Jayhawks galore on NBA Summer League rosters
photo by: Nick Krug
With the NBA’s Summer League now under way, it’s time to take a look at the handful of former Kansas Jayhawks competing for various NBA teams this month.
The list includes several well-known names from KU’s recent past and features players in a variety of positions with the teams they’re playing with, from players who already have guaranteed contracts to those who are simply trying to make their break.
While full of dozens of players — recently drafted and otherwise — trying to catch the eye of that one coach or scout who might see enough value in you to go to bat for you with the guys at the top, Summer League is a terrific place to make a name for yourself. But playing well in Summer League does not guarantee much.
Last summer, Svi Mykhailiuk was an absolute assassin during Summer League action, finishing as one of the top five players in the league and lighting up the highlight shows with point explosions and athletic plays.
And while that helped him make a name for himself, it didn’t do much to earn him playing time once the 2018-19 regular season rolled around.
In 39 games with the Los Angeles Lakers — the team that drafted him — Mykhailiuk averaged 10.8 minutes per game before being traded to Detroit, where he appeared in just three games with the Pistons and spent the rest of the season playing with Detroit’s G League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich.
So take that as a precursor to what’s ahead. Yes, Summer League games have started in Salt Lake City and Sacramento, but the Vegas event (July 5-15) features all 30 NBA teams and has long been known as the main attraction, with media coverage and fan interest growing by the year.
Here’s a quick look at the former Jayhawks expected to be playing in Las Vegas starting Friday, with many of them needing good showings to keep their NBA careers alive.
• Dedric Lawson – Golden State Warriors
KU’s most recent All-American is in such an interesting position with the Warriors. As a team loaded with superstars and monster salaries, Golden State will be looking for players who can contribute reliable minutes on cheap contracts. Lawson could fit that description perfectly, but he’ll need to prove it in Summer League games before the Warriors commit to him. After Lawson went undrafted in last month’s draft, KU coach Bill Self said he liked the fit with Golden State because Lawson knows how to play with good players. If he can show a willingness to do things that many other players at the NBA level don’t like to do — pass, rebound and defer — he could find himself in a decent spot heading into the rest of the NBA’s offseason.
• Devonte’ Graham – Charlotte Hornets
Graham is arguably the one player on this list who is sitting in the best shape with his current NBA team. After a strong rookie season that featured him dominating G League games and contributing when called up to play with the Hornets, Graham will be looking to step into a bigger role with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker now headed to Boston. G League competition and Summer League games aren’t exactly the same thing, but Graham should have the confidence to deliver good numbers and further prove he belongs while running the show for the Hornets this month.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – Detroit Pistons
After being traded to Detroit by the Lakers (who drafted him) and then suffering a hand injury that shut him down for the end of the 2018-19 season, Mykhailiuk is facing his first true opportunity to show the Pistons what they got in trading for him. Remember, this is a young, versatile player who Magic Johnson fell in love with last year (and who the current crop of Lakers would probably love to still have), who can shoot it, create off the dribble and play just about any style. There has long been some intrigue about Mykhailiuk’s ability to fill the playmaker role — like he often did with the Ukrainian national team — and the Pistons may be looking at that this summer as much as anything. Beyond that, though, Svi is a knockdown shooter and if his shot is on in the next couple of weeks, the outlook for his first full season in Detroit could include some excitement.
• Frank Mason III – Sacramento Kings
Mason said last month after his debut performance at the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic that his first two NBA seasons had not gone like he wanted and that he also hoped to be back with Sacramento for his third year. On Thursday, the Kings announced that they had waived Mason but would keep him on their summer league roster. Those moves give him an opportunity to keep playing while essentially auditioning for a spot on another roster. Mason is absolutely the same kind of player Kansas fans grew to love, gritty, tough, determined and unafraid of having to overcome obstacles to get where he wants to go. His game has improved a ton since leaving KU, but he’s still trying to prove that a consistent role in an NBA rotation is something worth giving him. KU fans learned a long time ago that it’s never a good idea to bet against Mason, so there’s no need to start now.
• Lagerald Vick – Houston Rockets?
A week or so ago, it was reported that Vick would join the Houston Rockets’ Summer League squad out in Vegas. But when the franchise released its official roster for the next couple of weeks earlier this week, Vick’s name was not on it. It’s possible he still could be added. And even if he’s not, Vick could still work out a deal to play for someone else. But this is not exactly the way anyone wants to start a make-or-break summer session. Vick worked out with Charlotte, Oklahoma City, New York, Chicago and Washington. So if not Houston, maybe one of those teams will pick him up.
• Thomas Robinson – San Antonio Spurs
In an attempt to revitalize his NBA career after a couple of stints overseas, Thomas Robinson has jumped out to a great start with the Spurs. In San Antonio’s first couple of Summer League games in Salt Lake City, Robinson flashed an ability to score, rebound and work while helping lead the Spurs to a couple of victories. Beyond that, he is fulling embracing everything that a chance with San Antonio can provide, including being in absolute awe over Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon when he first saw her at a team workout. A former lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings, Robinson has the ability and experience to make a comeback in the NBA. For him at this point in his career, it’s all about fit. And the next couple of weeks will go a long way toward showing the Spurs whether Robinson fits what they’re looking for.
• Malik Newman – Cleveland Cavaliers
Another former Jayhawk star who has dabbled in the G League and hung since leaving KU, Newman brings an elite skill to the floor every time he suits up — his ability to shoot the ball. If he’s hot this summer, that could go a long way toward helping him catch the eye of the Cavs or some other NBA team looking for more shooting. Newman can flat out shoot the ball and, so far, he has shown an improved ability to get his own shot off the dribble. If that continues, his maturity and mindset, along with his shooting, might be worth taking a chance on.
• Landen Lucas – Atlanta Hawks
Lucas is a perfect Summer League player for any roster because he knows how to play the game, executes whatever is asked and has the size and experience needed to compete with other big men, even those with more size and better skills. While that could keep him employed by an NBA club for the next few summers, it’s probably not going to lead to a full-time roster spot. Lucas has plenty of other things going on in his life, however, to keep him from stressing too much about his chances in the NBA. In addition to playing opportunities overseas and in Japan along with his never-ending work with his Landen Lucas Foundation, which helps create athletic opportunities for young people in Lawrence and Portland, Lucas has dipped his toe into the insurance business with Seeker, a company that aims to provide realistic and reliable quotes from companies throughout the country. Lucas is as smart as they come and knows how to handle his business. Getting a crack with another Summer League squad is likely pure gravy and yet another opportunity to test himself at the highest level while he’s still young.
• Cliff Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers
Although he never made much of a name for himself with the Jayhawks, the former top 10 prospect out of Chicago has been able to find a little footing in the NBA and G League. And he’s still young enough and intriguing enough to keep taking a look at during settings such as Summer League. Alexander’s size and ability to dominate on the glass and around the rim could catch an eye, but he’s going to have to be more consistent than ever before and show a little versatility to really make a name for himself.
• Jeff Withey – Washington Wizards
After a couple of years in the NBA — including a prominent role on the floor for the Utah Jazz the night Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game — Withey has spent the past couple of seasons playing overseas. But there’s little doubt that his size, timing and shot-blocking ability put him in position to at least be noticed. With the NBA transitioning more and more away from traditional big men, Withey could be a victim of the times. But he’s still young and he’s still getting looks. What he does with them is up to him.
• Andrew White III – New York Knicks
It’s easy to forget White because he went to both Nebraska and Syracuse since starting his career at Kansas. But his blend of size and smarts along with a reliable and dangerous jump shot could make White a player to watch this summer. White, in two seasons in the G League, owns a career points-per-game average of 14.1. He also played 15 games for the Atlanta Hawks during the 2017-18 NBA season.
• Conner Frankamp – Los Angeles Lakers
Another KU player who transferred out, the Wichita native and Wichita State alum is getting his shot with the severely undermanned Lakers this summer. No, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma won’t be playing. But some of their future teammates might. And they will be watching. The Lakers, like Golden State, are facing a salary situation that will have them looking for quality players who can contribute on the cheap. Frankamp, who also has a high basketball IQ, is a born shooter and it’s easy to see how he could catch a team’s eye if he shoots it well this summer. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably have to go overseas to make his money.