Las Vegas Summer League: Fantasy basketball managers should keep on eye on these NBA players

The 2024 Vegas Summer League won't reach last year's hype, but there are plenty of young players afforded the chance to showcase their talent. It'll be chaotic and messy, but hey, we hoopin!

From a fantasy standpoint, I'll be focusing on the sophomores and third-year players over the rookies because the vets in this circumstance generally have more success in fantasy than the first-year guys — especially with the 2024 draft class being considered one of the weakest in years. Still, I'll be tuning in to assess the development of several players to get a better read on their progress and their chances of becoming a fantasy asset next season.

Omitting players like Keyonte George, Keon Ellis, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Brandin Podziemski, who have nothing to prove here, here are the players I'm watching ahead of the 2024 Vegas Summer League.

The "Vets"

Walker Kessler - C, Utah Jazz

Kessler's production stalled after a promising rookie campaign, so it's unsurprising that he is headed for his third Summer League appearance. I doubt he'll play beyond a few games, but he'll need a good showing in Vegas to either:

A) Restore confidence in Utah's coaching staff to replace John Collins as the starting center of their rebuild or

B) Play well enough for another team to give up a first-round pick for his services

Assuming he stays in Utah, this will be a pivotal opportunity to develop more chemistry with their future point guard, Keyonte George. Here's George getting easy buckets with Kessler in the pick-and-roll:

Kessler's off to a decent start too, averaging 7.0 points, 10.5 boards, three blocks and two steals per game at the Salt Lake City Summer League. He didn't live up to last year's fifth-round ADP, so hopefully, he can take this momentum into Vegas.

Kobe Bufkin - SG, Atlanta Hawks

After spending much of his rookie season in the G-League, the former Michigan combo guard only appeared in 17 games for the Hawks. For what it's worth, he balled out for College Park, averaging 23.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game last year — he can hoop:

He'll have the greenest of lights and play heavy minutes since no guards currently in the Hawks rotation or acquired recently (Dyson Daniels) are playing in Summer League. He could be one of the best players out there, and if that occurs, he could push for some meaningful minutes at either guard spot next season.

Jarace Walker - SF, Indiana Pacers

Word on the street is that Walker, the eighth overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft, will be the focal point of the Pacers Summer League squad. Walker appeared in 33 games for Indy last year, but seeing him get minutes in the postseason intrigued me. Like Bufkin, he dominated his G-League stint, averaging 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals on 37.7% shooting from three with the Indiana Mad Ants.

Walker is no stranger to Vegas, as he posted a 14/8/3 stat line with 2.5 stocks and a 27% usage rate last summer. With a substantial role locked in, there's some real stat-stuffing potential here. "The Manchild" is a threat on the perimeter and interior and with some playmaking chops, he should be on your must-watch list.

Other non-rookies to watch:

Craig Porter Jr. - PG/SG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Noah Clowney - C, Brooklyn Nets

Marcus Sasser - PG, Detroit Pistons

Jordan Hawkins - SG, New Orleans Pelicans

Julian Strawther - SF. Denver Nuggets

The Rookies

Zach Edey - C, Memphis Grizzlies

I never understood the hate on Edey going ninth overall to Memphis, considering he'd effectively be playing the Steven Adams role in Taylor Jenkins' system. Adams thrived for so many years as the primary screener and rim protector for the Grizzlies, and with Edey being far more gifted than Adams on both ends, I can't deny his fantasy appeal.

He showed out in his Salt Lake debut, forcing OT in dramatic fashion while dropping 14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in 33 minutes. He might get load-managed in Vegas, but putting together games like this could help him crack the rotation early for the Grizzlies. We could be looking at a late-round fantasy pick with upside for his rebounding and defensive production despite playing minutes in the 20s.

Stephon Castle - PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs

Castle has been impressive thus far in the California Classic, averaging 15 points, six boards, four dimes and 1.5 steals per game. The defense is already there; now, it's about refining the playmaking and shooting — and what better place to do that than Summer League?

Castle's 36/20/57 shooting splits are concerning for nine-category formats, but it's early, and the counting stat production looks promising. I'd expect him to get plenty of run in Vegas, and he'll be one of the more entertaining two-way guys to watch.

Kel’el Ware - C, Miami Heat

The 15th overall pick of the 2024 Draft could end up being one of the draft's steals. I watched him demolish the Kings in the California Classic, scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds and 3 dimes:

He's a seven-footer with elite athleticism, unique touch and the defensive chops to be a deep league target next season. Of course, this assumes he'll get into the rotation. A few more games like this in Vegas and Coach Spo might have to consider sliding Bam Adebayo to PF to make room for the dynamic rookie.

Other rookies to watch:

Reed Sheppard - PG, Houston Rockets

Rob Dillingham - PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

Alex Sarr - PF/C, Washington Wizards

Jared McCain - PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers

DaRon Holmes - PF, Denver Nuggets

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