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Atlanta Hawks Summer League: Evaluating the players with the most at stake

It could be a pivotal two-week stretch for these players.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Atlanta Hawks announcing the roster for Utah and Las Vegas Summer League, there is plenty to monitor in the coming days. Play begins on July 2 in Salt Lake City and, from there, the Hawks will participate in at least eight games (across Utah and Las Vegas) that will provide the front office with valuable evaluation time for certain players.

Some prospects have little at stake, such as last season’s second team NBA all-rookie team member John Collins. He will benefit from the development opportunity and a chance to explore the offensive and defensive schemes being implemented by the Hawks new coaching staff under the leadership of head coach Lloyd Pierce.

Similarly, while there will be much anticipation regarding the opportunity to see Trae Young play in his first NBA setting, his level of production will be unlikely to affect the plan the organization has for him for the remainder of summer and heading toward the 2018-19 season. The other Hawks’ 2018 first round picks will have little if anything at stake. No. 19 pick Kevin Huerter will not play due to injury and, while the No. 30 overall pick Omari Spellman might have an opportunity to open the eyes of his coaching staff, the development plan for him for the remainder of the off-season would likely not be impacted.

A number of largely anonymous players will largely be playing simply in an attempt to land on the radar of professional evaluators from all over the NBA globe. Those players will have value to Atlanta’s Summer League team in the form of depth and having enough bodies to operate full practices.

But for a handful of players, there are important stakes tied to their respective performances in terms of their standing within the Hawks’ projected rotation at the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season and/or the likelihood as to if they will be on the roster when the Hawks will have to cut it down to 15 players. There is also one more available two-way roster spot that has yet to be offered to a player, at least to the point where that information is not publicly available.

For good measure, the players in this group largely play at same position; none of them are bigs and none of them profile as pure point guards. So, while they will be teammates, there will be serious competition among them as well.

Here is a brief look at the players in question.

Tyler Dorsey

Atlanta’s 2017 second round pick had a mostly successful rookie season, especially considering where he was selected. However, the level of investment the Hawks’ organization has in him could be impacted by his performance during summer league play. If he can demonstrate that he has improved as a defender and as a playmaker since the end of last season, it could be meaningful to how the organization sees his role taking shape for the 2018-19 season, assuming he will make the final roster cut.

While his ability to shoot off of the dribble is his best skill, the sample size of his shooting during summer league play should not carry much weight apart from unlikely abysmal regression.

Antonius Cleveland

Cleveland played 17 games in the NBA last season and only four of them came with Atlanta. He did seem to have some unique value to the organization, though, given that they were willing to convert him from a 10-day contract to a regular contract (that includes a non-guaranteed option for the 2018-19 season) prior to him even recovering from an injury that kept him from playing until the final week of regular season play. He is a late bloomer that grew from 5’8 during his junior year of high school to 6’6 with nice length as a 24-year-old with impressive athleticism.

The Southeast Missouri State product never shot the ball well from the perimeter through the end of his third collegiate season, but he did shoot the ball well during his senior NCAA season and in seven G League games last season. The sample size is very small but the shooting form does look improved. Making a decent amount of his perimeter shots will help to potentially increase the likelihood that he makes the roster, but he will also need to demonstrate that he can use his athleticism to make an impact as a defender. Demonstrated improvement as a ball handler and a passer would further help his case.

At a minimum, his presence on the summer league roster should result in John Collins not being the sole highlight dunker on the team. Cleveland’s vertical skills are exceptional. He is a uniquely gifted lob threat for a player that plays at the wing position.

Jaylen Morris

The wing from Molloy College finished last season with an NBA contract with the Hawks after playing 39 games with the Erie Bayhawks, Atlanta’s G League affiliate. The 23-year-old is not quite the athlete that Cleveland is, but he has the size and length to play on the wing at the NBA level if his offensive skills can be developed sufficiently.

He’s never been a great shooter or offensive creator but he was productive enough during his first professional season to deserve a look from the Hawks during summer league play and likely into preseason play this fall. Any improvement he can demonstrate in a catch and shoot role and as team defender would bode well for his chances to have his non-guaranteed option for the season picked up.

Jaylen Adams

The Hawks reached agreement with undrafted rookie Jaylen Adams earlier this week on a two-way contract for the 2018-19 season. The former St. Bonaventure standout is an incredibly confident shooter and has demonstrated legitimate NBA three-point range. He is mostly an average athlete and lacks ideal size as a combo guard. He facilitated a lot of offensive creation at the collegiate level but it remains to be seen whether he is a good enough ball handler to project as a professional point guard.

Adams plays with high IQ on both ends of the court and solid instincts. He emotes enough of a level of confidence in his play that it should not be surprising if he plays aggressively even in his first minutes of summer league action. Any positive level of productivity and impact would get him on track to start making progress to making a case that he is a legitimate NBA prospect.

All eyes will be on Trae Young as summer league play begins and the games in which Collins plays will be full of potential highlight moments. But some of the players getting a majority of the minutes both in Utah and in Las Vegas will be very much worth watching as they each try to improve their respective footing in a sometimes-slippery NBA landscape.