It’s that time of the year when we miss NBA basketball. Fortunately, there’s the Las Vegas Summer League where we get a glimpse of the future of our beloved NBA teams. We get to see how well these highly prized rookies and second-year players play against each other. And we get to see the players trying to fill in the final slots of NBA teams.
For this list, I’ll be focusing on players not named Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren just to give you a look at other players you should get excited about.
Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
The Kings’ lottery pick at No. 4 is one of my standout first-year performers in this season’s NBA Summer League. The Kings drafting the 6’8” forward out of Iowa was heavily questioned by experts and fans alike, with studs Jaden Ivey and Benedict Mathurin still on the board. The combo forward averaged 23.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game, while shooting 39.8 percent from beyond the arc last season at Iowa.
In his Summer League campaign, he has shown that his game at the collegiate level also translates to the professional level. He finished the tournament with averages of 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in four games, all while shooting 40 percent from 3-point land. His basketball savvy has been on display during the tournament. He showed great timing on his cuts to the basket, as well as his ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line where he shot 80.8 percent. No wonder he was named MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Murray should be an excellent fit for a Kings team set on making the playoffs next season. He will be a plug-and-play piece starting day one at either forward spot. He can play the power forward spot beside Domantas Sabonis or the small forward position with veteran Richaun Holmes. Murray is already playing like a veteran. He knows how to get the open spots on the court, creating space for his teammates. He can produce without needing the offense to run through him which will be most welcome with the arrivals of other scorers Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. Murray’s type of game won’t always get the praise it deserves because it isn’t flashy by any means, but he is efficient and he gets the job done.
Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Three games into his NBA Summer League stint, the Indiana Pacers decided to shut down the number six pick as a precaution due to a sore big toe on his left foot. It’s safe to say the Pacers already saw enough to know that they have drafted a bonafide bucket.
Mathurin scored 23, 15, and 20 points in three Summer League games, making him one of only two lottery picks this year to have at least two 20-point outings. Overall, in 22.4 minutes per game, he averaged 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals, and shot 38.5% from 3-point range. Pacers champion head coach Rick Carlisle heaped high praise on the rookie saying: “He’s an NBA scorer right now.”
Mathurin, whose pro comparison is Slam Dunk Champion Jason Richardson, is plenty athletic. He used all of that athleticism to create shots for himself in the Summer League. He got into the paint and finished at the rim with ease. He was able to get off pull-up jumpers and hit his favorite move: the stepback jumper.
He’s an NBA Academy Latin America product from Montreal who played two seasons at Arizona and won the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 17.7 points per game in his sophomore season. Mathurin is known as a tremendous competitor and even declared he was better than four-time NBA MVP Lebron James. He figures to be a great addition to the lineup next season.
The Pacers’ upcoming season will be the start of their rebuild after they traded away Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogdon. Mathurin will undoubtedly have a sizable role with the Pacers in his rookie season. He already has created early chemistry with Chris Duarte, even linking up for a highlight alley-oop play. With Tyrese Haliburton, Duarte, and the addition of Mathurin, the Pacers can form a high-octane three-guard lineup that would be very versatile with how they attack defenses.
Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
Everyone showed up to watch No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith, who for most of the pre-draft process was favored to be drafted No. 1 overall pick to the Magic. But the player on the Rockets that caught my attention was the 17th pick, Tari Eason.
The combo forward was drafted as a high-energy defender who was being compared to Jerami Grant because of his versatility on the defensive end and ability to guard positions 1 to 4. Eason had a double-double in four of their five games, finishing with averages of 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 bocks in 27.5 minutes per game.
Eason looks like a player who can be a big part of Rockets head coach Stephen Silas’ regular season rotation. He plays extremely hard and never takes a play off. He will make mistakes on the court like most rookies but because of the elite athleticism he possesses, those mistakes get erased when he recovers on the court.
The Rockets had the league’s worst defense last season so the focus in this year’s draft was to improve in that department. On paper, the team looks better on the defensive end, Smith is a versatile defender, and pairing him with Eason will give them so many lineup options to deploy. Eason will be able to play at the 3 spot and Houston can play big with Jabari Smith at the 4. But they can also play small and move Smith to the 5 with Eason at the 4. Wherever Eason plays, the Rockets will be rewarded with high-level effort and defensive play.