NBA summer league lost its main attraction when Zion Williamson exited with a knee injury just nine minutes into his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans. Williamson wasn’t the only top draft pick to miss time in Las Vegas: Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland, and Cameron Reddish were all top-10 picks who never suited up because of injuries or trade technicalities.
Despite a lack of star power, summer league again provided a showcase for young players looking to make a name for themselves. You don’t need to be a first-round pick to stand out in Vegas, as second rounders like Carsen Edwards and Iggy Brazdeikis, as well as undrafted free agent Terence Davis proved.
These are the 11 most impressive rookies we saw in summer league, ranked from last to first.
11. Coby White, G, Chicago Bulls
White was ice cold for most of summer league. He ended his four-game run shooting 33 percent from the field and just 3-of-30 from three-point range. The Bulls hope the sample he showed in college (92nd percentile on spot-ups, 35 percent from three) is more indicative of the type of shooter he’ll be at the start of his career. White also struggled to score at the rim over NBA length, failing to generate enough power to absorb and finish through contact. He simply won’t be an effective player unless his jumper is falling.
It wasn’t all bad for White. He demonstrated his signature ability to play with pace, getting the Chicago offense in position to score early in the shot clock. His open-floor ball handling was particularly impressive and an extension of what he showed at North Carolina. White also made some nifty passes to finish with a 28 percent assist rate in Vegas, like this lefty kick out for a three:
10. R.J. Barrett, G, New York Knicks
Barrett put up some big numbers, but struggled with efficiency, showing many of the same strengths and weaknesses he had at Duke. The same criticism he drew in college for tunnel vision and poor shot selection followed him to Las Vegas, manifested by a lowly 47.6 percent true shooting percentage through four games. Barrett regularly missed open teammates with the ball in his hands and tried to force his own offense rather than making the easy play. He has a long way to go with his decision making before he can successfully initiate offense at the NBA level on a consistent basis.
The silver lining for Knicks fans is that Barrett did get better every game, ending his run in Vegas with a 21-10-8 line in a win vs. the Wizards. Just 19 years old, Barrett is already strong enough physically to finish through contact and get to the foul line. He was also able develop a rapport with second-year center Mitchell Robinson in the pick-and-roll, using the threat of his scoring to set up his teammate for dunks and lay-ins. Barrett is far from a finished product, but he still has the tools for a bright future if he can improve his decision making and perimeter shooting.
9. Rui Hachimura, F, Washington Wizards
Hachimura scored at Gonzaga and he scored again in summer league, averaging 19.3 points per game on 59 percent true shooting over three games in Vegas. Hachimura does his best work from mid-range, showing soft touch on his jumper out to 18-feet while also having the strength to create separation and finish through contact. He played one of the best games of any rookie in summer league, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds on 9-of-12 shooting against the Hawks.
The question with Hachimura is what he brings to the table outside of scoring. He had only two assists through 95 minutes in Vegas, failing to leverage his scoring ability to make his teammates better. He also didn’t provide much resistance defensively, struggling with his rotations and getting only one steal (it’s worth noting he did have five blocks). Hachimura is talented enough to put up numbers as a rookie on what’s likely to be a miserable Wizards team, but his impact on winning remains a major question mark until he improves as a passer and defender.
8. Terence Davis, G, Toronto Raptors
Davis had a scorching first game in Las Vegas for the Nuggets, which was enough to earn him a guaranteed contract from the Raptors after he declined two-way offers from a number of teams.
Despite going undrafted as a senior out of Ole Miss, Davis has the physicality and scoring instincts to carve out an NBA career. A 6’4 guard with a strong frame and explosive athleticism, Davis consistently filled the box score through his three summer league games, finishing with 18.3 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game on a sparkling 61 percent true shooting percentage. He also showed range on his jump shot (41.7 percent on eight attempts per game), impressed as a passer (31.2 percent assist rate), and continued to make plays defensively. He should have an opportunity in Toronto to continue rounding out his game.
7. Iggy Brazdeikis, G, New York Knicks
Brazdeikis was the Knicks’ most consistent and efficient scorer throughout summer league, averaging 18 points per game on 67.4 percent true shooting. He was on fire from the three-point line, going 11-of-19 (58 percent) from behind the arc. Brazdeikis exudes confidence on the offense end, attacking the rim against slower defenders and never being afraid to let his jumper fly if he has a sliver of space.
Brazdeikis even made some nice passes in Vegas, which is considered one of the biggest areas of improvement in his game, finishing with 10 total assists. His ability to score over length at the rim remains a question, but the Knicks have found themselves a steal in the second round as long as Iggy continues to hit his jumpers.
6. Carsen Edwards, G, Boston Celtics
Edwards is a special shooter. It isn’t just his accuracy that’s impressive, it’s his volume and his shot versatility. The Celtics’ guard splashed threes in every conceivable way, whether he was pulling up out of the pick-and-roll as the lead initiator, or whipping around screens and draining threes as a catch-and-shoot threat. Edwards took nine threes per game and made 46.7 percent of them. He ended his run in Las Vegas averaging 19.4 points per game on 64 percent true shooting.
Edwards slipped to the top of the second round because he lacks the facilitating chops to play as a traditional point guard and will always be one of the shortest players on the floor at 6’1. It won’t matter if he keeps shooting like this. The Celtics must feel like they got a major steal with the No. 33 overall pick.
5. Tyler Herro, G, Miami Heat
Herro has a chance to be an excellent complementary piece for the Heat. The No. 13 overall pick showed his unique skill as a shooter in Vegas, firing off 8.5 threes per game with smooth pull-ups in transition, off dribble handoffs, and whenever a defender went under a screen.