The Las Vegas NBA Summer League has come and gone. The Sacramento Kings’ summer league team finished with a disappointing-but-who-cares record of 0-5, earning themselves the honor of having the worst record in Vegas this summer as the only team to finish without a win.
There is, has been, and will be an ongoing debate as to how important summer league basketball actually is, and while I sit firmly on the side of the fence of ‘it matters’ I’m not going to dig deep into that debate right now. If it didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t be writing about it. Consider this blurb a summer league disclaimer. I know that what we saw in Vegas won’t necessarily determine NBA success or failure, but it does give us a little glimpse into what these players are today. Grains of salt, etc.
Skal Labissiere was a huge bright spot for the Kings in Vegas. Our very own Omer Khan did an excellent breakdown of his summer league play already, so I will direct you there for any deeper analysis.
Skal showed us a lot of NBA skills in Vegas. He was a much more confident shooter than I remember him being at Kentucky. He was taking, and making, NBA three-pointers and aside from the fact that he actually hit a few shots from deep, he seemed very willing and comfortable taking that shot.
In the interest of weaving a nice Kings analogy into all of this, Vlade Divac handed Anthony Tolliver a fairly large contract this summer for a lot of reasons, but I would speculate that the biggest being his confidence as a shooter. I love Quincy Acy, and all things considered, I would have preferred Acy at the contract he ended up signing over Tolliver at the contract the Kings gave him, but Acy, a decent three-point shooter, never looked confident with that shot. When he shot it, it went in at a respectable clip, but he doesn’t want to be on the perimeter. He wants to be inside, where he is, admittedly, most effective. Skal, to me, looked very comfortable doing both, and that is exciting.
Skal’s excitement is infectious. He smiled his way through every media session, and looked genuinely humbled by everything. His attitude is so positive, and his skill level is already so high, that it’s hard to temper excitement about what he can be. A great attitude plus a high skill level is a pretty good combination for NBA success.
I’m going to try and predict ‘NBA readiness’ which is a hard and somewhat absurd task after five summer league games, but for Skal, I just have no idea. At times, despite his high skill level, he looked overmatched inside, particularly on the glass. He’s young, he needs to add some weight, and he needs to develop a few go-to moves. In Vegas, it almost seemed like Skal was scoring by accident. I don’t want to diminish his play, but I often said in my head ‘how did that go in?’ or ‘what was that?’ and I do think that speaks to his awesome soft touch around the rim. He can finish plays from awkward positions, but I think, in the NBA, he’s going to need a more purposeful approach offensively. He’s exciting. You should be excited.
Malachi Richardson’s summer is a little harder to evaluate. He missed some time due to the NBA’s season calendar, as the trade that brought him to the Kings couldn’t be officially completed until after the Kings had run numerous practices. Richardson fell behind in that regard. It’s unfortunate, but there is nothing anyone could do about it.
When he did play, he looked fine. There were questions about his shot selection coming out of college, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (.361 FG%), I didn’t see the unconscious chucker he was billed as. If anything, I would have liked to see a little more offensive aggression. His outside shot looks good. His defense was mostly good. In a game against the New Orleans Pelicans, he really made Buddy Hield’s life miserable, and seeing his ability to lock down and focus for a high profile matchup was a huge positive. Outside of that Hield game, I thought his pretty average defense was a overall good sign for Vegas standards.
He does seem the most NBA ready out of the Kings’ three first round picks, and I say that in large part because he has a defined position, and the physical attributes to play that position in the NBA from day one. Skal had a more impressive summer, yes, but I do worry about his body and inexperience at the next level in his rookie year. I wouldn’t expect huge contributions from Richardson next season, but I saw no reason why the Kings can’t play him on the wing in some role.
Georgios Papagiannis has a lot of work ahead of him. Outside of the traditional summer league caveat, he also suffered from ‘left knee stiffness’ throughout his experience in Vegas, so, just keep that in mind.
At his worst, he looked slow, plodding, lost, and lacking any offensive awareness. I don’t think we saw him pass out of the post more than three times in five games. Every postup attempt was an adventure. A long, unsuccessful adventure.
At his best, he was a really large man in a league with a lot of large-but-less-large men. He looked more ready defensively than offensively. He was late on a lot of help defense assignments, but he made good reads. He was helping, he was trying to contest shots at the rim, and it was somewhat successful. If he can improve on his athleticism, get healthy, make slightly quicker defensive reads, he can be a force on that end sooner than later. Papa moves well for a man his size, but not quite well enough for how fast the NBA is right now. He carved up a lot of space on the glass, but rarely grabbed a rebound out of his area, so a little more rebounding aggression would have been nice to see.
He just needs so much work offensively. I don’t know how or where you play him on that end in year one if you’re Dave Joerger. Without passing long-term judgment, it was a rough summer league for Papagiannis. the physical tools seem there, but he’s got a long way to go.
Isaiah Cousins suffered a groin strain that caused him to miss most of summer league, and for a 2nd round pick with an unguaranteed contract, that may have cost him his spot on the Kings’ roster next season. He appeared in two games, and I thought he looked considerably better than his Vegas numbers suggest, but I don’t know if he showed enough to make the Kings’ final roster considering they desperately need to add another point guard and they need the roster spot.
Cousins ran point, and he did so in a very Ray McCallum manner, which is to say, not a spectacular shot creator but competent at getting the offensive set moving. He didn’t look all that dynamic as a transition guard, or as a pace-pusher, but I’m not privy to how Joerger wanted his team to play. I like what I think Cousins can be, which is the worst analysis ever. I’m comfortable admitting that. But I see Cousins as a bit of a combo guard at the next level. He has enough size for an NBA shooting guard, and he didn’t show it in Vegas, but he can shoot the three. His defense, from the two games we saw in Vegas, looked fine-to-good, but really, Cousins’ summer was harder to evaluate than anyone else. Two games plus a groin injury doesn’t give you a lot to work with.
As far as some of the non-draftees are concerned, I once again liked what we saw out of Duje Dukan. He can really shoot the ball, and if he made any progression from last year, he seemed a little more aggressive this time around. With that kind of stroke, you want him shooting from deep whenever he’s open, and he did that in Vegas this year. Despite my love for his shooting ability, I just don’t know that he does enough of anything else to play in the NBA.
Jarrod Uthoff had some solid moments. He made quite a few buckets that looked like confident NBA shots. One Dirk Nowitzki-esque step back immediately comes to mind. I liked what I saw from what little we saw. He can score.
David Stockton was David Stockton, which is to say the Kings should sign him as their permanent summer league point guard. The offense looked so much better whenever he was on the floor. He shot the ball well, he scored inside with a lot of contact on multiple occasions, but we sort of know his ceiling at this point. I’d like to see him get an NBA opportunity, but I don’t know if it’s going to be in Sacramento next season.