The NBA Summer League is the first chance for many former college basketball players — some who were drafted as well as those who weren’t selected — to showcase themselves.
First impressions don’t define them, especially considering the competition doesn’t include many players who will actually get time next season, let alone be on a final roster. But the Summer League can be the first step toward a guaranteed contract or a roster invite for training camp in the fall.
Here’s a list of my 10 favorite players after watching a number of games over the past two weeks:
1. Carsen Edwards, Boston Celtics (Purdue), 33rd pick: Edwards was a steal. He deservedly just got a four-year deal from the Celtics. And he earned it. Edwards averaged 23.4 points a game for the Celtics in five Summer League contests in Las Vegas. He didn’t hesitate to step up and take deep 3s, just like he did for the Boilermakers. He is the perfect compliment for new Celtics point guard Kemba Walker. Edwards’ run for the Boilermakers in the NCAA tournament to an epic Elite Eight overtime loss to Virginia was proof that he was ready for this moment. Edwards has seized every opportunity in front of him and has the strength, range and confidence to stick in the league.
2. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies (Gonzaga), 21st pick: Clarke scored 23 points and grabbed 14 boards in an overtime summer league semifinal win over New Orleans Sunday night. Clarke had a skill set that was transferrable immediately in the NBA. He runs the floor well, gets to the rim, boards and block shots. Clarke will get plenty of chances with the Grizzlies. He’s another example of a college player who was ready to come in and contribute immediately. And he’s proving it in July.
3. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans (Virginia Tech), 17th pick: Alexander-Walker was a critical member of the Hokies’ run to the Sweet 16. He had to play point when Justin Robinson went down. Alexander-Walker hasn’t missed a beat in Summer League, picking up where he left off with the Hokies. He scored 34 in a game against the Heat.
4. Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans (Texas), 8th pick: Hayes didn’t play in Texas’ NIT run because he was hurt. Well, he’s not showing any signs of being injured now. Hayes has run the floor well and is just scratching the surface of his potential. Hayes should continue the recent line of successful big men coming through Austin.
5. Daniel Gafford, Chicago Bulls (Arkansas), 38th pick: Gafford will likely end up being a hidden gem for the Bulls in the second round. Fans in the SEC and in Fayetteville were familiar with Gafford’s ability to rebound, block and alter shots. He was doing a little bit of all of that for the Bulls in Las Vegas.
6. Coby White, Chicago Bulls (North Carolina), 7th pick: No one should have doubted White’s ability to create and make plays at the point. He did exactly what he needed to for Chicago in Las Vegas. He pushed tempo and got into the gaps. The Bulls were disappointed that they slid in the lottery but these two picks could be part of a successful rebuild.
7. Ignas Brazdeikis, New York Knicks (Michigan), 47th pick: Brazdeikis would have thrived with one more season in college. But he clearly felt he was ready to make the jump. He ended his Summer League averaging 15.4 points a game, the same amount as highly-touted No. 3 pick RJ Barrett. This doesn’t mean that will occur during the regular season. But Brazdeikis proved to the Knicks what he did for Michigan — that he can exceed expectations, will play extremely hard and will make things happen when he’s on the floor.
8. Naz Reid, Minnesota Timberwolves (LSU), undrafted: Reid put up 20 points and a had a plus-14 when he was on the floor in the Timberwolves’ Summer League semifinal win over Brooklyn. Reid was an active forward who found himself around the ball during his one season in Baton Rouge. He averaged a dozen points and nearly five boards. Let’s see if he can stick with the Wolves but he’s clearly put in a strong effort so far.
9. Tacko Fall, Boston Celtics (UCF), undrafted: Fall needs to be with the Celtics. Why? Well, he showed he belonged. His presence was not a gift. He earned his time, putting up seven points, four boards and 1.4 blocks a game. Fall is a gem of a human, speaks multiple languages and is easily one of the best teammates. If he can make the roster then he will prove to be a trailblazer for big men who need time to develop, regardless of their height. Sure, not too many humans are 7-7, but he’s a tremendous advocate for giving a big man like him a chance.
10. Chris Clemons, Houston Rockets (Campbell), undrafted: Clemons was a 3,000-plus point scorer in his career for the Camels. There have been a slew of successful guards in the league of late from non-power conference schools. Clemons could be the next one. He doesn’t shy away from taking and making a big shot. He averaged 20 a game for the Rockets in the summer league and made sure it was known that missing out on him could be a mistake.