I love Summer League hoops.
Well, it's probably more accurate to
say I love what Summer League represents.
It's an opportunity for rookies to get
a taste of the NBA. Second- or third-year players have the chance
to hone specific areas of their games. If you're a former high pick
who hasn't had a great start to your career, here's a chance for
you to showcase something for evaluators — on your
own team or around the league — to ponder. If you're hoping to make
the leap from overseas, or find overseas work, Summer League can
serve as an opportunity to get on a team's radar.
All of that is dope to me.
As someone who doesn't do a heavy dose
of draft content, I especially love watching rookies in this
element. It serves as a meet-and-greet for me, an introduction to
the NBA's future. It's an informative, fun, and oftentimes
It can also be a little bit
Annoying in the sense that the flashes
you look for — a high-level pick-and-roll read here, a weak-side
rotation into a block there — can also be gone in a flash.
I was enjoying the mid-post dominance
of No. 1 overall draft pick Paolo Banchero, and found intrigue in
the way defenses were poking holes into the Orlando Magic rookie's
approach. But we got two games of the Paolo Experience
before the team shut him down for the summer.
Sometimes, we may not get the flashes
Atlanta Hawks wing AJ Griffin,
arguably the best shooting prospect in this year's class, didn't
play at all due to "right foot discomfort."
You don't want to mess around with foot injuries, of course... but
discomfort? Not a sprain, not even soreness, but discomfort? What
does that mean?
And that takes me to a question I've
had for a while now: On the teams' side, what
does Summer League mean to them?
I come back to the Griffin situation
with the Hawks. Griffin experienced some discomfort, so they held
him out of play altogether. When asked about Griffin's status
during Summer League, Hawks coach Nick Van Exel (what a hooper in
his day) made sure to express he wasn't concerned about Griffin's
"It's just day-to-day with him," Van
Exel told a group of reporters. "It's Summer League, so we'd like
to have him out there with us, but it is Summer
League. It's just Summer League. We got a long, 82-game season, and
that's what's more important."
Well, that helps. Summer League is
Summer League, and the regular season is more important; who
On a serious note, there seems to be a
line for teams. Summer League reps are valuable, but not
that valuable. There's the competition level, of
course — we're not seeing LeBron James out there; though if we did,
it's safe to assume Russell Westbrook would be in the other gym —
but there's also the lack of real structure.
The mix of rookies, second-year
players and out-of-league talent altogether leads to a rather
bare-bones experience in terms of cohesiveness. There isn't a ton
of practice time, so the lack of continuity on both ends should be
expected. Because of that, it's hard to glean too much aside from
the flashes. Add in the risk of injury, and teams can be wary of
having their guys out there for too long.
"It's sort of like, 'Is there anything
more to gain here or are we risking injury or bad habits being
developed?'" The Athletic's Seth Partnow, who was previously the
Milwaukee Bucks' director of basketball research, told Basketball
you remember, I hurt my knee towards the end of my rookie season
[with the Sacramento Kings] and they shut me down the last couple
of weeks of the season," Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton
relayed to Basketball News. "They basically told me ‘Hey, you’re
not playing Summer League.’ And I was like, 'Okay.' I was still
able to be around my guys and support them though.”
Hailburton continues: "Summer League can
get reckless. Some of those
guys are playing for more than we are — like, they’re playing for
their livelihoods. So I can understand organizations being
a little worried about guys getting hurt."
Haliburton posits that the decision-making
process for playing time should be judged on a "GM-by-GM basis,"
with some opting to be more risk averse to protect their
investments. It also wouldn't be a shock to see more teams go
imagine New Orleans might be a little more hesitant to play their
young guys a lot moving forward with [EJ] Liddell getting hurt,"
a reference to New Orleans Pelicans wing EJ Liddell, their
second-round pick from this year's draft who suffered a torn ACL
during his second Summer League game. Liddell was viewed by some as
a steal, drawing loose comps to Philadelphia 76ers forward PJ
Tucker. We'll now have to wait to see how his game projects on the
teams may opt to limit Summer League reps moving forward, it's
worth nothing that there's still value in having the young guys
play. While Banchero only
played two games, many lottery picks, including Cleveland Cavaliers
wing Ochai Ogbaji, played doubled that amount.
exactly, goes into that decision?
"I think we consult with our coaching
staff, our front office and our training staff and try to figure
out what the best decision is for each guy," Cavs summer coach Mike
Gerrity told Basketball News. "It's just about managing [their
workload], checking with them to see how they are feeling and then
kind of making the decision from there."
It's a collaborative effort for the
Cavs, much like it is for the rest of the league.
The goal is fostering the right
environment for growth — for the players and staffs involved. At
best, that summer growth can act as a springboard for the upcoming
season. Summer League will never be as important as regular-season
play, but there's something to be said for the
opportunities it provides.
Steve Jones Jr, a former video coordinator and
assistant coach in the league, summed it up beautifully during a
recent episode of The Dunker Spot.
"There's just too much opportunity involved for
me to be like 'it doesn't matter.' It's a chance to get a bag
somewhere in the world. It's easy to forget that portion. It's an
opportunity to get your name out. If you're on a staff, it's a real
opportunity. For me, that was my first chance to really flex my
muscles and elevate my role a little bit. Really getting to walk
through sets, run through parts of practices, trying to find my
voice as a young coach — that was good stuff. There's value in
Well said, partner.