Rookies get most, if not all the shine during the annual summer league festivities and rightly so. This year’s rookies in Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, and Jalen Suggs have gotten their feet wet in Las Vegas and wasted no time in showing that they are part of the league’s bright future.
But summer league is more than a rookie showcase; the annual preseason affair is an opportunity for sophomores to showcase what a year of seasoning has done for them so far. Some will come out with a renewed confidence that will see them take leadership roles on their respective summer league teams. Others will remain inconsistent and could raise some concerns for their front offices.
In the case of the New York Knicks’ Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, there was no better time to show their development than in Las Vegas.
Toppin was the higher picked rookie, but it was Quickley that quickly found a role with the Knicks off the bench. His ability to score in bunches and at the same time provide production off the bench helped him earn minutes for a typically rookie-averse coach in Tom Thibodeau.
Quickley carried this over to this year’s summer league, where he is currently averaging 23.5 points, 8.0 assists, and 2.0 steals. His offensive arsenal continues to expand and it was very much evident in his strong performance in the 94-86 win over the Indiana Pacers.
With Julius Randle taking a lion’s share of the minutes at the 4-spot, Toppin struggled to find consistent playing time but his performances in Las Vegas have shown that he has been working on different areas in his game. Currently averaging 23.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in two summer league contests, the 2020 consensus First-Team All-American has looked more confident shooting the ball and has displayed the aggressiveness that helped solidify his case as the 2020 Naismith College Player of the Year.
Quickley and Toppin have also shown the chemistry they’ve developed over the course of last season and regardless of the size of their role in 2021-2022, they will certainly provide depth to a Knicks squad looking to build on a surprise playoff run last season.
Unlike Quickley and Toppin, Malachi Flynn will have to find minutes in a backcourt with Fred Vanvleet, Goran Dragic, and Gary Trent Jr. With his 23-point performance against the Knicks, the Toronto Raptors’ decision just got harder.
Flynn scored on tough layups and jumpshots from all over the floor, clearly showing the ease with which he can generate his own offense. He only had one assist to show for in the win against New York, but his time starting for the injured Fred Vanvleet has shown that he is capable of running the offense at the NBA level.
The Memphis Grizzlies must be happy with what they have seen so far with Desmond Bane, and they should get even more excited after his showing in this summer league. Facing NBA defenses must’ve toughened up Bane, who easily knocked down six 3-pointers against the Brooklyn Nets summer league squad. Apart from shooting, Bane also showed other facets of his game, as he looked more comfortable driving to the basket.
The likes of the Boston Celtics’ Payton Pritchard, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Isaac Okoro, Milwaukee Bucks’ Jordan Nwora, Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey, San Antonio Spurs’ Devin Vassell, Phoenix Suns’ Jalen Smith, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Theo Maledon were also able to strut their wares with a season under their belts and they have so far come up with solid performances.
Players just looking to stick with a team has also become a recurring theme in summer league. It’s not uncommon to see familiar names from years past reappear on summer league rosters with the goal of cracking opening day lineups.
Names like Michael Beasley, Kennth Faried, and Antonio Blakeney have resurfaced and while only Blakeney has lit up the scoreboard so far, teams would be interested to see how they fit in with certain lineups. LiAngelo Ball has also made headlines and has shown he is more than just the middle Ball brother. He’s so far making 50 percent of his 3-pointers, but consistency and how he adjusts to a more perimeter-oriented role could decide whether he gets a training camp invite.
As mentioned before, the summer league is not the only barometer through which to judge players, but it can certainly show who to keep an extra eye on. There are those with erratic performances that end up shining and having productive careers. Meanwhile, those who have had stellar summer league games have also struggled once they reach the NBA itself. While it may happen behind closed doors, summer league coaches can also give a word out to their contacts and in turn provide opportunities that may not have been available even with a strong performance on the court.
All things considered, the Las Vegas Summer League is a land of opportunity for players. Strong summer league performances will get them to the door, and for some, that’s all they need to prove they belong in the league.