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NBA Summer League’s 13 best rookies in 2022, ranked

NBA Summer League is Las Vegas serves multiple functions. It gathers almost every league executive in one place a week after free agency opens. It allows young players and deep reserves to get onto the court and show what they can do. But more than anything, Summer League is intriguing because it’s the first time we get to see the new rookies in an NBA uniform.

Success in Summer League does not preordain success once the season starts. We have seen so many examples before of players who looked great in Las Vegas, but couldn’t translate it against the best competition in the world. Still, an impressive debut in Summer League gives a fanbase reason to be optimistic heading into the new year. Hope is all we have as sports fans the majority of the time.

Here’s our list of the 13 most impressive rookies in Las Vegas for 2022 Summer League.

13. Malaki Branham, G, San Antonio Spurs

Branham emerged as a surprise one-and-done out of Ohio State after a strong close to the season. The No. 20 overall pick was impressive again in Las Vegas, showing off his dependable three-point stroke, his mid-range scoring touch, and a little bit of playmaking. The 6’5 guard averaged 15.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game by shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three. His 23-point performance against the Grizzlies was one of the best out of any rookie in Las Vegas. Branham isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t get a lot of easy baskets going to the rim, but he’ll earn rotation minutes early on a rebuilding Spurs team for his outside shot.

12. Dalen Terry, G, Chicago Bulls

Terry only averaged eight points per game as a sophomore at Arizona and had the lowest usage rate of any first round pick coming out of college. He was forced into more of a lead role in Las Vegas, and proved his all-around game could still translate while carrying a bigger workload. Terry averaged 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on remarkable 69.1 percent true shooting across five games in Las Vegas. His usage rate went from 14.1 in college to 22.2 with the SummerBulls. The higher usage rate can partially be attributed to the turnover problems Terry had in his first two games, but he settled down after that. Chicago selected Terry at No. 18 as a bet on length, motor, defense, and passing. While his halfcourt scoring still has a long way to go, he showed he can still impact the game in a variety of ways in Las Vegas.

11. Jalen Williams, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Williams was a mid-major star out of Santa Clara who soared up boards during the pre-draft process before eventually becoming a lottery pick for the Thunder at No. 12 overall. He won over evaluators with his ridiculous wingspan (nine inches bigger than his height), 40 percent three-point stroke, and comfort running the pick-and-roll. He showed it all in Summer League, averaging 11.7 points 3.3 rebounds, and two assists per game across seven contests. He did it while shooting 50 percent from the field, and 38.5 percent from three. Williams lacks top-end speed and quickness, but he fits into almost any lineup because of his length, floor game, and the spacing his shooting provides.

10. Jabari Walker, F, Portland Trail Blazers

Walker was the second-to-last pick in the draft, and if Summer League is any indication, the Blazers found a major steal late in the second round. A 6’9, 215 pound forward out of Colorado, Walker is a smart cutter, a good transition scorer, a capable three-point shooter, and an active defender on the interior. He came off the bench for every game of Portland’s run to the Summer League championship, but he was unquestionably one of their best players: he averaged 12.4 points and nine rebounds per game on 63 percent shooting from the field. If the threes keep falling like they did in Vegas — 6-of-14, or 43 percent — Walker’s energetic defense and rebounding could be enough to earn him rotation minutes as a rookie.

9. Blake Wesley, G, San Antonio Spurs

Wesley mostly lived up to his college scouting report during his time at Summer League: he showed the ability to get wherever he wanted off the bounce, but struggled to finish at the rim and failed to score efficiently. That’s perfectly fine for a rebuilding San Antonio Spurs team. Wesley does some things that simply can’t be taught. He has a wicked first step, continues to show improvement reading the floor as a passer, and has a knack for forcing turnovers on the defensive end. His three-point shot looked improved (11-of-32 for 34.4 percent) from his year at Notre Dame, and he appears to have more defensive potential than most gave him credit for in the pre-draft process. At the same time, he only shot 30 percent from the field in Summer League, which tracks with some of his poor shooting college performances. Wesley was a low risk bet on creation potential with the No. 25 overall pick, which is the same range of the draft the Spurs once found Dejounte Murray in. Murray certainly set a high bar, but Wesley has the tools to be a similarly impactful player if it all comes together.

8. MarJon Beauchamp, F, Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks selected Beauchamp out of the G League Ignite with the No. 24 pick as a bet on energy, length, athleticism, and scoring upside. He provided all of that and more during his five-game run in Las Vegas. A 6’7, 200 pound wing with a 7’1 wingspan, Beauchamp is an active defender all of the floor who can force turnovers on the perimeter and provide some paint protection inside. He was an excellent scorer from two-point range during his year with the Ignite, but only made 27.3 percent of his threes. In Summer League, Beauchamp went 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) from deep, and looked comfortable firing from the NBA line. Milwaukee wants athletes who can defend around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Beauchamp should fit right in. He’ll end up looking like a steal if his outside shooting continues to develop.

7. Jabari Smith Jr., F, Houston Rockets

Smith looked one of the best 6’10+ shooters alive in the lead up to the draft, but he couldn’t hit a shot in Las Vegas. The No. 3 overall pick only made 37.7 percent of his field goals and went 7-of-27 (26 percent) from three-point range across five games. Don’t be worried: it’s of course a small sample, and his combination of volume and efficiency in college from three felt like one of the sharpest individual skills of any player in the draft. Even while Smith struggled to make shots, he still showed how good he can be on the defensive end. He’s strong on his feet and active hands on the perimeter, and provides some rim protection inside, too. The big concern for Smith is how well he can create off the dribble, and that will remain a work in progress. But when the games count for real, Smith should be a high-level shooter and a nice match next to last year’s No. 2 pick Jalen Green on both ends. Even if I’m a bit skeptical of his superstar potential, Smith was a no-brainer at No. 3 for the Rockets and should be an extremely malleable building block for Houston moving forward.

6. Tari Eason, F, Houston Rockets

Eason felt like one of the biggest steals of the draft when he fell all the way to the Rockets at No. 17. His awesome performance in Las Vegas only further cemented that notion. Eason is a monster athlete with a great frame at 6’8, 220 pounds with a 7’1 wingspan. His game isn’t always pretty, but Eason makes a big impact by getting to the rim on offense, making big plays on defense, thriving in transition, and having enough skill as a shooter and passer to make defenses respect him. His numbers in Summer League — 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and one block across five games — showed just how much he can pack the box score. Eason needs to continue to improve his scoring efficiency and tighten his handle, but the forward is simply a buzzsaw at both ends of the court. He will be a big part of arguably the most exciting young core in the league even if he isn’t the headline name.

5. Bennedict Mathurin, G, Indiana Pacers

Mathurin was one of the best players in college basketball as a sophomore at Arizona, and it feels like he’s found a perfect situation for his skill set after going to the Indiana Pacers with the No. 6 overall pick. While Tyrese Haliburton handles most of the playmaking duties, Mathurin’s skill set as a deadly off-ball scorer can be fully unlocked. He’s one of the best shooters in this draft class, and mostly lived up to that billing by going 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from three-point range across three games in Las Vegas. Mathurin is also a really good athlete who can attack the basket on straight line drives, and score in transition. We weren’t quite as high on Mathurin as some entering the draft because we had concerns about his ball handling, passing, size, and defense, but the Pacers feel ideally suited to cover up some of those concerns. Mathurin could fit the Tyler Herro/Jordan Poole/Tyrese Maxey mold as a scoring threat who doesn’t need to dominate the ball, and the early returns at Summer League were promising.

4. Jaden Ivey, G, Detroit Pistons

Ivey only played 37 total minutes in Las Vegas after suffering an ankle injury early into his second game, but he was incredible in his limited time on the floor. The thing that has always made him special is his truly elite athleticism, and that was on full display in Summer League. Ivey is absurdly fast both from a dead stop and in the open floor. When he gets around the basket, he has a fantastic combination of leaping and agility that allows him to finish from a variety of angles. He also made 3-of-6 three-pointers he attempted. Ivey still needs to learn how to read coverages as a passer, and his defense is going to be a question mark until he proves otherwise, but there’s so much to like about the fit with him and Cade Cunningham in Detroit. Cunningham can handle most of the playmaking duties, while also spacing the floor around Ivey’s drives as a shooter and taking on the tougher defensive assignment. If there’s one thing Cunningham lacks, it’s elite speed, and that’s where Ivey comes in. This is the sort of thunder-and-lightning backcourt combination that should serve as an amazing foundation for Detroit moving forward. No one had a better draft than the Pistons, and it’s largely because Ivey somehow fell to the No. 5 pick.

3. Chet Holmgren, F/C, Oklahoma City Thunder

People have been skeptical that Chet Holmgren’s game can translate to the next level since he first emerged as a top prospect as a high schooler. At every stop, he keeps proving he’s a tough and productive front court player who impacts winning in a variety of ways. It happened again in Summer League, as Holmgren showcased the shooting, shot blocking, passing, and impressive two-way versatility that makes him a natural fit in today’s NBA despite his thin frame.

Holmgren averaged 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.8 blocks per game on 48 percent shooting from the field, 42 percent shooting from three (on 3.8 attempts per game), and 94 percent free throw shooting (on 3.4 attempts per game) across five Summer League games. Maybe he’ll never average 25 points per game, but Holmgren simply affects the game in so many areas with his ridiculous length, advanced feel for the game, and sharp all-around skill set. There will probably be viral highlights of Holmgren getting dunked on or buried under the basket all season, but the great thing about him is he’s not afraid to get embarrassed. Holmgren truly has an awesome mentality, and believes he can make game-changing plays on any given possession. If the three-point shot keeps falling like it did in Vegas, there’s almost no doubt he’s going to be an excellent player in the NBA for a long time.

2 Paolo Banchero, F, Orlando Magic

Banchero only needed two games in Las Vegas to show why he was our No. 1 overall prospect in this draft class from the very start of the cycle. He dropped 17 points and six assists (while going 2-of-3 from three-point range) in his debut against the Rockets, then had 23 points, six assists, four steals, and two blocks in a brilliant performance against the Kings. The Magic saw enough out of the first overall pick and decided to shut him down after that.

Banchero has always felt like the most NBA ready player in this draft class. It’s easy to believe he could produce at a star-level as a rookie. There is almost no lead shot creator in the world with Banchero’s size at 6’10, 250 pounds. He puts an enormous amount of pressure on the opposing defense with his combination of passing and scoring ability. He has so much versatility offensively, being able to play both sides of the pick-and-roll, splash mid-range jumpers, and use his strength to finish around the basket. Banchero isn’t super fast and lacks great leaping ability — but if he had those two things, he’d probably be considered an all-time great prospect. Even without elite athleticism, Banchero is so big and so skilled on the offensive end. The Magic made the right choice at No. 1.

1. Keegan Murray, F, Sacramento Kings

We gave the Kings a C+ for taking Murray over Jaden Ivey with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. While I’m not backing off that grade just yet, Murray absolutely deserves credit for an unbelievable run in Las Vegas. I wrote that Murray is “going to be a good NBA player for a long time” in our grades post despite panning the pick, and that might have been underselling it.

Murray was the most impressive rookie in summer league because of his productivity and consistency across Sacramento’s entire seven game run. He averaged 21.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists. and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 50 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from the foul line, and 84.4 percent from the free throw line.

Murray showed the total package that made him arguably the best player in the country at Iowa as a sophomore. He’s an incredible three-point shooter.

He can create his own look off the bounce on offense (he beat Holmgren for this bucket).

He can cause some turnovers defensively, and thrive in transition on offense:

We had Murray at No. 9 overall on our pre-draft big board because we had concerns about how he’d create his own shot and defend at the point of attack against the biggest, most talented wings in the world. While facing Summer League competition didn’t fully answer those questions, Murray is just so solid as a shooter and open floor scorer that he’ll probably end up making my rankings look foolish.

The Kings took Murray over Ivey because he was a better fit for their current roster. I thought that was silly given that the Kings’ roster isn’t that good, and the organization hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. There’s a long and storied history of Sacramento making bad draft picks. At least in summer league, though, Keegan Murray looked incredible. We can’t wait to see how he looks in the league, because no rookie was better in Las Vegas.

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