The 5 Best Players of the NBA Summer League

Ah, the Summer League.

The land of intense hyperbole and the only time the Sacramento Kings can celebrate a title victory. It’s truly the best and the worst time of the year. Some guys are trying to get into shape, while others are desperately fighting for a roster spot. It’s this sort of contrast that makes these couple of weeks so intriguing and unique.

With that said, here are the five players that have impressed the most during Las Vegas Summer League action.

Dennis Smith Jr. — Dallas Mavericks

The NC State product has exhibited his insane athleticism — as he’s compiled a number of highlight plays during his time in Vegas. His slam off dribble penetration against Lonzo Ball, and his near poster over the entire Kings organization are two of the gems during Summer League play. Smith is an explosive scorer with the ability to create off the dribble. He has range out to the three-point line, but doesn’t exclusively rely on that shot. Smith is the rare prospect with an established in-between game, a lost art at the collegiate level in the modern era.

His offensive game is as complete for a 19-year old as it gets. Dallas hasn’t boasted a guard with Smith’s scoring acumen since the days of Nick Van Exel. He’s the absolute perfect fit alongside the secondary scoring options of Harrison Barnes and an aging Dirk Nowitzki.

Lonzo Ball — Los Angeles Lakers

No matter which shoes he decides to wear, Ball will be alright in this league. The passing savant has dazzled Las Vegas crowds with his scintillating vision and court awareness. He’s played with this Lakers Summer League squad for a little over a week, and has already tailored his game to each of his teammate’s individual tendencies. Kyle Kuzma – another Laker SL standout – has benefited tremendously from sharing the court with Ball, regularly catching cross court dimes for easy baskets.

Ball has posted some of the most ridiculous numbers we’ve seen in Summer League history. He’s recorded two triple-doubles — including a masterful 36-point, 11-assist performance versus the Sixers. Of course, detractors will point to the level of competition – and it’s a valid point to be made. Though, the stats aren’t what truly has fans excited. Here’s a look at two of Ball’s assists versus Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics:

This is an NBA level pass. Lonzo knows exactly where (former Laker) David Nwaba is going to be before he gets there. This comes from playing hours and hours on end, recognizing defenses, understanding the game plan, and knowing exactly what your teammate is thinking.

This is just a special pass – delivering a picture-perfect bounce pass through four Celtics. He has the capability to make the smart play and the spectacular one.

His shot hasn’t been falling, but we can chalk that up to a small sample size and a further three-point line. Ball isn’t perfect, but he’s already must-watch when he’s on the court.

Bryn Forbes — San Antonio Spurs

Following a tremendous career at Michigan State, the sharp shooting Forbes went undrafted in 2016 due to his size and lack of point guard skills. With a strong Summer League showing, the Michigan native is slowly putting those doubts to rest. Forbes has been the key catalyst on an exciting Spurs SL team, pacing the league in scoring (26.0 per game) for players that have appeared in more than two games.

We all knew that Forbes could hit the three, but what has surprised has been his use of the outside jumper as a threat to get to the basket. Forbes is averaging 9.2 free throws per game in Vegas, converting on a blistering 95.7-percent of those attempts. Interestingly enough, Forbes actually shot the ball from three better during his time at the Utah Summer league (47.8-percent on 7.6 attempts versus 34.1-percent on 8.2 attempts), but because of his increased trips to the line, he’s been able to provide a higher scoring output (21.3 PPG in Utah).

If he can transfer this newly found skill to the regular season, Forbes makes the highly-rumored trade of Danny Green all the more plausible.

Caleb Swanigan — Portland Trail Blazers

Every year, there’s a player that dominated the College Basketball world and for some reason or another (size, athleticism, perceived potential), gets drafted far lower than they should have been. Meet the 2017 edition of that phenomena: Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan is a hybrid big man that rebounds, stretches the floor, and plays with high energy. Simply put…what’s not to like? He’s already posted four double-doubles in Vegas, and has effectively led the Blazers to the Summer League title game. Even though it seems like he was at Purdue for a decade, Swanigan is still just 20-years old. It seems inevitable at this point that we see Swanigan playing big minutes for Portland in the playoffs down the line.

John Collins — Atlanta Hawks

Collins has ascended Rookie of the Year ladders purely off of his stellar Summer League play. The accomplished Wake Forest product was a key cog for the Demon Deacons, totaling for 17 double-doubles in his final year. Collins is a gifted rebounder with the ability to score and finish near the basket. He doesn’t provide much from the outside, but it’s worth noting that Collins knocked down his only three point attempt of the summer. In a season that could be disappointing for Hawks fans, Collins has the ability to provide jarring highlight-reel plays like this:

The offseason departures of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard will give Collins plenty of opportunities to prove himself.

Sources: USA Today, Twitter, YouTube, CBSSports