This needs to be prefaced with the obligatory “it’s still early” disclaimer. There have only been a couple of games played in the NBA 2k23 Las Vegas Summer League. So we do need to temper all reactions accordingly if we are going to make it to the regular season with any sanity.
That does not mean we cannot take some things away from what we have seen from the action so far.
Naturally, the top of this year’s rookie class makes for easy targets.
They had the most fanfare coming in and have garnered much of the discussion even when their respective teams are not in action. That being said, let’s add to the discourse and check in on how they have adjusted through a couple of meaningless exhibition games.
2022 NBA Draft’s Top Picks Thriving in Summer League
1. Paolo Proves Place
If there were any questions as to why the Orlando Magic made Paolo Banchero the first-overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, they aren’t anymore. Banchero is averaging 20.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in his two games.
He has looked so good that the Magic have decided to hold him out of the remaining summer league play.
It has not all been pretty.
Banchero is shooting just 40% from the floor and has averaged nearly as many turnovers (5.0) as assists. He is averaging 2.5 steals and shooting 50% from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder has also gotten to the free-throw line for 10 attempts per game.
It’s his combination of size and skills, though, that has still been clear right away. It could spell good things for a Magic organization that has had success picking first overall before.
Of course, we have to hold off judgment until we see him when the games count. Specifically, as it pertains to his physicality and defensive presence. But it’s hard not to like what he has shown at this level already.
2. Holmgren’s Skill Outweighs Frame
Oklahoma City Thunder center Chet Holmgren’s scoring output is a bit more modest than Banchero’s. But the second-overall pick has cast aside aspersions about his slender build to stuff the stat sheet in his first two “NBA” games in Las Vegas.
The 7-foot big man is averaging 14.0 points, 9.0 assists, 3.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals while slashing 50/40/100.
It’s not like the concerns over Holmgren in the post will go away. Not after Memphis Grizzlies second-rounder Kenneth Lofton Jr. manhandled him under the rim in their matchup in Salt Lake.
Holmgren got his too, though, with 11 points, 12 boards, three assists, and two blocks.
He was inefficient. But the fact that he still found a way to be effective is more important than the stats at this point. Holmgren has always presented an air of confidence. And he will surely put on some weight as the years go on.
There are some things you cannot teach, however, such as size and feel for the game. He has both of those things, and they should serve him well as he continues to adjust to the NBA.
3. Smith Slid Home
Jabari Smith was projected to go first-overall my most outlets right up until the night before the draft when word of Banchero’s rise began to spread. The question then became where Smith would ultimately land.
Those questions grew louder when the Thunder took Holmgren as they had been projected all along despite Smith’s availability.
Their decision has been the Houston Rockets’ gain after they took him third overall.
While Smith certainly would have liked to go first, he might have landed in the best situation out of the three given the talent already on the roster, namely second-year guard Jalen Green.
Green has shown signs of stardom while fellow guard Kevin Porter has been a nice find. They also have the added ability to attract free agents in a way that Oklahoma City and Orlando simply cannot.
That probably does not bode well for the Magic and Thunder.
Smith, who faced questions about his motor during the draft process, can fit in as the third option capable of taking over until he fully grows comfortable. When that happens, the Rockets will have a two-way weapon that was in the running for the best player in his class on their hands.
For Smith, the reward could certainly turn out to be worth the wait.