The 2021 NBA Summer League was packed to the brim with stars of the NBL. Some were fighting for a spot on an NBA roster, while others were looking to show their coaches why they deserve greater court time.
Untimely injuries, bench-warming shenanigans and mouth-watering plays awaited keen viewers keeping an eye on their favourites across a week and a half in Las Vegas.
The Inner Sanctum has the most comprehensive wrap-up team by team on every Australian and NBL player who made waves in the NBA Summer League this year.
Josh Green spent more time on the Dallas Mavericks’ Instagram feed then he did on the court in the Summer League.
Due to Green’s Olympic contribution, he was exempt from playing in the Summer League.
It is yet to be determined if the decision not to play was made by Green or the Mavericks, regardless he should have made it his mission to get some precious minutes under his belt.
Green struggled to get off the mark in his rookie season in Dallas, playing just under half of the 82 games and averaging an underwhelming 2.6 points per game in 11.6 minutes of action.
A lot of factors contributed to this: Dallas’ depth in the wing position, COVID outbreaks that took its toll on the Mavs in the early stages of the season and the demotion to the G-League bubble early in the season.
Due to the restrictions last season, Green was robbed of a rookie Summer League debut. It’s been clear to see how much of an effect that has had on not only Green, but the rest of the 2020 rookie class.
The Summer League is incredibly crucial for developing these future stars as they begin to come to grips with all their new surroundings, and can help to develop a further knowledge of NBA play-styles and rules.
For Green, a good showing in the Summer League could have turned the head of incoming coach and Dallas legend Jason Kidd.
Dallas has had a busy off-season and have added some much needed depth to the wing position with Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown signing on, whilst retaining the services of Tim Hardaway Jr as the irreplaceable Dorian Finney-Smith remains on the roster.
Green is likely to remain as a backup if any of those wings would go down. He has proven in the past that he is a high energy player that can swing the momentum of a game on both sides of the ball.
The question now for Green is if he can manage to crack the rotation in order to show his athletic skill-set to the Dallas coaching staff.
Aussie NBA fans looking for Green to have a breakout season will have to hold their breath, as it looks like it will be another slow season for the guard who will struggle to find a consistent role at the Mavericks.
However, on the back of the Boomer’s historic bronze medal at the Olympics, Green should be rejuvenated and full of confidence as he heads into his second season in the NBA with Dallas looking to push the new signings out of the rotation.
Matur Maker made the most of the small minutes he got during the Summer League with the Denver Nuggets.
It was difficult for Maker to build consistency in his game and get into a rhythm due to this. It also forced him at times to make plays and force up shots in order to showcase his skills for NBA teams to see.
While his minutes were limited and would only get small stretches of game time, Maker did show off his versatility.
Maker’s offensive skill set – while it still needs some work – has many elements that make him difficult to match up on. He showed an ability to space the floor and was a decent shooter from mid range and three. He also was not afraid to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket which is an unusual skill for a 6’10” power forward/centre.
Maker is bursting with raw talent, but his defensive skill set does need refining.
When defending on the perimeter he would easily be beaten by smaller players who were much quicker. On the inside he’s in an awkward position as he lacked the size and strength to match up against big centres.
Maker was an active rebounder, which allows him to amass defensive rebounds and create second chance opportunities on offence.
A glowing weakness in Maker’s game is his inability to finish with contact, which often resulted in many shots in the paint not falling.
He was also somewhat predictable at times when he would shoot, which made it easier for the defence to defend his attempts. He did however show an ability to draw fouls, with defenders sometimes over-committing on the contact due to having to combat his 7’2″ wingspan.
Over the Summer League, Makers best outing was against Milwaukee on August 16, where he scored nine points on 100 per cent shooting and grabbed two offensive boards.
At only 22 years of age, Maker will most likely get another roster spot on a G-League team on his potential alone.
Golden State Warriors
Jessup has been given all the minutes he can handle during Summer League with the Warriors.
The forward has a good outlook on the potential Warriors roster with his ability to space the floor and also defend well on and off-ball.
He averaged 27 minutes per game, and put up 12.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He was ultra-impressive as a shooter, going at 42 per cent from beyond the arc, and was an overall plus-seven in his time on the court for the Warriors which means he contributed to the wins.
Jessup is 23-years-old, and after being drafted late in the second round by the Warriors could play a decent role on the team going forward.
As he showcased in his time with the Illawarra Hawks, he can hit the three and defend at a high level, so there’s huge upside for him to contribute to a playoff-bound team in the stacked Western Conference.
We all know what Space Cam is capable of, as he showed in Cairns but also with his end-of-season stint with the Houston Rockets last season.
During that patch of game-time, Oliver was dominant on the glass and in the air, and became a potent offensive partner for Kevin Porter Jr., who was able to find him in transition and way up in the air for some awesome highlights.
Playing for the Warriors, Oliver wasn’t given a great deal of opportunity and might have had more fortune playing for another franchise in Summer League.
In his five games, he averaged just under 15 minutes off the bench and put up seven points, six rebounds and a block-and-a-half on 52 per cent shooting from the field.
The 25-year-old from Oakland would have loved to get a contract with his hometown NBA team, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. The NBA-level big-man could be given opportunities when the season begins and teams start searching for another option at centre.
Now colloquially known as the ‘million-dollar man’ after hitting the tournament-winning shot in the annual Basketball Tournament, Sykes was immediately signed by the Pacers on the same night.
As the Pacers’ games wore on, Sykes was given more and more responsibility on court.
His first game against the Atlanta Hawks saw him enter the game off the bench in the first half, earning 19 and a half minutes court time. The South East Melbourne Phoenix star was given the task of playing a highly defensive role as the one.
Sykes harassed Sharife Cooper all game long, keeping the ball pressure up and drawing fouls. Cooper would finish the match with five personals. While Cooper finished with an equal game high 21 points, Sykes kept his plus/minus limited to just +1, while finishing +22 of his own.
As he does so well at the Phoenix, Sykes was given the opportunity at times to run the floor as well. He didn’t directly impact the stats sheet, but his ball handling was crucial.
With his confidence growing, Sykes was given more license to get back to his shooting best in the next three matches. His second game against the Portland Trail Blazers, saw him start for the first time.
His ball handling was smooth early, and he knocked down a couple of rebounds (including an offensive board) to come out of the blocks firing. Spending 21 minutes on court, Sykes would shoot a modest nine points at 66 per cent to go with his four rebounds.
The match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder was where the magic began to happen. Given the post of starting point guard once again, Sykes’ shooting went up another notch again, hitting 14 points at 60 per cent.
This would be then followed up by another 12 point, three steal, two rebound and two assist game in the win over the Washington Wizards.
Now we’re not saying Sykes starting had anything to do with the Pacers three game winning streak… but it could certainly have been a factor. Shooting, defence and using his strong vision and read of the play could go a long way to seeing him earn some NBA court time come season proper.
The big man from the Brisbane Bullets took a while to warm up to the sweltering Nevada desert temperatures in his Summer League stint.
After a serviceable NBL 2020-21 campaign which saw him average 10 points and 3.73 rebounds, Johnson had a point to prove at NBA level after being chopped and changed around teams across the States over the past three years.
He worked himself slowly into the Summer League after his first 10 minutes on court against the Hawks. His passing and shooting looked on point, putting up a six point, one rebound, one steal stat line.
The fact that he racked up more fouls than boards was telling however, caught slipping more than once under the rim by his direct opponent.
Against the Blazers, just like his teammate Keifer, Johnson enjoyed the opportunity to start on court. While some of his early ball handling was a tad sloppy, he worked through it quickly as hit a huge three ball and racked up the defensive rebounds.
Johnson would finish the game with 11 points at 50 per cent, six rebounds and a block.
Starting on court again against the Thunder, the forward couldn’t find his footing when shooting quite as well, putting up six points at 42.9 per cent. His five rebounds (four defensive) continued to let him demonstrate his strength on the inside.
In his final outing against the Wizards, Johnson once again played more of a supporting act to the likes of Cassius Stanley (19 points, seven rebounds) and Isaiah Jackson (11 points, seven rebounds) with two assists of his own.
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Los Angeles Lakers
The American-born former Brisbane Bullet was lucky enough to secure a spot on the famous Lakers Summer League roster, getting great playing time during the recent tournament.
Having tried out for the Orlando Magic and playing in the G League before coming to Brisbane, Law gave a very impressive showing at the tournament as he gave consistently strong performances as a forward.
Despite a poor initial shooting night against the Suns, where his seven rebounds were offset by not being able to land a shot, Law came out in a mood against the New York Knicks and knocked down 14 points to show his versatility. Two three-pointers helped bolster his case as a potential NBA package going forward, shooting at 55 per cent from the floor and 33 per cent from beyond the arc.
Now in a strong vein of form, Law powered on to land 15 points against the Clippers, leading the Lakers for scoring that night. Three threes from five attempts was the highlight of his stat line, but eight rebounds (including three offensive boards) proved his ability to have an impact on both ends of the court.
To finish off the tournament, the Bullets forward left the tournament with one last impressive display, nearly finishing with a double-double as he pulled down nine boards to go with his 11 points, including another three.
It still may not be enough for Law to go one step further than his time spent at the Magic and secure a spot on an NBA roster, but the Brisbane forward at least did his best to catch the eye of some scouts looking for a dangerous forward option.
During Ben Moore’s Summer League campaign with the Grizzlies, he showcased the skills and talent he is known for, with his high energy play and excellent athleticism.
No one can question the passion and tenacity he brings each time he steps on the floor, where he was an excellent competitor and did a lot of small things which helped his team, such as hustling for loose balls and setting screens.
Moore’s rebounding may be his best attribute, fighting hard for second chance opportunities on the offensive ends. This was shown in an August 15 game against the Chicago Bulls where Moore had seven offensive rebounds.
He is also a strong finisher inside, where his athleticism and strong motor serves him well to keep attacking the basket.
Moore was not afforded many opportunities on the offensive end, where the offense would rarely be played through him only getting a handful of shot attempts per game.
Moore still needs to work on his shooting which is a weakness in his game. His free throw shooting can be inconsistent, where in some games he is able to make them with ease and other games he couldn’t buy a bucket, going one of five against Sacramento on August 13.
His lack of a three ball can cause spacing issues, and is not well suited to the modern day NBA, especially with Moore being 6’9″ with the body of a small forward but a skill set more suited to a forward/centre.
Moore would be a good fit back in the NBL where his hard-nosed playing style is well suited to the league and he will be given more opportunities. There is a chance he may get another opportunity in the G-League, where he has performed strongly in the past for the Austin Spurs and Fort Wayne Mad Ants, but his role will be significantly reduced.
Fresh off bringing an NBA Championship to the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee decided it wouldn’t savage the league and back the trophy up with a Summer League championship in Vegas.
As a result, the team played John Mooney for one game off the bench for the entirety of the tournament. They won that game, then proceeded to lose the rest of them and went 0-4 when Mooney didn’t suit up. Unsurprising.
Mooney played 11:46 off the bench in their first hit-out, mostly at the centre position. In that time, he dominated the boards as we’ve come to expect from him with six rebounds, and added two points.
He was really impressive defensively where-in he picked up two steals off some active hands as guards tried to force the ball inside. He made life difficult for guards in switches, and used his frame to good effect down low against opposing bigs.
The Bucks won that game 81-78 against the Clippers, decided to tank the rest of the campaign, and sat the 23-year-old for the remainder of Vegas trip.
Mooney has already announced his departure from the Perth Wildcats, taking his immense ability to Japan with Chiba Jets Funabashi because the Milwaukee Bucks don’t deserve him.
New Orleans Pelicans
The former Sydney Kings guard was picked up by the Pelicans, who gave him plenty of time on court in the NBA Summer League to show his worth.
Louzada never really put his name forward for a prominent spot on the roster, but was a consistent presence in the team dynamics throughout the entire tournament.
The Brazilian’s best outing came in his first game against the Bulls, where he pulled down six defensive rebounds to go with two steals and three assists, as well as three points from the floor. The key stat was his work as a teammate, finishing with a +18 line that proved his valuable presence to the Pelicans going forward.
Although Louzada never passed 10 points, he was consistent in providing necessary baskets when called upon.
His best shooting night came against Josh Giddey’s OKC, where he shot at 50 per cent from beyond the arc and 60 per cent overall to register eight points alongside two blocks and three assists. He backed this up with seven points against Cleveland at 50 per cent from the floor.
But his finish to the competition tapered off, registering only four points (with no three balls dropping from four attempts) and two points at 20 per cent in his final two matches.
Turnovers also loomed as an issue for Louzada, who made a worrying habit of turning the ball over multiple times in games. Yet his ability to run the floor when required and make smart passes also aided him.
Louzada’s smarts and playmaking abilities may be best suited in the NBL where his experience can come to the fore, but for now he will continue to put his best foot forward in trying to impress New Orleans in his first season at the franchise.
Oklahoma City Thunder
After being drafted at Pick 6, Summer League was going to be the first time Oklahoma City Thunder and Australian basketball fans would see Josh Giddey on an NBA court.
The Thunder’s first game was against the Detroit Pistons, and for Giddey, a match up against Pick 1 Cade Cunningham loomed.
Unfortunately for Giddey, his Summer League debut was a mixed bag through no fault of his own.
The former Adelaide 36er opened his Summer League campaign with a bang, throwing a two-handed slam.
However, on the next offensive possession, trying to split the defence in a pick and roll Giddey slipped and looked to have hurt his ankle, immediately getting up grimacing.
He continued to play a few more minutes before being subbed out and headed straight to the locker room, where he was soon ruled out for the remainder of the game with a left ankle sprain.
He finished the game with two points, shooting one from three shot attempts in only five minutes of play.
There were hopes that Giddey could return for one of the Thunder’s remaining four games.
He was close to playing against the Indiana Pacers on August 14, which NBL fans would have loved to see as he would have gone up against former South East Melbourne Phoenix guard Keifer Sykes.
However, that didn’t eventuate, as Oklahoma City decided to wrap him in cotton wool and not take the risk with the star 18-year-old.
Oklahoma City fans shouldn’t worry, there is still plenty of time to see what Giddey can do at the NBA level. He should be ready for Oklahoma City’s first pre-season against the Charlotte Hornets on October 4.
Tahjere McCall had a rough start in his Las Vegas Summer League campaign for Orlando, not seeing any court time in a win over Golden State, and then playing 6:32 for one point and one rebound in a loss to Cleveland.
Against Boston on August 12, Orlando put up a low 71 points in an overall 37-point loss, but the Cairns Taipans’ player was his side’s best in the game, despite entering the game deep into the third quarter and playing over 12 minutes in total.
McCall put up a team-high 12 points against the Celtics where he went three from three from deep, converting a few free throws to round out his offensive scoring. The shooting guard added an assist on a DJ Hogg three-pointer in the fourth quarter, adding a steal also.
In Orlando’s fourth and fifth Summer League games, McCall was part of the starting five and played more than 22 minutes in each, having much better all-round games.
Against Houston on August 15, he started well, giving an assist to a Moritz Wagner layup for the first points of the game. A minute and a half later both his defense and offence were on show, blocking a Josh Christopher shot, only to make his way up the floor for a running layup to extend the Magic’s lead, adding another two points inside the same minute.
McCall’s downfall across the next three quarters against the Rockets saw him foul seven times, though contributed an assist on a Asbjørn Midtgaard dunk that saw the Magic regain the lead. A steal and another two points from the line ended his outing on the day.
Against Detroit a day later, the Pistons started the game on a 5-0 run before McCall scored the first point for the Magic, coming from the line. A block moments later down the other end prevented the Pistons from going up a further two points as he rounded out the half with a three-point shot in the second quarter.
McCall’s second half started with an assist to a Jon Teske jumper before picking up two fouls and subsequently being subbed out until he entered the game again three minutes into the fourth. Four fourth-quarter misses prevented his points tally from going up, only adding the one point from a free throw while he picked up three rebounds and two more assists in a tight one-point loss.
The man known as ‘Hanky McSpanky’ came into the Summer League fresh off signing an NBL22 deal with the South East Melbourne Phoenix. With fans clamoring for bigger bodies and better defence, Hankins brought exactly that.
What was most impressive to watch about Hankins is how hard he works on both offence and defence. When his teammates had ball in hand, he would be straight into the key, either putting body on opposition forwards and centres or setting screens on the edge of the paint to allow his smaller teammates to either push inside or find space to shoot from the three.
Defensively then, his guarding of the rim allowed him to outbody his opponents and pick up both offensive and defensive rebounds with ease.
Coming on in the second term against the Lakers, he effectively used his size and strength to pick up two boards, while also shooting six points at 100 per cent. He drew a foul to earn himself two shots from the free throw line, converting duly.
Hankins stood up in the loss to the Utah Jazz after coming on in the second half and having an immediate impact. His defensive work, off the back of eight rebounds and a block in 15 minutes, was vital to keeping the Suns in it despite poor shooting conversion.
He did, at times, struggle to keep up with the sheer size of opponent Udoka Azubuike, who he couldn’t prevent from putting on a strong eight point, eight rebound game. Hankins would then sit out the remaining two matches.
We weren’t sure who was more surprised to see Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. warm the bench for four games more: Melbourne United fans or Phoenix Suns cult figure Mr. ORNG.
The towering centre couldn’t buy any time on court ahead of Kyle Alexander, who well and truly locked the position down across the Suns’ stint in Vegas.
You can always come back to Melbourne, Jo. We appreciate you.
Simon played three games across his time in Vegas, sitting out the Suns final match after getting a consistent run as the starting three.
As a regular starter with the Illawarra Hawks in the 2020-21 NBL season, it was a challenge to rise to. He started off strong against the Los Angeles Lakers, with three early rebounds to show how strong he can be on defence.
His ability to harass the opposition when in position and hold steadfast on defence was on show, finishing with three steals as well as forcing a turnover that he finished off and converted into an easy lay up.
However, all three rebounds came early in the first half. Despite his 21 minutes on court, he couldn’t convert any more despite often being in prime position with no body from his opponent. Flaws in his game regarding decision making and staying in the match from start to finish seemed to be inhibiting Simon.
Game two against the Jazz and it was like watching a different player.
Simon was dynamic, attacked the ring hard and worked relentlessly on defence – with just a day’s break mind you. He was the game’s highest scorer come the half time buzzer with 10 points.
While he couldn’t add to that total in the second half, finishing with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks, it was a good day out for Simon.
With another five rebounds against the Denver Nuggets, he caught the eyes of Basketball Bundesliga recruiters. Simon has now been signed to Ratiopharm Ulm, a German side competing in the aforementioned league.
The former first-round pick bounced around the NBA in his early years, playing most of his games with the Memphis Grizzlies but eventually finding a home in the NBL with the Sydney Kings.
Coming into the 2021 Summer League as a 27-year-old, Martin had a point to prove and went about making it.
The forward made the most of Jazz intra-clubs in the Utah camp, and made the Las Vegas Summer League roster as a result.
In Vegas, Martin came off the bench for the most-part, but then exploded when given a starting opportunity in the Jazz’s final game. In 35 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers, he put up 23 points on 62 per cent shooting from the field. This included a three-pointer and 6/7 from the line as he top scored for his team.
Even more impressive than the aggressive scoring display from the forward was his work on the boards, doubling any other teammate with 12 rebounds on the day.
He rounded out his statline with an impressive four assists, and an even more impressive four steals on the defensive side of the ball.
He was preying on opposing centre Paul Reed who was trying to do too much with the ball, and on several occasions Martin was able to help from the weak side and take the ball coast to coast in transition.
It’s a rare trait that he possesses and has shown in the NBL, which could eventually land him a 10-day contract with an NBA franchise this season.
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