The 2022 Las Vegas Summer League is officially underway for a week, with plenty of highlights. Several members of the 2022 rookie class started in the desert, including No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr.
It has been contested by top picks, including a matchup between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers, which ended in a sudden death double-overtime. In addition to his rookie debut, Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman made his long-awaited return to NBA action in April 2021 after tearing his right meniscus.
In addition to all the proceedings on the court, the NBA’s Board of Governors has also been busy. The board on Tuesday finalized changes to the Transition Take Foul Rule, which grants free throws to the team that is fouled.
The league made the play-in tournament a permanent fixture until Tuesday, voting to retain the four elimination games after two successful seasons.
What has been the biggest surprise so far? What about the biggest disappointment? Did the NBA get it right by adding a new penalty? Our insiders break down the biggest story during the first week in Las Vegas.
More: The latest on Wiseman’s return, rookie contract extensions, and more
1. What has been the biggest surprise so far?
Dave McMenamin: Two sudden death double-overtime games… and the way each was received by the crowd. I was at Thomas & Mack for both the Orlando Magic’s double-OT win over the Kings and the Charlotte Hornets’ double-OT win over the Lakers and one didn’t like the other. The magic victory was in the middle of the day and the crowd was mad with excitement. Easily the best atmosphere I’ve seen at a Vegas event in over a decade. On the other hand, the crowd was fit in the Hornets’ victory. It was the last game of the night and most of the Lakers pro crowd just wanted to end it so they could hit the casino.
Bobby Marks: Crowd. COVID-19 canceled all Summer League games in 2020 and had an impact on attendance last year. Given the size of the crowd, not only in the first few days but throughout the week of play, the NBA is back where it was before the pandemic. The Cox Pavilion was close to capacity for almost every game and Thomas & Mack (the larger venue) saw the lower bowl reach full capacity almost every day.
Kendra Andrews: How many second year players are showing. When it comes to covering summer leagues, I can’t offer enough of the sound of “I remember when…” where a lot of sophomores played, but I know they happened. Looking at the Warriors’ Jonathan Cuminga and Moses Moody, and the coaching staff talks about how to use the Summer League to work on their areas of play, they need the Warriors to stay in the league next season. Needing to improve, it’s curious why more teams in Las Vegas don’t want their players in the same scenario. Same goes for how Josh Giddy of the Oklahoma City Thunder used Summer League to build chemistry with Chet Holmgren.
Om Youngmisuke: Mfiondu Kabengele hasn’t had many opportunities with the veteran LA Clippers after being drafted at number 27 overall in 2019. But his physique and game got ready for the Summer League. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 14 points and 9.3 rebounds in his first four games for the Boston Celtics. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Warriors, who played Wiseman and Cuminga in that game.
Andrew Lopez: Houston Rockets rookie Tari Eason has spent most of her time on the floor in Vegas. No. With a lot of eyes on Houston due to Smith being the 3rd overall pick, a good number of people have got to see what even the No.17 overall pick Eason from LSU can do. Through the Rockets’ first four games, Eason averaged 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds with three double-doubles, as well as showing defensive instincts that helped him greatly at the collegiate level.
2. What has been the biggest disappointment so far?
Lopez: That we only got to pick Banchero at No. 1 overall for two matches. Banchero had 40 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocks in those two competitions before the Magic decided to close him for the rest of the summer league. Banchero told reporters that he wanted to continue playing, but was not going to fight magic over the decision. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Banchero became the first No. 1 in the Summer League since John Wall in 2010 to average 20.0 points in two games.
scar: Top five selections in the 2021 draft. Give me the name old school, but have we gotten to the point when players entering their second year in the league get a free pass when it comes to the summer league? Teams would argue that players like Magic Guard Jalen Suggs worked with the Varsity Club in Vegas, but nothing helps development on the court more than the actual action. On the other hand, lottery picks Giddy, Kuminga, Moody’s and Joshua Primo all stood out.
Youngmisuke: Teams deciding to stop playing young stars. It would have been nice to see more players from the second year play and develop. Heck, I understand why teams tend to hold on to their top rookies after the first few games, like Orlando did with Banchero. But I’m old enough to remember when the Lakers had their stellar performances in the Summer League alongside Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso & Co., and fans loved every single minute of it.
Andrews: I was disappointed that we didn’t see some of the top picks this season due to injuries. Jaden Ivey hurt his ankle and was locked up. Dyson Daniels suffered an ankle injury in his first game. Perhaps the most disappointing thing was Shaden Sharpe’s left shoulder injury.
McMenamin: Quick. After sitting all season for Kentucky, the summer league was supposed to be where we finally got to see what Damien Lillard’s new running mate could do against tough competition. Instead, the No 7 pick didn’t play seven minutes into his debut before a small tear in his left labrum caused him to call it off. So, we wait.
3. Who has been the Summer League MVP?
Andrews: Looking at the Kings in Las Vegas and the California Classic, it’s hard not to be excited for No. 4 to pick Keegan Murray. His scoring has been excellent and he has led his team in many tough matches.
scar: It was only a few summer league games, but Murray proved he could play the opening minutes in the NBA right now. Murray scored a 19.7ppg performance at the 2022 California Classic in Las Vegas with 24 points on three to 37% shooting.
McMenamin: May I ask Jason of Beverly Hills for those sweet Summer League championship rings he designed? If we have to pick a player, what about Kabenzele? The Celtics prospect amassed 14 points in four games for Boston on 55.9%, 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists and was stinging all over.
Lopez: New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III will have an affair after putting up 26.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in two games, but since he’s being held off for the rest of the summer league, let’s go to Milwaukee Bucks big man Sandro. Pay attention to Mamukelashvili. In his first four games, Mamukelashvili averages 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds on 48.1% shooting – and 50% from deep. Honorable mention to Mamukelashvili’s teammate Lyndel Wigginton, who has 20 points and 5.5 assists a game from the bench. So maybe we should give Wigginton the fictional Summer League Sixth Man of the Year award?
Youngmisuke: Cam Thomas of the Brooklyn Nets averaged a summer league-leading 28.7 points in three games. He showed the ability to score points several times last season, and could be up for a much bigger role if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are transferred before next season. The Nets would need him to do more than just score and look for more performances like he did in his second summer league game against Philadelphia with 26 points and seven assists.
4. True or False: The NBA Made the Right Call to Penalize Take Fouls and Strengthen Play-In Tournaments?
scar: True with a capital T. The wrong rule change was long overdue, and games should flow at a better pace going forward. Maintaining the play-in tournament was a no brainer. This has not only eliminated the hard-playing teams of the game at the end of the season, but has also helped with the development of youth rosters in Memphis, New Orleans and Minnesota.
McMenamin: truth. Credit where credit is due, the NBA fixed it with these two. However, I would like to see amendments to the play-in tournament so that the teams in the 9th and 10th have to be within a certain amount of the 7th and 8th games to qualify.
Kendrick Perkins explains how the addition of a play-in tournament will add more quality games to the NBA regular season.
Andrews: True as always. Increasing the penalty for a take foul should result in more dunks and speed up the game – all things we must agree, it will make basketball more exciting. For play-in tournaments, not only does it inspire teams from tanking, but it also gives youth teams an idea of what the playoffs feel like.
Youngmisuke: A great truth for both. Take fouls became one of the most annoying things in the game, leaving so many stop-breakaway plays to be exposed. And the play-in tournament has proven to be an exciting layer.
Lopez: Very true. Everyone has been asking for the wrong rule change for some time, so testing the policy in Summer League and then making it a permanent rule change is a big plus. As far as the play-in tournament is concerned, do Pelicans players trade for CJ McCallum on last year’s deadline if there is no play-in? The push for the play-ins led to a first-round playoff berth and boosted the Pelicans’ momentum in the 2022–23 season.
5. Biggest takeaway after a week?
McMenamin: Kudos to Giddy and Thunder. The best way for young players to get better and develop harmony with each other is to play together against the best competition available. Novel concept, isn’t it? The inclusion of Giddy as an emerging sophomore in the Summer League was the exception, not the rule. Smart decision by Oklahoma City.
Lopez: The Thunder is going to experience a huge jump in NBA League Pass viewership. Already equipped with Shai Gilgius-Alexander and Giddy, the Thunder added Holmgren to the mix. He’s already showing what he can do on the offensive end in Utah and Las Vegas. But the question is whether he will be as effective on the defensive end or not. He scored 14 blocks in four games but has at times struggled against the bigger players – namely the Memphis Grizzlies’ 6-7, 275-pounder Kenneth Laughton Jr.
Andrews: 2 pick, Holmgren really impressed me in Las Vegas. There were some question marks over how he would fit into the NBA system. While this is just a summer league, it appears that Holmgren may be made for the NBA. The Thunder — even if they don’t make a monster move this season — will be fun to watch.
Youngmisuke: It must be one heck of a race for rookie of the year with Banchero, Holmgren, and Murray all quickly showing the shine. Speaking of Holmgren, the Thunder can continue to lose a ton of games, but at least they’ll be more enjoyable with him and Giddy.
scar: The race for the rookie of the year honor should be wide open. All the top picks in this year’s class had moments when they were the best players on the court. Like last season when relative underdog Scotty Barnes won top honors, don’t be surprised if Murray receives strong views this year.