If you’ve never been to Las Vegas and attended Summer League, you’ve missed out.
To give a brief lay of the land of what this year’s Summer League was like, it’s important to note that around 80 percent of fans at Summer League are Lakers fans. Whether they made the four-hour drive up from Los Angeles or just live around the Las Vegas area they, along with Lonzo Ball and his family, dominated the week.
The festivities got going Saturday night when Lakers-Celtics, the second-to-last the last game of the evening at Thomas & Mack Center (and the first game for Los Angeles in Vegas) got underway. It was Ball and Brandon Ingram versus Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown but really it was just about Ball. Every shot, every make, every miss was met with a roar from the crowd that sounded more like an NBA playoff game than an exhibition loaded with fringe NBA talent. Lakers fans cheered for Thomas Bryant like they did Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Caruso like they did for Kobe Bryant. Summer League, for the first time ever, sold out on Saturday.
Scalpers were selling general admission tickets for upwards of $200. They’re normally $25.
The next morning, the Ball family had a meet-and-greet event at Urban Necessities, a sneaker shop located in Las Vegas’ Boulevard Mall. I got there at around 11 a.m. The first person in line, a Big Baller Brand loyalist who couldn’t have been more than 15, got there at 6. Lonzo ended up signing autographs for around 45 minutes — he had to go to practice, but LaVar Ball (Lonzo’s dad) and LaMelo Ball (Lonzo’s younger brother who scored 92 points in a game earlier this year) stayed for the rest of the day.
No one cared.
Eight games a day between two gyms amidst thousands of fans who are crazy enough to watch their favorite teams and cheer for players, many of which who will never sniff an NBA roster, combusts into one of the best weeks of the year. Combine the basketball with the Balls commanding Vegas’ attention for a week-plus and this year’s Summer League was an all-time classic.
But for the Nuggets, Summer League was largely uneventful, but their performance over the week-and-a-half in Sin City did shed some light on what to expect from Denver’s younger players next season. Here’s how each player fared during Denver’s six game stint in Vegas where the Nuggets compiled a 2-4 record.
Malik Beasley – B+
5 games, 30.8 mpg, 19.4 ppg (40.0 FG%, 40.5 3P%), 5.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 bpg
Summer League was the one opportunity (besides a possible D-League stint during the regular season) for Beasley to really shine as Denver’s No. 1 option on offense. The 20-year-old certainly capitalized on that opportunity by racking up 95 field-goal attempts over just five games, the second highest at Summer League. Beasley didn’t shoot it as well as he would have liked, but did hit on 40.5 percent of his threes. Summer League sets Beasley up for another season where he’s likely on the outside looking in at Denver’s rotation, but should have moments throughout the year that will show signs of the player he can be. He certainly showed in Vegas that he has the shot and defensive potential to be a quality rotation guard in time, but he has to work on getting stronger with his left hand so he can be a bit more dynamic off the dribble. More efficiency on offense would have led to a higher grade.
3 games, 30.4 mpg, 16.3 ppg (37.5 FG%, 39.1 3P%), 7.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.7 bpg
It was an odd Summer League for Hernangomez who was bothered by recent Lasik surgery that forced the swingman to wear goggles that he said affected his game. Hernangomez got out of the gates hot with a 21-point, eight-rebound showing versus Houston but didn’t really get into a rhythm his next two outings. Hernangomez played a lot of power forward next to Tyler Lydon in Denver’s starting lineup and that’s something to watch for this season after he played mostly small forward in his rookie year. Even though he was featured in Vegas, Hernangomez didn’t seem too comfortable in that role, compiling 12 turnovers over three games. Even with an increased role next season after Danilo Gallinari‘s departure, that’s where Hernangomez will fit. He also has the EuroBasket tournament with Spain on his schedule before training camp opens.
Tyler Lydon – C
5 games, 24.3 mpg, 2.4 ppg, (20.0 FG%, 13.3 3P%), 4.2 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.8 bpg
You know in The Hangover, when Doug seems like he’ll be a prominent character at first before disappearing for the next hour-and-a-half of the movie? That’s what Lydon’s Summer League was like. Lydon scored six points in Denver’s opening night loss highlighted by a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper from the extended block but didn’t have another memorable play that stood out. However, Summer League isn’t a setting that suits Lydon’s game. Lydon will be most effective throughout his career as a player with a defined role that gets shots within a structured offense — that’s hardly what you get in Vegas. He seemed hesitant to shoot at times even though shooting was his biggest strength coming out of the draft and Lydon won’t be counted on for significant minutes in his rookie season but it would have been nice to see him show more at Summer League. Expect to see Lydon in the D-League often next season; the playing time will do him well.
Monte Morris – A
6 games, 21.6 mpg, 9.5 ppg (40.7 FG%, 12.5 3P%), 2.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 0.8 bpg
Morris played great in Vegas and really showed well during two standout performances — a 15-point, five-rebound, four-assist performance against Houston and a 17-point, six-assist showing versus Brooklyn. As a team that’s drafting in the middle of the second round, you’re simply looking for someone who can contribute at the NBA level in some capacity. Morris is a pure point guard who might not have one single skill that makes you go ‘wow’ but coaches love his basketball IQ and how he runs a team. For that reason alone, he’ll likely have a cup of coffee with a few teams throughout his career.
Petr Cornelie – C
5 games, 13.8 mpg, 5.0 pts (37.0 FG%, 0.0 3P%), 4.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.3 bpg
Expectations were high for Cornelie coming to Vegas after a promising showing one year ago, but his five-game stint was pretty underwhelming. Maybe that was because Cornelie played well last summer or perhaps he’s still trying to get past a disappointing season in France, but he still looks like he’s far away from an NBA contract. He shot just 0-6 from three-point range but did show off his NBA-level athleticism on a few occasions.
Nikola Radicevic – B
5 games, 15.6 mpg, 4.0 pts (41.2 FG%, 42.9 3P%), 1.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.0 bpg
Radicevic might not be an NBA athlete but he sure knows how to play point guard. He’s got a rare feel and vision for the game and would be on an NBA roster now if he was more athletic. Injuries over the past couple of years really took a lot of Radicevic’s quickness and that’s where he struggled in Vegas. If he can regain some of that athleticism he could find himself in the NBA in due time but until then he’ll continue to struggle to be much of a threat on offense and keep his man in front of him on defense.
Robert Carter – A
6 games, 19.5 mpg, 11.3 ppg (49.1 FG%, 44.4 3P%), 5.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 bpg
Carter was one of Denver’s biggest surprises from Summer League. The undrafted big man scored in double-figures in three games and showed off his soft touch in the paint. Carter’s a load on the block, tipping the scales at 240 pounds, but also showed that he can hit the three, shooting it at a 44 percent clip over six games. He’ll definitely catch on with some NBA team and post big numbers in the D-League if that’s the route he chooses.
Torrey Craig – A
6 games, 22.2 mpg, 11.5 ppg (46.9 FG%, 27.8 3P%), 4.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 bpg
Craig’s performance in Vegas reportedly earned him a two-way contract with Denver and he certainly deserves the opportunity. Craig was an unknown heading into Summer League after playing in Australia last season but wowed the Nuggets with his defense and versatility. He burst onto the Summer League radar with a 27-point outing against Houston and will likely be stashed in the D-League for much of the season. If you didn’t get a chance to watch Craig in Vegas, think of the wing, who can slide between the three and four, as former Nugget Alonzo Gee but with a better jumper.
Henry Sims – B+
Although he only played in three games with the Nuggets, Sims was Denver’s third best player at Summer League. He’s been in the league since 2013 and has bounced around to four different organizations, but Sims is a load in the paint. He went 6-8 from the field and scored 12 points against Toronto and could find his way onto a roster next season, although that likely won’t be in Denver. He’s an NBA-level player who showed in Vegas that he can still score efficiently from the block.