This year’s NBA Summer League campaign might be the most anticipated in league history since 2003, when LeBron James made his pro debut.
A litany of potential stars will suit up in Las Vegas for Summer League games, including the top five picks of the NBA draft. Thankfully for fans, some of them are guaranteed to face off against each other.
Here is a look at this year’s Las Vegas Summer League schedule as well as the four matchups featuring top-five picks squaring off on the court.
Phoenix vs. Sacramento
Friday, July 7, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Two of the most athletic players in the NBA draft, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox, will square off on the Vegas Summer League’s opening day.
Both players pride themselves on playing excellent defense, and their teams are guaranteed to benefit as both the Suns and Kings struggled on that end of the floor last year.
The Kings should also have two other first-rounders featured in this game as Justin Jackson and Harry Giles should be suiting up for Sacramento.
Jackson starred at North Carolina, making two national championships and winning one last year as the team’s leading scorer.
Giles has a ton of potential, but his career has been beset by knee injuries. If he returns to his old form and stays healthy, it’ll be like the Kings got two top-five draft picks. Giles was ranked as the No. 1 player in his high school class by ESPN 100 and had that potential before he was hurt.
Boston vs. L.A. Lakers
Saturday, July 8, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Lonzo Ball will have made his debut the night before against the Los Angeles Clippers, but this tilt against the Celtics will be more intriguing considering Boston’s top two draft picks this year.
Former Duke forward Jayson Tatum looks like he’ll make an impact for the Celtics right away off the bench. He’s capable of playing the small forward or power forward positions and is a polished, NBA-ready scorer. He’s exactly the type of player the Celtics need.
SMU forward Semi Ojeleye can do a little bit of everything from either forward position, as he is an adept scorer, rebounder and defender. He’s a bit like Marcus Smart in that he can fill multiple gaps on the roster by himself except he’s a forward.
Keep an eye on the partnership between Ball and 30th overall pick Josh Hart in the backcourt. The two players could potentially form a great duo. They are both unselfish, team-oriented players who have high basketball IQs. Ball and Hart could be starting together for a long time.
L.A. Lakers vs. Sacramento
Monday, July 10, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Might De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball be the next great one-on-one rivalry? And, in turn, might the intense Kings vs. Lakers standoffs from the early 21st century be renewed?
We know that Fox and Ball are set to square off four times per year for the foreseeable future since the Kings and Lakers play in the same division. But before we see some heated regular-season battles, Fox and Ball will face off in the Summer League.
The two played each other twice last season in college, with UCLA winning a regular-season tilt before Kentucky got revenge in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament thanks to 39 points from Fox.
In the two Kentucky-UCLA games, Fox averaged 29.5 points and 6.5 assists, while Ball posted 12.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5.0 turnovers. Ball will likely want some revenge, especially after Fox’s offensive explosion in the Sweet 16.
Keep an eye on the Lakers and Kings down the road as this could be a fun and heated rivalry.
Philadelphia vs. Boston
Tuesday, July 11, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Boston Celtics will get a firsthand look at the player they decided against picking No. 1.
The C’s owned the first overall draft pick after winning the lottery, but they decided to trade down to No. 3 with the Philadelphia 76ers, acquiring a future first-round selection in the process.
Markelle Fultz, who experts mocked to be the first overall pick for quite some time, ended up heading to Philly, while Boston took Tatum.
Of course, it will take years to see who won this trade (given the skill levels of both players, it is possible that this will be considered a win-win), but it’ll be fun to see Fultz face off against the team that passed up the opportunity to select him.
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