The NBA 2K23 Summer League kicked off Thursday night with a matchup between Orlando’s Paolo Banchero and Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr., the No. 1 and No. 3 picks respectively in last month’s NBA draft.
The Magic won 91-77 in the first meeting between two of the NBA’s most anticipated rookies, with Banchero recording 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Smith had a quieter night on his Rockets debut, finishing with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Jaden Ivey, No. 5 overall, made his Detroit Pistons debut and scored a team-high 20 points en route to an 81-78 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Blazers rookie No. 7 Shaedon Sharpe was cut short on his debut with a shoulder injury that ended his night after just six minutes.
The action continued on Friday with several other rookies getting their first action in Vegas.
Which first-year players stood out? Our NBA insiders profile the rookies who stole the show in Las Vegas over the first two days.
NBA Summer League 2022: A player on every team to watch
#1 vs. #3: Banchero and Smith meet for the first time
Banchero came into the NBA draft process billed as the NBA-ready prospect in the class. Smith, on the other hand, is brimming with potential but turned 19 less than two months before draft night and has always needed time to develop. When they went head-to-head on Thursday night, both players proved those scouting reports were correct — at least for one night.
Banchero, who looked exactly like the 6-foot-10 and 250-pound he’s listed with, used his size and physicality to get where he wanted on the court. He finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in 25 minutes. He played as he likely will for Orlando next season: by serving as a de facto point guard in the body of a power forward.
He hasn’t always been given much distance and needs to work defensively, and he admitted after the game that he uses the summer league to get in shape, but even in a one-game sample it was easy to see what made him think of the The draft has brought top.
Smith, on the other hand, will take a lot more time — and it showed. He was at times criticized last season at Auburn for not being assertive enough with his teammates to get the ball, and that happened on Thursday night.
But there’s a lot to like about his game. Smith’s high, fast release combined with his 6-10 frame has the potential to make him a serious threat for spot-up shoots. Over time he could easily gain weight to expand his game like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and other young, projectable wings before him.
He fights hard on defense and has quick feet which gives him a significant advantage on this end as well.
Smith’s development will take time, especially on a very The young Rockets team with some inexperienced guards gets the lion’s share of ballhandling minutes, led by last year’s No. 2 overall, Jalen Green.
Two other significant freshmen also stood out in the game: Houston’s Tari Eason (No. 17 overall) and Orlando’s Caleb Houston (No. 32 overall).
Eason, a 6-8 forward from LSU, has the kind of lean physique that could make him an elite defensive wing. However, his 3-point shot will take a lot of work to make him a true 3-and-D player, and he’s done a lot of extra work on offense in this game that he won’t do in regular action Season.
Houston, a former five-star Michigan recruit who struggled as a freshman and fell out of the first round, is a very intriguing prospect. He finished with 20 points in 5-on-9 shooting from 3-point range in 28 minutes. The 6-foot-8 Houston is the kind of long, athletic forward who could be a real find for Orlando if he develops into the player he should be before his lone college season. – Tim Bontemps
Ivey and Duren shine for the Pistons
The Detroit Pistons emerged from the NBA draft last month feeling like big winners after bringing two lottery picks — No. 5 overall Ivey and No. 13 overall Jalen Duren — to a burgeoning young core centered around Cade Cunningham had added. Top overall selection of the last year. Both Pistons fans and Cunningham, watching from the sidelines, got their first glimpse of the duo in Thursday’s opener against the Portland Trail Blazers — from the game’s opening game.
On first possession of the game, Ivey threw an alley-oop towards the basket for Duren, who confidently finished a two-handed dunk.
Ivey posted a team-high 20 points with 6 rebounds and 6 assists while showing the athletic qualities he brings to a Pistons backcourt that has a chance to be dynamic. Ivey sped past the defenders with a quick first step and sped toward the basket like a runaway train. However, his Summer League debut was still somewhat unpredictable, particularly in the first half as he tried to adapt to the pace of the game. He made a few bad passes and ill-considered decisions that resulted in five turnovers and five fouls.
Meanwhile, Duren had been waiting all week for the draft night trade that brought him to Detroit to become official, and he was officially added to the roster the morning before the first game. Although the team limited him to 12 minutes, he made the most of his time on the pitch. Duren, who won’t turn 19 until November, finished the game with nine points, a rebound and two blocks. His height and vertical ability were so impressive that he looked far from the youngest player in last month’s draft.
Both rookies will certainly have growing pains, but their debuts have given enough reason to remain optimistic about the future in Detroit. – Yamal Collier
Mathurin leads all scorers for the Pistons
Bennedict Mathurin, the Indiana Pacers’ highest draft pick (No. 6) since Rik Smits in 1988, looked good in his first appearance of summer on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets. Mathurin led all scorers with 23 points in 9-of-16 shooting and knocked down three 3-pointers.
Mathurin’s ability to shoot the NBA 3 is the bedrock of his game in the league. Opponents will have to respect that Mathurin may come out of dribble – one of his three marks was out of dribble on the switch – improving his ability to create space as a driver. Mathurin used this space to descend from pull-up jumpers with a similarly smooth pull.
I’d love to see Mathurin develop his plan to attack hard closeouts. He dribbles after one for a pull-up midrange attempt, the once-dominant NBA strategy that’s now lost favor with a side step or a one-dribble reset for an open 3-pointer. Mathurin’s athletic repertoire also includes the ability to drive closeouts and the jumping ability, which he used to finish a transition lob off the backboard of Chris Duarte, who was selected in the first round of 2021 in Indiana, with a powerful dunk.
On the defensive end of the field, Mathurin’s strong reputation as a defender on the ball helps him. He could do with being more defensively active off the ball.
On the other hand, Hornets center Mark Williams faced more of a learning curve in his debut. Without a strong pick-and-roll point guard to set him up like he would in the regular season with LaMelo Ball, Williams frequently caught the ball mid-color and struggled to get on target. Williams, who shot 72% at Duke in the 2021-22 season, was 2 of 8 off the field. He contributed eight rebounds and a pair of blocks during that span. – Kevin Pelton
Agbaji should give Cleveland fans hope for the future
Cleveland’s Ochai Agbaji scored 16 points in an encouraging summer league debut, but the way he did it should be what Cavs fans are most excited about. Twelve of Agbaji’s 16 points came from beyond the arc, and he proved to the NBA world that he could not only put down catch-and-shoot three-pointers, but also create his own looks from deep when he made that NBA-ready move met. back early in the first.
Abgaji looked confident on his debut, and he has good reason for that – he came to Las Vegas with one of the best resumes of any rookie in his class. The 22-year-old shooting guard not only helped the Kansas Jayhawks win the NCAA title in April, but was also named a first-team All-American and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Those accomplishments are due in large part to the simple fact that this rookie played a fair amount of college basketball — he was the only senior drafted in the first round this season and the oldest lottery pick in this year’s draft .
Still, the Cavs are hoping Agbaji’s best days are still ahead and that he can help this group improve their offensive efficiency. Last season, the Cavs ranked fifth in the league on defense but only 20th on offense, due in part to a so-so performance from across the arc.
Agbaji has the potential to become an elite 3-point scorer and his debut only confirmed that claim. In his first game as a pro, he caught nine 3s and made four of them. If he can add some perimeter strength to this Cavs core, which already includes Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland’s future will only get brighter. – Kirk Goldsberry