NBA Summer League: Overreactions

The Las Vegas Summer League has concluded, and the NBA has officially hit its dry season. After a whirlwind offseason that kicked off only weeks after the NBA Finals, the Summer League is the last taste of action fans will get for approximately three months, until the new season kicks off on October 19th. Of course, there are still some notable names left on the free agency wire, and there will be the inevitable trade or two that are of mild interest, but for the most part, things should be relatively quiet around the NBA. With this in mind, I decided now is the best time to reflect on what we just witnessed from the league’s young talent, and buy into what Summer League is meant for: overreactions.

1. Tre Jones is next up in the Spurs star lineage

(Logan Riely)

Since the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Spurs fans have anxiously been awaiting the next savior that would return San Antonio to their rightful place at the top of the association. While the Spurs have an abundance of young talent, such as Dejounte Murray and Olympic Gold Medalist Keldon Johnson, many have wondered if they have anyone on the roster that has the star power necessary to carry the load. If we’re going off of Summer League overreactions, I’m confident Tre Jones can be the man for the job. While the NBA showcased their blatant disrespect for Jones by leaving him off both All-Summer League teams, he quietly had one of the best performances this summer. In 4 games, the former Duke Blue Devil averaged 22.8 points per game (making him the 4th leading scorer) on 50 percent shooting from the field, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. He also had a nearly impossible game-winning layup over the outstretched reach of Hornets rookie Kai Jones.

Jones was the Spurs’ second-round draft pick in 2020 and spent most of last season with the team’s G League affiliate, which evidently allowed him to work on his shot creation and shot off the dribble. Coming out of college, these two areas were some of Jones’ biggest weaknesses. However, he was one of the best shot creators of Summer League, posting 0.78 points per possession, good for ninth among all players. This shot creation was a result of a heady, patient offense that shows a maturation in Jones’ game from college. Through this style of play, he was able to get to his spots on the court and hit shots at an impressively consistent rate. On top of this, Tre Jones was the engine that kept the Spurs’ offense running this summer. While he isn’t the most athletic guard, he has speed that allows him to push the tempo and burn past people in transition. He utilized this throughout Summer League to keep defenders on their heels and set up his teammates for easy scoring opportunities. In the halfcourt, his vision creativity had the same effect on creating looks for his team. Jones will still need to develop a more consistent three-point game to keep defenses honest, but it's evident he is shaping up to be more than just a defensive playmaker like he was coming out of college. His evolved game is reminiscent of a young Tony Parker, who didn’t develop a solid three-point game until much later in his career on his way to becoming a finals MVP and four-time champion.

2. Luka Garza will be a consistent starter in the league

It may sound odd to say, but the former college National Player of the Year was one of the more pleasant surprises of Summer League. Though Luka Garza has always been able to score at will during his time at Iowa, there was much debate as to how his game would translate to the next level. Between his spotty defense and lack of quickness, it was fair to wonder if Garza’s best days would be in college. After slimming down through the pre-draft process though, I certainly think there is potential to minimize the negatives of his game enough to make him a consistent starter in the NBA.

Garza’s ability to score from just about anywhere on the court is the reason why he even heard his name called on draft night, but from what we saw in Summer League, I like the potential to expand his offensive game. He was effective as the roller in the pick and roll which should be his bread and butter in the league, especially as someone who can pop out and hit a jumper if the lane isn’t there. He’s a good spot-up shooter that will provide spacing, which is necessary for him to see time early in his career with his weakness on the defensive end. His vision with the ball in his hands will need to improve, as there were times when he would be double-teamed or would bait another defender near the basket but would fail to kick it out, but there were also flashes of his ability to distribute effectively in the half-court. If he’s able to improve his court awareness and vision, his spacing and the attention it requires could lead to quite a few open looks for teammates.

On defense, the most effective way for him to remain on the court and not be exposed routinely is to utilize drop coverage on the pick and roll. Due to his lack of quickness, opposing teams will attempt to catch him in a mismatch in these situations, but the Pistons summer league team aimed to counter this by having Garza fall near the basket and closeout if a midrange jumper was taken. If he can sharpen his defensive IQ in these situations, he can be net-neutral on defense, which means he won’t be unplayable in important situations. I like the fact that he is signed to a two-way contract because the G league will allow him the opportunity to work on defense and playmaking, while also providing him at least some NBA exposure. If Garza can become a master in more aspects on the offensive end, while minimizing his defensive liability as I believe is possible, he can absolutely be a starter in the NBA.

3. Davion Mitchell will be a Defensive Player of the Year

The Co-MVP was a full-on pest for the duration of Summer League. After a video of Davion Mitchell strapping up James Bouknight, one of the draft’s most solid ball handlers, made its rounds on social media, the Kings’ guard continued his reign of terror all the way to the Summer League championship. With tenacious on-ball defense that frequently led to turnovers or poor decisions, Mitchell quickly proved why he was such a vital selection for the Kings as the ninth pick. For a team that ended up dead last in defensive rating last season, the need for a gritty defender like Mitchell was high on the team’s list this offseason. Especially when you consider that the Kings posted their worst defensive ratings when Mitchell’s backcourt counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, was on the court and their best numbers when he was off. Fox is a player that is an integral part of the Kings’ future success, so sitting him in key moments isn’t an option like other defensive liabilities. This is where Davion Mitchell has the opportunity to thrive. If you can’t get rid of the problem, you need to hide it in plain sight, which the Kings haven’t been able to do because the rest of their defense has been less than stellar as well.

The former Baylor guard will instantly step in and have the opportunity to guard the opposing team’s best backcourt threat, which I’m sure he relishes. Mitchell’s quickness, active hands, and ability to stay in front of the ball posed a challenge to every team the Kings encountered, including the Celtics, who only posted a measly 67 points in the Summer League championship. With the King’s porous defense of the past, we will immediately get a chance to see just how big of an impact Mitchell has on the team’s rating while he also gets important exposure early on in his career as the King’s go-to defender. He already possesses the raw skills and athleticism to make him one of the league’s best defenders, but with the immediate opportunity in front of him and the ability to grow and learn in his rookie season, I believe Davion Mitchell will grow accustomed to receiving defensive accolades through the course of his career.