NBA summer league 2023: Biggest surprises and disappointments in Las Vegas

Chet Holmgren shows off his skills in 25-point performance (1:49)

Chet Holmgren impresses for the Thunder with 25 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks in a win vs. the Pacers. (1:49)

As the 2023 NBA 2K24 Summer League comes to a close, the next generation of NBA stars has become more clear. Victor Wembanyama owned the spotlight early in Las Vegas, as the No. 1 overall pick got his first taste of NBA action, struggling in his first game against the Charlotte Hornets but showing off his talent in a big way against the Portland Trail Blazers in his second game.

But Wembanyama didn't steal all the attention at summer league. Fellow rookie Keyonte George was one of the biggest surprises in Vegas with an impressive display of perimeter shooting and passing. Chet Holmgren was the other big story going into the event, as the Oklahoma City Thunder's No. 2 overall pick in 2022 made his return from injury and could prove to be another ascending young big man alongside Wembanyama.

Some of the other top rookies in this year's draft class were limited in what they showed off to fans. Scoot Henderson and Amen Thompson suffered injuries in their first summer league games, which prevented Thompson from competing against his twin brother, Ausar Thompson, later in the week when the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets faced off.

What has been the biggest surprise so far? What about the biggest disappointment? Did the NBA get it right by adding a new penalty? Our insiders break down the biggest storylines through the first week in Las Vegas.

What was the biggest surprise at summer league?

Kendra Andrews: Keyonte George simply dominated in the games he played before unfortunately spraining his ankle. He shot 11-of-25 from 3-point range in his two games and also dished out 17 assists, while also turning the ball over just six times. His assist to turnover ratio was highlighted as a concern by scouts, but he shut that notion down. He appears to be giving the Jazz options for production outside of Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson.

Tim Bontemps: George -- the 16th overall pick in last month's NBA draft -- has been fantastic in Vegas, shooting over 50% from the field and 44% from 3 while averaging 21.7 points and 6.3 assists per game. For a young Utah team that's continuing to stockpile forward-looking talent, George could be a very intriguing addition.

Dave McMenamin: D'Moi Hodge. If you squinted at the screen while watching the Los Angeles Lakers' summer league team, you might have thought Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was back on the Lakers seeing Hodge's shooting form, speedy cuts and identical arm sleeve. Signed to a two-way deal after going undrafted out of Missouri, Hodge averaged 15.4 points per game (40.4% from 3) in five games in Vegas. L.A.'s scouting department might have unearthed another gem.

Bobby Marks: The 2022 lottery picks. A year ago we wrote how disappointing it was for the 2021 top 10 to bypass playing in summer league. This summer was just the opposite. We didn't get to see Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, but Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren, Keegan Murray (the forward played in Sacramento only), Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey all played at a high level. Smith was the standout of the group, averaging 35.5 points, including a summer-league-high 13.5 free throw attempts. During the regular season in Houston, Smith averaged 2.6 free throw attempts.

Andrew Lopez: Emoni Bates' journey to the NBA hasn't been the path he might have thought he'd have taken years ago. After winning the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year award as a sophomore, Bates was supposed to be the next big thing. After forgoing his senior year of high school to enroll early at Memphis, Bates' career turned. After one year at Memphis, he tried to revive things at Eastern Michigan closer to home but still decided to go pro. He was selected 49th overall and seemed like an afterthought to some but in five games in Vegas, he's averaging 16.8 points and six rebounds a game for the undefeated Cavaliers. It's nice to see Bates getting back to basketball and showing flashes of why he was so highly regarded in the first place.

What was the biggest disappointment at summer league?

Andrews: Brandon Miller. He did find something toward the end of his summer league stint, but he struggled a bit in the California Classic and then into Vegas. What's perhaps most concerning is his 3-point shooting so far -- he went 0-for-7 against the Lakers.

Bontemps: Jaden Hardy. When second-year players participate in summer league, the hope is they really control the game and dominate. And while Hardy has put up a lot of raw points, he's shooting 35% overall and 24% from 3, and he basically has a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Ultimately, though, it's summer league. He's still very promising, and he just turned 21 last week, so there's lots of runway ahead.

McMenamin: Other than seeing the Sphere in the daytime when it's powered down instead of when it's lit up like a giant basketball at night? After spending a week watching the games in Las Vegas, I'm not sure there was anything that really disappointed me. Wembanyama's debut was a little shaky, but he bounced back in a big way in his second outing. A ton of last year's top picks participated. We got a bunch of competitive fourth quarters and even a few Elam endings in overtime. It was a great event. No notes.

Marks: My initial response is the fans who booed Victor Wembanyama on Friday night in his first game. Yes, the No. 1 pick struggled at times offensively, but it was embarrassing to hear the splattering of negativity that night. From a playing standpoint, it has to be the struggles of Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe from the perimeter. The two lottery picks from last year averaged 22 and 17 points per game, respectively, but shot below 40% from the field and 30% on 3-pointers.

Lopez: Injuries. Summer league injuries robbed us of seeing a couple of potential marquee matchups, including Amen and Ausar Thompson squaring off as well as Wembanyama going up against Scoot Henderson. Keyonte George of the Utah Jazz also was having a great summer league before an ankle sprain, as was the Dallas Mavericks' Jaden Hardy.

Victor Wembanyama's biggest adjustment to the NBA will be _______

Andrews: Dealing with the big, bad bodies of some of the opponents he'll go up against. And with that -- defensive rebounding and some defense. I understand that Wembanyama doesn't want to put on weight or muscle because of his frame. But, seeing how he struggled to play aggressively down low in Vegas, I'm hard-pressed to believe he'll be super successful against those in the NBA who are, well, huge and strong. He'll really have to find a way to use his finesse to his advantage.

Bontemps: Dealing with ball-hawking defenders. Wembanyama has made it clear he wants to handle the ball and attempt to make plays for himself and others. But in Vegas, that often led to him losing the ball in traffic. If he wants to make that a permanent part of his game, and not something the Spurs sand away over time, he needs to get much better in those situations.

Windhorst: Spurs have to learn how to use Wembanyama

Brian Windhorst and Kendrick Perkins detail the Spurs' reported decision to shut down Victor Wembanyama for the remaining summer league games.

McMenamin: Perimeter defense. Wembanyama is certainly very coordinated for a player his size and knows how to "shuffle his puppies" as my man Cuffs the Legend would say, but defending wings in the league is as hard a task as there is in today's NBA. Teams will try to pull him from the paint in switching situations, and his tremendous length won't be enough on its own to stop players out there. We saw it in his debut against Charlotte: A couple soft closeouts by Wembanyama set Brandon Miller up for outside shots he knocked down in rhythm. If Wembanyama is going to be the defensive force he promises to be, that area of his game will need to improve.

Marks: Defensive rebounding. Wembanyama averaged 10 rebounds in the two games he played and will likely average double digits his rookie season based just on his size. What Wembanyama struggled with was the inability to locate the ball off the rim and then box out smaller players. There was a sense in both games that his instincts were a second slower than the other players on the court.

Lopez: What and when to do things offensively. In what will be a continuous process for Wembanyama and the Spurs, where and how Wembanyama plays will take some time to figure out. San Antonio used him in a bunch of ways in just two games, but he didn't settle in until around the second quarter in the second game. While there were some early hiccups on the defensive end, Wembanyama will be fine there. Figuring out his place on the offensive side -- and having the freedom to do so -- will be key early in Year 1.

Who was summer league MVP?

Andrews: Jabari Smith Jr. From scoring 33 points in his debut -- featuring a game winner that literally had me drop to my knees -- and another 38-point game, his explosiveness is impossible to ignore.

Bontemps: Jalen Williams. I know he played in only one game, so it's an odd pick. But the way Williams played for Oklahoma City only underscores why I think the Thunder are going to snap their playoff drought next spring.

McMenamin: The Cleveland Charge. The Cleveland Cavaliers' 4-0 start in Vegas was thanks in large part to the continuity the team had from its trio of Charge players from its G League team in Sam Merrill, Sharife Cooper and Isaiah Mobley. Not to mention Charge coach Mike Gerrity coaching the summer squad. Mobley is averaging 15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks; Cooper is putting up 13.5 points and 3.3 assists; and Merrill is averaging 18.8 points while shooting 43.2% from deep, making five 3-pointers per game. Those three anchoring the team still allowed Cavs rookies Emoni Bates and Pete Nance to have some nice moments.

Marks: If Smith wasn't an option and we are basing this off Las Vegas only (sorry Keegan Murray), it has to be Orlando Robinson of the Miami Heat. Robinson went undrafted last season, signed a two-way deal with Miami in December and eventually a two-year, $3.9 million contract on July 1. The contract for this season has $75,000 in guaranteed money, and Robinson played in the first two games like a player fighting for a roster spot. The forward averaged 25.8 points on 57.8% shooting from the field, 35.3% from deep, and averaged 10 rebounds.

Lopez: The Houston Rockets should just share the award. Smith was the most impressive player in Vegas in his two games. He had a 33-point performance that ended with a buzzer-beater and followed that up with a 38-point game against the Pistons. Tari Eason was all over the place, averaging 23 points, 9.5 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in two games. Cam Whitmore has played consistently in four games, and Amen Thompson had a stat-stuffing showcase in his only game before suffering an injury.

The one NBA rookie not named Wembanyama to watch this season is _______

Andrews: Chet Holmgren. Holmgren had a very successful summer league after missing all of last season. And just as we're fascinated by Wembanyama, we should be fascinated with Holmgren, another lanky player, as well. But I think that Holmgren has a lot of upside and potential and with a young and exciting Thunder team, he should be one to keep your eyes on.

Bontemps: Henderson is the obvious choice, and the right one, but to say something different, I'll say Amen Thompson. His path to the NBA, playing alongside his twin, Ausar, at Overtime Elite, was a unique one, but Thompson was incredibly impressive playing against Henderson in his lone summer league game, and he has the combination of physical gifts that, if it all connects, Houston could have a truly special talent on its hands.

McMenamin: Cam Whitmore. I sat with a scout for one of Whitmore's games in Las Vegas, and he couldn't help but chuckle at Whitmore's lack of conscience on offense -- the Rockets rookie averaged 20.4 points on 17.2 shots in five games. But it takes confidence to do that, whether they go in or not. The fact that he's averaging 3.0 steals to lead the summer league shows that he's not just out there chucking, too.

Marks: Scoot Henderson. I will go on the record to say that Henderson should be the favorite for Rookie of the Year based on two factors. The first is the 65-game requirement for league honors and the questions on if San Antonio takes a conservative approach managing the workload for Wembanyama. The second is that if Damian Lillard is eventually traded, Henderson will be at center stage leading the young Trail Blazers. The no. 3 pick in his first game made Portland fans forget about Damian Lillard even if it was for only 21 minutes. Before injuring his shoulder, Henderson mesmerized the crowd with his combination of speed, strength, passing and ability to get to the basket.

Lopez: Holmgren. Is this considered cheating? Maybe. But Holmgren is someone you have to keep an eye on this season. After missing all of the 2022-23 season because of a foot injury, Holmgren has bounced back with five games this summer across the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas summer leagues, reminding everyone why he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. Holmgren will be added to an Oklahoma City squad that won 40 games last year and was one game away from making the playoffs through the play-in tournament. If the Thunder want to make the playoffs this year, Holmgren's play will be a big part of that.