He plays TEAM basketball.

Kelan Martin - Martin (pictured below) was arguably the best player for the Minnesota summer team that made it to the championship game. In an NBA full of marginal small forwards, Martin is more than capable of holding his own. He shot 40% 3-pt. FG, and had a 1.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Christ Koumadje - While Tacko Fall received the vast majority of attention at Summer League, Koumadje, a fellow GIANT of a man, showed that he deserves to be focused on too. Koumadje, who stands 7'4", played with Philadelphia and he was used sparingly. He totaled 68 minutes in five games. We continue to view Koumadje as the superior prospect when compared to Tacko Fall. ...Koumadje signed an "exhibit 10" contract with the Sixers following Summer League.

Others who played well that we previously believed in: Matt Costello, Carsen Edwards, P.J. Dozier.

Revelations

We love to have our eyes opened to players that we were not hip to...

Todd Withers - Withers caught our attention as a shot-maker for the Pistons. He hit 14 of 25 three-point attempts at Vegas. Withers played in the G-League last season for Grand Rapids. He went undrafted in 2018 out of Queens University.

Javonte Green - The Boston Celtics Summer squad featured Green, a 25 year-old, that went undrafted in 2015. Green jumped off the court as a NBA athlete, making plays that only a few can. He spent the last four seasons playing internationally. He was the MVP of Spain's LEB Silver league in 2016. ...Green signed a partially guaranteed deal with Boston after Summer League.

Yudai Baba - Baba (pictured below) is a 23 year-old Japanese player that was balling with Dallas this Summer. At 6'4", he more than stacks up with NBA guards from a size and athleticism standpoint. He only played 48 minutes for the Mavs in Vegas but each time he hit the court, he looked like he belonged. He has good quickness and broad shoulders. We think he is worth further investigation by NBA teams.

Josh Reaves - Dallas. Reaves, undrafted in 2019 from Penn State, was the Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He looked really comfortable in the Summer League setting. He willingness to guard and his instinctive reactions stood out.

View changers

If a scout is doing it right, the scout should have an altered, more advanced, view of a player each time the player is scouted. Some players that scouts did not buy into in the past will make improvements. It is important for the scout to be honest and acknowledge that a 2018 outlook on a player can be irrelevant in 2019. We changed our feel for a bunch of players over the course of the 8 days we were in Vegas, plus the three days of play in Sacramento...

Lonnie Walker - San Antonio. Walker has more potential to be a player in the NBA than we previously gave him credit for. While we are still not certain that basketball is his true passion, Walker played well enough when called upon to ease such concerns. Walker was the best scorer we saw play in Las Vegas. he had 28 points in 23 minutes in his opening game. His perimeter shooting from deep is still a work in progress but his transition abilities and offensive game, from 15 feet and in, were outstanding.

Antonius Cleveland - Cleveland is still evolving. Now at age 25, he was among the most efficient wings that suited up in Las Vegas. His perimeter shooting will probably never be at a star level but he does enough in all other aspects of the game to be a valuable player. Cleveland spent last season with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League after being one of the last cuts of the Chicago Bulls.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker - New Orleans. "NAW" was simply better than I thought he was. Coming out of Virginia Tech, I thought of him as a late first round pick prospect. Following Summer League and seeing him consistently hit tough shots, I wish I would have projected him as a late lottery pick. Alexander-Walker made 40.6% of his three-point field goals in Vegas.

Chris Chiozza - Houston. Chiozza won me over this summer as a guy that can flat-out run a team. He scores enough to keep defenses honest but mostly he stabilizes a team with his leadership and sixth sense for what his team needs at any given moment.

Moe Wagner - Washington. Wagner lost a bunch of weight and he looks much lighter on his feet.

Robert Williams III - Boston. Williams is better than I thought he would be at this early stage of his career. The second year center for the Boston Celtics was the most efficient player Thursday. Williams scored 16 points (7-9 FG, 2-3 FT), grabbed 16 rebounds, and dished four assists in just 20 minutes.

There were players that we also have given a mental down-tick to. But we are keeping it positive in this blog.

Top fives
80 minutes minimum

Assist-to-turnover ratio: Kadeem Allen - New York, 4.5-to-1, Josh Magette - San Antonio, 4-to-1, Bruce Brown Jr. - Detroit, 3.67-to-1, Roko Rogic - Croatia, 2.78-to-1, Jeremiah Hill - Orlando 2.78-to-1

Points per minute: Lonnie Walker - San Antonio, .877, Carsen Edwards - Boston, .831, Nickeil Alexander Walker - New Orleans, .797, Tony Bradley - Utah, .762, Chris Boucher - Toronto, .744

Rebounds per minute: Tony Bradley - Utah, .500, Zhou Qi - China, .458, Kavell Bigby Williams - New Orleans .451, ,Brandon Clarke - Memphis .446, Eric Mika - Sacramento, .439.

Blocked shots per minute: Donta Hall - Detroit, .131, Mitchell Robinson - New York, .1249, Bruno Fernando - Atlanta, 1.245, Daniel Gafford - Chicago, .112, Zhou Qi - China, .092.

Three-point percentage (15 attempts minimum): Anfernee Simons - Portland, (11-17) 64.7%, Peyton Aldrige - Memphis (9-15) 60%, Ignas Brazdeikis - New York (11-19) 57.9%, Bryce Brown - Sacramento (9-16) 56.2%, Todd Withers - Detroit (14-25) 56%.

Free throw attempts per minute: Jordan Murphy - Minnesota, .345, Chris Boucher - Toronto, .339, Jordan Caroline - Lakers, .336, Kevin Knox - New York, .309, Drew Eubanks - San Antonio, .296.

Nobody was as aggressive as Jordan Murphy was in Las Vegas.  

Trends

China and Croatia were a part of the NBA Las Vegas Summer League for the first time. Each country had a team that played five games. One of the fun things to do was to check the Las Vegas bookmakers' lines on either team. For instance, when Sacramento played China, Sac was a 23 point favorite. ...Bucking the odds, China actually won a game. They beat Charlotte 84-80. Croatia was winless in five games. China went 1-4, being outscored by an average of over 20 point per game.

Building chemistry, even in Summer League, has real value in our opinion. Likewise, winning is good for any fan base, front office, and locker room. The most disturbing trend is that some second-year players either did not play or played in a limited capacity. We think the actual beauty of Summer League is that you can simulate NBA game conditions, thus giving your players valuable experience. Playing to large crowds on nationally televised stages is not something that can be duplicated at the practice facility with your teammates as the opposition.

NBA teams would be wise to stop being so overly protective of 19-22 year-olds. These guys can play back-to-back games without any issues. They are world class athletes. Once they arrive in Las Vegas there are no airplane flights to tire them out. When they are not playing, they are chilling in an air-conditioned five-star resort. Put them out there! Let their strengths and weaknesses be exposed. It is much smarter to do that in the Summer than when games count in the Fall.

They played well in limited minutes

As one veteran scout / agent told us in Las Vegas, "Summer League playing time is all about politics, man." There are many reasons why a player may or may not have played significant minutes during Summer League. Some players simply were not high on a depth chart. Some were injured during play and had their Summer League come to an unexpected premature end. Others were being babied by their parent team. Whatever the reason, there were players that played less than 80 minutes total that deserve some love for how well they played when given the opportunity.

Here are the top 15 efficiency (per minute) ratings of players that played at least 40 minutes but less than 80 minutes: Robert Williams - Boston .932, Chris Koumadje (video highlights below)- Philadelphia .832, Josh Sharma - Utah .821, Tacko Fall - Boston .812, Kennedy Meeks - Charlotte .798, Amida Brimah - Brooklyn .745, Norvel Pelle - Philadelphia .718, Isaiah Hartenstein - Houston .710, Cliff Alexander - Clippers .709, Anfernee Simons - Portland .708, Brandon Ashley - Sacramento .690, Tyler Cavanaugh - New York .682, Raymond Spalding - Phoenix .680, Damien Jones - Golden State .672, Ibrahima Faye - Miami .609.

The Kings angle

Sacramento played three games at home before heading to Las Vegas. The overall effort this year from the rostered players was outstanding. What the team may have lacked in God-given NBA talent and size, it made up for with hustle and enthusiasm. Eric Mika, in particular, impressed with his ability to rebound outside what you might consider to be "his area". If he can become even a bit stronger as a jumper, he would probably finish a much higher percentage at the rim. He missed several point-blank looks that, with renewed focus, and a little more torque from his legs, could be points on the board. Look for Mika to spend time with the Stockton Kings in the G-League (if all goes according to plan).

Hollis Thompson made the Kings Summer team better every time he was in the game. And he should have. He is 28 years-old and a veteran of nearly 300 NBA games. Thompson made 40.9% of his three-point attempts in seven games for Sacramento. He looked very much like a player that could be in the NBA today as a bench Small Forward. Thompson is signed to a contract to play in Germany in 2019-20.

Wenyen Gabriel had some nice moments, going 12 for 29 from the three-point land (41.4%). However, he also had five times as many turnovers as assists and he shot just 51% from the free-throw line. ...Semaj Christon, who really struggled last summer in Las Vegas, playing for Brooklyn, was solid this time around. Criston has NBA speed, and his hustle game was on full display. He made just 5 of 17 three-point attempts (29.4%) but overall he redeemed himself from July of 2018.

Justin James, the Kings second round pick (40th overall), impressed us with his game from about 17 feet, and in. His perimeter deep shooting was a bit sketchy and he turned down some open shots he should have taken. His athleticism was evident. He also seems willing to mix it up inside the paint if necessary. He game grew on us with each successive outing. (See Justin James' highlights from Vegas above). ...Isaiah Pineiro showed that he can be a glue-guy, making hustle plays. He used his broad shoulders to gain space on offense and defense. The 24 year-old University of San Diego graduate never looked over-matched while shooting 54.2% FG, and 87.5% FT. ...Bryce Brown was as advertised. The undrafted rookie from Auburn injected immediate offense with his deep-shooting willingness and ability. He made 9 of 16 three point attempts (56.2%). If Brown can make his game more inclusive of teammates, he has a chance to be an NBA player. He had seven turnovers and only four assists in 85 minutes. ...Kyle Guy, the 55th selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, showed his tremendous feel for the game. He made timely shots and passes throughout his seven games played. Guy had a 1.64-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He certainly is not shy about jacking up three-balls. Guy attempted 52 deep balls, making 18 (34.6%). Guy signed a two-way contract with the Kings. ...Brandon Ashley only played 52 minutes for the Kings but he was actually the most efficient player (on a per-min. basis). We would love to see Ashley given a further opportunity.

Milton Doyle showed an ability to make deep shots when the Kings needed them most. That's as far as we can go with positives from Sacramento's summer players.  

NOTES

The Cosmopolitan was our resort lodging place in Las Vegas. We could not recommend it more highly. Fantastic customer service was the norm, and the rooms (most of which feature a terrace) are well appointed and meticulously clean. The hotel is located at the center of the Strip, featuring several outstanding dining choices. We found the Cosmo pool area to be just right. They played chill music (no obnoxious DJ) and finding a lounger near the pool was never a problem.

The Wicked Spoon buffet at Cosmopolitan redefined, for us, what a buffet is capable of being. Most of the servings come on individual small plates. The pasta dishes in particular, were wonderful. We are looking forward to tasting all that goodness again in December at the G-League Showcase.

We were standing in line at Pok-Pok Chicken at the Cosmo when the earthquake hit. My wife felt it first, and then I noticed too. The quake lasted just long enough to scare us both. It felt like a rolling sensation like we were suddenly on surf boards. The guy next to us in line had never experienced anything like that before and he was viably "shaken" (hahajajaja) by what had just occurred. The whole thing may have last one minute but the entire hotel was buzzing for hours with folks comparing their stories.

We caught the Penn & Teller Show at the Rio during our stay. We could not have been more entertained. The show was mind-blowing but also informative. Penn offers a couple of insights to how some of the "magic" works. His no b-s style resonates with me. Their 1,475 max. occupancy showroom is impressive as well. As a bonus, Penn also plays upright bass. As ticket buyers are getting settled before the show, Penn is playing bass with Mike Jones on piano. Their jazzy set was a perfect accompaniment.

If you love sneakers, Urban Necessities at Fashion Show Mall is a must stop place. Every kind of Jordan shoe you can imagine can be found there. ...For a sweet snack, it is hard to beat District Donuts, Brown Butter Bomb.

We are looking forward to being back in Vegas!

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