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Second Year NBA Players to Watch in Summer League

Bennedict Mathurin - NBA DFS Picks, Daily Fantasy Basketball Rankings, Injury News - rotoballer icon

Now that the 2023 NBA draft has concluded, Summer League is quickly approaching. We'll get to see the top picks on display and see them get their first taste of competition with their new teams.

Last year, Sacramento Kings rookie and fourth overall pick Keegan Murray took home Summer League MVP honors. The summer basketball circuit is for rookies to get their feet wet but it's also for players looking to improve and get recognized. This is where I key in on the second-year players who will be lacing it up.

Those guys will be taking a 'veteran' role while also still trying to show out and impress their teams. Josh Hart 2018 was the last second-year player to win Summer League MVP. In this article, I'll be pointing out second-year players looking to take the next step this summer.

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Christian Braun - Denver Nuggets

Braun, the 21st pick in the 2022 NBA draft, is going to catch a lot of attention after helping the Nuggets win the NBA finals. He really had a pretty quiet rookie year, averaging 4.7 points in 76 regular season games.

The last memory people have of him is when he scored 15 points in Game Three of the NBA Finals, giving Denver a 2-1 series lead.

There will be a lot of noise around his name which makes him incredibly intriguing to follow this summer. Braun will be the star of the Nuggets Summer League team but Denver also really needs to evaluate the second-year player after likely losing Bruce Brown in free agency. Brown played a big part in the Nuggets winning the title and it's not an easy role to just step in and fill.

It's a situation where Braun needs to take a leap but he also plays a critical role on a team looking to defend their title. He is most certainly going to see a minutes increase from the 15.5 he averaged last season. Braun showed good durability at Kansas where he played 34 minutes per game during his Junior year and led the Jayhawks to a National Title.

I also naturally expect him to take more than 3.8 field goals per game. He wasn't a big scorer at Kansas but averaged 14 points per game in the championship season. It will be interesting to see Braun navigate through Summer League where he should lead the team in usage percentage.

Denver would like to see that 0.8 assists per game average probably be around 2.5-3 next season. Points near and around the basket are another area he should take advantage of in these games. Last season, he hit 93/141 (66%) on shots less than five feet. In the restricted area, he hit 90/132 (68.2%).

Denver will be gunning for the one seed in the Western Conference, they will need Braun to continue to fine-tune all parts of his game this summer.

 

Bennedict Mathurin - Indiana Pacers 

Mathurin is probably the second-year player I'm most looking forward to watching this summer. Ben was the sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft and made First-Team All-Rookie last season. He played in 78 games and averaged 16.7 points per game in 28.5 minutes.

Last year at Las Vegas SL, Mathurin played three games and averaged 19.3 points in 22.4 minutes.

He's an elite scorer that can completely overpower defense at times. Something he was excellent at this season was baiting for fouls. Only first-overall pick Paolo Banchero made more foul shots than Mathurin. Banchero played 208 more minutes than the Pacers rookie but only hit 18 more free throws. Mathurin also shot it at 82.8 percent compared to Bancheros' 73.8 percent from the line.

It'll be interesting to see if Mathurins' shot has improved. He only shot 32.3 percent from three and 39.1 percent on midrange jump shots. Impressively, he was still able to average almost 17 points per game thanks to 7.2 points in the paint and 3.6 fastbreak points per game. If his shot is improved, he should be able to average 20+ points per game this season given he sees an increase in minutes and a potential starting spot. Even if he comes off the bench again, I think he is a strong Sixth Man-of-The-Year candidate.

I'm looking for Mathurin to continue to go downhill and exert his dominance in Summer League. It wouldn't shock me if the Pacers guard wins Summer League MVP with his competitive drive and special physical capabilities.

Ochai Agbaji - Utah Jazz

The 2022 Final Four Most Outstanding Player had a really solid rookie year with the Utah Jazz. Similar to Ben Mathurin, Agbaji has a very strong frame and had an NBA-ready body right when he stepped into the league. The 14th overall selection in the 2022 draft was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers and later traded to the Utah Jazz as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade package.

He played in 59 games, scoring 7.9 points per game in 20.5 minutes. Ochai is a player that can score and is a capable outside shooter. He shot especially well from the right corner, knocking down 29/58 (50%) three-pointers. Above the break threes will need to improve as he only shot 27.7 percent. Raising his catch-and-shoot three-point percentages will also be key for him, he shot 37.8 percent in those scenarios last season. As always, becoming a very solid three-point shooter will open up the floor for Agbaji and his teammates. I don't think he will turn into this big playmaker so scoring and shooting will be his primary meal ticket to playing time.

Despite the not-great shooting, Agbaji still was able to score in double figures in 20 games. Four of those games featured him scoring 20+ points. He's a guy that can fill it up in the score column and averaging double-digit points this season should be expected of him at the least.

On the Jazz Summer League team, the second-year forward will be teaming up with rookies Taylor Hendricks (9th overall) and Keyonte George (16th overall). Agbaji played four games in the Las Vegas Summer League in 2022 where he averaged 15 points in 31 minutes. As we saw with his leading the Kansas Jayhawks to the National Title, Agbaji can show off that alpha and take over.

He'll be playing with two top-16 draft picks but Agbaji has a great chance to show off that scoring ability. Utah also should prioritize youth this season which is where he could see significant time this season.

 

Johnny Davis - Washington Wizards

Johnny Davis was the tenth pick in the 2022 NBA draft and only appeared in 28 games last season. He will be a name to keep an eye on as Washington traded away Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. The direction of the team is to rebuild and Davis could play a nice part in that.

The former Wisconsin Badger averaged 5.8 points in 15.1 minutes per game in 28 games with the Wizards last season. He struggled with his shot and only had a 38.6 field goal percentage and shot 24.3 percent from three. To put a number to a percentage, Davis hit 17/70 three-pointers in the big leagues.

Splitting time, he averaged 12 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals in 18 games with the Capital City Go-Go, Washington's G-League affiliate team. He only had a 40.4 field goal percentage despite taking over 11 per game. From three, Davis shot 31.1 percent and attempted just over four per game.

In the last five games of the season, Davis played 36 minutes and averaged 17 points for the Wizards. Percentages weren't good but he started to show some signs of life.

He'll be teaming up with Bilal Coulibaly who the Wizards took seventh overall in the 2023 draft. Another name to look out for is second-year guard Quenton Jackson. The undrafted Jackson can be an explosive player and averaged 13.6 points in 29 games with the Go-Go this past season.

Washington is quietly deep at guard with Tyus Jones, Monte Morris, Kendrick Nunn, Delon Wright, and Landry Shamet. On top of that, they also now have the rookie Coulibaly vying for minutes.

Johnny Davis really needs to come out strong and impress or he will have a hard time finding rotational minutes in the NBA this season.

Jake LaRavia - Memphis Grizzlies 

I was going back and forth between LaRavia and teammate David Roddy and LaRavia is the guy I feel has the better upcoming opportunity this season.

He split time between the G-League and NBA this past season. In the NBA, he played in 35 games, averaging three points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game. For the Memphis Hustle, LaRavia faired much better. He averaged 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 29.2 minutes in 17 games. Points in the paint were big for him, averaging 6.9 of his 18.8 inside. The 19th pick in the 2022 NBA draft also had a 64.3 true shooting percentage. He's a decent three-point shooter that should only get better.

When I see LaRavia, I see a real chance for him to play this season. Dillon Brooks is gone, Brandon Clarke is coming back from a major injury, and Ziaire Williams is good but not unpassable for minutes.

LaRavia will also be playing with David Roddy and Kenneth Lofton Jr. which should motivate him even more to stand out. At Wake Forest in his junior season, he averaged 3.7 assists per game. He can create and facilitate better than gets recognized but I get it, he hasn't shown much on the NBA level.

I'm not sure what role LaRavia will play for the Grizzlies this season but he has enough potential to just throw him out there and see what happens. I could see Jake starting some games this season and Summer League could go a long way for him building positive momentum.

The Grizzlies have a lot of forwards but someone has to play, why not Jake LaRavia?

 



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