The talk around this year's event should be dominated by an abundance of high picks and two large-market teams hoping to pull themselves out of the standings gutter. Six of the top seven 2015 lottery picks are expected to play, headlined by Minnesota's No. 1 overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, and a handful of 2014 lottery picks will join them. And while the Lakers and Knicks might have struck out on the A-listers in free agency, both franchises should be in the middle of the action in Las Vegas.
L.A. will pair 2015 No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell with 2014 No. 7 pick Julius Randle, a duo that figures to guide the Lakers into the post-Kobe Bryant era. Significant intrigue exists with both players: Russell is the all-important point guard of the future, with some sizzle in his game, while Randle is a promising power forward who returns to the court after a leg injury ended his 2014-15 season on opening night.
Meanwhile, New York will get its first look at 2015 No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis, a 7'1" Latvian who spent the last few years playing professionally in Spain. After generating buzz in his pre-draft workouts and plenty of boos from Knicks fans on draft night, Porzingis will get his first chance to prove he belongs against live competition in Las Vegas.
Here's a quick primer on what else to expect over the next two weeks.
What is Las Vegas Summer League?
Las Vegas Summer League is a relatively casual, guard-dominated, defense-optional series of organized scrimmages between NBA teams with rosters made up mostly of rookies, second-year players, undrafted players and players who are playing professionally overseas. It's simultaneously a showcase for high draft picks entering their rookie seasons and an extended tryout for fringe NBA players who are hoping to fill out a roster on a minimum deal. Summer League has grown from its roots as an offseason haven for basketball junkies into an event with broader appeal: daily attendance through the first week of last year's event topped 6,800 fans, with games airing on both NBA TV and NBA.com as well.
When is it?
Las Vegas Summer League begins at 3 p.m. PT on Friday and runs until July 20, when a championship game will be played.
Games are played in two gyms simultaneously—The Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion—with their start times staggered by 30 minutes. As many as eight games are played each day during the opening round.
Which teams will be there?
All told, 23 NBA teams and a D-League Select team will compete. The NBA teams are the Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Celtics, Hawks, Heat, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, Nets, Nuggets, Pelicans, Raptors, Rockets, Sixers, Spurs, Suns, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Wizards.
The seven teams not present—the Clippers, Grizzlies, Hornets, Magic, Pacers, Pistons, and Thunder—all competed in this week's scaled-down Orlando Summer League. Additionally, the Celtics, Sixers, Spurs and Jazz competed in the abbreviated Utah Summer League that ran this week.
Which lottery picks from the 2015 draft will be there?
Timberwolves F/C Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1 pick): The building hype around the 6'11" Towns is no joke. Prior to Summer League, the Timberwolves hosted a scrimmage at the Target Center that drew more than 15,000 fans—topping their average home attendance last season. Unfortunately, 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins won't be joining Towns in Las Vegas, but the 19-year-old Kentucky product has the skill level and size to make a major impression by himself.
Lakers G D'Angelo Russell (No. 2 pick): Lakers fans regularly make the trek out I-15 to Summer League, and this year they'll have their highest pick since 1982 waiting for them in Las Vegas. While many observers were surprised when Russell beat out Jahlil Okafor to land in L.A., the early returns are promising. Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said this week that Russell "can pass the hell out of the ball" and that he "makes the game a lot easier for everybody."
Sixers C Jahlil Okafor (No. 3 pick): During the regular season, the Sixers will be staring at a potential logjam with 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel, 2014 lottery pick Joel Embiid and Okafor, their 2015 lottery pick, all competing for time in the middle. Summer League will be all about hope, not minutes distribution. With Embiid sidelined, Okafor will get all the time and touches he can handle. The 6'11" Duke product got his feet wet at this week's Utah Summer League, averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Knicks F Kristaps Porzingis (No. 4 pick): International scouts and analysts insist that the 7'1" Porzingis isn't the stereotypical international "mystery man," given his extensive body of work in Spain, but don't tell that to Knicks fans who heartily booed his selection at the Barclays Center last month. A sore hip has limited the long Latvian forward during practices this week. With any luck, he's cleared for action in Las Vegas so the stateside dissecting of Phil Jackson's prized pick can commence.
Kings C Willie Cauley-Stein (No. 6 pick): A defense-first center is generally staring at a long week in Las Vegas, where guards pound the rock and team defense concepts really have enough time to come together. Cauley-Stein's activity and athleticism should still stand out, though, and "Trill" is sure to be a hit on the interview circuit. Kings fans will be watching for any lingering issues with a foot injury that raised some red flags before the Draft.
Nuggets G Emmanuel Mudiay (No. 7 pick): Without a doubt, Mudiay is one to watch this week. His attack-minded game and size/quickness combination are perfectly suited for this format, and Denver will be encouraging him to run the show. It's been more than a year since many basketball fans in the United States have been able to see Mudiay in person, as he spent his only post-high school year playing professionally in China. "They're sleeping on me," the 6'5" point guard said recently.
Heat F Justise Winslow (No. 10 pick): Regarded by many as the steal of the lottery, Winslow will get to show off his herky-jerky ball-handling and off-the-dribble playmaking ability in this looser setting before he takes on a more confined role during the regular season. The 6'6" Dukie averaged 15.3 points during his first three games at the Orlando Summer League this week.
Jazz F Trey Lyles (No. 12 pick): After salary cap weirdness briefly prevented Lyles from officially signing his contract, the 610 Kentucky forward finally made his Utah Summer League debut on Thursday, scoring 10 points. Jazz fans will get a more extensive look at Lyles' versatility in Las Vegas.
Suns G Devin Booker (No. 13 pick): Phoenix's roster includes a number of returning players—Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren among them—so the 18-year-old Booker won't be asked to do too much. A 41.1% three-point shooter in his one season at Kentucky, Booker will have a good week if he knocks down open shots and doesn't look too lost on defense.
Which 2015 lottery picks won't be there?
Magic G/F Mario Hezonja (No. 5 pick, played in Orlando)
Pistons F Stanley Johnson (No. 8 pick, played in Orlando)
Hornets F/C Frank Kaminsky (No. 9 pick, played in Orlando)
Pacers C Myles Turner (No. 11 pick, played in Orlando)
Thunder G Cameron Payne (No. 14 pick, finger injury)
Which 2014 lottery picks will be there?
It's quite common for second-year players to get run in Las Vegas, and seven 2014 lottery picks are on rosters this year. Here's the list:
Jazz G Dante Exum (No. 5 pick): The 6'6" Australian guard suffered an ankle injury during his Utah Summer League debut and therefore may or may not see the court in Las Vegas. Cross your fingers: if Exum does play, he will be one of the most talented players in the building.
Celtics G Marcus Smart (No. 6 pick): Known for his on-ball defensive ability, Smart explored his offensive game in Utah, taking a combined 34 shots in two games. His outside shooting remains an issue, but he should be able to use his strength to bully some rookies in Las Vegas.
Lakers F Julius Randle (No. 7 pick): Losing Randle to a leg injury on opening night was one of the biggest bummers of the 2014-15 season. Although there are still questions about exactly how Randle's gamne will translate, Russell described the 6'9" forward as a "beast" this week. The Lakers reportedly plan to rest Randle throughout the week as they ease him back onto the court.
Blazers F Noah Vonleh (No. 9 pick): Acquired by Portland in a pre-draft trade that sent Nicolas Batum to Charlotte, the 6'10" Vonleh is about as long (and raw) as prospects come. Still just 19, the Indiana product will look to make a good first impression on coach Terry Stotts, as the Blazers' frontcourt minutes are wide open following the departures of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and center Robin Lopez.
Bulls F Doug McDermott (No. 11 pick): The three-time All-American at Creighton barely got any run during his rookie year under former coach Tom Thibodeau, and a December 2014 knee surgery didn't help. With Fred Hoiberg now running the show in Chicago, and looking to overhaul the team's offense, McDermott might have a chance to figure more prominently in the rotation.
Timberwolves G Zach LaVine (No. 13 pick): LaVIne, 20, has pogo sticks for legs, and that can come in handy during Summer League games that often find players alone in transition. Although the 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion enjoyed a pressure-free rookie season on a 16-win team, the Timberwolves will want to see progress in his decision-making and offense initiation entering year two.
Suns F T.J. Warren (No. 14 pick): The 6'8" Warren averaged 17.8 points during last year's Summer League, building on the scoring-minded reputation he developed during two seasons at North Carolina State. Although he didn't really crack coach Jeff Hornacek's rotation until late in the season, as Phoenix faded out of the playoff race, things could be looking up following an offseason trade that sent Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock to Detroit.
What is the event's format?
This year will feature a tournament-style round that will end in a championship game for the third straight time. Each team approaches the tournament a bit differently, as some compete hard in pursuit of the title while others rest guys as the week drags on. The Warriors and Kings won the Summer League championship in 2013 and 2014, respectively. After last year's title game, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive optimistically declared, "One day the Sacramento Kings are going to win a championship and we'll remember this as the first step." Maybe. Maybe not.
How can I watch?
For real diehards, "The Starters" (J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas, Trey Kerby and Leigh Ellis) will be hosting a nightly wrap show after the action has concluded.
Here is the complete schedule for Las Vegas Summer League. (All times listed are Pacific; *indicates broadcast live on NBA TV.)
Friday, July 10
3 p.m. – Milwaukee vs. New Orleans (Game 1)
5 p.m. – Atlanta vs. Denver (Game 3)
7 p.m. – D-League Select vs. Houston (Game 5)
Thomas & Mack
3:30 p.m. – Sacramento vs. Toronto (Game 2)
5:30 p.m. – Minnesota vs. L.A. Lakers (Game 4)
7:30 p.m. – Golden State vs. Cleveland (Game 6)
Saturday, July 11
1 p.m. – New Orleans vs. Dallas (Game 7)
3 p.m. – Washington vs. Phoenix (Game 9)
5 p.m. – Boston vs. Portland (Game 11)
7 p.m. – Brooklyn vs. Cleveland (Game 13)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – New York vs. San Antonio (Game 8)
3:30 p.m. – Chicago vs. Minnesota (Game 10)
5:30 p.m. – L.A. Lakers vs. Philadelphia (Game 12)
7:30 p.m. – Miami vs. Utah (Game 14)
Sunday, July 12
1 p.m. – Washington vs. D-League Select (Game 15)
3 p.m. – Chicago vs. Toronto (Game 17)
5 p.m. – Sacramento vs. Denver (Game 19)
7 p.m. – Portland vs. Dallas (Game 21)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – Phoenix vs. Houston (Game 16)
3:30 p.m. – Milwaukee vs. San Antonio (Game 18)
5:30 p.m. – Golden State vs. Atlanta (Game 20)
7:30 p.m. – Philadelphia vs. Boston (Game 22)
Monday, July 13
1 p.m. – Cleveland vs. Milwaukee (Game 23)
3 p.m. – D-League Select vs. Atlanta (Game 25)
5 p.m. – Miami vs. Denver (Game 27)
7 p.m. – Toronto vs. Houston (Game 29)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – New Orleans vs. Brooklyn (Game 24)
3:30 p.m. – Golden State vs. Sacramento (Game 26)
5:30 p.m. – L.A. Lakers vs. New York (Game 28)
7:30 p.m. – Utah vs. Minnesota (Game 30)
Tuesday, July 14
12 p.m. – Portland vs. San Antonio (Game 31)
2 p.m. – Brooklyn vs. Chicago (Game 33)
4 p.m. – Miami vs. Boston (Game 35)
Thomas & Mack
12:30 p.m. – Washington vs. Dallas (Game 32)
2:30 p.m. – New York vs. Philadelphia (Game 34)
4:30 p.m. – Phoenix vs. Utah (Game 36)
Wednesday, July 15
1 p.m. – #24 Seed vs. #9 Seed (Game 37)
3 p.m. – #22 Seed vs. #11 Seed (Game 39)
5 p.m. – #20 Seed vs. #13 Seed (Game 41)
7 p.m. – #18 Seed vs. #15 Seed (Game 43)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – #23 Seed vs. #10 Seed (Game 38)
3:30 p.m. – #21 Seed vs. #12 Seed (Game 40)
5:30 p.m. – #19 Seed vs. #14 Seed (Game 42)
7:30 p.m. – #17 Seed vs. #16 Seed (Game 44)
Thursday, July 16
1 p.m. – Winner of Game 37 vs. #8 Seed (Game 45)
3 p.m. – Winner of Game 39 vs. #6 Seed (Game 47)
5 p.m. – Winner of Game 41 vs. #4 Seed (Game 49)
7 p.m. – Winner of Game 43 vs. #2 Seed (Game 51)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – Winner of Game 38 vs. #7 Seed (Game 46)
3:30 p.m. – Winner of Game 40 vs. #5 Seed (Game 48)
5:30 p.m. – Winner of Game 42 vs. #3 Seed (Game 50)
7:30 p.m. – Winner of Game 44 vs. #1 Seed (Game 52)
Friday, July 17
1 p.m. – Game 37 Loser vs. Game 38 Loser (Game 53)
3 p.m. – Game 41 Loser vs. Game 42 Loser (Game 55)
5 p.m. – Game 45 Loser vs. Game 46 Loser (Game 57)
7 p.m. – Game 49 Loser vs. Game 50 Loser (Game 59)
Thomas & Mack
1:30 p.m. – Game 39 Loser vs. Game 40 Loser (Game 54)
3:30 p.m. – Game 43 Loser vs. Game 44 Loser (Game 56)
5:30 p.m. – Game 47 Loser vs. Game 48 Loser (Game 58)
7:30 p.m. – Game 51 Loser vs. Game 52 Loser (Game 60)
Saturday, July 18
Thomas & Mack
1 p.m. – Game 46 Winner vs. Game 51 Winner (Game 61)
3 p.m. – Game 47 Winner vs. Game 50 Winner (Game 62)
5 p.m. – Game 45 Winner vs. Game 52 Winner (Game 63)
7 p.m. – Game 48 Winner vs. Game 49 Winner (Game 64)
Sunday, July 19
Thomas & Mack
3 p.m. – Game 61 Winner vs. Game 62 Winner (Game 65)
5 p.m. – Game 63 Winner vs. Game 64 Winner (Game 66)
Monday, July 20
Thomas & Mack
6 p.m. – Game 65 Winner vs. Game 66 Winner (Game 67)