The surprises from the 2023 rookie class in Las Vegas

The 2023 rookie class got on the floor for its first NBA action at the opening weekend of the NBA 2K24 Summer League. But now the question is, which rookies will we see play again before the event is over on July 17?

The big headline in Las Vegas this year, No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, drew an electric crowd for the San Antonio Spurs‘ game against No. 2 pick Brandon Miller and the Charlotte Hornets. But Wembanyama could not deliver on the hype, only scoring nine points with a few poor plays in between. Miller led the Hornets in points (16) and rebounds (11), but Charlotte lost, 76-68.

The other battle between top-five picks — Portland Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson and Houston Rockets forward Amen Thompson — featured a competitive game as both players shined in a 100-99 Houston win. However, both Henderson and Thompson got hurt, and it is unlikely that either will see the floor for the remainder of summer league.

Our NBA insiders (Andrew Lopez, Tim Bontemps, Jonathan Givony, Tim MacMahon and Kevin Pelton) break down the highlights and lowlights of this year’s rookie class from their debuts at the NBA 2K24 Summer League.

Wembanyama struggles in NBA debut, Miller posts double-double

The NBA opted to put the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks against each other in a showcase on Friday night with Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs going up against Miller and the Charlotte Hornets.

It wasn’t the first game for either team since both participated — and faced each other — in the opening game of the California Classic summer league in Sacramento, but it was the opening game for Wembanyama.

While it may not have been the event everyone had hoped for, the Spurs pulled out the 76-68 victory.

Wembanyama finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 blocks, but struggled from the floor going 2-for-13 overall and 1-for-6 from distance. He also had three turnovers and four fouls.

Miller had 15 fouls and 10 turnovers in his two games in the California Classic but had a better performance against the Spurs the second time around with16 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals while turning it over just twice. The fouls were still an issue — he had five but showed some improvement in that area.

Like Wembanyama, Miller struggled shooting the ball going 5-for-16 from the field and 3-for-10 from 3.

There were times when the two guarded each other. Miller got by Wembanyama and drew a foul on one of his highlight plays of the night. Wembanyama got the better of Miller when he picked up one of his blocks by swatting Miller on the perimeter.

Postgame, Wembanyama said he was still trying to learn plays and get his footing with his new teammates since he didn’t join the team at the California Classic.

The flashes were there for both players. Wembanyama’s offense was lacking and he looked tired at times on the court, but he had plenty of plays on the defensive end that showed how advanced he is for a 19-year-old.

Meanwhile, Miller looked more comfortable than he did in Sacramento and really picked up his play in the second half. — Andrew Lopez

Amen Thompson and Scoot Henderson start productive, but fall to injuries

The fans who piled into Thomas & Mack Center Friday night in Las Vegas were ready to see what Wembanyama would do. But as the sellout crowd waited to see him play, they got a look at Henderson and Thompson.

If their summer league debuts were any indication, both the Trail Blazers (Henderson) and Rockets (Thompson) have plenty to be excited about.

There was some irony in Henderson playing in the game before Wembanyama after their showdowns near Las Vegas last October made them both into household names in basketball circles right up through the NBA draft. And, like in his first game against Wembanyama, Henderson embraced the big stage.

He finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists in 21 minutes before exiting with a shoulder injury that will keep him out Sunday against the Spurs. Henderson’s explosion was evident as he was able to use his combination of size, speed and strength to get wherever he wanted on the court. And while his jumper waxed and waned as the game played out, his release looked smooth, and he was able to get clean looks whenever he wanted.

He also was able to get to the rim repeatedly, either for finishes for himself or to set up shooters on the perimeter, and looked every bit the guy to replace guard Damian Lillard as both the face of the franchise and as its floor general next season.

Thompson, meanwhile, was equally impressive before suffering an ankle sprain that’ll cost him the rest of his summer league, per Andscape’s Marc Spears, though it’s not a long-term injury.

He finished with a stat-stuffing line: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 4 blocks in 28 minutes. Like with Henderson, it was how Thompson played that stood out.

Thompson entered summer league as a bit of an enigma because he and his brother, Ausar, played for Overtime Elite — a bit off the radar compared to a typical prospect. But Thompson looked calm and poised at all times on the court. He never looked in a rush and consistently made the right play.

Couple that with him being a long, athletic 6-foot-7 guard with playmaking chops and it didn’t take long for him to impress.

The only damper on the night for either player was that they both got hurt. But from a long-term perspective, the Blazers and Rockets had to be thrilled with what they saw from their top picks. — Tim Bontemps

Wallace shows star potential for Oklahoma City Thunder

A sloppy Oklahoma City possession resulted in guard Cason Wallace picking up the ball near the halfcourt line as the shot clock wound down in the fourth quarter Saturday. He immediately launched a 44-foot jumper, a desperation shot that bounced off the backboard and into the hoop.

Wallace responded by shaking his head and laughing as he backpedaled down the court. A lot had gone well for the No. 10 pick in his summer league debut.

Wallace sat out the Thunder’s three games in the Salt Lake City Summer League because the trade to acquire his rights didn’t become official until after the July 6 moratorium period. But he had 20 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in Oklahoma City’s 91-80 win over the Dallas Mavericks. He was 6-for-10 from 3-point range, which is particularly impressive for a rookie whose shooting was considered his biggest question mark.

The 6-4, 195-pound Wallace is a physical combo guard whose defensive tenacity has drawn comparisons to Milwaukee Bucks star Jrue Holiday.

“I don’t know that he has a set position, but he just finds a way to impact the game,” a scout from a Western Conference team told ESPN after watching Wallace against the Mavs. “Those guys are hard to find.” — Tim MacMahon

Black excels on both ends of the floor

Anthony Black had an exciting summer league debut on Saturday for the Orlando Magic, putting his potential as a 6-7 point guard on full display with smooth and physical drives. He bullied smaller players and finished skillfully out of hesitation moves with long strides and impressive footwork using both hands around the rim.

He showed potential with his pull-up jumper, passed the ball unselfishly and put the clamps on Detroit’s Jaden Ivey, possibly the most explosive guard in summer league, by sliding his feet. Black used his strong frame and excellent size to make things difficult and getting over screens and rotating intelligently off the ball to generate turnovers.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of his debut was how much more room he has to grow as his confidence increases and he finds the right balance between facilitating unselfishly and taking over games when needed. He did that in small but impressive doses throughout the game.

His decision-making can stand to improve, as evidenced by his seven turnovers. Still, there is plenty of optimism for fans after their first exposure to the No. 6 pick, especially considering this is the first competitive action he’s faced in four months after doing strictly one-on-zero workouts during the pre-draft process. — Jonathan Givony

Ausar Thompson comes out quiet, but could have a big role soon

Ausar Thompson had a somewhat quiet debut, as the Detroit Pistons have quite a few mouths to feed with one of the most loaded summer league rosters in Las Vegas.

It’s likely we’ll see more of the skill set that made him the No. 5 pick in the draft as the week moves on, but this could also very well be a preview of what his rookie year might look like after the Pistons added depth to their backcourt with Monte Morris and Joe Harris while retaining plenty of talent in Cade Cunningham, Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic and Killian Hayes.

Thompson still showed some impressive flashes, especially on defense with the way he covers ground exceptionally getting back in transition, closing out on the perimeter and making plays at the rim while locking up guards, wings and forwards alike, pulling down 9 rebounds with 3 blocks and 1 steal. His ability to powerfully change speeds going both left or right was on display in small doses with some bully ball drives and finishes. He got to the free throw line six times in 27 minutes. Once Ivey is shut down, it’s possible we might see more of Thompson in an on-ball role which will give us more insight into his ability to put his phenomenal physical tools to work as a shot-creator. — Givony

Walker and Coulibaly struggle to shoot but show promise

Not only were Bilal Coulibaly (No. 7) and Jarace Walker (No. 8) drafted with consecutive picks, they were swapped for each other in a draft-night deal that saw the Washington Wizards move up one spot while the Indiana Pacers were still able to land their preferred player. It was appropriate that the Pacers and Wizards faced each other in their summer league opener.

Like his Metropolitans 92 teammate Wembanyama, Coulibaly started slowly a few weeks after concluding his season in France. Through three quarters, he had three points on 1-for-8 shooting and had his shot blocked three times in addition to missing badly on a corner 3.

We finally saw flashes of what caused Coulibaly to rise up draft boards during the fourth quarter, when he scored six points and nearly added a tip dunk to his tally. Matched up with second-year Indiana guard Bennedict Mathurin, Coulibaly got to the basket with a dribble move for a pretty finger roll layup, then powered through Mathurin on the next possession to finish at the rim.

On the other side, Walker impressed despite 3-for-13 shooting. He could stand to cut back on the pull-up jumpers, having missed all four of his 2-point attempts outside the paint. Walker also struggled on more favorable 3-point attempts, shooting 1-for-5 beyond the arc.

Walker didn’t allow the missed shots to affect his energy level. Flying around on defense, he filled out the box score with 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks. His best assist was a touch pass to Mathurin for a finish at the rim. Defensively, Walker drew “ahs” from the crowd by perfectly timing a weak-side swat of Wizards guard Quenton Jackson. — Kevin Pelton

Other notable rookie performances

Keyonte George | Guard | Utah Jazz

33 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds

Toumani Camara | Forward | Phoenix Suns

20 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal

Colin Castleton | Center | Los Angeles Lakers

13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals

Jordan Walsh | Forward | Boston Celtics

18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals

Jordan Hawkins | Guard | New Orleans Pelicans

16 points, 5 assists, 2 steals

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