‘Dores in the Pros: NBA Summer edition

Now that the NBA 2K23 summer league has come to a close, its time to take a look at how the last few months have gone for these former Commodores in the NBA.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Darius Garland led a youth camp at Vanderbilt over the offseason (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Aiden Rutman, Sports Podcast Producer

It has been quite a busy summer for Vanderbilt alumni in the NBA, with all-star point guard Darius Garland leading the way. 

Garland secured a five-year, $193 million maximum contract extension from the Cleveland Cavaliers in July, the largest in franchise history. While the base contract is worth $193 million, there are incentives within the deal that could make it worth upwards of $230 million. 

Garland, just 22 years old, is fresh off of a breakout season with Cleveland, where he averaged 21.7 points, 8.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. All three statistics were career highs and good enough to earn him a trip to the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. 

The Cavaliers finished with a 44-38 record, eighth in the Eastern Conference. This year marked their first winning season since LeBron James left the team and joined the Los Angeles Lakers following the 2017-18 NBA season. While Garland and the Cavs were knocked out in the play-in tournament by the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland significantly improved from the 2020-21 NBA season, where they finished with a 22-50 record. Much of this success can be attributed to Garland, as he was one of three finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. With another offseason to continue to improve, it’s clear that the sky’s the limit for Garland. 

In other offseason news, center Damian Jones signed a two-year, $4.9 million with the Los Angeles Lakers. Jones spent the past two seasons on the Sacramento Kings after beginning his career with the Golden State Warriors and winning two championships in his first two seasons. Jones was a solid rotational center for the Kings in 2022, averaging 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He’ll look to make an immediate impact and provide much-needed depth to the Lakers.

Elsewhere, the Boston Celtics shipped small forward Aaron Nesmith over to the Indiana Pacers for star point guard Malcolm Brogdon on July 1. The deal also included Indiana acquiring Daniel Theis, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first-round draft pick. While Nesmith struggled the past two seasons to stay in the Celtics rotation due to their depth at the wing position, he has shown excellent flashes in his limited playing time. Early in the Eastern Conference Finals, injuries plagued the Celtics backcourt, and Nesmith filled in nicely, recording three blocks and a steal in just 11 minutes. 

Nesmith had minimal time before having to jump back into action, beginning his career with the Pacers during the NBA 2K23 summer league. The third-year player averaged 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He also showcased his defensive prowess, averaging 3.0 steals per game in two games played for the Pacers. 

Former Vanderbilt big man Simi Shittu joined Nesmith on the Pacers squad as well. The Canadian averaged 4.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and a block per game in five games of action. Shittu has spent the last two seasons with the Ironi Ness Ziona of the Israeli league. 

Saben Lee, another third-year player out of Vanderbilt, also showed off his abilities in the summer league. Lee averaged 12.0 points, 3.5 assists,1.5 rebounds and 3 steals in two outings for the Detroit Pistons. Much like Nesmith, Lee is an excellent on-ball defender who also boasts the ability to facilitate an offense. With the addition of Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham’s success last season, Lee may find himself phased out of the Piston’s rotation, but the defensive-minded guard will look to add value in other areas. 

While the Commodores did not have any players selected in this year’s draft, Scotty Pippen Jr. signed a two-way contract with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent. Pippen will get plenty of playing time with the their G-League affiliate this season, the Southbay Lakers. He’s also in a prime position to play meaningful minutes in the NBA, especially with the Lakers’ lack of depth at point guard and Russell Westbrook’s recent struggles. 

The Summer League started earlier for Pippen Jr. than anyone else–as he participated in the California Classic from July 2-5–where he played in several scrimmages against other California teams. Between both the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League (which started on July 7), Pippen Jr. averaged 11.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game in about 22 minutes of action per outing. He was also a stalwart on the defensive end, averaging 2.2 steals per game. While Pippen Jr. struggled to shoot efficiently, he showed consistent improvement over the eight games he played. His points, assists, steals and 3-point percentage statistics increased after the California Classic into the Las Vegas Summer League. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse made an appearance to see his former player, gaining some recognition from old NBA peers while he was at it. 

 

Matt Ryan was perhaps the best performer among all former Commodores in this year’s Summer League. While he only played two games before suffering an ankle injury, he was fantastic in his limited play. The Boston Celtics’ forward was blistering hot with the ball in his hands, averaging 19 points while shooting 55% from the field and 52.6% from three. He even added a ridiculous game-winning 3-pointer against the Milwaukee Bucks. Much like Nesmith, Ryan has struggled to stay in the Celtics rotation, but hopefully his stellar performance this summer can help propel him into the lineup. 

It has certainly been an eventful summer for former ‘Dores. With the NBA tip-off just a few months away, these former Commodores will look to bring the success they had in the Summer League into the regular season.