**This post originally appeared on John Amoroso’s Medium page on July 15, 2016**
Each July the hardcore NBA fans, like myself, sit down and watch The Summer League at some point. We will watch the games in Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas because we want to see the young talent, especially the talent on our teams. We get to see the stars of tomorrow play their first live-action of their careers. But can we really tell how good a player will be based on their Summer League performance? In short, no.
Orlando kicks off the summer games each year with the infamous Orlando Blue and Orlando White teams and other franchises. The big names from the recent draft aren’t in Orlando, they are prepping for Utah and Vegas. The Orlando league has young players like Joe Young, Glenn Robinson III, Ron Baker, Stanley Johnson, Josh Richardson, Cameron Payne, Justice Winslow, Diamond Stone and Georges Niang. Oh and there are older guys trying to get another crack at making a team like DaJuan Summers, Tyler Honeycutt, and the 31-year old power forward/center Justin Dentmon.
Summer League is a time of growth for players, but if you are not playing against the actual talent of the NBA that will be on the court during the season, then do not hype players’ performances. You have to be a true hardcore NBA fan to watch.
Utah is the baby league with you guessed it, the Utah Jazz and three other teams that play one another once and its over. At least here we got to see bigger names like the number one and number three overall picks in the draft, Ben Simmons (Sixers) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics). Outside of those two players, there is no massively hyped player. I mean the notable players on the other two teams are not bad (Justin Anderson of the Spurs and Trey Lyles of the Jazz), but causal fans just have no idea who they are. This series of games in Utah are literally tuneup games for the Vegas Summer League because all four of these teams will be participating in Vegas.
Vegas hosts the main summer spectacle each year with 24 teams and the most talent. 11 of the 16 playoff teams and three conference finals teams will be apart of the festivities. NBA.com is hyping the collection of games by referencing those playoff teams but more frighteningly, they are promoting that this Summer League was a “launching pad” for two-time MVP Steph Curry and Rookies of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns (2016) and Andrew Wiggins (2015).
I want to tackle this before I move on. Wiggins and Towns were top picks that everyone and their mother knew would be successful in the NBA. Wiggins has supreme athleticism that allows him to stay with the athletic freaks in the league. He was deemed the next big thing before he even played for the Kansas Jayhawks. We knew he could play in the league, we just do not know if he will reach his superstar potential. For Towns, he immediately was the best player on the court for the Timberwolves (sorry Andrew Wiggins). We did not need the summer league to know that. He was a player who dominated the summer but it was against mediocre talent. That is true. Once he stepped onto the court for the regular season, you could just tell that Towns was a force and could compete at a high level against the best in the game.
For Steph, the summer league was a chance for a guy picked 7th to work on his game. He was not the best player and we did not know how far the March Madness sweetheart would end up going. A ton of basketball people thought Steph was going to be a shooter in this league with a small chance of being a top 3 player in the game. Curry’s game is more about dedication to a craft over summer league. He was not as talented as Wiggins, Towns, Durant or Westbrook out of college. Steph did not have his personal meteoric rise until the 2013–2014 season when the Warriors went 51–31. From there, he did go on to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards and a championship. Yet, we could not have seen that in the summer league despite Curry being a fantastic volume shooter since he entered the league in 2009.
Now back to the Vegas Summer League.
When teams suit up for the 11 day tournament, we expect to see the stars of tomorrow work their way through their first professional action. So we get into watch the top draft picks and some 2nd and 3rd year players from different rosters. We get to enjoy 11 more days of game after game. But for The Summer League, we mostly do not care about our own teams, unless we have a fantastic new draft pick. We like to watch the hyped talent rather than a team with 12 guys who will not make a teams actual roster.
Case and point, Ben Simmons of the Sixers. Simmons wowed us with his pin-point passing ability and his athleticism at 6–10. We know the talent and skill of Ben Simmons is great. He looks superman-esk against players who may not be in the NBA next season. This is where the Summer League becomes all hype.
Where is a LeBron James type body or athleticism in Summer League? It is no where to be found. Give credit to the players ballin’ out in Vegas but lets see how they compare to the rest of the league when the regular season starts.
Simmons has all of the traits you want out of a 6-foot 10 point-forward. He will be a very good to great NBA player. But it usually takes players a few years to have a significant impact on the league. Maybe Ben Simmons sparks a competitive Sixers squad this year that may jump from 15th in the Eastern Conference to 10th. We will have to wait and see.
Another player who has been hyped by their performance in Summer League play is the 10th overall pick, Thon Maker of the Milwaukee Bucks. The 7-foot 1 center, originally from Sudan, has been swatting everything this summer. Although Maker is lighter than most 7-footers, he has been holding his own and playing miraculous defense. That will not be the case when the regular season gets underway. There is no way Thon Maker, as skinny as he is, is a dominate force defensively or a powerful option offensively within the next three years.
Even with hyped up players and the progression of each teams’ young talent, most of us hardcore NBA fans cannot get enough of the Las Vegas Summer League. We will watch the dumpster fire that is the Brooklyn Nets play the Houston Rockets because the final score is a toss-up. Summer League gives way to young guys who need to flash to get onto a roster and every single year, we continue to watch to see who impresses us the most.
As we hit the quarterfinals of the summer tournament today in Vegas, we should still be watching the games because of the talent and because we love the game, but we need to watch with a more realistic lens of what these players can ultimately do in our league.
***This post originally appeared on John Amoroso’s Medium page on July 15, 2016***