Six NBA Observations On Top Prospect Summer League Flashes

NBA Analysis Network

Here are six thoughts and observations from the NBA Summer League about flashes from top prospects, including the impressive all-around play of Keegan Murray, Paolo Banchero’s passing, Chet Holmgren’s unique-ness, Jabari Smith’s special defensive versatility, and more.

1. Keegan Murray Showed Dynamic Potential

The least talked about of the top five picks in this year’s NBA Draft was Keegan Murray. However, he managed to win NBA Summer League MVP with averages of 23.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists with significant shooting efficiency.

It comes with little surprise that Murray’s scoring execution was so efficient considering his output of 1.217 points per possession at Iowa in 2021-22 was the highest among all 214 NCAA Division I players (min. 500 possessions). The advanced understanding of the game that Murray possesses is quickly apparent when watching him play. He just simply gets it done, whether he’s making a play with the ball, making reads in an off-ball action, or play finishing.

“I think my versatility plays a factor playing alongside both (Fox and Sabonis),” Murray said. “Being able to cut to the basket and also read what Sabonis is doing in the post, things like that. That obviously takes time with developing chemistry but I feel like I’m just excited to be able to play off on Fox, a dynamic point guard.

“He’s a guy that you can create his own shot and create for other guys. So for my ability to catch and shoot threes, play on the perimeter, things like that will expand both of their games even more.” 

Murray did a lot of damage out of spot-up during NBA Summer League play. He knocked down the basic catch-and-shoot look at a high clip, but he also aggressive seeking opportunities to counter aggressive closeouts, whether for pull-up jumpers or finishes at the rim. He was an active cutter when the opportunities were there, too. All of that was to be expected.

The Kings did not deploy Murray much as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and he didn’t often get deployed in handoffs or the post. Sacramento seemed to want to deploy him more in situations where he could attack off the catch by involving him in off-ball screening actions. He made the most of it.

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It was encouraging to see Murray showcase dynamic potential as an isolation scorer and a shot creator. In his overall NBA Summer League experience, he produced 1.227 points per possession on off-the-dribble jump shots, which ranked fourth among 19 players with at least 20 attempts. What stood out most is that he made multiple big shots in late clock situations.

In particular, Murray showed intriguing potential as an isolation shot creator on a few possessions. When he draws a switch, there is a real threat that he will attack the rim and can convert tough short-range plays.

Some defenders aren’t going to step up out in space when Murray retreat dribbles further behind the 3-point line to favor being in position against the drive. In that instance, he’ll just knock down the deep pull-up jumper deep off the line. For a Kings team that features Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, having talents capable of such a sequence is huge.

Want to press up and engage closer against Murray? That’s fine. He’ll get to his step-back from 3-point range and can use body contact to help create an advantage. With how Murray will likely be deployed in no shortage of half-court offense, there will be plenty of switching. He can use his frame and strength to get his shot off against smaller defenders.

The most intriguing thought about Murray’s shot creation potential is that it’ll make things easier on him when he’s trying to attack the paint as he continues to establish himself as a threat. He showed throughout NBA Summer League that he’s more than capable of playing through contact deep on the drive and finishing short-range plays at tough angles.

There’s a lot to like about how Murray played in NBA Summer League and how he’ll fit with the Kings. If they favor a lineup with spacing by deploying Harrison Barnes in the starting five, there’s a lot of potential for Murray to engage in the two-man game in various ways with Sabonis while also being able to counter how the defense approaches him off-ball by cutting. All of that is in addition to being an isolation threat.

2. Paolo Banchero’s Passing Surprised Many

Arguably the most impressive attribute that Paolo Banchero displayed during the Orlando Magic’s NBA Summer League action was his passing. He displayed a lot, in general, and was shut down after averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists.

When Banchero is going to work inside the 3-point line, the threat of his scoring ability draws the eyes of many in the defensive unit. He keenly understands how to effectively approach reading off-ball defenders and timing his passes to create an advantage.

“I learned a lot,” Banchero said. “Coach (Jamahl) Mosley and I watched film after both games. We watched film every day, just on ways I can get better, what I am seeing, just how I am reading the game. It’s been a big help. This time in Vegas has helped me a lot as a basketball player.”

After drawing the switch on an inverted ball screen, Banchero understands the defense will load up to prevent him from taking advantage of the mismatch. He commanded three defenders near the nail while getting the weak-side low-man to ball watch long enough to hit a backdoor cutter.

The defense better have their assignments and communication on point when Banchero is attacking in early offense. In the play below, he gets into an early post-up against a defense loading up on him early. Banchero read the low-man attempting to get his teammate to handle the cutter, which created a perfect window to pass to the weak-side corner to an open shooter.

The possession where Banchero assisted the game-winning play against the Summer Kings was a great display of his passing talent. With the defense attempting to dig at the nail, he took advantage by drawing the defense’s focus to the wing with a pass fake. He then threaded the needle to get the ball to a cutter in the paint for the finish.

Banchero possesses an impressive ability to read tags and to use his eyes to manipulate the defense to create pass openings, all while having the accuracy to take advantage. He clearly has the ability to process the progression of a play multiple steps ahead, which is quite impressive for a 19-year-old.

During an inverted ball screen, Banchero picks the ball up at the nail with three defenders fully focused on him. By using his eyes, he draws the weak-side tag man into the paint to account for the roll man. It creates enough of a window to get the ball to the corner for the catch-and-shoot jumper.

With five-out spacing, Banchero can fully utilize his ability to manipulate the defense and thread the needle on passes. With the Houston Rockets approaching off-ball defense casually, Banchero took advantage of his teammate slipping an off-ball screen into a cut. Banchero threw a no-look pass perfectly on the money, giving his teammate the ball in stride for the layup.

One thing is for certain, the Magic should look to surround Paolo Banchero with no shortage of perimeter shooting threats. He’s going to draw a lot of attention from defenses for his scoring, and his ability to make passing reads, throw accurate passes, and manipulate the defense will create for a half-court offense with a high ceiling.

3. Chet Holmgren’s Unique Combination of Attributes on Display

Entering the 2022 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren was widely considered the prospect with the highest ceiling by many due to how unique his skill-set is for a 7-footer. It will take time for him to fill out, but he brings no shortage of rare abilities. During the OKC Thunder’s NBA Summer League action, he averaged 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.8 blocks.

“I want to learn through every single experience,” Holmgren said. “Whether it’s good or bad because the worst thing I could do is have a great Summer League and not learn anything from it. So just try and learn from every single experience, every single moment, each play, each film session, shootaround, whatever it might be, and try to take that forward.”

The shot creation ability at Holmgren’s height is impressive. He can get to a step-back 3, one-two step into a pull-up, and use a snatch-back before raising into a jumper. If he’s being guarded by a big, he can take advantage of them sagging off. His release point makes smaller defenders pay, too.

Perhaps the greatest display of Holmgren’s release point is a problem for the defense was the “Dirk” fadeaway he converted in the Salt Lake City Summer League. Just like Nowitzki, he absorbed the contact from the defender and used it to his advantage by spinning into the jumper with rhythm.

Something to take into consideration, imagine the impact Holmgren will be able to provide offensively next to a player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Both can punish the switch at a high level and in various ways. That’s all in addition to the typical outcomes that come from Holmgren rolling to the rim or popping against traditional ball screen coverages.

The shot-blocking ability that Holmgren displayed was quite impressive. Whether he’s deployed as the big defender in a screening action or making a weak-side help rotation, he’s showing the signs of being a tantalizing paint presence that will have players think twice about going straight into a finish attempt when driving the lane or cutting.

Holmgren showed some intriguing passing flashes against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas. He executed a wraparound pass on a drive to get the ball to an open shooter in the corner. How many 7-footers are capable of pulling off a play like that?

Holmgren displayed the necessary court vision to exploit defensive breakdowns. The defense left a player open in the corner at the start of the possession, which was exploited by Holmgren quickly rifling a pass to the cutter before the defender could make a recovery.

It will be fascinating to see how Chet Holmgren puts all the pieces together when he reaches his potential in the NBA. His ability to blow up plays in the paint while having the foot speed to guard out in space makes him a rare defender. Couple all of that with his shot creation and overall offensive upside, there’s a lot to like.

The fit with Holmgren and the Thunder is all the more intriguing when considering the front office is committed to a long-term rebuilding effort. If they struggle to rack up wins in 2022-23, they will receive a strong consolation prize by adding another member to their core from a loaded draft class.

4. Jabari Smith Jr.’s Defensive Versatility is Special

The Houston Rockets received largely underwhelming results offensively from Jabari Smith Jr. during his NBA Summer League performance. He made his most significant impact on defense. It comes with little surprise considering he has a lot of quickness for 6-foot-10 and puts his 7-foot-2 wingspan to great use.

“I’ve got a lot of time to prepare and a lot of time to get my body stronger,” Smith told Taylor Rooks in an interview with Bleacher Report. “I’ve got a lot of time to mature and learn more about this game. By the time this season starts, I feel like I should be All-Defensive Team caliber, from day one.”

With how often NBA teams like to switch in their ball screen coverages, having a big defender who can execute at a high level goes a long way. Smith was able to disrupt the opposition’s guards attempting to make a play by holding his own in space. He has the foot speed to track a drive and has the length to make a tight contest.

As Smith continues to get stronger, it’s fascinating to think about what he could accomplish as a small ball five in certain lineup combinations. The Rockets would have extreme defensive versatility being able to switch everything in ball screen coverage. It could be similar to how the Memphis Grizzlies benefit from sliding over Jaren Jackson Jr. to the five at times.

It can take time for a young player to develop the necessary timing to make effective weak-side help rotations as a shot blocker. Smith has shown an intriguing ability to do so already. Again, think of the potential here with him being a small-ball five in certain lineup combinations.

One of the underrated elements of Smith’s defensive skill-set is how he uses his quick hands to make plays on the ball out in space. A guard attempting to break him down off the dribble has to be tight with their handle, or else there’s a significant risk he’ll pry the ball loose.

Smith’s shooting ability will be valuable for the Rockets, and he has intriguing upside on that end overall. However, his defensive versatility will help him to make a strong impact from Day 1 in Houston. It will be especially needed alongside Alperen Sengun as the long-term center.

5. Bennedict Mathurin’s Shot Creation & Isolation Scoring

Bennedict Mathurin landed on the All-Summer League Second Team and averaged 19.3 points in three performances. Perhaps most impressive of all, he did so while averaging just 22.4 minutes. His efficiency was among the best of any participant in Las Vegas with an output of 1.137 points per possession.

With the Indiana Pacers deploying an unselfish, proficient playmaker at point guard in Tyrese Haliburton, it’ll be important to have wing players around him who are shot creation threats. Mathurin showed some real promise in this area during the NBA Summer League.

Keep in mind that Mathurin produced just 0.421 points per possession on a total of only 19 isolation possessions in 2021-22 with Arizona. He struggled significantly in these situations and wasn’t utilized often in them. He actually recorded two more made field goals from isolation plays in NBA Summer League than he did during all of his 37 games with the Wildcats last season.

“He’s an NBA scorer right now, and he has tremendous upside because there’s parts of his game that are still very raw and that’s exciting,” Carlisle said. “We view that as an exciting thing and not a negative by any stretch.”

The most impressive shot creation flash from Mathurin came in the form of a step-back long-two going to his right on an isolation possession. Despite the defender lunging at him for the contest, he maintained disciplined mechanics and converted on the shot.

During another play, Mathurin drew a switch after being deployed in an off-ball screening action. He made quick work of the situation by simply using a between-the-legs dribble, then raising to shoot despite being contested by the defender. Already having a comfort level of this nature with shooting over the top is undoubtedly intriguing to see.

Mathurin even showed off a hesitation step-back during one of his possessions in NBA Summer League. There was a clear trend, though. He was going to work inside the 3-point line. At some point, it will be best-suited for him to continue working on expanding his range as a shot creator to being beyond the 3-point line on a consistent basis.

If the tough shot-making can become a regular trend for Mathurin, it’ll open up opportunities for him to utilize his strength: getting downhill and playing with physicality.

The options for Mathurin on the drive are intriguing. If he uses a shot fake and the defender bites, he can use his quickness to get to the rim. These sequences are more prevalent when the defender has to fear the threat of a potential shot creation outcome by playing up. If the defender tracks him on the drive, he can make upper body contact aggressively to set up a veer step finish.

Again, it’ll be important for Mathurin to continue to extend his range as a shot creation threat. He can maximize his scoring output in isolation by playing just a bit further out. However, in ball screen situations, it would open up a lot of options if the threat of a pull-up 3-pointer forced the on-ball defender to aggressively go over.

6. Jaden Ivey’s Explosiveness is Scary

Due to injury, Jaden Ivey didn’t have much opportunity to showcase his abilities in NBA Summer League action. In his lone full game in Las Vegas, he finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and six assists in 32 minutes of action against the eventual champion Portland Trail Blazers. He left his next performance after 11 minutes of action due to injury.

It will be a challenge for defenses to contain Ivey out in space. A few times, in particular, he displayed a few times an impressive ability to make the opposition pay using a high ball screen in early offense. The first example was an attempted switch by the defense and the defender taking on the responsibility of sliding his feet laterally quick enough to contain a drive didn’t stand a chance.

When the two ball screen defenders try to do their work early by having the big defender show against the screen, Ivey is a major threat to split both defenders. With a spaced-out unit, he’s going to drive straight to the rim without there being a help defender in position to impact his finish.

Perhaps the most intriguing of Ivey’s plays was a step-back from deep he converted after drawing a switch. Given how explosive his first step is, it would be tough for a defense to contain him if he solidifies himself as a consistent threat taking these types of shots. if slower-footed defenders will have to engage him tighter, he’s getting by them easily.

There’s a lot to like about how Ivey will fit with this Pistons team. Having a dynamic athlete at the five like Jalen Duren as a relief option will force the defense to make many tough decisions when guarding Ivey. Both players will often make teams pay in transition, but the lob connection in the half-court will be a major weapon for the Pistons.

“You’ve got a downhill threat, a lob threat, and another guy who can pass,” a rival Eastern Conference executive told ESPN. “That’s gonna be hard to guard. They’ve got some dudes who you expect to be good. Even if one out of three of those dudes hit, they’re set up well.”

Take this pindown play, for example. Ivey starts off the ball and receives a pindown with Duren in the weak-side corner. The weak side is put into a challenging position of having to help on Ivey while keeping tabs on Duren while he’s making a backdoor cut. If the help defense is watching the ball, Ivey can throw a lob to Duren, who will use his crazy athleticism and ability to finish lobs.

The Pistons will have the luxury of deploying two threats that can run high pick-and-rolls and attack favorable matchups out in space. While Cunningham initiates the offense, Ivey’s speed will be lethal in off-ball actions. If he can establish himself as a reliable motion shooter, the potential would be immense for Detroit’s half-court offense.

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