Breaking Down Jalen Slawson’s Summer League

SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 3: Jalen Slawson #18 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors during the 2023 NBA California Classic on July 3, 2023 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Having already done breakdowns for Neemias Queta and Colby Jones, the next Summer League assessment will be for the Jalen Slawson, the second rookie.

After being drafted 54th overall out of Furman, Slawson signed a two-way deal with the Kings, which foretells that he’ll play most of his basketball with the Stockton club in order to refine his game. However, with that two-way contract, injuries and missed time—as rare as they were last season—could require some spot minutes of Sacramento’s other second-round pick.

Furthermore, his summer might offer some insight into how his development may go and what kind of player he’ll have to be in order to one day carve out a legitimate role with this NBA team.

So let’s jump into Slawson’s performance after he played all 7 games from the California Classic to Las Vegas… 

Monte McNair and company liked Slawson because of his defense, and looking at what he did at Furman, it’s easy to see why. Better yet, Slawson further demonstrated his mettle on that end of the floor this summer.

In all, Slawson did not have the greatest summer showing with several up’s and down’s, and a lot of that had to do with a slow, rocky start that was partly due to nerves. Despite that and despite not knocking down a field goal until Vegas, whenever he did happen to stand out in a good way, it was because of his defensive efforts.

As was the case in college, Slawson proved to be an excellent rotator and helper off of the ball. Perhaps his most astounding attribute as a prospect was his ability to successfully chase down guys for a block, which he did a few times in impressive fashion. A man could beat him with a first step, but Slawson would make up for it. He showed great awareness and instincts to help defensively and deny shots that way. And in the full court, he had a crazy chase down where he hustled nearly the full length of the floor for a swat off the glass that had to be looked at and overturned after initially being whistled for a foul.

Even without blocked shots, he was terrific contributing to the interior defense. Wherever and whenever he needed to rotate, he’d do it and he could likewise execute the fundamentals to force misses in the half court. In transition, there were multiple instances where he positioned himself to protect the middle, forcing misses and nearly drawing a great charge at one point against Minnesota.

As frenetic as he was off-ball, he was a solid on-ball defender as well. Against similar-sized guys, he’d frequently force misses or passes with his commendable discipline. What was even better was that his defensive versatility appeared sound as he occasionally guarded the point of attack and defended at the top a fair amount of the time. In addition to that, he was also applying exceptional full court pressure. Overall, he’s invested to this end of the floor, which lead to some great stops and more.

Based on his defense as described above, it’s probably no surprise that Slawson looked exceptional as a rebounder, where his hustle surfaced quite plainly. He deserves most of his credit on the offensive glass, where he was capable of flying in much like some of his blocks and contests. He secured a lot of second chance opportunities with his contributions on the glass.

As a connecting piece—which is the phrase McNair used when describing what he foresees in his 2023 draft picks—Slawson showed some promise. He ran hard in transition, threw down lobs, and even salvaged a lob with maturity and patience to come down with the ball before going back up and getting the and-one whistle. Also important was the fact he showed he could cut, complete the catch, and finish at the rim.

With all of that, he also had the right kind of aggression to attack open space when it’s there and to earn some free throws.

However, in terms of playing a larger role as a more integral piece of the offense, it doesn’t seem likely he will project to replicate at this level what he did at Furman. There, he was a point forward that was the leader and main facilitator of the offense.

This summer, Slawson at times looked good making pushes in transition that resulted in a teammate’s open shot; he has that ability. Though, in his attempts to create in that manner, he was choppy in his execution. A lot of turnovers occurred when Slawson was doing this, including a fair amount of walks and travels, demonstrating that he may have a habit of getting out ahead of himself when looking to create.

Similarly, his court vision would lead to a handful of skip passes that would produce points, but as one can imagine, if you get too comfortable with that kind of pass at the professional level, the passer is bound to turn it over more often than not.

Another issue for Slawson in this regard is the weakness of his left side, which was clear coming out of college. He definitely has an ability to get crafty on the right side or, more likely, use spin moves to go from his left to his right hand. In college, sometimes that worked out, but it also created turnovers, which definitely happened during his Summer League as Slawson would either lose his footing, travel, or opt for a hasty pass; in so many ways, when Slawson attempted to reach into his bag, it lead to a turnover. 

Based on the susceptibility to mistakes, it’s hard to imagine that Slawson, who will be 24 for the vast majority of the season, can refine his skills to translate his play style successfully from his mid-major program to the NBA. Though, to the realists in the building, that may not be a surprise.

But right now, he’s not necessarily on the cusp of being a useful role player at the highest level either. 

For one, as an off-ball offensive player, his jump shooting was not all that exciting. He definitely knocked down a pair of catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond the arc, which he has upside in, but he nevertheless hit just 2 of 10 total through 7 games. He needs to show substantially more as a floor spacer.

Defense will be his primary calling card of course, but even that needed some ironing out. In spite of being so disciplined both on and off-ball, Slawson twice fouled three-point shooters; that’s two irritating blunders, repeated in a 7-game span.

Taking all of this into account, it’ll be fascinating to see what type of role he plays for Lindsey Harding down in Stockton this season. Will he be that point forward or will he perform a role that more closely resembles what he’ll prospectively do should he eventually earn a standard contract with Sacramento?

Again, in short, Slawson had a mixed Summer League. He seemed to thrive when his confidence was soaring, and he was at his most confident in the final contest against the Bucks when Kessler Edwards, Keon Ellis, Colby Jones, and Jordan Ford all sat out, which meant Slawson was the team’s lead guy.

So a question to ask has to be: Can Slawson maintain a sufficient amount of confidence with a reduced role?

By drafting him, the Kings seem to think he can, and he certainly appears capable. But at the same time, the 54th overall selection still has plenty of loose ends to tie up for the time being.

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2 months ago

Slawson looked alright, but has to get his nerves under control. Probably why he had a bigger game, in the last but meaningless one. I think he looks a little rough around the edges for someone almost 24 but the D, and rebounding look good. Too bad he doesn’t have a reliable outside game, then we’d be cooking! Then again, I guess it was a reason he didn’t go till 54, otherwise with a 3pt shot, he could’ve gone early in the 2nd round.