That countdown you hear is roughly 300 players getting excited to check into all-inclusives in Cancún, ready for some much-needed R&R after the grueling NBA season. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to miss watching some of our favorites play. 

Introducing the HAGS team! (Have A Great Summer, for those who don’t remember signing yearbooks in grade school.) There are only a couple of rules when it comes to making the HAGS team. One is pretty straight forward while the other is admittedly vague. 

  1. Your team’s season must be over.
  2. You have to be good. At least, kind of. You don’t have to be the best player on your bad team, but you definitely can’t be the worst.

So there you have it! Really, what we’re talking about here are five players (two guards, two forwards and a center because, at the end of the day, I’m a traditionalist) who I enjoyed watching this season.

Let’s jump into the 2023-24 HAGS team.

Guard: Cade Cunningham

From last January to Pistons' training camp, after Cade Cunningham returned from shin surgery, he took and charted more than 30,000 jump shots. He needed to regain the strength in his legs, but the goal went beyond that. After making 30.9% of his 3-pointers through his first two NBA seasons, Cunningham knew he needed to improve his outside jumper if he was going to live up the hype of being a No. 1 draft pick.

The work has paid off. Cunningham attempted 5.4 3-pointers per game for the Pistons this season and made 35.5% of them. His efficiency on pull-up jumpers soared from 35.4% as a rookie to 43.6% this past season. Despite Detroit’s disappointing, 14-win season, Cunningham was a silver lining. He averaged 22.7 points, 7.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds. His turnover rate improved as the season went on, just as his shooting numbers have. The 22-year-old’s season may have gone unnoticed, but if and when the Pistons lift themselves out of this mess, it will be Cunningham leading the way.

“With how the league is, we reward winning,” Cunningham recently told reporters. “People are going to say everything I’m doing is empty and meaningless until I win games. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Guard: Devin Vassell 

The conversation about the San Antonio Spurs’ future starts with Victor Wembanyama and doesn’t tend to drift much further beyond the extraordinary 7-foot-4 unicorn, but those watching closely know he’s not the only current Spur who factors into the team’s longterm plans.

In his fourth season, Devin Vassell has overcome the injuries and inconsistency at the start of his career and carved out a role as an ideal No. 2 next to the sky-high face of the franchise.

Vassell averaged career-highs in points (19.5), shooting percentage (47.2%) and assists (4.1) in 68 games. For a Spurs team that won only 22 games and had a net rating of minus-6.4 for the season, they out-scored their opponents by 1.8 points every 100 possessions and posted a defensive rating of 109.6 (which would rank second in the league) when Vassell and Wembanyama shared the floor. If Wembanyama is the freakiest big man since Giannis Antetokounmpo, then Vassell is Khris Middleton. Vassell has slipped neatly into a second banana role

The Spurs score 0.93 points per possession when Vassell is the pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to Syngery. As the season went on, Vassell and Wembanyama developed some pep in their two-man game.

"He’s part of the future of the franchise,” Wembanyama told reporters this season.

Forward: Vince Williams Jr.

Where did Vince Williams Jr. come from? A four-year player at VCU, Williams was drafted in the second round by the Grizzlies two years ago, played just 105 minutes as a rookie and didn’t get serious rotation minutes until December of this season. By then, the Grizzlies’ season was already over and if you haven’t paid attention to them over the last four months nobody could blame you. But Williams seems like the real deal, and could end up being a key rotation piece when Memphis attempts to bounce back next season.

At 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan, Williams plays defense like a cobra. Once you think you’re out of striking distance, Williams can uncurl one of his long arms and poke the ball away. This disruptive defense can turn into fastbreak opportunities for Ja Morant next season. Add that to his 37.8% clip from 3-point range this season, and the Grizzlies may have the 3-and-D wing they need to complete their starting lineup.

Forward: Deni Avdija 

When Brian Keefe took over as the Wizards interim head coach, one of his first changes was to put the ball in Deni Avdija’s hands as part of the team’s accelerated pace. 

In his 32 games under Keefe, Avdija averaged 17.7 points on 51.1% shooting (38% on 3s), 8.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He thrived as a scoring option and secondary playmaker, resembling the player scouts pegged him as when he was selected ninth overall in the 2020 draft.

On a deeply unserious team, Avdija stands out as being considered in his approach. He reflects on his decisions when games are over and wants to make the right basketball play. He doesn’t chase numbers, but did uncork 43 points in a game in February.

“It’s been a long four years for me, like ups and downs,” Avdija said after that game. “I’m sure I’m still going to have some downs, like every other basketball player. But seeing my growth and my teammates being here with me (through) all this process has been great.”

The 15-win Wizards need a large-scale revamp, but Avdija could be one of the few pieces worth keeping around.

Center: Alperen Sengun

When Ime Udoka met with Houston Rockets players before his first season as coach, Alperen Sengun told him that he wanted to be coached hard, the way he was coached in Turkey. Music to Udoka’s ears, no doubt.

After engratiating himself early, Sengun found the offense got tilted more in his direction. The third-year center had more pick-and-rolls ran for him and newly-signed Fred VanVleet. Instead of former second-overall pick Jalen Green or former third-overall pick Jabari Smith Jr., it was Sengun leading the team in usage rate.

“I think his IQ is even higher than you think,” Udoka told The Ringer in November. “He really understands the game, and for a guy at his age, being so young, he’s able to do a lot of things that guys like [Nikola] Jokic and those guys are doing.”

Jokic is the popular comparison for Sengun and it’s a good one even considering that Sengun will likely never reach those heights. He joined Jokic and Joel Embiid as the only centers to average at least 20 points and five assists this season. Although the Rockets found success by unleashing Green in smaller lineups after Sengun suffered a season-ending ankle injury in March, that should say less about Sengun’s impact on the court (Are the Rockets better without Sengun? was a popular topic for a while, but that’s silly) and more about Houston’s options when Sengun is on the bench.

Sixth Man: Collin Sexton

One of the great things that can happen in a player’s career is when he sheds an unwanted reputation earned from his younger years and blossoms into a helpful player. That’s what happened with Collin Sexton this season in Utah. Sexton was drafted to Cleveland in 2018 and picked up the reputation as a good-stats, bad-team guy in four seasons before the Cavaliers traded Sexton to the Jazz as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade in 2022. New Jazz coach Will Hardy heard the rumors and admits he wasn’t especially keen on including Sexton in his rebuild.

"When he was first traded here, (he was seen) as somebody who scored a lot in Cleveland but wasn't on winning teams, only thought about scoring, blah blah blah, whatever it is, and I think that probably seeped into my head a little bit last year," Hardy told reporters this season.

But over their first season together, Sexton slowly won Hardy over. Even as Jazz president Danny Ainge churns the roster, Sexton hasn’t complained. He hasn’t asked for more shots or more playing time. He’s happily come off the bench and started games.

“He's never questioned what we were doing. He just continues to work every day,” Hardy said. “He takes coaching and he lets me coach him very hard.”

Sexton averaged 18.7 points on 48.7% shooting while dishing out a career-high 4.9 assists. Sexton has two more years left on his contract and on Ainge’s teams you never know if you’ll be part of the next deal but, if he does get traded, it won’t be part of some salary dump. Sexton has not only made a new impression on the Jazz, but on the league.