All 30 NBA teams are participating in this year’s NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, which makes for a lot of games. There were 10 more on Saturday, 10 more opportunities for hard-working NBA G League talents to showcase their skills in front of NBA executives.
Here are a few of the top standouts from Saturday’s action.
Antonio Blakeney, Bulls
Blakeney joined an impressive fraternity this past season after being named the 2017-18 NBA G League Rookie of the Year. The Windy City Bulls alum averaged a league-high 32 points to go with 6.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals in 32 games. For those efforts, the league’s coaches and GMs recognized him with the honor of Rookie of the Year and a spot on the All-NBA G League Second Team.
Past winners of the ROY award include two notable names: Robert Covington of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers won the award in 2013-14 and Quinn Cook of the Canton Charge won it in the 2015-16 season. Covington, a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers, and Cook, an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors, are two great role models for Blakeney to follow.
On Saturday in the NBA Summer League, Blakeney lived up to the billing with 25 points, four rebounds and four assists. His Summer League Bulls also beat the Cavaliers 86-81. The 21-year-old guard signed a two-way contract with the Chicago Bulls last July after playing with the team at NBA Summer League 2017. Now this Summer League, he’s working hard to prove a team should take a chance on him on their NBA roster.
Walter Lemon Jr., Pelicans
A simple and unfortunate turned ankle scrambled plans for the New Orleans Pelicans Summer League team. On Friday, Pelicans guard Frank Jackson stepped on OG Anunoby’s foot and twisted his ankle, an injury that may hold him out for the rest of Summer League. Stepping into those minutes was Fort Wayne Mad Ants alum Walter Lemon Jr., who made the most of his opportunity on Saturday with 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against the Heat’s Summer League squad.
Lemon Jr. always looked in control of the Pelicans’ offense when he was on the court Saturday, directing traffic, dishing assists and helping reserve guard Trevon Bluiett to a career day (26 points in 21 minutes of action). The 25-year-old fine-tuned that unique skill, being a true game manager, in the G League this past season. He played 40 games in the G League with the Mad Ants, scoring 22.4 points and dishing 6.1 assists per game. He parlayed his strong work into a Gatorade Call-Up and a 10-day contract with the Pelicans, which he signed on February 10.
As long as Jackson rests up, nursing his ankle, more opportunities will come for Lemon Jr. Although that’s never the way you want to earn minutes, Lemon Jr. has to take them all the same and keep proving that he can command an offense at an NBA level.
Wade Baldwin IV and Jake Layman, Blazers
A special double-shoutout is in order for two G League alums with massive dunks in the fourth quarter of Portland’s Summer League game on Friday. Baldwin IV played for the Texas Legends last season, while Layman suited up for the Windy City Bulls, but both represented the G League in style with their slams.
Baldwin’s was one of those sneaky dunks you don’t see coming. He drove baseline, rose towards the rim and kept ascending, using the rocket boosters he must keep hidden in his shoes. The end result was a posterizing dunk.
Layman’s jam came a little later on in the fourth quarter and was a little bit different. A three-point shot went up from Gary Trent Jr. and Layman broke towards the basket, readying himself for a rebound. He started his jump almost before the shot had hit the rim and finished it one-handed, in style.
Jabari Bird, Celtics
Bird earns the last spot on Saturday’s list after a 24-point performance in the NBA Summer League against the Denver Nuggets. His two biggest highlights came on earth-shaking dunks. Both were the result of smart cuts towards the basket, piggybacking off of a good drive from the Boston guards. The little skills like knowing when to make a good cut or how to throw a good post entry pass stand out in Summer League, when the eyes of the NBA’s 30 front offices are on the court. It also doesn’t hurt that when after you make a good cut, you finish the play by showcasing your athleticism.
Cutting was one of the many skills Bird honed in the G League last season. He played 20 games with the Maine Red Claws, averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. He also played in 20 games with the Celtics as part of his two-way contract.
Bird was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, so the talent’s always been there. He’s just got to keep turning heads with not only his athleticism but his basketball smarts, and the NBA Summer League is the perfect platform to do so.