The NBA’s summer league has primarily been a showcase for the league’s incoming rookies. But it can also be a ground for second or third year players to improve their games and prepare for the upcoming season.
Such is the case of the five players that we are going to talk about in this article. These players have at least one year experience in the league, have shown plenty of potential during their short stint in the NBA but have plenty of room to grow. Safe to say that they’ve grown in the current summer league and hopefully that translates to a breakout season during the 2018-19 NBA season.
Let’s take a look at the five non-rookie standouts in the 2018 NBA Summer League:
John Collins-Atlanta Hawks
John Collins is playing in his second Summer League. Last year, he was named to the 2017 Summer League First team along with Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith Jr. and Caleb Swanigan. Collins played five games last year, averaging 15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He also shot 59.3% from the floor, which led all 2017 summer league players with at least 50 FG attempts.
This year, Collins opened his summer league campaign with a 30 point explosion against the New York Knicks. He also put up 18 points and 9 rebounds in his second outing before Atlanta Hawks summer league head coach Lloyd Price said that the team will be shutting Collins down for the rest of the tournament. And rightfully so.
Collins was an All-Rookie 2nd team selection during the 2017-18 season where he averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game so there was really no need for him to play in the summer league. Nevertheless, Collins looked more comfortable in the court while showing the ability to knock down jumpers. In fact, he made five of ten three pointers in Las Vegas. That’s a small sample size but still impressive. These developments should make him all the more dangerous next season. Good for the Hawks who are on a full rebuild mode.
Josh Hart-Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Hart was one of the bigger surprises for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were looking primarily at Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma but Hart played solid for them off the bench last season, averaging 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Hart also made 1.2 three pointers per game on a torrid 39.6% three point shooting ,for the Lakers
After a stellar rookie season, Hart was expected to dominate this year’s summer league. And boy ,were we so damn right. Hart is currently tied for 2nd place in the scoring department with an average of 23.3 points per game. The 30th pick of last year’s draft is also averaging 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game for the Lake show.
Hart is displaying more confidence and is showing his potential as a scorer. Rob Pelinka has declared that the four starting spots alongside LeBron James are still up for grabs. With this kind of performance, Hart may just get one of them. I mean we’re just in the summer league but Josh Hart is looking like he’s ready for a breakout season. Sure, the Lakers have added Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo, two guards who can eat up Hart’s playing time. But with the way he’s been playing, expect big things from this kid next season.
Ante Zizic-Cleveland Cavaliers
There is a new “Big Z” in Cleveland. That nickname will always be related to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who helped LeBron James take the Cleveland Cavaliers to the top many years ago. But Ante Zizic is making a case for himself as the new big man in Cleveland, at least in the summer league. Acquired by the Cavs from the Boston Celtics during the Kyrie Irving trade of last summer, there were plenty of expectation for Zizic but he didn’t get much except garbage time during his first season with the Cavs.
Zizic played just 32 games last season but when he was on the court, he was efficient. He averaged 3.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 6.7 minutes of playing time. Zizic also went 49-67 (73.1%) from the floor last season. He had five double doubles including a 7-9 15 point game against the Los Angeles Lakers in March and a 20 point game against the New York Knicks during the Cavs’ regular season finale.
In the current summer league, Zizic has been the center of attention. He’s averaged 20.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 63% field goal shooting. Zizic isn’t the stretch four who is going to nail three pointers for you. In this era of floor spacers, the 21 year old is a traditional big man who plays with his back to the basket, playing the center position the way it way designed. That may sound passe these days but Zizic is surely making it count in the summer league. Hopefully, he carries this play during the regular season.
Cheick Diallo- New Orleans Pelicans
The summer league is usually for rookies and sophomores. But incoming third year man Cheick Diallo was more than happy to be a part of the New Orleans Pelicans’ summer league team. In fact, when he knew he was coming over to the summer league, he set a lofty goal for himself: winning the summer league MVP. Well, Diallo may not be the best player in the summer league, but he’s certainly turning heads with his much improved play.
Diallo has been turning out an excellent all-around performance in the summer league. He is averaging 17.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists 1.0 steal and 1.0 block per game in 27.3 minutes of playing time for the Pelicans’ summer league team. He put on a double double against Raptors, put up a 14-9-3 statline against the Heat and then had a 25 point night last Monday against the Pistons.
The 6-9 forward is known for his high motor guy who plays with a lot of energy. But aside from being just a spark, Diallo has shown his potential to be a two way player in the league. Although the offense clearly lacks more polishing, Diallo’s ability to dominate on defense is what clearly stands out. He may not win the MVP of the summer league but he’s surely made his mark and should be looking at a breakout year next season especially with DeMarcus Cousins gone.
Willy Hernangomez-Charlotte Hornets
After an impressive rookie season with the New York Knicks where he was named to the All-Rookie team in 2017, Willy Hernangomez fell out of the Knicks rotation last season and saw his playing minutes cut into half. Hernangomez was later traded to the Charlotte Hornets and he finished the season on a better note, averaging 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 22 games played in Charlotte.
With Dwight Howard gone, he may have more minutes next season so it was but necessary that he put on a great showing in the summer league. So far, Hernangomez has not disappointed. The 24 year old is averaging 18.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game for the Hornets summer league team. He’s recorded a double double in the four games he’s played and is one of the more consistent players in the Vegas league.
The Hornets re-aquired Bismack Biyombo in a trade for Timofey Mozgov and Biyombo is likely going to take over Dwight Howard’s spot. Cody Zeller was the second string center for the Hornets last season while Hernangomez was just third in line to play man in the middle. But with his ability to shoot from the outside, Hernangomez could eat up some minutes or he can slide to the four spot if the Hornets want to go big. Either way, things look bright for Hernangomez and the Hornets next season.
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