Louisville Basketball: 3 Things to Watch for During the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 01: Deng Adel #22 and Damion Lee #0 of the Louisville Cardinals share a hug after the 56-53 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at KFC YUM! Center on March 1, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 01: Deng Adel #22 and Damion Lee #0 of the Louisville Cardinals share a hug after the 56-53 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at KFC YUM! Center on March 1, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The 2018 Las Vegas NBA Summer League kicks off today and several former Louisville basketball stars will be competing. Here are three things to watch for.

The NBA’s Summer League is garnering more attention than ever before in the city of Louisville due to several high profile former Louisville basketball stars participating.

Summer League is nothing more than rookies, young guys looking to develop, and fringe NBA players looking to get camp invites, so it doesn’t produce the best basketball. But in a time where there is only Major League paint drying (that’s baseball if you don’t catch my drift) and the World Cup going on, it’s a great two weeks to fill our sports gas tank.

For the next two weeks all 30 teams will participate daily in practice uni’s committing foul after foul. Though you’ll hear a lot of hot takes, and nonsensical conclusions gathered and spit out far too quickly, there is a lot that you can take away.

We’ll of course be watching the eight Louisville Cardinals who will be participating

  • Mangok Mathiang – C – Charlotte Hornets
  • Anas Mahmoud – C – Memphis Grizzlies
  • Trey Lewis – G – Utah Jazz
  • Deng Adel – F – Houston Rockets
  • Ray Spalding – F – Dallas Mavericks
  • Chinanu Onuaku – C – Houston Rockets
  • Jaylen Johnson – F – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Damion Lee – G – Atlanta Hawks (Status is still up in the air)

Here are three things we’ll be watching in particular.

1 . Can Ray Spalding play his way onto the Dallas Mavericks roster?

Former Louisville forward Ray Spalding will make his NBA debut tonight at 9:30 PM against the Phoenix Suns and number one pick DeAndre Ayton.

Spalding was the 56th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded shortly after the pick to the Dallas Mavericks, where he will now look to show the coaches and the front office that he is worth a roster spot for a young, and rebuilding Mavericks team.

The Mavericks recently signed former Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan to a big contract, while resigning reserve center Salah Mejri, making the odds of Spalding getting a roster spot a little bit lower. However, second rounders have played their way onto a roster plenty of times in years past. Spalding will need to show an ability to do the dirty work at a very high level over the next two weeks in the Las Vegas heat.

Spalding will also be playing alongside of the Mavericks current two-way player Jonathan Motley, who impressed when he received the chance to play down the stretch of last season, as well as Kostas Antetokounmpo, who is the younger brother of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, and was the Mavericks third second round pick. All three players bring the same skill set and intangibles to the table, so Spalding will need to perform at a high level in order to stick out.

The most likely scenario is Spalding signing a two-way contract with the Mavericks, meaning he’d split time between the NBA G-League and the Mavericks organization. This is a great way for Spalding to develop and get stronger as he’d likely receive heavy run playing for the Texas Legends, while having the ability to be called up and get run with the Mavericks in certain situations. Several players who were selected in the bottom half of the second round have already signed two-way deals with their respective organizations, so it would be no shock to see Spalding do the same.

The Mavericks should be a fun team to watch as their roster features their 2017 top 10 pick, Dennis Smith Jr., along with Spalding, Antetokounmpo, and second round selection Jalen Brunson, who was the National Player of the year for Villanova last season.

2. Will Chinanu Onuaku show he’s ready to emerge as a rotation player in Houston?

One thing I’ll be paying close attention to is Chinanu Onuaku, who will be entering his third NBA season in 2018-19. The former Cardinal big man signed a thee year contract with the Houston Rockets after being a second round selection in 2016, meaning this will be his final season with the Rockets, and keep in mind his contract is not guaranteed.

Onuaku has spent a lot of time playing with the Rockets G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and has played extremely well. However, we still haven’t gotten to see much of what he can do with the NBA’s top talent, as he only appeared in six games through his career, averaging just 3 points and 2 rebounds per game.

With the Rockets being right on the verge of contending for an NBA Championship, every single roster spot will be coveted by General Manager Daryl Morey. With Onuaku having a non-guaranteed deal, the Rockets could cut the big man lose with no penalty, leaving him to start his career over again somewhere else.

Don’t be surprised if Onuaku plays well for Houston, as he’s shown in the G-League that he improved his game since last stepping foot on the floor at the KFC Yum! Center. Nanu averaged 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks  per game, while shooting 60% from the field, and even recorded a triple double (points, rebounds, assists).

The Rockets can use big bodies on their bench, but with so many veterans available, Nanu will have to prove in Las Vegas that he’s ready to play. If he does have a big week, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the third year big man emerge into a role player for the Rockets.

3. Will any new Cardinal players get the chance to be on a NBA roster?

We’ve touched on the two former Cardinals playing in Las Vegas who were drafted, but six others will take the floor as undrafted free agents looking to prove that they deserve a shot to be invited to an NBA training camp.

Louisville’s two most recent undrafted player, Anas Mahmoud, and Deng Adel, will take the floor for the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets respectively, looking to prove that they can play at the next level.

Trey Lewis, Jaylen Johnson, Damion Lee, and Mangok Mathiang are all free agents who are hoping to catch the eyes of NBA scouts and General Managers. Lee and Mathiang were both on NBA rosters last season, as Lee was signed late in the year by the Atlanta Hawks and Mathiang was a two-way player for the Hornets. Both are currently free agents looking for another chance at making an NBA roster.

Trey Lewis and Jaylen Johnson, who both have improved significantly since leaving Louisville, will be looking to do the same as Lee and Mathiang, but with no experience of playing in the NBA. Johnson spent last season playing in the G-League after going to camp with the Chicago Bulls, while Lewis has played in Germany for Medi Bayreuth, where he’s been a multi-time all-star and the team’s leading scorer.

Mahmoud and Lewis have both been participating in the Utah Jazz/Salt Lake City summer league this week, meaning they will have more basketball to play and more chances of being noticed. While neither of showed much of anything yet, as they haven’t received much playing time, Lewis got some extended run last evening, scoring 11 points and putting Trae Young in a spin cycle.

Bonus: Will anyone show glimpses of being the next Donovan Mitchell?

In the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League fans across the NBA got their first glimpse at Donovan Mitchell, who at the time had little to no buzz at the time. He would go on to average double digits, while making several highlight plays that got Jazz and Cardinal fans excited for what could be in his rookie season.

If you try and tell me that what you saw in the Summer League led you to believe that Donovan Mitchell could go on to average 20+ points per game for the Jazz, win the slam dunk contest, and take the Jazz to the playoffs, well go ahead and take my job now. No one knew what was to come with Spida D.

So who will be next?

Is there a rookie who we will see over the next two weeks that could be ready to emerge into an NBA superstar overnight? Probably not. But there are a few guys I’m watching.

In particular, Jerome Robinson out of Boston College, who was the 13th pick (ironic huh?) of the Los Angeles Clippers. Robinson is a big time scoring guard, who averaged 20 points at BC, that will show he can fill it up, fast.

Other names to watch are Zhaire Smith (Philadelphia 76ers), Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns), Miles Bridges (Charlotte Hornets), and Donte DiVincenzo. These are all players who are capable of becoming a star at the next level.

While I can’t stress enough that the summer league doesn’t count for much, and people will likely make crazy conclusions that have no meaning, the next two weeks will be a lot of fun to watch, especially for Louisville fans.

Having eight players take the court shows the development that this program is having, and a strong week could see multiple new faces land on NBA rosters.

Next: Donovan Mitchell’s Party Crashing Has Significant Meaning in Utah