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Who to watch in Summer League: Eastern Conference

Johnson: Flagg is going to be 'special'
Gus Johnson joins Dan Patrick to discuss Cooper Flagg's performance at Team USA scrimmages, the Unites States' chances against France and the upcoming college football season after conference realignment.

By Raphielle Johnson

As is always the case with the NBA, it doesn’t take much time for the league to transition from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. With the draft completed and many of the significant moves in free agency made, the next stop on the calendar is the NBA 2K25 Summer League in Las Vegas, with games beginning on Friday, July 12. As has been the case in recent years, all 30 teams will be represented, playing five games apiece, with the championship matchup scheduled for July 22.

Making concrete determinations based on summer league play is reckless, as most players in action are simply fighting for an invitation to training camp. But that doesn’t mean fantasy managers should overlook what they see, from production to the roles that players are assigned (and how those roles will either align or differ from what will happen once the games truly matter in the winter). Below is a look at each Eastern Conference team and a few players fantasy managers should watch in preparation for draft season in late summer/fall.

Atlantic Division

Boston (Summer League roster)

The NBA champion Celtics have five players who spent time with the team last season on their summer league roster. However, only Neemias Queta (28 games) appeared in more than 20 games for Joe Mazzulla in 2023-24. Of the five “returnees,” 2023 second-round pick Jordan Walsh and trade deadline addition Jaden Springer are worth watching. Walsh has the size, length, and athleticism to be an impactful 3-and-D wing, but Boston having Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum makes it challenging to crack the rotation meaningfully. Springer faces a similar roadblock at guard in the form of starters Derrick White and Jrue Holiday and reserve Payton Pritchard.

Queta’s contract for next season is guaranteed, and Kristaps Porzingis’ absence after undergoing left leg surgery will open up the competition for frontcourt minutes behind Al Horford once training camp begins. However, Luke Kornet and Xavier Tillman are also under contract, with their returns impacting Queta’s ability to earn more playing time. Also on the roster are 2024 draft picks Baylor Scheierman and Anton Watson, with the former having the shooting and playmaking ability needed to make an immediate impact on the perimeter. However, Scheierman’s situation is similar to that of many of the Celtics already mentioned, as most of last season’s roster coming back means the opportunities for others to step forward will be limited.

Brooklyn (Summer League roster)

Even with the Nets re-signing Nic Claxton, the decision to trade Mikal Bridges to the Knicks restocked the team’s draft coffers indicates this franchise’s direction in 2024-25. Six players on the Nets’ summer league roster were with the team in some capacity last season, with Noah Clowney offering the highest fantasy upside in the short term. He appeared in 23 games as a rookie and was one of the team’s few bright spots as Brooklyn played out the string. In his final 11 games, Clowney averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.4 blocks, and 0.9 3-pointers in 24.3 minutes, shooting 53.6% from the field and 62.5% from the foul line. Las Vegas could serve as the springboard he needs to have an impactful 2024-25 campaign.

Another returnee worth tracking is Dariq Whitehead, as the 2023 first-round pick only appeared in two games due to injuries. The former Duke wing, who turns 20 on August 1, is healthy and will be available to play. While Cam Thomas may be the biggest fantasy winner due to Brooklyn’s shift into rebuilding mode, Whitehead should not lack opportunities to crack the rotation under new head coach Jordi Fernandez. Jalen Wilson (43 games, three starts) averaged 15.4 minutes per game as a rookie and could benefit from Bridges’ departure, especially if Brooklyn were to move Cameron Johnson at some point.

New York (Summer League roster)

While the Knicks’ most significant moves were to re-sign OG Anunoby and acquire Mikal Bridges from the Nets, the franchise added four players via last month’s draft. While young French wing Pacome Dadiet offers considerable upside, the Knicks’ depth at that position will make it difficult for him to impact fantasy basketball as a rookie. The rookie who could be most impactful next season is point guard Tyler Kolek, one of the best in college basketball during his final two seasons at Marquette. New York still has Deuce McBride under contract, but he can be used on or off the ball, and Kolek’s mastery of the pick-and-roll could be what gets him minutes behind star Jalen Brunson.

While one of the other two second-round picks, big man Ariel Hukporti, has been signed to a two-way contract, there has been no movement regarding Kevin McCullar. What that means for his availability in Las Vegas remains to be seen, but McCullar is in a similar position to Dadiet despite being older and more experienced. Also, Rokas Jokubaitis will be with the team after Lithuania failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics. He has been with Barcelona for the last two seasons, and the EuroLeague power permitted Jokubaitis to play with the Knicks this summer. New York is relatively deep on the perimeter regarding its established players, so we’ll see how that impacts Jokubaitis’ future beyond Summer League.

Philadelphia (Summer League roster)

Philadelphia is one of the teams that got its summer off to an early start, with the team participating in the Salt Lake City Summer League before heading to Las Vegas. 2024 draft picks Jared McCain (16th overall) and Adem Bona (41st overall) can provide meaningful contributions as rookies, the former on the perimeter and the latter in the post. McCain’s role in Las Vegas will be worth watching, as point guard Jeff Dowtin is only playing in the Salt Lake City games. McCain getting more on-ball reps can only help his development, even with Tyrese Maxey locked into the starting point guard role.

As for Bona, Joel Embiid’s injury history makes the former UCLA standout a player worthy of late-round fantasy consideration, even with the 76ers signing Andre Drummond in free agency. Bona is active as a rebounder and rim protector, so he may not need too much game time to be worth streaming if the 76ers are forced to play without Embiid at any point during the regular season. Among the returnees, Ricky Council IV gave Philadelphia solid minutes at various points as a rookie, and he began his summer with a 29-point effort on Monday night in SLC. Philadelphia has until January 10 to fully guarantee his contract for the 2024-25 campaign, and a good summer would improve Council’s chances of securing his future with the franchise.

Toronto (Summer League roster)

Toronto has some notable returnees on its roster, including Ochai Agbaji and 2023 lottery pick Gradey Dick. Both played added minutes after the February trade deadline, with the former starting 18 of the 27 games he appeared in as a Raptor. As for the latter, the rookie wing made 17 starts and finished his first season with an average of 8.5 points and 1.7 3-pointers in 21.1 minutes per game. With Scottie Barnes receiving a max extension and Immanuel Quickley agreeing to a new deal, it’s clear that the Raptors will build around those two and RJ Barrett on the perimeter, with center Jakob Poeltl in the post. For Agbaji and Dick, the summer is about showing how they can fit with that quartet as Toronto aims to rebound from a disappointing 2023-24.

2024 draft picks Ja’Kobe Walter, Jonathan Mogbo, Jamal Shead, and Ulrich Chomche will also be in Las Vegas. While Walter was the first-round pick and Mogbo offers a high upside as a 3-and-D wing, don’t sleep on Shead. He was one of the best leaders (and players in general) in college basketball the last two seasons at Houston. While Quickley will be Toronto’s point guard of the present (and future), there’s the need to address the backup role. Shead and returnee Javon Freeman-Liberty, who appeared in 22 games for the Raptors last season, could be competing for that role in Las Vegas.

Central Division

Chicago (Summer League roster)

All eyes will be on lottery pick Matas Buzelis, as the Chicago native should take on a prominent role within Billy Donovan’s rotation this season. The Bulls completed the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade, but a deal that would move Zach LaVine does not appear to be in the cards. Even with that being the case, Chicago would be better off getting a complete evaluation of players like Buzelis and 2023 second-round pick Julian Phillips than relying on veterans to potentially chase down a play-in tournament berth.

From a fantasy standpoint, Buzelis and Phillips are the players to track in Las Vegas. Henri Drell, who was on a two-way contract last season, is also on the Bulls’ roster, while Andrew Funk appeared in five games as a rookie. Undrafted rookie Marcus Domask is worth keeping an eye on, even with all three of the Bulls’ two-way contracts being spoken for. In addition to Funk and Adama Sanogo, Chicago also has RaiQuan Gray due to the three-team trade with Sacramento and San Antonio headlined by DeRozan.

Cleveland (Summer League roster)

The Cavaliers, who won the title in Vegas last summer, will have two returnees to watch in Craig Porter Jr. and Emoni Bates. Porter was one of the team’s biggest surprises last season, with the undrafted rookie stepping up to help Cleveland navigate periods in which Donovan Mitchell or Darius Garland was sidelined due to injury. Porter’s season ended prematurely due to a sprained ankle suffered during the regular season finale, but he had streaming value when injuries freed up rotation minutes. As for Bates, he appeared in 15 games last season while on a two-way contract. Cleveland has not filled those slots yet, which makes summer league a critical time for players like Bates and fellow holdover Pete Nance.

As for the rookies, the Cavaliers have first-round pick Jaylon Tyson and some notable undrafted players, including former NC State post DJ Burns. Tyson was the 20th overall pick in last month’s draft, and he’s been open about having a “list” of players he wants to take on. He has good size for an NBA wing and had little trouble scoring on all three levels as a collegian. Cleveland has needed to upgrade its wing play the last two seasons, and Tyson won’t lack opportunities to earn rotation minutes. Burns, Hunter Cattoor, and Darius Brown all went undrafted, with the former losing some 50 pounds during the pre-draft process.

Detroit (Summer League roster)

The Pistons have new leadership, with Trajan Langdon coming on as the lead executive and JB Bickerstaff being hired as head coach. The upcoming season will be about developing the team’s young talent and potentially adding draft capital in exchange for taking on “bad” contracts. 2024 draft picks Ron Holland and Bobi Klintman are the players to watch on this roster, with the former being one of the players who could potentially benefit from the addition of Fred Vinson to the coaching staff. Vinson has been renowned for his work with struggling shooters, and Holland has strides to make as a perimeter shooter. As for Klintman, cracking the Pistons rotation could be more difficult, especially with Paul Reed recently being claimed off of waivers.

Undrafted rookie point guard Daniss Jenkins has agreed to a two-way contract, while guard Marcus Sasser is the notable returnee on this roster. The 2023 first-round pick appeared in 71 games as a rookie, averaging 8.3 points, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 3-pointers in 19.0 minutes. Detroit locking in Cade Cunningham long-term likely limits Sasser’s fantasy ceiling, but those are the only two point guards on standard deals on the Pistons roster. Jaden Ivey can also serve as a primary ball-handler, but he’s more likely to start next to Cunningham, which may boost Sasser’s chances of sticking in Bickerstaff’s rotation.

Indiana (Summer League roster)

Most of the roster that helped the Pacers reach the Eastern Conference Finals will be back for the 2024-25 season, with Jalen Smith being the notable departure. As for those who will play in Las Vegas, Jarace Walker is one of the players to watch. With Pascal Siakam and Obi Toppin agreeing to new deals, Walker’s “clearest” path to rotation minutes will be at small forward instead of the four. He’ll play most of his minutes in Vegas at the three, which should mean more opportunities for Walker to facilitate (he played point guard at times in high school). Another notable returnee is Ben Sheppard, who appeared in 57 games as a rookie. Sheppard’s minutes increased in mid-January, and he remained in the rotation after Bennedict Mathurin suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early March.

Indiana’s depth will make it difficult for Sheppard (or Walker, for that matter) to get the minutes needed to impact fantasy basketball. But they’ll be factors for a team that made good use of its depth last season. As for the rookies, second-round picks Johnny Furphy, Enrique Freeman, and Tristen Newton all have the potential to be steals in this draft class. Newton was named Most Outstanding Player of the last two Final Fours as he helped lead UConn to back-to-back titles, while Freeman developed into a conference player of the year at Akron after beginning his career as a walk-on. Furphy offers a high upside and was projected by many to be a potential lottery pick during the pre-draft process.

Milwaukee (Summer League roster)

Fantasy-wise, the returnees on the Bucks roster may offer more significant short-term potential than the team’s two 2024 draft picks, AJ Johnson and Tyler Smith. MarJon Beauchamp saw his minutes and appearances take a hit in his second season, which makes this a big summer for him. Andre Jackson Jr., Milwaukee’s second-round pick in 2023, is also in a position where he’ll need to be productive in Las Vegas if he’s to go into training camp with a shot at earning a place in Doc Rivers’ rotation. The former UConn standout appeared in 57 games as a rookie, averaging 10.0 minutes. Chris Livingston, who appeared in 21 games last season, will also be in Las Vegas.

It will be interesting to see how much Johnson and Smith play in Las Vegas and whether or not they get the opportunity to crack the rotation when training camp begins. Both offer solid upside, but the Bucks are a “win now” team with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard leading the way. Ibou Badji, who played in 22 games for the Trail Blazers last season, and TyTy Washington Jr. are among the other recognizable names on the Bucks’ summer roster. Still, there isn’t much to choose from regarding fantasy potential for next season.

Southeast Division

Atlanta (Summer League roster)

First overall pick Zaccharie Risacher is the player who fantasy managers and Hawks fans will have their eyes trained in on, and with good reason. There were questions regarding his selection, but it was effectively a no-brainer with Alexandre Sarr aiming to land with the Wizards. Risacher’s perimeter shooting ability is where he may be most valuable as a rookie, and he has the size teams look for in an NBA wing. The playmaking and ball-handling need to improve, and Las Vegas will be a good place for him to begin making strides in those areas.

And Risacher isn’t the only Hawks player fantasy managers, especially those in deeper leagues, should keep an eye on. Kobe Bufkin, last year’s first-round pick, will be able to earn rotation minutes in the aftermath of the Dejounte Murray trade. He averaged 11.5 minutes in 17 appearances as a rookie, playing most of his minutes with the Hawks’ G League affiliate. Atlanta did add Dyson Daniels via the Murray trade, but he’s more of a combo guard than a lead. Bufkin becoming a player who should be selected in standard league drafts in Year 2 may be far-fetched with Trae Young running the show, but a good showing in Vegas would make him worth a look in deeper formats.

Charlotte (Summer League roster)

Brandon Miller, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting last season, is on the Hornets’ Summer League roster. However, he did not play in the California Class, and his playing time in Las Vegas could be limited based on Miller’s production as a rookie. From the trade deadline to the end of the season, Miller provided 9th-round per-game value in 9-cat formats, according to Basketball Monster. And that was with LaMelo Ball and Mark Williams sidelined due to injury. Getting those two back on the court should, in theory, make life a little easier for Miller in his second NBA season.

Also, Nick Smith Jr. will look to make a positive impression after failing to lock down consistent minutes as a rookie. Summer League may be more important for him than Miller, as Smith has yet to establish himself as a pro. Add in the Hornets having a new head coach, former Celtics assistant Charles Lee (who coached the team in Sacramento), and these are big games for the former Arkansas guard. Charlotte’s picks in last month’s draft, first-rounder Tidjane Salaun (knee) and second-rounder KJ Simpson (hamstring), sat out the Sacramento games, with the former expected to play in Las Vegas.

Lastly, Bryce McGowens is unlikely to impact fantasy basketball, especially since he does not have a team after the Hornets waived him. However, he remained with the team’s summer outfit and played well in Sacramento. It would be unsurprising if he earned another shot with an NBA team ahead of training camp, whether it’s Charlotte or not.

Miami (Summer League roster)

Like the Hornets, Miami competes in two summer leagues, beginning with the California Classic in San Francisco. 2024 draft picks Kel’El Ware and Pelle Larsson have been active, with the former being someone to watch despite Bam Adebayo’s status as Miami’s starting center. Ware’s activity as a rebounder and shot blocker could result in deep-league value in redraft formats, and he’ll offer solid promise in dynasty leagues. Larsson’s fantasy ceiling is not as high due to the veteran wings on the Heat roster, but Caleb Martin signing with the 76ers means that playing time is available on the rotation’s back end.

Alondes Williams has played most of his minutes the last two seasons with Miami’s G League affiliate, appearing in eight NBA games (seven last season). Also worth watching in Las Vegas are Cole Swider and Keshad Johnson, with the latter not selected in last month’s draft. Johnson offers a bit more defensively, but Swider’s abilities as a floor spacer will be what gets him a look in training camp. Johnson and fellow undrafted rookie Zyon Pullin are on two-way contracts, which may give them a leg up on some other Heat players’ playing time in Las Vegas.

Orlando (Summer League roster)

Most of Orlando’s work in free agency focused on re-signing rotation players, but the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should pay dividends. The team’s depth and talent could make it difficult for younger players to get the minutes needed to impact fantasy basketball, but that does not diminish the importance of summer league to Anthony Black and Jett Howard. Black appeared in 69 games as a rookie, and with Markelle Fultz still on the market as a free agent, more minutes may be available to the sixth overall pick in the 2023 draft. As for Howard, he was out of the rotation, appearing in only 18 games. He has the potential to be a solid 3-and-D wing, and Las Vegas will be a good opportunity for Howard to show what he can do when allowed to flourish.

Also of note on the Magic roster is 2024 first-round pick Tristan da Silva, a versatile wing with the potential to be an impactful addition. For his career at Colorado, da Silva shot nearly 39% from three on 3.1 attempts per game. While the Magic don’t lack depth or athleticism on the wings, there is a need for consistent perimeter shooting, which would improve the spacing around stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Many players on the Orlando SL roster have failed to have an impact in the NBA, including former lottery pick Jarrett Culver, Theo Maledon, and former Clippers guard Xavier Moon. The Magic have two open two-way slots heading into Las Vegas.

Washington (Summer League roster)

Second overall pick Alex Sarr is the player many eyes will be trained on in Las Vegas. Even with the Wizards signing Jonas Valanciunas and re-signing Marvin Bagley III, there will likely be a time when the proverbial “training wheels” are removed, and Sarr is given full rein to play his game. This rebuild will take some time, which should result in the Wizards allowing Sarr to play through his mistakes. Kyshawn George, whose draft rights were acquired from the Knicks, should factor into the equation on the wing, especially with the Wizards trading Deni Avdija to the Trail Blazers. However, could lottery pick Carlton Carrington have the best shot at immediate fantasy relevance as a rookie?

There have been reports that the Wizards would be interested in moving free agent guard Tyus Jones via sign-and-trade, freeing up minutes at the point. And there are playoff hopefuls interested in adding Jones, which could net Washington future draft capital if they pull off a sign-and-trade. Selecting rookie point guards in fantasy drafts can be risky, especially in category leagues that include turnovers (see Henderson, Scoot). But Carrington having every opportunity to show what he can do as the Wizards’ lead guard would boost his value in drafts.

As for the returning players on the Wizards’ SL roster, the next ten days will be huge for Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Johnny Davis, with the latter being the 10th overall pick in the 2022 draft. Davis has yet to establish himself as a pro, while Baldwin appeared in 38 games after joining the Wizards via the Jordan Poole/Chris Paul trade.