The Las Vegas Summer League is the unofficial red carpet event of the NBA summer. Stars show up to watch their young players. Executives come to spy on their investments from draft night. Management takes breaks from cutting deals on their phones to watch the young assets they’re dealing. All of this happens in the fabulous Las Vegas, and “Sin City” has a thick glaze over everything happening for roughly two weeks of the basketball season. 

The Las Vegas Summer League used to be the best-kept secret in basketball. The games were intense, but only on NBATV. When the gyms were empty, you could hear the coaching and teaching happening midgame. There weren’t frills or music… it was just pure basketball. Further, those star players, execs, and GMs were accessible because it was a relatively empty gym. Now? Opening night is on ESPN. The secret it out: Summer League is entertainment. 

It’s where we first saw LeBron James in Lakers’ shorts. It’s where we saw Zion Williamson dunk so hard it shook the scoreboard overhead… ok, that was an earthquake. But Las Vegas is where we got our first look at Stephen Curry on the Warriors, Derrick Rose on the Bulls, or Donovan Mitchell on the Jazz. We’ve seen guys like Kyle Kuzma become obvious NBA players, and we’ve seen unnamed first-round picks struggle.

No, I won’t go through and name guys that struggled… that’s not nice. 

It’s not that starring in the Las Vegas Summer League is a prerequisite for being a star. It’s not. But very few players have made a career in the NBA without playing well in the NBA Summer League, whether it’s their first or second summer on the circuit.

With all of that said, what matchups should fans be tuning into for the Las Vegas Summer League this week? Here’s one game from each day of Las Vegas Summer League you HAVE to watch!

Houston v Orlando | July 7th, 10:00 ET

After watching Chet Holmgren dominate the Salt Lake City Summer League’s opening night, both the Houston Rockets and the Orlando Magic fan bases have to be salivating over their top three picks Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero.

Together, that trio was the consensus top three prospects of the 2022 draft, with the order varying slightly from week to week. Smith Jr. was projected to go number one for several weeks leading up to the draft, and Banchero was projected to fall to Houston up until the last 72 hours before the pick was announced. After Holmgren’s performance, all eyes will be on his contemporaries as they begin their NBA journeys. 

Further, there’s history here. Smith Jr. famously did not work out for the Houston Rockets… HE assumed he’d be a top-two pick, and Houston picked third. Banchero didn’t work out for Orlando and was visibly stunned on draft day. He had heard for weeks he was heading to Oklahoma City or Houston. Now they face off in a Summer League match-up that very sincerely could have had the two in reversed jerseys. 

These two young stars also play the same position and thus will be covering one another for stretches of the contest as well. There will almost certainly be someone making a move on the other, much like Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green a season ago. 

Charlotte v Indiana | July 8th, 6:00 ET

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Indiana drafted the high-flying, sharp-shooting Bennedict Mathurin from Arizona to pair with second-year guard Chris Duarte. Charlotte will trot out Brady Manek, of the nearby North Carolina Tar Heels, as well as LiAngelo Ball. ‘Gelo is 23, and realistically nearing the end of several chances to “stick.” Anticipate the six-five forward to command the floor with a veteran presence after several seasons in non-NBA professional basketball before his first full season in the NBA’s G League last year. 

Mathurin is sure to have some level of stardom in the Summer League, where the defensive gameplans are akin to a high-level pick-up game. Anticipate high-flying dunks, especially with an NBA-caliber facilitator, as Mathurin may be the best athlete on the floor. 

The game will also feature Indiana’s Fanbo Zeng. Zeng was a top-tier recruit out of high school, and the highest-rated out of China in many years,  that opted to play for the G League Ignite. At six-foot-eleven, Zeng will almost certainly pair up with NCAA star Manek in a fun big man match-up. Both dominate the glass, defend the rim, hit threes to stretch the floor, and are seeking to impress NBA league execs and earn a spot. 

Detroit v Washington | July 9th, 6:00 ET

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Detroit had as strong a month of June as any rebuilding team in the NBA. Jaden Ivey, a perfect backcourt mate for Cade Cunningham, fell into their lap. The guard-heavy pistons will also reportedly take Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey to the Las Vegas Summer League and thus, with so much NBA talent on the roster, may end up being the league favorite. 

The Wizards are interesting as they’re a team in flux. They have Wisconsin standout Johnny Davis, former Duke big man Vernon Carey Jr., and second-year pro Isaiah Todd. The trio presents more athleticism and size than typically seen in a fluctuating roster in the Summer League. 

Lastly, if he gets in the game, this will be the first look at Buddy Boeheim in an NBA jersey. Boeheim was a sharp-shooter at Syracuse, where he played under his father and Hall of Fame Head Coach Jim Boeheim.

Denver v Cleveland | July 10th, 7:00 ET

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Denver has one of the brightest outlooks on the 2022-23 season. They surround the two-time and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic with healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Similarly, the Cavaliers are looking to build off of a year where they moved out of the doldrums of a rebuild and into the NBA Play-In on the backs of young, talented stars. 

In Denver vs. Cleveland, Summer League edition, we will get to see former teammates and National Champions Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji face off. Both sharpshooters will likely cover each other as they alternate tough threes and middies back and forth. 

One sneaky pick in the draft was Denver getting Ismael Kamagate with the 46th overall pick. At six-foot-eleven, Kamagate has all the energy and bounce that Summer League thrives on. If Vegas is full of high-level, organized pick-up games… an athlete like Kamagate may quickly become must-watch TV. 

We also get to see the brothers of young stars. Cleveland boasts Evan Mobley as a prize of last year’s draft, and Denver expects big things out of Michael Porter Jr. in his fourth season. In the Summer League? Isaiah Mobley, brother of Evan, suits up for the Cavs and Jontay Porter, brother of Michael, suits up for the Nuggets. Some call it nepotism… but we’ll call it keeping it in the family. 

Orlando v Oklahoma City | July 11th, 9:00 ET

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First overall pick Paolo Banchero vs. second overall pick Chet Holmgren. The country got an early glimpse of the latter, but this game is sure to fire up all of the hot take engines across the country. Much like Banchero and Smith Jr. on opening night, Holmgren and Banchero will certainly cover each other.

When the two played in college, Duke (and Banchero) got the last laugh. The play that may have sealed the number one pick, all the way back in November, came at the 10:25 mark… When Banchero put his head down and attacked the right block. As he went by Holmgren, he then gathered himself, put his shoulder into Holmgren’s chest, and rose up for an and-one power lay-up. In the college match-up, Banchero ran point-forward as he took the ball off of the rim and charged down the floor to throw lobs, punish the rim on dunks, and step back for threes. 

Holmgren had a handful of highlight-caliber plays as well. He hit turn-around jumpers in the lane, had a few blocks,  and had a big dunk to spark the crowd. But Holmgren looked exhausted, whereas Banchero played through an in-game injury like a star. 

That performance feels ages ago, and Holmgren this week? He was clearly the best player on the floor as the Thunder Summer League squad took on the Jazz in Salt Lake. He’s grown, physically and mentally, and is poised for a “told-you-so” tour with the Thunder. 

For better or worse, this is a Summer League game you’ll have to watch because, without it, you’ll be beholden to whatever Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless says about it. 

Lakers v Clippers | July 12th, 11:00 ET

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A cross-gym rivalry that, while we saw glimpses of both teams in the California Classic, is full of Summer League storylines. At the guard match-up, you have two names that you’d have thought were much bigger a year ago in Jason Preston (Clippers) vs Mac McClung (Lakers). Preston’s story was famous going into the 2021 NBA Draft; Preston was unrecruited out of high school and found his way to the University of Ohio after sharing his High School highlights on Twitter. McClung’s high school highlights? They earned him hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers before he received a High School diploma. Preston hurt his foot before last season began and spent the year rehabbing it. McClung spent time at Georgetown and Texas Tech before finding his way to the South Bay Lakers last season. Look for the backcourt pair to put on a scoring display this summer. 

Another guy to keep an eye on in this one is Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaquille O’Neal. In the California Classic, Shareef O’Neal showed a fluid game and notched over 20 points. O’Neal was a four-star recruit that began his career at UCLA before he was diagnosed with heart issues. He spent a medical redshirt year taking care of his long-term health, having major surgery, and recuperating. O’Neal transferred to his father’s alma mater, LSU, where he played a pair of partial seasons with other injuries sprinkled. 

Had Shareef had a clean bill of health, he almost certainly would have been a high end draft pick in a previous iteration of the NBA Draft. When he’s played, O’Neal has shown a knack for being around the basket and finding his way to points. After weathering a difficult storm of injuries and health scares, watching him begin his career in a Lakers jersey brings about a nostalgia sure to strike a chord.

Miami v Philadelphia | July 13th, 9:00 ET

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Another rivalry being played out in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas will feature two very intense swingmen. Miami drafted Nikola Jovic at the end of the first round this season. The 19-year-old Serbian has already shown out in the California classic, where he used his size and length to score over the top of defenders and elevate for three before they could react. Trevelin Queen, a long six-foot-six wing, was the G League MVP a season ago for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. After inking an NBA deal with Philadelphia, the high-flying Queen hopes to assure everyone he is a true NBA player. 

Both Miami’s Pat Riley and Philadelphia’s Daryl Morey are known for finding the efficient, impactful NBA prospect in the weeds. You’re likely to see both Jovic and Queen playing significant playoff minutes next season. Last year, the Heat made Max Strus and Caleb Martin household names. Daryl Morey got Danuel House out of the G League, and pulled Austin Rivers out of unemployment, during his time in Houston. 

Suffice to say, Jovic and Queen are headliners… but they will certainly not be the only names you need to remember from Miami or Philadelphia’s roster.

Memphis v Boston | July 14th, 5:30 ET

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Kenneth. Lofton. Jr.

Memphis claimed KLJ shortly after the NBA draft concluded and he may turn into one of the steals of the night. The Port Arthur native played for Louisiana Tech, where they listed him at six-foot-seven 280 lbs. Lofton, in his two full seasons at La. Tech, dominated. His unique skillset is a throwback to traditional post play: back to the basket, pirouettes, and hard drives that lead to a soft touch at the rim. He also was a wrecking crew for Team USA at the Under-19 FIBA games, where he scored 15 points in the second half of the championship game against France and consensus 2023 Number One Overall Pick Victor Wembanyama. Lofton appears to be building towards changing his body as he brings a unique style of play to the NBA, as seen in the Grizzlies run through Salt Lake City Summer League.

For Boston, their lone draft pick J.D. Davison, as Belly Up’s Antonio Perez wrote, is competing to steal the “Payton Pritchard” minutes. Davison is an explosive player, with one of the best high school dunk highlights ever. 

For more on sports, sneakers, and fandom, follow me@painsworth512 for more. Give our podcast“F” In Sports a listen wherever you listen to podcasts!

About Author

Parker Ainsworth

Senior NBA Writer, Co-Host of "F" In Sports and The Midweek Midrange. Parker is a hoops head, "retired" football player, and sneaker aficionado. Austinite born in Houston, located in Dallas after a brief stint in LA... Parker is a well-traveled Texan, teacher, and coach. Feel free to contact Parker- https://linktr.ee/PAinsworth512

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