• Kyle Zwiazek

Does Anyone Care About NBA Summer Leagues?

The NBA Finals just ended, and there is already basketball? Well that is the case when the NBA summer leagues are in session. If you are a true basketball fan it is a way to watch more of the game during the offseason. Realistically, most fans do not watch and do not care about the summer league games. Although, the summer league this year has been popular with the star power of Lonzo Ball, fans typically have not paid attention to the games. According to Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insider, the attendance in summer league games has been consistently around 17,500, which is a sell out. This has easily been the most successful summer league so far. There are plenty of advantages to summer league action for NBA teams, but is it worth it for the fans to pay attention?

This year’s NBA summer league runs July 1- July 17 in three different locations -- Orlando, Utah, and Las Vegas – and each site has a different set of teams that compete. The biggest difference between summer league and the regular season is that the rosters are different than what you would see during a normal regular season game. LeBron James and Kevin Durant will not be playing in the summer league. The rosters are comprised of rookies or younger players who are trying to make an impression on a coaching staff and “veterans” trying to establish, or reestablish themselves in the NBA. Some of the veterans playing in the summer league this year are Pierre Jackson, Cleanthony Early, Chris Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Hollis Thompson, Julian Wright, Jared Cunningham, and Ike Diogu to name a few. If you look at the roster of your favorite NBA team most of the players will be foreign names to you. That is all part of the plan in the NBA summer league though.

The reason behind the summer league is to give each team a chance to evaluate its recently drafted and undrafted rookie players. It is the first taste of the NBA for most these players and integrates them into the league. What can fans really expect to take away the summer league games though? The honest answer is nothing. Fans can watch and enjoy basketball in the summer, which for the die-hard fan is great. We cannot look at the results of summer league basketball as actual results though. If summer league players are just playing against rookies and inexperienced players, they have an even playing field. Which means that Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball can put up 30 points, but he is not playing that much better competition than he did in college.

If you believe that we can take the summer league results seriously just look at 2012 Summer League MVP Josh Selby. Do you remember that name? Probably not, because he played two seasons in Memphis and did not average more than nine minutes a game. In the 2012 summer league Selby averaged 24.2 points per game and won Co-MVP honors with Damian Lillard. Another case was 2014 summer league MVP Glen Rice Jr. He averaged 25 points a game in the 2014 summer league, but managed a measly 2.2 points a game in the 2014-2015 NBA season. In fact, after that season he never played another NBA game. Another reason, is that winning is not the priority of the summer league. Most NBA coaches do not even coach their summer league teams and the ones that do are there to try out new ideas. This is a no consequence atmosphere for coaches to try new things. Of course winning is important in a competitive sport, but it is definitely not the focus of this league.

According to Kevin Draper of the New York Times, Warren LeGarie, executive director of the NBA’s Las Vegas summer league said “We provide a credible product…We also know we have to put on a show.” At the end of the day, the summer league is a show. Teams are trying to fill out their rosters and this is a good chance to test out players or scout others. It is a chance to show off the new rookie crop to the fans during the summer. The leagues start right up after the NBA draft and give fans a chance to watch new players in NBA uniforms. Another big part of the summer league is athletes proving they can play somewhere. That place may not be the NBA, but could be in Europe. Scouts are coming from around the world to watch athletes play basketball in the summer leagues. It’s for the fans and a way for the league to make money.

Everything seems to be a positive so far when it comes to the summer leagues, but that may not actually be the case. Injuries are a reality in all sports and the summer league is no exception. 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz injured his ankle in summer league action just last week. Lonzo Ball currently has a groin injury that has kept him out of some action. It is tough to progress as a franchise if you have to worry about injuries. Just look at the Philadelphia 76ers, they always seem to be a year away. This is because their players have dealt with plenty of injuries. The summer league has not helped them this year with the aforementioned injury to Fultz. It would be terrible to lose a player to a serious injury in a league that has no meaning. Injuries are a part of the game, but is playing in summer league games really worth the risk?

The main point is to make sure to take everything you see in the summer leagues with a grain of salt. If your team is doing something different and you do not like it, they could be just trying a new tactic. If your team is playing really well and they normally do not, remember the competition is not as strong. Just hope that the coaching staff and team use the extra games to work on integrating new strategy. Hopefully, your team does not suffer any terrible injuries. Most importantly, enjoy that there is still basketball to watch. The summer can actually be a tough time for basketball fans. If you do not like baseball it is really difficult to find a sport to watch. Right now the best options are summer league basketball and the Big 3 basketball league.

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