Former state college stars shine in NBA Summer Leagues

Heres the rundown on how players with North Carolina ties fared during the NBAs summer tournaments in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas photo— photo
Former Duke star Jayson Tatum was a standout for the Boston Celtics in both the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas NBA summer league tournaments

Putting big numbers onto a stat sheet is always preferable to the alternative. But when it comes to the NBA’s Summer League, it’s wise to evaluate those statistics — both good and bad — with a heavy dose of perspective. Specifically, that the competition isn’t at the same level as that of the NBA’s regular season. While most of the top recent draft picks were there getting their first taste of the professional game, along with a few second year players looking for extra playing time, the remainder of the rosters are filled out with undrafted free agents and marginal veterans hoping to catch on at the end of somebody’s bench. Still, there’s plenty to be gained by players at both ends of that spectrum. Here’s a look at which former state college stars took the best advantage of their Summer League opportunities: ■ RECENT DRAFT PICKS: NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Wake Forest’s John Collins and Duke’s Jayson Tatum were on among the brightest stars in Las Vegas, earning spots on the all-tournament team. Smith with the Dallas Mavericks and Collins with the Atlanta Hawks gained first team recognition. Tatum would likely have joined them there had he not missed the Boston Celtics’ final two games with tendonitis in his right knee. As it is, he was selected to the second team. Tatum wasn’t just a breakout star in Vegas. He also showed an ability to take over games and dominate in Salt Lake City while averaging 16.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and just under three assists per game between the two leagues. Smith was as good as advertised both as a playmaker and scorer, especially with his ability to get to the rim and the free throw line. Collins, meanwhile, was something a revelation while averaging nearly a double-double (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and showing off a mid-range game he rarely got to use with the Deacons. Another first round pick earning high marks was Duke’s Luke Kennard, who not only enhanced his reputation as a shooter — going 11 for 23 from 3-point range for the Detroit Pistons in Orlando — but he also earned praise for his all-around game. UNC’s Justin Jackson also put up decent numbers for the Sacramento Kings. But he was inconsistent, juggling games of 25 and 29 points with performances in which he was held to just four and eight points while experiencing difficulty adjusting to the NBA’s longer 3-point line. Jackson’s former UNC teammate Tony Bradley also went through some growing pains offensively, but did show growth from the Salt Lake tournament to the Las Vegas event — especially as a rebounder. Duke’s Harry Giles (Sacramento) and Frank Jackson (New Orleans) were held out of summer league action because of injuries. ■ YOUNG VETERANS: After playing in only three games as a rookie for the Los Angeles Clippers because of a back injury last season, former UNC big man Brice Johnson began the process of getting back into shape by shooting 55 percent from the floor and averaging 13.8 points in his four games in Vegas. Duke’s Brandon Ingram was even more impressive with 26 points in his only game for the Los Angeles Lakers. After a so-so effort as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Utah, UNC’s Marcus Paige helped himself immensely by averaging 12.4 points and 5.0 assists in five games for the Minnesota Timberwolves — a team currently short on point guards. Duke’s Quinn Cook, meanwhile, solidified his position with the New Orleans Pelicans by 20 or more points in three of his five summer games and shooting 58 percent from the floor. ■ UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS: It can be argued that no player in any of the three Summer League tournaments helped his cause more than UNC national champion Kennedy Meeks. Signed to a partially guaranteed contract with the Toronto Raptors, Meeks made his presence known by recording 15 points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of his team’s opener against New Orleans. He was even more efficient in Game 2 with 12 points and four rebounds in just nine minutes. Meeks then finished the week with 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists in an overtime loss to Cleveland to all but guarantee an invitation to the Raptors’ preseason training camp this fall. Of the other undrafted rookies, Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (9.2 ppg with the Timberwolves) and UNC’s Isaiah Hicks (6.8 ppg, 11-17 FG) were the best of the rest while the Duke duo of Matt Jones (Rockets) and Amile Jefferson (Timberwolves), and UNC’s Nate Britt (Hawks) saw only limited action. ■ VETERAN FREE AGENTS: Campbell’s Eric Griffin, who has com