While the NBA Summer League is a land of opportunity, it comes with a small margin of error.
There are quite a handful of tournaments within the summer league circuit, but the Las Vegas Summer League is the one where every team puts all of their efforts in. With only five guaranteed games for each team, any time spent on the court is material to the futures of these players.
The likes of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and even Cam “Mr. Sudden Death” Thomas are very much secure despite any hitches in their summer league stints so here are some that are playing for their NBA lives who we believe deserve a second look even from other teams.
Disclaimer: The players mentioned below won’t include first round picks and sophomores/players with fully guaranteed contracts. Some of these players are playing on non-guaranteed contracts that can easily be waived by their respective front offices. Teams in parenthesis would be the player’s current summer league team.
Antonio Blakeney (Portland Trail Blazers)
Summer League is usually a time where despite their best efforts, players jack up shots percentages be damned. Such was not the case for Antonio Blakeney.
Blakeney, who has spent time with the Chicago Bulls and the G-League’s Canton/Cleveland Charge, averaged 16.0 points on .581/.400/1.00 shooting splits. Sure, he cooled off from his 27-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets and didn’t get to the line as much in those four games, but he nevertheless remained a threat in a Portland Trail Blazer squad that had much more inconsistent players on offense. The shooting numbers would likely have gone down if there were even more games in play, but he does fill a need for any squad needing a serviceable scorer when given minutes.
Unfortunately, the Blazers are stacked in terms of scoring guards so Blakeney may be able to showcase his talents elsewhere unless the Blazers move on from one of their bench players.
Emmanuel Mudiay (Portland Trail Blazers)
Expectations were high for Emmanuel Mudiay after he was selected by the Denver Nuggets with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but inconsistency made it hard for him to find solid footing early on in his career. He has, however, shown more stability in his summer league stint so far with Portland.
Through four games, Mudiay has shown his ability to lead an offense with both his shot-making and passing ability. Averaging 9.3 points and 7.0 assists, he has been able to show that he is capable of mixing things up and has developed some chemistry with teammates he may have just met a little over a week ago. He does come off as a score-first guard, but his passing has opened things up for him even in tight spaces and despite sub-par 3-point shooting (.250).
Unlike Blakeney, Mudiay has a shot at cracking the roster especially as someone who is capable of running an offense. It would allow the likes of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, and even Anfrenee Simons to serve as off-the-ball threats even if it’s just for certain stretches in the game.
Lamar Stevens (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Unlike most of the guys on this list, Lamar Stevens has a live NBA contract. But just like his peers, he’s playing for his career as well. Despite signing a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of his salary following the 2020-2021 season is not fully guaranteed.
His play in Las Vegas, however, should make the Cavaliers guarantee his contract at least for this season.
The former Penn State Nittany Lions averaged 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in a team with Isaac Okoro and this year’s third overall pick in Evan Mobley. That, along with some solid two-way ability has helped him stay on the floor, increasing more opportunities for Cavs fans to see highlights like this.
Moving forward, he will have to tighten his handle and improve on his free throw shooting as NBA defenses will not likely give him anything easy.
Gary Payton II (Golden State Warriors)
As the son of one of the great defensive guards in the league, Gary Payton II continues to live up to his name even in the summer league. He currently averages 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals through four games, solid numbers even for a small guard. Despite not being known as a scorer, he does make the most out of his opportunities as he has averaged 11.3 points on .737 field goal shooting.
Like Stevens, he has a live contact with the Golden State Warriors and his defense could help convince the Warriors to pick up his contract. Having him play alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green could help heighten the defensive pressure and even cover for Curry when needed. In Las Vegas he has already developed some chemistry with lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody so regardless of his role, he has already gotten the feel of his potential future teammates.
Jaylen Morris (San Antonio Spurs)
The current edition of the San Antonio Spurs are not the same ones the older generation may have been raving about, but this roster nevertheless remains competitive. Jaylen Morris definitely fits the bill for this squad.
After bouncing around the G-League and in Europe, Morris has shown that he could be a valuable rotation piece for the Spurs. Averaging 16.0 points on insane and maybe unsustainable .625/.500/.833 shooting splits, he has proven that he has clearly gotten over the injury that forced San Antonio’s G-League affiliate to release him earlier this year. His ability to score through contact and even when contested will certainly help with a squad that will look for more threats on offense now that Demar Derozan and Rudy Gay have moved on to other teams.
The small yet crucial window that the NBA Summer League provides could be a game changer for the lives of these players. Not making an NBA roster is not necessarily the end of the world as players who take part in the summer league festivities are usually offered spots on G-League rosters or other opportunities in Europe and other countries.
And in a time when things still remain uncertain, that sense of security still matters.