- Las Vegas Summer League is here, with all 30 teams participating for the first time. If you're watching from afar, The Crossover is here to provide everything you need to know.
The NBA’s annual Las Vegas Summer League tips off Friday, with all 30 teams participating for the first time. They’ll play a total of 82 games in 12 days, with the championship wrapping up on July 17.
If you’re watching from afar—and you probably are—all the games will be televised by ESPN or NBATV. And in that case, here’s what you need to know.
How Does Summer League Work?
Two four-team competitions in Sacramento and Utah kicked off the week, but Vegas is the summer’s main event and provides a showcase for lottery picks, undrafted hopefuls and G League journeymen alike. The player pool skews young, and the majority of participants aren’t under contract yet, making it something of an extended tryout. All 30 teams have scouts and front office people in attendance, so for most it’s a real chance to get noticed.
Given the way self-interest is built into the competition, the quality of play is understandably up and down—teams don’t have much time to mesh, and there’s internal competition for minutes and shots that can lead to bad games. Generally speaking, if a team has a lot of their 15-man roster players active in Vegas (read: they have a lot of rookies and young guys who need the work)… they probably aren’t going to be very good come October.
Each game uses 10-minute quarters. Teams play a three-game schedule before being sorted into a playoff bracket, with the knockout round beginning July 11. Every team is guaranteed five games. Winning the entire thing is more a battle of attrition than a statement of team quality, but talent helps—the Lakers rode first-rounders Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma to last year’s title.
Which lottery picks are playing?
From a fan perspective, Summer League is a nice opportunity to get excited about the incoming crop of rookies. While teams are generally cautious and most lottery picks won’t play their team’s entire slate of games, it’s a great chance to see these guys outside of their college roles and in a position to show their broader skill sets. Luka Doncic and Michael Porter Jr. aren’t expected to play, but all the other 2018 lottery picks should be in uniform.
They are as follows: Deandre Ayton (Suns), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Trae Young (Hawks), Mo Bamba (Magic), Wendell Carter Jr. (Bulls), Collin Sexton (Cavs), Kevin Knox (Knicks), Mikal Bridges (Suns), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Clippers), Miles Bridges (Hornets) and Jerome Robinson (Clippers).
Who are the key returners?
A solid crop of returning young players are expected to suit up for at least one or two games in Vegas. This is a good opportunity to note improvement—after a year of learning the ropes in the NBA, it should in theory be clear who the best guys are.
The key sophomores are as follows: Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavericks), Jonathan Isaac (Magic), Frank Ntilikina (Knicks), Malik Monk (Hornets), Luke Kennard (Pistons), Bam Adebayo (Heat), John Collins (Hawks), Jarrett Allen (Nets) and Harry Giles (Kings).
Note: Kings guard De’Aaron Fox was originally listed but after a minor injury in the Sacramento Summer League, don’t expect much. Also note: Spurs guard Derrick White, the No. 28 pick in last year’s draft, has been destroying people in the Utah Summer League.
Intriguing international 2018 draftees Dzanan Musa (Nets), Elie Okobo (Suns), Isaac Bonga (Lakers), Rodions Kurucs (Nets), Issuf Sanon (Wizards) and Arnoldas Kulboka (Hornets) are all on rosters and expected to participate. For many of them, this will be their first time in front of a major audience stateside, and it’s a great chance to get a feel for them as prospects. From a scouting perspective, they’ll be some of the more interesting guys to evaluate against the level of competition.
Three Games to Watch
If you only want to watch a small slice of Summer League, which is probably the best route for your sanity, here are three matchups worth turning on over the weekend.
Saturday, July 7: Knicks vs. Hawks
When: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
There will be a good deal of talent on the floor in this matchup that should make it an interesting watch. Take an early look at newest Hawks guard Trae Young and fellow first-rounder Omari Spellman, as well as athletic big John Collins, who has made some big strides with his skill level. The Knicks will counter with Frank Ntilikina and promising first-rounder Kevin Knox. It’s also a first look for teams and fans alike at Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson, who after skipping his freshman year at Western Kentucky hasn’t played competitive, structured basketball since high school.
Saturday, July 7: Suns vs. Kings
When: 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Stay on the couch for this one, which pits the Suns’ No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton vs. the Kings’ No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley. It’s a pretty simple sell from a watchability standpoint. The two were briefly high school teammates at one point and know each other well, and Bagley should in theory come in with a chip on his shoulder over not getting drafted first. Seeing them on the same court should be instructive, one way or another, and their respective levels of athleticism should produce some highlights.
Sunday, July 8: Grizzlies vs. Magic
When: 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
If you’re into head-to-head lottery matchups, circle this one for a look at two more potential young stars: Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies and Mo Bamba of the Magic. Both are lanky, impactful defenders with developing offensive skill sets. Jackson just had a breakout game in the Utah Summer League on Monday, banging in eight threes in his debut. Expect to see some fun stuff in this one as well.
Also, if you’re compelled to complete the full series of lottery big-man matchups, the Suns and Magic play on Monday (Ayton vs. Bamba) and the Kings and Grizzlies play on Tuesday (Bagley vs. Jackson).
The league is experimenting with a coach’s challenge rule this year, allowing coaches to contest one call per game to initiate a replay review in the last two minutes or overtime of a game. If a call is overturned, you keep a timeout and get another challenge. If the coach is wrong, they lose a timeout. Who knows how well this will work, but as the NBA continues to work to improve the quality of officiating, it’s worth a shot.
Another smart rules change: summer league games will use the international shot-clock rule, with the clock resetting to 14 seconds rather than 24 after a team recovers an offensive rebound. As you might imagine, this helps with the pace of play and puts an emphasis on teams getting into quick scoring actions.
According to RealGM’s stats database, Archie Goodwin, who will play with the Blazers this summer, needs just 19 points to tie Coby Karl as the all-time leading scorer in summer league history. It’s a dubious honor.
The full summer league schedule can be found here.