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Seven Observations on Chet Holmgren, James Wiseman, and NBA Summer League

The Thunder’s lanky center continues to show off new dimensions in Las Vegas. Plus, my thoughts on James Wiseman’s long-awaited return, whether the Pacers should trade for Deandre Ayton, and more.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

With NBA summer league action in full swing in Las Vegas and early impressions beginning to crystallize, here are seven observations on Chet Holmgren seizing the spotlight, James Wiseman’s return, and the youthful Pacers debating trades.

1. Chet Holmgren Continues to Dazzle

Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero were scheduled to face off on Monday but the Magic elected to shut Banchero down after two strong performances in Las Vegas. The rivalry between the top two picks in the 2022 NBA draft will have to wait, but we were still treated to another strong performance from Holmgren, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and hit this majestic side-step 3-pointer off the dribble:

All eyes at summer league have been on the 7-foot 195-pounder—and rightfully so with him hitting shots like the one above. Holmgren is a slender center who deters attempts at the rim on defense but also can handle and shoot on offense. Granted, the quality of defenders will improve in real NBA action, but few bigs in the league are even capable of shooting with such fluidity. Thunder fans haven’t seen a tall, lanky player make 3s off the dribble like Holmgren since Kevin Durant.

Kristaps Porzingis was a popular comparison for Chet prior to the draft, but KP could never handle or pass the ball like he can. Every game, Holmgren shows off new dimensions of his game as both a scorer and a playmaker, and OKC is giving him a chance to handle the ball from every spot on the floor. There’s no better show in Vegas right now.

2. Jabari Smith Jr.’s Defense Is No Joke

On Monday against the Spurs, Jabari Smith had his best scoring performance of summer league so far, logging 19 points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. Shots hadn’t been falling for Smith in his two previous games and he still isn’t generating much space as a ball handler. But he showed how he can excel in an off-ball role, shooting and cutting, like he did in his third game with the Rockets. And on the other end, Smith was an absolute terror:

San Antonio was mirrored on the ball and bothered off the ball by Smith all game. It was one of the best defensive performances of the summer, as he showed off his long arms and graceful movement to swallow even a speedy 6-foot-5 guard in Blake Wesley.

Smith needs to make progress on offense as a shot creator, but that will take years. For now, what Jalen Green needs is a shooter who can get stops on defense. Smith has the versatility to defend anyone, and this season he might have more support than expected, given the play of Tari Eason, the forward Houston drafted no. 17 who has shined in Vegas.

On Monday, Eason had 22 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and two steals, registering his third consecutive double-double. Eason looks like a steal because of his ability to score off improvisational acts in the half court and make hustle plays on the break. On defense, Eason and Smith are energizers. Tone-setters. Jae’Sean Tate will appreciate the help. Those three will demand that Green and everyone else put forth their best effort, too. Lineups with those four could feature Alperen Sengun if they want a center, or Kevin Porter Jr. if they want to go small.

The Rockets have plenty of pieces to experiment with, and the defensive play of Smith and Eason could end up positioning them for early success.

3. James Wiseman (Finally) Returns

The Warriors wasted zero time showcasing James Wiseman in his long-awaited return to action Sunday after missing all of last season with a meniscus injury. Golden State’s opening possession went right to the no. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA draft. It was a lob dunk that he finished, showcasing a vertical dimension that the Warriors don’t have in Kevon Looney or Draymond Green. Wiseman is still raw, as you’d expect from a 21-year-old following a 15-month absence from the court. But he also flashed some of the qualities that motivated the Warriors to draft him ahead of LaMelo Ball.

Wiseman’s defense stood out most in his return. He notched two blocks and at least one textbook shot alteration, sticking his hands straight in the air as he launched off the ground.

The Warriors drafted Wiseman because he could theoretically give them something they lack: a center with length, athleticism, and a knack for blocking shots in help situations. As good as Looney is, he doesn’t provide the verticality Wiseman brings to the court. On offense, the Warriors increased their pick-and-roll frequency last season and could deploy even more with a leaper like Wiseman.

On Sunday, Wiseman caught a bullet pass from Jonathan Kuminga and hit a 3-pointer off the dribble. He certainly looks the part when he’s on. He had 11 points in 20 minutes, but he did notch seven fouls. That’s one more than you’re allowed in real NBA games, even if some of the whistles were blown too easily. The stat line says it all, really. Wiseman showed a lot of things the Warriors lack with his size and presence around the rim and glimmers of perimeter skill. If he’s more consistent, he’ll allow Steve Kerr to expand his range of lineup options. He’s far from a finished product, but he’s worth affording some patience.

This summer, the Warriors will be watching to see whether he can build on his performance. The sooner Wiseman starts to excel, the more ways the Warriors will have to play at a high level.

4. Watch Out for Moses Moody

While Wiseman is getting all the attention and Kuminga has an eye-popping blend of size and athleticism, it’s their teammate Moses Moody who could end up being the best of the three.

After struggling offensively in two California Classic Summer League games, Moody turned things up a notch in Las Vegas, pouring in 34 points in his first game. He is a long-armed 3-and-D wing with strong defense and the ability to hit spot-up 3s and cut on offense. But Moody drew comparisons to Mikal Bridges before last year’s draft because he also is capable of scoring off more dynamic actions. He can attack closeouts, stop on a dime from midrange, and hit a turnaround jumper. Or he can sprint off screens then balance himself in midair to launch 3s. And he can make a smart passing read off the dribble. Moody looked like Bridges in his Vegas debut, just like he did in the two games he played over 30 minutes this season.

Moody still needs to prove he can be consistent with heavier minutes. But as important as Gary Payton II was to the Warriors’ title run last season, Moody’s highs make it clear why the loss of Payton to Portland is relatively easy to stomach. Moody is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Bigger, more versatile on defense, and with more scoring skill off the dribble than Payton. If Moody plays his role next to Steph, Klay, and Draymond while having occasional scoring outbursts, the Warriors will be an even better team. He’s a connective piece who can also create for himself when necessary. Every opportunity he receives, Moody displays the same qualities that have made Bridges a marquee player.

When you really think about it, the Warriors will have the following young players as options off the bench next season: Wiseman (21), Kuminga (19), Moody (20), the newly signed Donte DiVincenzo (25), and the returning Jordan Poole (23). They can mix and match their young players. And with a veteran starting five, the Warriors will have the right players to show them the ropes while also affording them the opportunities to grow.

5. John Wall Is Saying All the Right Things

During Clippers-Grizzlies on Saturday, John Wall was asked on ESPN what he’s been working on this offseason. “Shooting 3s. A lot of catch-and-shoot 3s. A lot of floaters. Being able to post up more,” Wall said. “I know on this team I probably won’t have the ball in my hands as much as I had it in my career and that’s kinda the reason why I made the decision, so I don’t have to be Batman every night.”

That’s music to my ears—and the Clippers’ too. Last week, I wrote in this space about Wall’s chance to adapt, so it’s encouraging to hear his response echo what he told me two years ago about his desire to let Bradley Beal take greater control of the offense. Now after a weird experience with the Rockets, he’s openly accepting a backseat role to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, working on the exact things he’ll need to excel at to optimize his game around them.

If Wall evolves his game and proves to be everything Russell Westbrook is not, the Clippers should be considered even stronger threats to make a Finals run.

6. Indy’s Future Is Promising—With or Without Ayton

Marc Stein reported on his Substack over the weekend that the Pacers’ Myles Turner and Buddy Hield are the Lakers’ top targets if they don’t land Kyrie Irving. If I were Indiana, I’d be open to moving Hield. Bennedict Mathurin looks deserving of starting minutes next to Tyrese Haliburton. Sending Hield to the Lakers would land them an asset and open up chances for the team’s bright young core.

Mathurin was electric in his summer league debut with Indiana, launching a 3 coming off a screen, stepping back from midrange, and bursting all the way to the basket for a layup. On Sunday, he threw a pretty lob pass to Isaiah Jackson, showcasing the playmaking he can tap into when he’s contained as a scorer. I’ll take more Mathurin, and second-year wing Chris Duarte should also get more minutes.

But the Turner situation is complicated. It’s been widely reported that the Pacers have interest in Deandre Ayton, and they have the cap space to sign him outright with an offer sheet. Having both Turner and Ayton could be worth experimenting with, but the Suns could also match and keep Ayton.

Maybe sign-and-trading Ayton for Turner is a mutually beneficial solution. I’d rather have Ayton because he puts more pressure on the rim with his rolls. And he’d be under a long-term contract, whereas Turner will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023.

As much as Ayton in Indy intrigues me, part of me hopes the Pacers are able to keep the band together so we can see Turner operate with Mathurin and Haliburton. Turner has shared the court with Domantas Sabonis, which limited spacing and his ability as both a roller and pick-and-pop option. Now he’d operate in more space with Indiana’s blossoming frontcourt and a strong group of wings and forwards: Duarte, Jalen Smith, and Oshae Brissett.

Turner’s skill set would likely shine next to perimeter creators like Haliburton and Mathurin. If he doesn’t have the opportunity to realize his potential with the Pacers, maybe his new team will set him up for more success than ever. Either way, Indiana’s future is looking bright.

7. Quentin Grimes Could Give New York a Boost

The first line of Quentin Grimes’s old high school scouting report on ESPN is: “Grimes is a strong and athletic combo-guard who thrives in the open floor and has a definite passing instinct.”

That was written in 2018 when he was a top-10 recruit and before he struggled at Kansas, transferred to Houston, and became a 3-and-D prospect. But it’s a role he excelled at as a Knicks rookie while still displaying glimmers of the player scouts once envisioned when he committed to the Jayhawks. This summer league, Grimes has been given the freedom to do more playmaking and has shined with eight assists in his first game and then four in his second—one of them an over-the-head dump-off to Jericho Sims.

Another was a behind-the-back dish off a cut to the rim:

Grimes is averaging 24 points on 17.3 shots with 4.3 assists in 28.9 minutes per game. And what he does best—shoot 3s—he’s hitting at only 33.3 percent. The numbers could be even better if his shot were on. But summer league provides opportunities for young players to show new dimensions of their game. Or in the case of Grimes, old talents that have laid dormant. The Knicks are trying to get more out of him in higher volume than any team has been able to since high school.