LAS VEGAS — It was a little bit of a homecoming for Scoot Henderson and Victor Wembanyama, playing under the bright lights of Las Vegas for the first time since October when the pair went head-to-head in a pair of exhibition games. The top four picks in the 2023 NBA Draft headlined the first night of Summer League with Henderson squaring off with the No. 4 pick Amen Thompson before Wembanyama made his Spurs debut against No. 2 pick Brandon Miller and the Charlotte Hornets. The atmosphere felt like an NBA playoff game with every seat in the building filled and numerous NBA players sitting courtside.
Who stood out and shined in front of the sold-out crowd at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Arena? Yahoo Sports breaks down the performance of the top draft picks and other players who impressed on Day 1 of Summer League.
No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
Everyone in the building came to see Wembanyama in a Spurs jersey for the first time Friday night. The energy picked up in the arena every time he touched the ball and there were ooh’s and aah’s a few times when he took defenders off the dribble. Miller guarded Wembanyama multiple times and tried to slow him down in the paint when he got the ball. The 7-foot-4 French phenom is obviously the most impactful on the defensive side of the ball, recording five blocks, altering shots along the perimeter and guarding the switch in the pick-and-roll. This wasn’t the debut NBA fans were hoping to see from Wembanyama, only going 2-for-13 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range and finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and three assists.
“As a team, it wasn’t our best shooting game,” Wembanyama said after the game. “The hardest thing for me was understanding the plays and the calls. The biggest improvement I need to do is being ready to react right away to the plays being called. It was a special moment to wear that jersey for the first time and I’m glad we won this game. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing on the court tonight, but I’m trying to learn for the next games and be ready for the season.”
No. 2 pick Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Miller looked a little rusty in his NBA debut during a pair of games in Sacramento earlier in the week at the California Classic and looked more settled during his first game in Las Vegas, finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and one block. He was only 3-for-10 from 3-point range but they weren’t bad misses, hitting off the back of the rim in most cases. Defensively he was productive, deflecting a few passes in the lane, sliding over on the help-side in the paint and using his length to contest shots past the 3-point line. Miller wasn’t forcing as many shots in the previous two games and his passing improved. He showed a little bit of flash, especially when Wembanyama was guarding him, and played above the rim in transition.
Henderson played halfway through the third quarter before suffering a right shoulder injury and not returning to the game. He was incredible in the first half and finished with 15 points, five rebounds and six assists in the thrilling 100-99 loss to the Rockets. Henderson matched up with Thompson every time they were on the court and it was pretty evenly matched. Henderson looked poised and confident on the court after playing two years in the G League with NBA rules and spacing.
“I definitely think I have an advantage entering the league,” Henderson told Yahoo Sports. “Just playing in the G League, I’m comfortable with the pace and I’m ready to dominate right away. I’m entering the league with something to prove and it all starts at Summer League.”
There was definitely some nice chemistry brewing on the court between Henderson and last year’s No. 7 pick, Shaedon Sharpe. Sharpe was cutting well off the ball and Henderson was finding the high-flying wing in transition for easy baskets. If this is any indication of what’s to come for a young core group, the future looks bright for the Trail Blazers as they look to potentially move on from Damian Lillard.
Thompson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the rookie class and disrupted Henderson several times when the pair matched up. He was jumping screens, not allowing players to turn the corner and even recorded three blocks. Offensively, he struggled around the rim at times and is adjusting to the physicality of the NBA after playing two seasons for Overtime Elite. Thompson finished with 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, four blocks, three steals and only two turnovers in his NBA debut. There’s a lot to like about his early playmaking on offense and how he can guard both positions in the backcourt at a high level. Coming into the league, many questioned Thompson’s 3-point game and late in the fourth quarter, he stepped into a 3 confidently with no hesitation and knocked it down. Thompson left the game late in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and is likely to sit out the remainder of Summer League.
Jones, a 6-foot-11 center from 2021 NBA Draft, welcomed Wembanyama to the NBA when he put this year’s No. 1 pick on a poster. Jones finished with six points, 10 rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes for the Hornets.
Hawkins was the No. 14 pick in the draft and is one of the best outside shooters in the incoming rookie class. He was instrumental in UConn’s championship run and had the hot hand all season, shooting 40% from 3-point range on at least six attempts per game. In his NBA debut, he wasn’t shy from behind the arc, shooting 3-for-10 from 3-point range and finishing with 16 points, five assists and two steals in 29 minutes in the New Orleans Pelicans‘ 102-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Nuggets have been successful finding gems in the second round and Tyson (the 37th pick) might be the next sleeper pick for Denver. Tyson played all four years (plus a bonus year due to COVID-19) at Clemson and averaged 15.3 points and 9.6 rebounds during his senior season. He looked comfortable in different sets on offense, found creative ways to score and finish and was productive on defense, containing the lane and making it hard for his man to get position. Tyson finished with 21 points (including three 3-pointers) and five rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench in the Nuggets’ 92-85 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Dick, the No. 13 pick, is known for his outside shooting (41% from 3-point range during his one year at Kansas), but it was his defense that was most impressive during his NBA debut. Dick finished with 10 points (2-for-9 from 3), four rebounds, three steals and two assists in 30 minutes on the court in the Toronto Raptors‘ 83-74 loss to the Chicago Bulls. In the second half, when his shot wasn’t falling, Dick was making the extra pass, cutting off the ball or facilitating for others. Defensively he was containing players on the perimeter and holding his own on the mismatch switch.
Source: Yahoo Sports