The third, and biggest, of the NBA’s summer leagues tips off Friday. Once again, the eyes of the NBA world cast their gaze upon Las Vegas, where all 30 NBA teams will be joined by national teams from China and Croatia to give you all the basketball you can handle over the next two weeks.
Which rookies are putting on a show? What’s Zion Williamson up to? Keep it here for your daily roundup of the players, matchups and storylines to watch each night of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Friday’s must-see game
Knicks vs. Pelicans, 9:30 ET (ESPN)
If seeing Zion Williamson’s first NBA game (yes, summer league, but still) isn’t reason enough to be excited for the Pelicans’ matchup against the New York Knicks, perhaps seeing the No. 1 pick face off against his former Duke teammate RJ Barrett will be. Williamson will likely dazzle a sold-out crowd with the same dunks that awed the fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And while the Knicks missed out on big free-agent signings such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they do have an intriguing young core that 6-foot-7 Barrett will join. Perhaps New York’s summer league opener can help Knicks fans find some optimism about the franchise’s future.
Zion Williamson | SF | Pelicans
The clear summer league headliner, Zion figures to electrify Vegas with his tomahawk slams and freakish athletic feats. But for all the hype and fanfare surrounding him, there are still a few Zion-centric questions worth digging in on during summer league. What type of shape will he be in? How will his 3-point shot look from the NBA line? Will the Pelicans use him as a big man in a small-ball lineup or more on the wing? For the NBA draft hipster die-hards burned out on Zion-mania, keep an eye on New Orleans’ two-way player Zylan Cheatham, who has the physical profile, athleticism, defensive versatility and playmaking ability at 6-foot-7 to carve out a role in the NBA. — Mike Schmitz
Players to not watch
While No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson will be the star attraction at the Las Vegas Summer League, there will be plenty of talent fans won’t be able to see, starting with No. 2 pick Ja Morant, who underwent knee surgery in early June. The Grizzlies are holding him out of action for precautionary reasons. No. 4 pick De’Andre Hunter won’t be able to debut for the Hawks until the trades that sent him from the Lakers to the Pelicans, then from New Orleans to Atlanta, are made official on Saturday. Darius Garland is listed on the Cavaliers’ roster, but the No. 5 pick is not expected to play in Las Vegas, nor is Kevin Porter Jr., the Cavs’ 30th overall pick, who suffered a hip injury during a pre-draft workout. And while Williamson will face off against his former Duke teammate RJ Barrett on Friday night, he won’t see fellow former teammate Cam Reddish, who is recovering from a core muscle injury. Two more top-10 picks — Jarrett Culver and Jaxson Hayes — could have their summer league debuts held up by pending trades.
Knicks are the favorites
The Knicks, at 8-1, are the favorites to win the Las Vegas Summer League championship at Caesars Sportsbook. The Portland Trail Blazers are next at 10-1, followed by the Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, who are each 14-1.
Las Vegas sportsbooks indicated that betting interest on Summer League is increasing but remains comparatively light. Alan Berg, senior oddsmaker for Caesars, compared the amount wagered on a Summer League game to how much is bet on a WNBA game.
Buzz from Sacramento: NBA on Kawhi Watch
The chatter among several coaches, scouts and team employees at the California Classic Summer League centered around this summer’s biggest mystery: What is Kawhi Leonard going to do? With Los Angeles Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and head coach Frank Vogel back in L.A., some of the team personnel on hand were asking for the latest on Leonard, naturally curious about the decision that could potentially tip the scales from the Lakers being a LeBron James/Anthony Davis-led title contender to a historic juggernaut. If Leonard goes to the LA Clippers, an assistant coach at the tournament said he envisions the Western Conference becoming wide open, with the improvements the Lakers, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers have made to go along with the Denver Nuggets returning a year more experienced. And if Leonard stays with the Toronto Raptors? “That makes them the favorites,” the assistant said. — Ohm Youngmisuk