The first three days of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas were sold out, with fans from all 30 teams filling UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Centre to see the rookies and rising stars compete. During the 11-day tournament, 140,000 people attended, and the Cleveland Cavaliers won the final by defeating the Houston Rockets, 99-78. Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 choice in the draught, played only two games, with his second game eclipsing his debut. After being selected with the 20th choice in the NBA Draught on June 22, Rockets guard Cam Whitmore was named MVP.
There were outstanding performances from NBA rookies and a few second-year players, as well as dismal results from established clubs and a few rebuilding teams. Check out the 2023 NBA Summer League champions and losers:
Who Are the Winners of the NBA Summer League?
The Cavaliers are the Summer League champions, their first since a tournament system was adopted in 2013. Second-year forward Isaiah Mobley was awarded the game’s MVP after scoring 28 points (12-for-20 from the floor), grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing out three assists. Mobley, the older brother of Cavs centre Evan Mobley, was selected 49th overall in the 2022 draught. The 6-8 forward had a fantastic tournament, guiding Cleveland to the title game in the closing minutes against Brooklyn while scoring 27 points, grabbing seven rebounds, assisting on five shots, and blocking two shots. After being passed over for Summer League All-Tournament honours, Mobley wanted to prove himself.
Sam Merrill and Emoni Bates, Mobley’s teammates, were chosen to the All-Summer League squads. Merrill, a former Utah State guard, was the tournament’s best shooter, connecting on 25 three-pointers (the most by any player since 2017). In the last game, he ended with 27 points (6-for-12 from 3-point shooting), four rebounds, and two assists.
After a dismal collegiate career at Memphis and Eastern Michigan, Bates was the 49th choice in the 2023 draught and looked fantastic. He made several excellent plays, hit the three-pointer effectively, guarded the perimeter, chased down blocks, and made some beautiful passes. Bates averaged 18.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, with his finest game coming in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, when he tallied 21 points (including five three-pointers), and he scored in double figures in every game he played in Vegas.
Cam Whitmore and the Houston Rockets
The Rockets fell short of the title, but the organisation appears to be on the right track, as seen by second-year forward Jabari Smith Jr. and Houston’s two first-round choices this year, Amen Thompson and Whitmore.
Whitmore was a top-five prospect during his one year at Villanova before falling to No. 20 on the night, purportedly due to clubs’ worries about his medical report during the pre-draft process.
Whitmore dispelled any qualms by averaging 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in six games during Summer League.
Smith was the third overall choice in last year’s draught and was probably Houston’s best player in the opening two games. He scored the game-winning shot at the buzzer in the first game against the Portland Trail Blazers and topped all players with 37 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the second game. He scored 71 points on 49% shooting in two games.
For the first couple of games, the Rockets used a slew of ball-dominant playmakers (Whitmore, Thompson, and Tari Eason), and it worked. Players were selfless, and the ball moved well, allowing for open opportunities. This is a promising indicator for the forthcoming season.
Outside of Mobley and Smith, a few second-year players stood out, notably Smith’s teammate, Eason. Eason was the 17th overall choice in the 2022 draught and averaged 23 points, 9.5 rebounds, and four assists in two games with Smith. The pair appeared to be at ease in offensive sets and knew where they would be on the court. Eason and Smith combined for 64 of the 113 points in the second game.
The Miami Heat have a knack for unearthing undrafted talents, and Orlando Robinson seems to be the next. After averaging 25.8 points on 58% shooting, 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals, the former Fresno State centre was chosen to the All-Summer League first team. In every game he played, he topped all Heat players in scoring, with his greatest performance coming in a win over the Celtics, when he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists.
Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 choice in the 2022 draught, returned to the floor for the Oklahoma City Thunder in a pair of games after missing the whole 2022-23 season due to a foot ailment. He appeared relaxed, in good form, and ran the floor effectively despite taking so much time off. Holmgren averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in just two games. Tre Mann, Holmgren’s teammate, only played one game (the first), and he needed just one for the best poster dunk of the tournament.
Other NBA Rookies Who Stand Out
In his second game, Wembanyama led all Spurs players with 27 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and one steal in an 85-80 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Every time Wembanyama touched the ball, the sold-out audience held their breath. He did it everything on the floor, taking guys off the dribble, slipping in for putback dunks, tipping boards, pushing the break, and even making two of his four 3-point tries.
Amen Thompson missed one game due to an ankle injury, but twin brother Ausar Thompson (the No. 5 choice in the draught) improved with each appearance for the Detroit Pistons. Over four games, the Overtime Elite alum was the top rebounding guard on the field, averaging 10 rebounds. He provided a solid compliment to Jaden Ivey in the backcourt in the first two games, cutting nicely off the ball and getting into the paint off his first stride on the perimeter. Thompson averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.3 steals per game while making great defensive stops, such as not letting opponents to round the corner and coming over for the weak-side block.
Thompson’s companion, Marcus Sasser, picked up where Ivey and Thompson left off (after being suspended) and put up insane numbers in a victory against the Pacers.
Keyonte George was picked with the 16th overall pick by the Utah Jazz, and the Baylor guard was one of the most offensively effective rookies in his first three games. George had an amazing debut with the Jazz, scoring 33 points and dishing out 10 assists while shooting from all over the floor (including six 3-pointers). George strained his ankle during the Jazz’s third game and was forced to miss the rest of the tournament. George was chosen to the All-Summer League first team after his first two games.
The Orlando Magic did not win a single game during Summer League, but Anthony Black (the No. 6 pick in the draught) looked excellent and showed incredible ability. His passing is excellent, and his 6-7 size allows him to look over players and get the ball into space. In three games, Black averaged 11 points, 8.7 rebounds, and four assists, earning high praise from Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey, who tweeted, “This kid is very very good.”
You might also be interested in reading this: Best NBA Rookies in the Summer League of 2023
Who Are the Losers of the NBA Summer League?
The Hornets used three of their draught picks on one-and-done freshmen and acquired 18-year-old James Nnaji, who had played overseas for FC Barcelona, in a trade on draught night.
There was a lot of youth and inexperience on the court, and despite the fact that both Brandon Miller (No. 2 pick in the draught) and Nick Smith Jr. (No. 27 pick in the draught) played AAU basketball together two years ago, they both admitted that the same on-court chemistry isn’t there after playing in different college systems.
The Hornets’ Summer League team lacked a real floor general and facilitator, and it showed. Miller struggled offensively for Charlotte, averaging 17.3 points in three games but shooting only 35.4% from the field and 26% from 3-point range.
Once the regular season begins and seasoned players like LaMelo Ball are slotted in with Charlotte’s young, promising rookies, a lot may happen.
Golden State Warriors
While Warriors star Stephen Curry was busy winning the American Century Championship and hitting a hole-in-one on the golf course, his team didn’t quite deliver in Summer League. The Warriors failed not win a single game and were outscored by an average of 8.2 points each game. Brandin Podziemski, the Warriors’ first-round pick, showed a lot of potential and promise but struggled to get anything going offensively, shooting 3-for-10 from the field and 1-for-4 from three in his debut and made only one of ten attempts against the Pelicans.
Fans shouldn’t be too anxious because the former Santa Clara guard contributes to the game in a variety of ways due to his high IQ and hard work.
Orlando did not have a single-picked player on its Summer League roster, with the exception of Caleb Houston, who was the No. 32 pick in last year’s lottery (Warriors). All five games were decided by an average of 14 points, with the worst deficits coming in 88-71 defeats to the Portland Trail Blazers and 94-77 defeats to the Boston Celtics. Howard, a 6-7 shooting guard from Michigan who was selected 11th overall, averaged 13.3 points and 3.3 assists per game.
The Magic suspended both of their lottery picks (Black and Jett Howard) after three games, and with the exception of Caleb Houston, who was the No. 32 selection in last year’s draught (Warriors), Orlando didn’t have a single selected player on their Summer League squad. The squad fell by an average of 14 points in all five games, with the worst deficits coming in 88-71 defeats to the Portland Trail Blazers and 94-77 losses to the Boston Celtics.
Howard, a 6-7 shooting guard from Michigan and the No. 11 overall choice in the draught averaged 13.3 points (40 percent from three) and 3.3 assists per game. The Magic’s major goal appears to have been to get its young draught prospects reps and keep them healthy before shutting them down halfway through the tournament.
So here are the winners and losers of the NBA summer league. Do let us know your views.