Summer League ends Monday, and with many of the top picks from this season having played their final game, it's a good time to reflect on and analyze what we saw.
Below is what I saw from each player and how I think they can fit into their team's roster next season.
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How each lottery pick performed in the 2023 NBA Summer League
Victor Wembanyama, Spurs
To much dissatisfaction, the No. 1 overall pick appeared in just two Summer League games. He looked to be a combination of tired and nervous in his first appearance. And while he still looked raw offensively in his second performance, he finished with an efficient 27 points on 14 shots. It's easier to have confidence in his defense, with Wembanyama racking up eight blocks and one steal in his two games. I have to admit, I don't mind him at 35-to-1 in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year odds.
Eye-test on offense -- it's a mixed bag. Wembanyama was getting swiped by smaller players on help defense and was unable to get past or through bigger guys inside unless under the rim already. I also thought he was too inactive as a cutter and could have been even more aggressive from three. But, around the rim -- wow. He missed some close ones that I expect him to make more often, and he was inventing shot angles I'd never seen before. And while he only racked up three total assists, I thought his vision was great.
Ultimately, I believe a structured offense will only serve to benefit him. I expect the Spurs to run a blend of Durant and Giannis-esque actions for him -- a sentence that hardly makes sense unless you've seen him play. Even if it's the defense that carries Wembanyama's fantasy value, I can't knock anyone taking him in the second round.
Chet Holmgren (2022), Thunder
I'm lumping Holmgren in here with this season's lottery picks, since he didn't play at all last season. I'm still worried about his frame and probably always will be, but I don't want to spend time on that here. Last year's No. 2 overall pick was one of this year's best Summer League performers, especially if you consider how few guys played more than two or three games. Holmgren played in four games.
First and foremost, his vertical spacing on both sides of the ball is fantastic. He's skying for two-handed volleyball spikes and easily throwing down (bad) lob passes from Summer League point guards, which should only become easier for him when those dimes are dropped from the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. He should also be great in transition, with both of those things likely to keep his field-goal percentage relatively high. From three, he went 1-for-11, but we know he's a better shooter than that.
I like what I saw from Holmgren, especially defensively (3.5 BLK, 1.0 STL). Like Wembanyama, I believe that will carry his fantasy value. What's important to remember is that Oklahoma City was a good team last season. I expect him to find shots within the flow of the offense -- not the coach forcing him the ball to showcase him for the fans.
Brandon Miller, Hornets
Miller showcased different abilities across different games but didn't put it all together until his most recent (July 11) appearance.
- July 3: 18 points on 11 shots...but six turnovers and seven fouls
- July 5: Six points, four turnovers, eight fouls...but seven assists
- July 7: 11 rebounds, three steals and one block...but needed 15 shots to score 16 points and committed five fouls
- July 9: Four offensive rebounds, four assists, zero turnovers...but needed 18 shots for 10 points
- July 11: 26 points on 15 shots, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one turnover
More than anything, the thing that concerns me about Miller is that he made so few special plays. I didn't come away thinking any particular skillet he had was giving him a tangible advantage over the opponents in front of him. I need to see more in preseason, but my concerns are there, especially with Miles Bridges returning and other relatively high-usage players around Miller.
Scoot Henderson, Trail Blazers
Henderson appeared in just one Summer League game before tweaking his shoulder and sitting out the remainder. One game is all we needed to see. He posted 15 points on 13 shots, six assists, five rebounds and one steal with just two turnovers in 21 minutes.
The No. 3 overall pick looked completely comfortable while showing off all elements of his game. His burst is fantastic, and he often uses it to generate open looks for teammates rather than forcing a contorting finish at the rim. Henderson doesn't hog the ball, either. If he sizes up his defender and doesn't like the position, he'll whip the ball to a teammate rather than dance.
Gauging his ceiling for this season isn't easy. We don't know when Damian Lillard will be traded or if he'll play before being dealt. And even when he's dealt, Henderson will have to compete for touches with Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and possibly someone coming in from a trade. I'm excited to see how he looks in preseason against NBA players.
Amen Thompson, Rockets
Like Scoot Henderson, we saw Thompson appear in just one game -- ironically, against Henderson -- before suffering an ankle injury and being shut down until the preseason. I was a skeptic of the Thompson twins heading into the draft, but both of them impressed me.
The athleticism is top-shelf. Thompson makes it look effortless to blow by the man in front of him and rise up for a head-at-the-rim finish with either hand -- often craftily going with the left hand on the right side of the basket and vice versa. He utilizes his athleticism on defense just as much, and he recorded four blocks and three steals. The passing ability -- vision, accuracy and speed -- is there.
My main concerns about Thompson remain. Can he shoot? What do his playing time and usage look like? To answer my first question, I don't think he can shoot. His form is poor, and he converted just 64.6 percent of his 4.1 free throws per game in the Overtime Elite. He's risky in fantasy leagues that count free-throw percentage. In terms of his role -- Houston added Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to a team already including the shot-heavy Jalen Green and the improving Jabari Smith. Alperen Sengun handles his fair share of touches as well. The upside is intriguing, but understand the situation before drafting him.
Ausar Thompson, Pistons
I hate to make things as simple as "The Thompson twins play extremely similar, so I feel generally the same about both of them", but...
The Thompson twins play extremely similar, so I feel generally the same about both of them. However, Ausar is the better shooter and more "wingy" of the two. He's also a bit bulkier than his brother. Basketball Reference says there's only a six-pound difference, but it feels like more to me.
We at least got more of a sample from Ausar, who, in his four games, averaged 13.5 points on 10.8 shots, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 29.2 minutes. Going 3-for-11 from three and 11-for-17 from the charity stripe is discouraging, but not unexpected.
Even if Amen is the more touted prospect, Ausar may have more opportunities out of the gate. Detroit's rotation is weak on the wing, with the rookie's main competition for minutes essentially being Joe Harris, Isaiah Livers and (I suppose?) Alec Burks. It would be ideal for both twins to see more action with (and potentially run) the second unit. Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey will dominate touches with the starters.
Anthony Black, Magic
Like Brandon Miller, Black's Summer League performances were mixes of good and bad, and he struggled to make a high-usage impact without turnovers. Overall, he averaged 11.0 points on 10.7 shots, 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists to 4.0 turnovers and 2.0 steals in 28.4 minutes.
I don't think any of his performances should change opinion one way or another. His strengths and weaknesses coming out of the draft are the ones we saw in these outings. Black is a natural playmaker and defender who struggles shooting and isn't an elite athlete. Fantasy-wise, I'm also concerned that he's joining a crowded backcourt.
Bilal Coulibaly, Wizards
Offensively, Coulibaly may as well be playing with his left hand tied behind his back and is a student of the Alex Barutha "hang out on the left wing drive right toward the basket on every play" school of basketball. At 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he's great in transition as well. He knows how to use his 230-pound frame, though I think being a little more of a bully on his drives would serve him well. Learning to read the defense and pass out of those drives is a clear next step for him. Shooting is a weak point, with the rookie going 2-for-11 from distance and 13-for-19 from the charity stripe. I think his form is conducive to improvement.
What's ready right now is his defense. That was his calling card in France, and he averaged 2.2 blocks in his four Summer League games, along with 12.2 points on 10.5 shots, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists (2.5 turnovers) in 30.5 minutes. He got more comfortable in Summer League as the games went along, with his last two appearances being his best.
Washington's roster is shallow and bad, so Coulibaly will play. I'm not banking on him being fantasy-relevant, however. Preseason will tell us more.
Jarace Walker, Pacers
Talk about aggressive! Walker averaged 17.5 shots in his four Summer League appearances. I'd prefer rookies to experiment and be aggressive, but I'd also prefer them to shoot better than 34.3 FG%, 5-for-28 (17.9%) from three and 4-for-9 (44.4%) from the charity stripe. At least he had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio! (13-to-9).
When you see Walker and his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame, you expect him to be a bruiser inside. That's not really his game, though I think he should embrace more of it. Walker will screen-and-roll, but he seems to prefer handling the ball and driving for a finesse finish. He utilizes eurosteps and floaters and can shy away from contact (hence the nine total free throws). Passing is a strong suit, too, and he averaged 3.2 dimes. If he learns to embrace and create contact, his upside is immense.
Defensively, he's fantastic, and that's his best side of the ball. He was active as a helpside blocker and averaged 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. He's switchable, which should keep him on the floor.
Walker figures to be Indiana's starting power forward, and I like him as a flier in fantasy. I wouldn't be surprised if he saw 30 minutes per game right away. His passing and defense should help boost his fantasy value when his shot isn't falling.
Taylor Hendricks, Jazz
Hendricks has not played in Summer League due to a hamstring injury.
Cason Wallace, Thunder
Wallace's offense is behind his defense, which showed at Summer League. He shot 33.3 FG%, though 9-for-25 (36.0%) on threes. An even assist-to-turnover ratio (12:12) was also disappointing. He also lacked burst and didn't make eye-catching moves with the ball.
Wallace had just four steals and no blocks in four games, but he has upside to be better. He had a 3.7 STL% at Kentucky (Alex Caruso led the NBA with a 3.0 STL%).
OKC isn't deep, but Wallace isn't just going to get 30 minutes by default. This is a team trying to win. He has to prove he can outplay Isaiah Joe, Kenrich Williams, Aaron Wiggins, Vasilije Micic and others. As of right now, I'd avoid him in redraft leagues, but we'll see what happens in preseason.
Jett Howard, Magic
Howard going No. 11 surprised many, and he didn't ease doubters' fears with his summer play. Some highlights from a 22-point effort made the rounds on Twitter, but he made some wonky shots, and his playstyle felt intentionally aggressive.
Overall, he shot only 38.5 percent from the field, though went 8-for-20 (40.0%) from distance. He only attempted three free throws in his trio of games. His passing was fine (10 assists, eight turnovers) and his defense was nice (four steals, two blocks).
I anticipate Howard getting his fair share of opportunities on a Magic team relatively thin on the wing, especially since the organization used real draft capital to select him. I think he'll be better when asked to do less -- mostly being a spot-up shooter who can pump and drive a bit. I'm not expecting much as a rookie as a fantasy producer aside from potentially three-pointers.
Dereck Lively, Mavericks
You could say Lively is a...lively big. He's incredibly active and a great athlete, always trying to get involved around the rim. I'm a sucker for great offensive rebounders, and he averaged 3.5 ORBs in 23.6 minutes across four Summer League appearances.
Aside from that, he left a little to be desired, averaging only 8.0 points on 60.0 FG% and shooting a woeful 8-for-15 (53.3%) from the charity stripe -- at least he got there! I would have also liked to see more than 0.8 blocks and 0.2 steals, but his athleticism should make him a more impactful defender than those numbers suggest.
I understand why Dallas selected Lively, but he has some competition. He'll have to fend off Richaun Holmes, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell and (I guess) JaVale McGee. I'm not counting on much fantasy relevance as a rookie, but he's intriguing long term.
Gradey Dick, Raptors
Dick's lack of quickness was a negative in his scouting report, but I didn't see him too limited by it, and he was excellent at changing directions off-ball and leaving defenders behind. I was also impressed by his quick decision-making. He never stood around with the ball. He kept things moving for himself and his teammates. Dick's defense could be exposed at the real NBA level, but he managed 1.5 steals in 28.2 minutes per game in Summer League and had a nice 2.5 STL% at Kansas.
His first summer outing was his worst, and he cleaned things up in games two, three and four. He slashed just 40/30/89, but he was also extremely aggressive, taking 15.0 shots per game. In the flow of an NBA offense, I expect better efficiency. Dick's assist-to-turnover ratio (9:11) was poor, but I also doubt he handles the ball as frequently in real games.
I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw, and I'm intrigued to see how Toronto uses him during preseason. The Raptors definitely need his shooting, so he could see real minutes right away.
Jordan Hawkins, Pelicans
Hawkins is a capital-S Shooter...but a capital-M Misser in Summer League. He shot 29.1 FG%, 6-for-28 (21.4%) on threes and 10-for-19 (52.6%) at the charity stripe in four games. His assist-to-turnover ratio was also abominable (9:16).
All of his weaknesses presented themselves. He's not great handling the ball and making his teammates better, and his lack of athleticism and slight frame hurt him driving to the basket. He'll need to learn to make floaters, or his layups will get sent into the fifth row.
Energy and solid defense will help keep Hawkins on the floor, but I have my concerns already. New Orleans' roster is deep, too. It might be tough for him to see significant action early in his career.
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