After months of draft guides and speculation, the 2018-19 rookie class is getting its first NBA minutes. Here’s who impressed so far, and who might have a longer way to go than we thought.
Stock Down: Trae Young
Haley O’Shaughnessy: The scrutiny of fifth overall pick Trae Young was always going to be magnified after the Hawks’ gutsy decision to trade down two spots to select him instead of keeping Luka Doncic. Young, who led the nation in scoring as a freshman, already has the pressure of being dubbed the next Steph Curry. But so far in summer league, he’s looked more like the Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals:
Trae Young’s first two three-point attempts as an Atlanta Hawk pic.twitter.com/P5W8ZIW8oI— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) July 2, 2018
Young, a coveted deep shooter out of Oklahoma, bombed, air-balled, and bricked 3-pointer after 3-pointer in Atlanta’s three games in Utah. He shot 12.5 percent from behind the arc, hitting only three of his 24 attempts; Young had the shot selection of Curry (from anywhere on the floor, with anyone in his face) with none of the follow-through. His opening game in Las Vegas against the Knicks was more positive—Young finished with 21 points—and, finally, some of the Curryesque theatrics shone through:
It was the type of performance that gave the Hawks (and their fan base) a moment to exhale. But when we’ll see more of that is up to the Atlanta coaching staff: Young exited Sunday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers with a right quad contusion, and it’s unclear whether and when he’ll return. In the five-game sample, Young has been the impressive playmaker he was in college, but unfortunately, his biggest selling point as a prospect hasn’t translated to the NBA yet.
Stock Up: Kevin Knox
Paolo Uggetti: You get the feeling that when David Fizdale said that he had a “crush on wingspan,” he was imagining what we all saw Saturday afternoon against the Hawks: Kevin Knox diving toward the basket with the ball in his hand, leaping from just outside the restricted area with his arms stretched all the way above his head and throwing down a ferocious dunk.
Knox’s athleticism and confidence have been on full display at summer league through two games, in which he’s averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, two assists, and 1.5 steals. Among a crowded field, Knox is rocking rims, showing off his assertiveness from behind the arc (despite shooting only 3-for-14), blocking shots, and handling the ball as a primary option. There’s a general bounciness to this summer Knicks team. Mitchell Robinson looks to be an explosive rim protector and rim runner in the making. Frank Ntilikina, meanwhile, is a defensive nightmare for opposing guards, and might be too good to be in Vegas. Knox, though, is demonstrating exactly why he was a late riser in the lottery. Sure, it’s only a few games, but for Knicks fans, it’s never too early to get excited.
Stock Down: Marvin Bagley III
Uggetti: There’s no need to sound the alarm just yet, but through a week of summer league games, Bagley—who has played only one game in Vegas due to suffering a groin injury, but three in the California Classic in Sacramento—has looked the least impressive of the elite bigs in this 2018 class. Bagley’s known for his offensive prowess, and he’s showed some flashes of it so far, but it’s always been about everything else with him. After averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in his one year at Duke, his tenacity on the boards has gone missing, as he’s averaged more than five per game. Bagley averaged more turnovers per game than assists in college, and that lack of playmaking instinct can be seen in the two assists he’s had in four games. He hasn’t been as proficient on offense as Deandre Ayton (who is shooting 71 percent from the field), or as dynamic as Jaren Jackson Jr. If anything, this has been a wake-up call (Josh Jackson’s block on him certainly was). For Bagley to succeed and make the Kings’ selection of him at no. 2 worth it, there’s a lot of work to be done.
Stock Up: Harry Giles
O’Shaughnessy: Saturday’s Kings-Suns matchup was one of the most anticipated games of the summer, in what was supposed to be a showdown between Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton. But in the end, Giles turned out to be the one to watch:
The former no. 1 recruit in the nation finished the night with five steals, a block, six rebounds, and everyone’s attention. Giles’s versatility on defense has been the most compelling development in his game so far, but the best part to watch is what sold the Kings on him coming out of Duke: frenetic energy on the court. And after he was forced to sit his entire rookie season to rehab an ACL injury, there’s something poetic about watching him be the liveliest player on the court.
Stock Up: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Uggetti: Let’s start with the overreaction first (because what’s the point of investing in summer league if you can’t overreact to things?): After the weekend action, it’s clear that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be the best point guard in this draft. There’s something about Shai’s game that already feels destined for a bright future. For one, it’s well-rounded. Shai is averaging a cool 17 points per game, adding five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block per game. His vision is already advanced, and the Clippers have taken advantage of that by putting him in all different playmaking positions (including the post!).
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a really productive game today. Had a nice finish here with defense all over him and the long arms of Wenyen Gabriel waiting for him near the rim. pic.twitter.com/aeEBM0ih5j— Aaron Johnson (@AJohnsonNBA) July 9, 2018
There’s a shiftiness to Shai’s game that feels natural, allowing him to create his own shot at his own pace, an invaluable trait, especially for a rookie guard. The Clippers, whose primary scoring option last season was sometimes Lou Williams off the bench, could use another reliable combo guard, especially one that can usher them into the future of their franchise. Shai looks well on his way to becoming that player.