When the Summer League Nets take the court in Las Vegas at 5 p.m. ET Monday, their goal will be to win the game, but for the organization, it will be more about progress and answering questions.
What’s Cam Thomas look like his first time on an NBA court? Will it be the Cam Show? The Summer League is built for guards with a scoring knack? Is Day’Ron Sharpe a better shooter than he showed at North Carolina? And was his huge weight loss — some 30 pounds — a good thing? What about Kessler Edwards’ game makes draftniks thinks he went too low at No. 34? And should David Duke Jr., with his prototype shooting guard body and shooting mechanics, have been drafted? The Nets apparently thought so.
Expect Thomas to get the most fan eyeballs on Monday. He was ranked as high as No. 9 on Draft big boards but fell to No. 27 on Draft Night. He’s a scorer more than a shooter, someone who can heat up fast, but some GMs were turned off by his shot selection. The Brooklyn brass hopes they got a steal, maybe even someone who can give them minutes this year. It won’t be easy to break into the rotation with all that superstar talent in the backcourt ... and he is only 19.
“I feel like the trend for me is going up, because I feel like I get better day by day. So, just can’t wait. Can’t wait to play [Monday],” Thomas told Brian Lewis.
But pundits already find him interesting. He was the leading scorer among college freshmen last year at LSU even though the rest of his game was seen as subpar. This year, he became the third freshman to drop 57 points through his first two NCAA tourney games. The only others: Zion Williamson and his new teammate, Kevin Durant.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN summarized the Cam Show issues in his and Mike Schmitz look at the most interesting players in Las Vegas.
The summer league style should be a good fit for Thomas’ ability to get buckets. He averaged 23.0 PPG during his lone season at LSU, the most by a freshman in a major conference since Trae Young in 2017-18. I’d expect a 2-of-11 shooting night at some point, but also expect a game where he goes off for 30 points and leaves viewers wondering how he was still available at the 27th pick.
Similarly, Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report wonders if he fell too far...
The No. 9 prospect on Bleacher Report’s board, Thomas fell all the way to the Brooklyn Nets at No. 27. He led all freshmen in scoring, and though some scouts don’t love his wild shot selection, there is no denying his special ability to create space and make shots with NBA range.
Thomas is all about buckets and there will be crazy off-balance shots, but hey, it’s the Summer League. The 6’4” Thomas, by the way, will wear No. 8 this season, a tribute to his hero, Kobe Bryant. Thomas already honored Bryant in his Draft Night outfit and spoke after the Nets selected him about idolizing the late Lakers stars growing up.
“I really got that from Kobe, just watching how serious he was and how he took his craft very seriously,” said his disciplined play. “When my mom saw that I wanted to play very seriously, she stayed on me and kept me focused. So I really got that from Kobe, just all-business, lock in. Do your work first. … Perfection is all that.”
Sharpe was mocked to the Nets more than any other player in years and clearly the intelligence was good. The 6’11” big, with the big basketball IQ, will be counted on for offensive rebounding — he led the NCAA — and his no-look feeds from the post.
The big difference between the UNC Sharpe and the one who will play in the Summer League is that he’s gone from a bulky college big to a more svelte NBA model, losing 25 pounds in the process. He said he played at 270 pounds for the Tarheels last season and began the predraft process at 278. He got down to 253 by the Draft, proudly showing off his new physique that night.
How’d he do it?
“Man, it was conditioning in the morning, then work out, running, conditioning. I’d probably go again to the sauna or the hot blanket, sweating,” Sharpe told Lewis. “I’d have a light breakfast, a salad for lunch, salmon or steak for dinner. So I was eating healthy, not a lot of heavy stuff. And I was more active: running, sweating more. So a lot of treadmill work, on the elliptical arc. I started on the treadmill, run, on-court, sauna, sweat blanket, hills. You name it, I was doing it.”
Although Sean Marks hinted at the Nets post-draft press conference that the Nets believe he has untapped potential a shooter, Wasserman says expect Summer League head coach Jordan Ott to give him more limited instructions.
Sharpe should also be ready for minutes in a simplified role that calls for him to offensive rebound and show off his passing.
Wasserman also thinks there’s some value in the prospects the Nets took at Nos. 44, 49 and 59.
Brooklyn drafted three players in the second round who could surface as pros, whether it’s for the Nets or another team. Edwards was picked at No. 44 after three years of consistent shooting and has a solid frame (6’8”, 215 lbs) and the IQ to defend. Zegarowski lacks tools and athleticism, but he’s a threat from deep with a high playmaking skill level. And Gray is unique, sporting an enormous frame (6’8”, 260 lbs), face-up game and defensive mobility.
Gray, too, apparently is honoring a Hall of Famer with his jersey selection. He’ll be wearing No. 34, Charles Barkley’s (and Charles Oakley’s) number. At 6’8” and 260, he fits the mold.
There’s also a bit of a buzz about one of the undrafted players the Nets signed for the trip to Vegas. David Duke Jr. played three years at Providence and both Wasserman and Chad Ford have said nice things about him in the past few days.
Nobody drafted Duke, and he has as good a chance at sticking as Zegarowski and Gray. The Providence standout has traditional 2-guard size (6’5”, 205 lbs), a sharp one-on-one game and a tough jumper from the second and third levels.
Indeed, he hit around 40 percent from three the last two years. Ford, in his newsletter, explained why Duke may have fallen.
Duke was another player with a somewhat shocking fall down the draft board. Halfway through the college season, some NBA teams considered him a potential first-round pick. But he struggled in the second half of the season, and despite a solid showing at the NBA Draft Combine, he slid out of the draft.
Duke is signed to the Nets’ Summer League squad. But with Brooklyn selecting four players in the draft, Duke would be unlikely to make the Nets roster this fall.
Maybe, but on Sunday night, the Nets issued a press release that they’d signed Duke Jr., meaning he’s headed to training camp in the fall...
OFFICIAL: The Brooklyn Nets have signed guard David Duke Jr. pic.twitter.com/5mRYS6RiYu— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 9, 2021
One thing the Nets like about Duke is that his measurements are ideal for an NBA shooting guard. Besides his ability to shoot from deep and drive the lane, he’s 6’5.5” in shoes, has a 6’9” wingspan and a 39” max vertical.
Finally, there’s Brandon Knight. Yes, that Brandon Knight! The 29-year-old with career averages of 14.1 points and 4.0 assists is on the Nets Summer League roster, hoping for better times after a series of knee injuries.
The 6’2” guard out of Kentucky didn’t play last season. He had a tryout with Milwaukee, where he had his best years, but the Bucks declined. It would have been a feel-good story if he had returned and won a ring but now, his focus is on the Nets and Summer League, as he told Brian Lewis.
“That’s the main narrative. And I got an opportunity to come and play. I haven’t played, so anytime I get a chance to be on the court in this environment, I want a team that’s interested. It’s a blessing,” Knight told The Post. “Sean, thanks for the opportunity, for the chance to be able to showcase myself and represent them. And then also on top of that, taking note of my knee,
“The narrative of my knees, that I’m not healthy, that’s not right. So for me, the narrative is just to show that I’m healthy. I’m ready to play. And I’m here.”
Knight said he has been working with the young players on the roster and Ott said he’s already succeeded in that role.
“He’s been unbelievable in the little bit of time that we’ve been around. Great person, obviously a great player. The knee, that’s what he wants to show, that he’s healthy,” Ott told Lewis. “And he’s been great with us. He’s been our leader. Definitely a breath of fresh air kind of lifting this group that is pretty young, pretty young group. He’s helped us.”
“I’m the new guy here. Brandon Knight — for him being the No. 8 pick, the experience he’s had — he’s done a great job taking me under his wing, and I respect him for that. That’s my guy,” Thomas said. “So just happy to have somebody with that much experience with us.”
Other than the two first rounders, Thomas and Sharpe, none of the Summer Leaguers is guaranteed anything and the roster at this point has 14 players already signed with Patty Mills signature expected soon. But there are two two-way deals out there and if the Nets and prospects agree, they can be signed directly to the Long Island Nets. But those decisions are a week off in the distance. There’s five games to play before then.
- Brandon Knight looks to make case to Nets during Summer League - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Cam Thomas eager to test his scoring touch in Nets summer league debut - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ rookie Day’Ron Sharpe already working to improve his conditioning - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ranking the Must-Watch Teams at Las Vegas NBA Summer League - Jonathan Wasserman - Bleacher Report
- NBA summer league 2021: 30 teams, 30 players you need to know - Mike Schmitz & Kevin Pelton - ESPN+
- BROOKLYN NETS SIGN DAVID DUKE JR. - Brooklyn Nets