Ah, NBA Summer League. Nothing like flocking to a city with a median temperature of 148 degrees to cram into a packed gym and watch players you've never heard of compete for a team's final roster spot. I kid, I kid -- well, sort of.
This year's Summer Leagues (Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas) were particularly exciting due to a fresh crop of rookies, led by potentially generational talent Victor Wembanyama. His time in Vegas started with a and ended with one of the most impressive games of the summer.
Meanwhile other rookies didn't fare as well, whether due to injury or poor on-court performance. As always, it's crucial to keep in mind that a player's first summer is hardly a surefire predictor of his career trajectory, so take everything with a very large flake of Himalayan sea salt.
That being said, here's a look at a few of the winners and losers from 2023 NBA Summer League with things set to wrap up on Monday night.
Winner: Victor Wembanyama
Let's just get this one out of the way early. Not only did Wembanyama cause more hype than any Summer League participant in history, but he also had his own mini-redemption story in the two games that he played in Las Vegas.
The haters were out in full force after a disappointing 2-for-13 debut in which Wembanyama looked physically outmatched. But the 7-foot-4 alien responded with a brilliant performance two nights later, putting up 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks on 9-for-14 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
Perhaps most impressively, Wembanyama clearly elevated his game as the San Antonio Spurs clawed their way back into the game against the Blazers in the fourth quarter, when he scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting. He looked increasingly energetic and enthusiastic as the game got closer, pumping his fists and screaming after key defensive stops.
Overall, Wembanyama showed us everything that makes him one of the best prospects in NBA history -- the shot-blocking, shot-making and ability to impact games in seemingly every way. Safe to say the Spurs didn't make a mistake with this one.
Losers: Scoot Henderson and Amen Thompson
Injuries always suck, but they particularly suck for rookies trying to show out in their first NBA action. Henderson and Thompson, the No. 3 and No. 4 picks, respectively, in June's draft, were well on their way to doing so before being forced out of Summer League with ailments.
The future of the Blazers, who will become their present as soon as Damian Lillard finally heads elsewhere, Henderson impressed with 15 points and six assists in 21 minutes before suffering a right shoulder injury that knocked him out for the rest of Summer League. The midrange looked good, and he showed off great vision in the half-court.
"I think I played pretty smooth," Henderson said after the game. "I know there's areas I definitely need to improve on, just little things in my game where I think I can really perfect and master. But, you know, first game."
Meanwhile, in the same game, Thompson filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, four blocks and four steals before suffering an ankle injury that's expected to sideline him for two-to-three weeks. He showed off the power, speed and skill that makes him such an exciting prospect as a 6-7 point guard.
Both will presumably be ready for an unhindered training camp, but both Henderson and Thompson have to be disappointed that they couldn't get a little more run in their first (and possibly only) Summer League competition.
Winner: Chet Holmgren
If you forgot about Chet Holmgren, don't feel bad. We basically hadn't seen him in a year, since he suffered a foot injury during a Seattle Pro-Am game last summer that caused him to miss the entirety of what would have been his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead Holmgren will push his first NBA season to 2023-24, and he reminded all of us during Summer League why he was such a ballyhooed prospect out of Gonzaga.
Not only did last year's No. 2 overall pick look healthy and spry (he said that his foot "feels great," and that if he didn't have the scar, he wouldn't even remember that he had surgery), but he also showcased his intriguing, multi-faceted skill set. In his first action of the summer, Holmgren put up 12.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over two games in Utah. He continued to progress in his two games in Las Vegas, averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
Holmgren's rim protection was his standout skill, as he rejected shots from the weak side with reckless abandon -- including multiple dunk attempts.
He also showed off some fancy, fundamental footwork in the post.
Though he didn't shoot the ball well from 3-point range over the summer, that will presumably be a part of Holmgren's game as well. What is clear, however, is that he'll immediately be a borderline-elite rim protector who can finish at the rim and facilitate from the top of the key. This was a great start to what will hopefully be a healthy and productive rookie season.
"He's playing like he never got injured, which is dope," Thunder forward Jalen Williams said of Holmgren. "I think a lot of guys probably have that wall where they're kinda afraid to do a lot of things. You can kinda see him go out there and trust his work."
Loser: Brandon Miller
With all the requisite caveats that this is Summer League and is not an accurate predictor of future success ... No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller didn't have a great July. He had nearly as many fouls as field goal attempts in two passive games in Sacramento, and he clearly wasn't going to let that happen again in Vegas, where he averaged 16 shots per game. The problem was that he only made 35 percent of them, including 26 percent from 3-point range.
Miller did finish the summer on a high note, however, putting up 26 points and six rebounds on 8-for-15 shooting against the Blazers before the Hornets shut him down.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with a rookie averaging 17 points and eight rebounds on low efficiency in Summer League, but Miller has the extra weight of being selected one spot ahead of Scoot Henderson, who many experts ranked as the second-best player in the draft. They're going to be linked, at least early in their careers, so the microscope will be on Miller to prove his worth. It's not remotely fair, but that's just the reality of how these things work, and Miller's career didn't get off to the best start in Summer League.
Winner: Jabari Smith Jr.
Every year there's at least one second-year player who shows why he has absolutely no business being at Summer League. This time around, that player was Jabari Smith Jr. The 2022-23 All-Rookie Rockets forward wasn't messing around, averaging 35.5 points, seven rebounds and four assists before being shut down after just two games.
He took advantage of a captive audience awaiting Victor Wembanyama's debut, drilling a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer from 28 feet away against the Trail Blazers.
Smith then abused the Pistons to the tune of 38 points, seven rebounds and six assists, laughing and crowing to his Rockets teammates watching courtside. At one point, Detroit center James Wiseman tried to guard Smith, who took exception to such audacity and drilled a step-back 3-pointer in his face.
Smith isn't necessarily guaranteed major minutes due to Houston's offseason additions, so they have to be pleased to see him take Summer League seriously and dominate the way he did. Perhaps most impressive were his playmaking -- his four-assist average dwarfs his rookie mark of 1.3 per game -- and the fact that he took 27 free throws in two games after averaging fewer than three last season.
Summer League is always full of missteps, foibles and fouls -- oh, the fouls! But this summer gave us a bad-basketball special: A player scoring on the wrong basket. Yes, Dallas Mavericks forward Marcus Bingham Jr. was the subject of universal ridicule when he coasted in for a dunk on what appeared to be the other team's basket.
It turns out that Bingham was the only sane one in the building, as the referees screwed up royally by not only setting up the play on the wrong side of the court, but also by giving the ball to the wrong team. The Mavericks had made a 3-pointer on the previous play, but the officials awarded them the ball once again -- going the wrong way -- following a timeout.
Yup, that's when you know your time in Las Vegas should be coming to an end.
Until next year.