The 2021 NBA Summer League is in the books after the Sacramento Kings defeated the Boston Celtics 100-67 to win the title for the Vegas showcase. The event is important for teams to gauge players who can round out their roster, but also a chance for rookies to display their potential in live action. Here are the top rookie performers from Summer League in 2021.
Jalen Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
Johnson was considered a risky prospect due to his withdrawal from Duke midway through the college basketball season, but the forward possessed upside. The Hawks are loading up on a high-potential wing players and decided to take a chance on another one in Johnson. The early returns have been excellent.
In four Summer League games, Johnson averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from deep. He’ll have to cut down on turnovers, but those shooting percentages are elite. The competition might not be at the level of the NBA, but you still gotta make shots. If he can keep scoring at that rate, Johnson will be a key rotation player in Atlanta.
Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
Thomas, the No. 27 pick in the draft, eventually wound up leading the Vegas showcase in scoring at 27.0 points per game. The LSU product needs to improve his efficiency but that’s not a problem right now given his likely role on the Nets as a bench scorer.
Thomas was expected to go anywhere from the late lottery to the low 20s on draft night, but the guard slipped to Brooklyn. He likely has a chip on his shoulder and it’s showing up when he plays. The turnovers are an issue, but the Nets will take his scoring. Thomas is going to be in a great situation right away and will be learning from the best scorers in the league. This was a big Summer League for him.
Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Green only played in three Summer League games, but had monster shooting percentages in those contests. He ended the showcase averaging 20.3 points per game on a 51.4/52.6/92.9 split for field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage. That is ridiculous efficiency for the No. 2 pick.
The Rockets could’ve gone several directions with their second pick, but chose to bank on Green’s G-League experience and his scoring potential. The guard is showing why he was considered one of the top prospects in the draft and will be a contender for Rookie of the Year in 2021-22.
Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers
Duarte was considered a slight reach at No. 13 for the Pacers, but the sharpshooter is showing he can be more than just a three-point threat. The Oregon guard averaged 18.3 points per game in four Summer League contests, but it was his other numbers that jumped out.
Duarte averaged 4.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game, showing he can be a creator offensively if necessary. With Malcolm Brogdon being the primary ball handler in Indiana, it’s unlikely Duarte will be called on to initiate offense. However, his play in Vegas shows he can do so and that raises his ceiling. He still knocked down 48.3 percent of his triples.
Luke Garza, Detroit Pistons
Second-round picks usually don’t turn into All-Stars or MVPs, but they can be useful contributors. The defending champions Milwaukee Bucks got big contributions from second-round picks Khris Middleton, P.J. Tucker and Pat Connaughton. These selections are no longer throwaways.
Garza has the chance to be a contributor. He’s on a two-way contract with the Pistons and showed out in Summer League with 15.0 points and 9.6 rebounds in five contests. Garza, who was an offensive force at Iowa, shot 50.0 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from behind the arc. He also had five blocks in one game, showing his potential to have some impact defensively. He’ll get time with Detroit this season during a rebuilding year and could wind up being the steal of the 2021 NBA draft.