The NBA Summer League is an interesting event. On the one hand, it offers fans an early glimpse at what some of their young players, and more notably new rookie additions, can do. On the other, it’s almost virtually meaningless as the unusual lack of high-level competition and complete void of real stakes can make for some rather fruitless basketball.
Nevertheless, fans get riled up to see their new prized rookies every year anyways, and there’s no reason to stop them from doing so. The NBA Summer League gives some fans a passing glance at a portion of their team to interrupt a sometimes five-month period without games. Fans should revel in this chance to root for their squad even if the wins and losses are ultimately worthless.
That being said, many viewers can fall into the trap of putting too much stock into their team or new favorite player’s performance in the NBA Summer League. For example, Trae Young had one of the worst showings in recent memory when he was a rookie and quickly spurned haters into labeling him a bust before he had even played a single possession of real NBA basketball.
For every Summer League disaster that turns out to be a solid professional, though, there’s also a Summer League hero that ends up dropping out of the NBA entirely. That’s why fans need to take in these games with a grain of salt: to avoid the misery of having to eat crow after prematurely condemning a struggling player and to prevent heartbreak when a new favorite inevitably flunks out of the league.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all Summer League performances are entirely meaningless. Analysts simply have to know what to look for to find takeaways of real substance from these spectacularly unique exhibition games. Here are a few tips on how to be an expert Summer League scout:
1. The good performances hold more weight than the bad
Regardless of the inconsistent effort and the fact that the wins and losses are basically fake, it’s still highly impressive to put up a standout performance at this level of basketball. After all, these rosters are comprised entirely of players that are either entering the league, are already in it, or have an outside shot of making a team one day.
It’s certainly a stronger collection of talent than college teams and even G League squads. While there are several factors why a player might perform poorly in a Summer League game, there’s only one reason why a baller would go off in one: he’s a certified bucket.
A lot of players will have more opportunities, ballhandling responsibilities, and shots on a Summer League team than they ever will in a real NBA game. That being said, they still have to have the tools to take advantage of those increased opportunities for them to translate into actual production.
2. Analyze specific traits, not generalities
Although a great game does hold more weight than a poor outing, a player averaging 20+ in the G League almost certainly won’t do the same once the regular season begins. To avoid getting caught up in the mania, rather than make sweeping generalizations, viewers should use this time to assess specific player attributes instead.
For example, a statement like “Trevelin Queen had a monster game; he’s gonna dominate in the NBA” is too broad a scope to apply to a Summer League performance. Something more along the lines of, “Queen has shown a willingness to attack from all three levels so far; this versatility could translate in the NBA” is a much safer assessment and more responsible piece of scouting.
3. Ignore the first two rules
That’s right. Forget about what I just said or what any other joyless gatekeeper may tell you about Summer League. At the end of the day, basketball is supposed to be fun. The regular season, the playoffs, the Finals, the preseason, and Summer League are all supposed to be fun!
If Trevelin Queen puts up 25 points and 12 rebounds in the Sixers’ next Summer League game, don’t hesitate to anoint him the next Jaylen Brown. If Isaiah Joe hits four 3-pointers, go ahead and tell people that Philly has another sharpshooter to space the floor for James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Joel Embiid now. And if either of them or anyone else has a bad night, feel free to drum it up as “it’s just Summer League.”
The NBA Summer League is the perfect time of year for the loudest and most arrogant fans because, right now, they’re infallible. This period gives the opportunity to exalt a player early and win the bragging rights of being first on the bandwagon if said player breaks out in the regular season. And if they end up falling flat on their face? Well, it was only Summer League.