The NBA Draft is over and that means teams and prospects will turn their sights towards the NBA Summer League. This year’s slate features NBA Summer League showcases in Utah, Las Vegas and Sacramento.
Sacramento is the newest destination for a slate of NBA Summer League games since Orlando will no longer host games like they have in the past.
Ultimately, the winners and losers in these contests don’t always matter. The top performers aren’t always going to produce in the regular season either. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of reasons to watch and follow the 2018 NBA Summer League.
Here are some storylines to watch when the Summer League begins in Utah and Sacramento on July 2 through the conclusion in Las Vegas on July 17.
1. Player Participation
Throughout the entire NBA Summer League, play close attention to who plays and doesn’t play. Some players will play in select games like Lonzo Ball last year.
Other players will play the entire tournament and dominate like Kyle Kuzma last season.
A few players might play a few games before the team decides to sit them out because they’re that valuable or that far ahead of the competition. Brandan Ingram, Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and others have proved this in years past.
Some players will opt out of the experience altogether to preserve their health. Already, 2018 No. 14 overall pick Michael Porter Jr. is uncertain for the Denver Nuggets. Porter Jr. was expected to be a top pick but he slid in the 2018 NBA Draft due to questions about his back. It is unclear if he will be ready for the start of the season, let alone Summer League exhibitions.
Also, Luka Doncic is expected to not play in Las Vegas either. Doncic was the No. 3 pick to the Dallas Mavericks. However, they do not want to overwork him given that the Euroleague season just reasonably concluded. The 19-year-old has played over 150 games during the past two seasons thanks to FIBA play, Eurobasket and ACB league games.
Either way, the NBA Summer League usually offers the first glimpse into the NBA’s top prospects. Hence, it is always interesting to see who plays and does not play in these exhibitions.
The same thing goes for second and third-year players. Occasionally, these players will play in Summer League if they’re rehabbing injuries or coming off a bad first season. Last year’s rookies who did play well usually skip the Summer League a second time.
Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are already out for this year’s Summer League but it will be interesting to see if any other players from the 2017 NBA Draft do end up playing. Here are my winners and losers from the 2017 NBA Summer League.
2. Ball Family Watch
Basketball’s infamous Ball family always makes news and the Summer League is no different. Last year, LaVar was a crowd favorite every time he pulled up to watch Lonzo Ball play in the tournament. Expect the same effect this year, especially if middle son LiAngelo Ball is invited to a Summer League squad. Maybe that is the Ball Family Stan in me but it is safe to say that you can expect reports on Gelo’s every NBA Summer League appearance, whether he makes a team or not.
The younger brother of Lonzo Ball was not drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his father’s plans and prophecies. Now, he’ll look to catch onto a Summer League roster. Thus far, it appears that shot won’t come with the Lakers Summer League teams in Sacramento or Vegas. The Lakers will not invite Gelo to their team.
Lavar Ball has already said his middle son will need to produce in the Summer League regardless of the fact that he wasn’t drafted. LiAngelo will need to get a shot from a team before all that.
Whatever team does extend an opportunity to Gelo can expect a target on their back. Wherever the Ball family goes, they bring their extensive clan of Big Baller Brand fans as well as their headline-making machine pops Lavar Ball. This comes with both good and bad brand awareness.
Keep in mind NBA teams invite players based on family ties all the time. Chris Smith, Zoran Dragic, Giannis’ Brothers, Seth Curry, Taylor Griffin, and more are some of the players’ who have bigger last names than basketball games but still got chances in the NBA Summer League. Even players and coaches sons like Gary Payton II, Larry Drew II, and Elijah Brown have gotten a shot in the Summer League.
It will be interesting to see if and where a team gives Gelo a shot. The 19-year-old has the world telling him he is not an NBA player due to limited competition in Lithuania, an undefined position, an off-court incident at UCLA and limited athleticism. Can Gelo prove them wrong by dominating the Summer League much like he has always been the leading scorer on his teams?
Even if no team signs LiAngelo, will the Ball family crash the summer league anyways?
3. NBA Summer Growth
After many seasons hosting games in Orlando ended, Sacramento is the newest city to host NBA Summer League games. Tickets for Sacramento are available to the public but how will the experiment go?
Also, NBA TV and ESPN will televise a record number of games. For the first-time-ever, every NBA Summer League game will air on TV, including a potential matchup between No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton and No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III on July 7 at 7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Las Vegas’ 14th year will also have a record 10 games on July 6 including 5 games on NBA TV and a tripleheader on ESPN.
Last year, the NBA Summer League saw record growth per NBA.com:
NBA Summer League 2017 set records for total attendance (127,843) and single-day attendance (17,500). ESPN and NBA TV combined to televise the most-viewed NBA Summer League ever, averaging 227,000 daily viewers (up 29 percent from 2016), per NBA.com. A matchup between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers was the most-watched NBA Summer League game in history, with 1.1 million viewers on ESPN. Across social media platforms, fans accounted for 436 million video views, an increase of 37 percent from the year before.
Will the NBA Summer League growth continue in 2018?
As someone who has gone to the Las Vegas Summer League every year for over a decade, I can say the event continues to grow in both organization and attendance. Las Vegas will grow even more as all 30 teams are on the schedule for 82 games in twelve days.
Over the past few years, it has gotten crazy to find a good seat in either the Thomas & Mack or Cox Pavilion for the general admission event. Once upon a time, you could bounce between the neighboring arenas and find a seat to watch whatever prospects or teams intrigued you.
Now, you pretty much have to camp in one spot and have someone spot your seat when you go to the bathroom or grab something from the consensions stands. That is pretty crazy considering I remember watching Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin play in the half-filled Thomas & Mack arena during their respective rookie campaigns.
Added, you never knew who you were sitting by back in the day. You could catch NBA players and stars sitting casually in the stands along with fans, scouts, agents and media members.
I once sat next to Goran Dragic, Marcus Smart, Damien Lillard and even got a chance to briefly meet Gary Payton, Derek Fisher and a bunch of your favorite NBA journalists. Now, this activity with big names is much more private and discrete since Las Vegas has gotten a much bigger profile.
Part of the added growth includes the Lakers and Suns appearing at the top of the draft. Phoenix and Los Angeles always traveled well to Las Vegas Summer League since it is regionally very close. However, that was amplified with both teams having early lottery picks the last few seasons.
Will this trend continue since the Lakers won’t have a top ten pick on their NBA Summer League roster? In fact, they aren’t even expected to have last year’s rookie sensations Kyle Kuzma or Lonzo Ball on their team. Both players were big in the team’s run toward winning the Summer League tournament last year.
Otherwise, will the increased broadcast visibility and the fact that all 30 teams are featured for the first time cause even more growth for the Vegas Summer League? We’ll see when the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas begins July 6.
4. The City of Las Vegas
Speaking of Vegas, they had a crazy year as far as a sports market. Not only are the Raiders building their state of the art NFL stadium but the Golden Knights finished their inaugural NHL season.
That is cool but residents will tell you the city is a basketball market first. Not only do they host Team USA Basketball and the Summer League but UNLV was once a powerhouse for NCAA Men’s Basketball. NBA legends like Larry Johnson and Reggie Theus were stars at UNLV before they played in the league.
Additionally, the city has hosted an NBA All-Star game and usually hosts a slate of NBA preseason games. Thus, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the NBA to put a franchise in the city. With the NFL and NHL having teams call Vegas home, it is only a matter of time until the NBA branches out there since they have the longest history and most relevancy in the market.
Moreover, federal regulations are loosening on sports betting. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been a proponent for a while. Therefore, it is always interesting to see how the league interacts with the city as well as how the NBA deals with changing sports gambling perceptions.
Otherwise, Vegas is known as the City of Sin and an adult playground. Hopefully, all the NBA players staying in the city won’t attract any negative attention while the NBA’s version of an annual convention is in town.
In years past, NBA players have controlled themselves but you never know what could happen in Vegas. Either way, if it involves a notable NBA player there is a good chance it won’t stay in Vegas. Don’t expect too much but it is always good to keep your eyes open.
Stay posted for more on these storylines and more when the NBA Sumer League begins in July. Tickets are on sale for the 2018 NBA Summer League already and all these storylines prove it is a great value for both casual and die-hard NBA fans.