A Summer League Primer

Mike Ehrmann

What to watch--and watch out--for during the upcoming Las Vegas Summer League spectacular!

Don't blink now, but Summer League is just around the corner! Over the next couple days we'll explore what we'd like to see from Portland's participants, but for now an overall primer will suffice. This is a reprint of a piece I did a couple years ago, updated slightly for 2013. Here's what to watch (and watch out) for in Vegas next week.

Rule #1: Success is the baseline. Failure...is bad.

A player having a good-to-amazing Summer League outing proves that he's good-to-amazing at Summer League. This does not translate into good-to-amazing in the actual league. Everything in Summer League happens on a pass-fail basis. Score 100%? You pass. Score 70%? You pass. Neither one indicates what kind of player you're really going to be. There are 100 steps left before clearing that bar. Failing in Summer League, however, does indicate what kind of player you're going to be...usually non-NBA. Exceptions like Nicolas Batum--who had a confused Summer League but ended up starting and prospering a couple months later--are rare. 99.9% of the time if you can't make it here you won't make it, period. You can't advance your career that far here, but you can end it.

Rule #2: The defense is bad, so scorers better score.

Summer League is typified by guys of non-standard height for positions, guys who are slower than the average NBA phenom, and/or guys who just never learned or prospered on the defensive end of the court. You are not going to find any better opportunities to score than this. If you're a power forward whose gig revolves around rebounding you're not necessarily obligated to post 20 per game. But if you're tabbed as a future scorer you need to show it.

Rule #3: How you score matters.

A lot of guys pour in 20+ point efforts in July who never sniff half of that average in the league. Scrambling, confused defenses and short/slow players are going to give the average guy more open shots than usual. Discount those immediately (unless the guy can't hit them). Discount the break-away dunks that make everybody leave their seats as well. Neither will happen during the regular season. You want to see shots over outstretched hands, pull-ups off the dribble, jukes that get a guy to the rim, contact drawn and free throws made.

Rule #4: It's a guard's league.

Everybody is trying to make an impression. Much of that impression comes through scoring. When your ball-handling guard is desperately trying to make the league he's not going to see an equal balance between getting his own and setting up that 6'10" guy who has a better chance to make it anyway because of his size. Even true point guards who will live and die by the assist in real games will be more likely to show off their ball-handling and drive-by skills in the summer. If they unselfishly rack up 15 assists setting up Joe Center in the post people are going to figure any point guard can do it. If they blitz through three guys in the lane and convert a layup or short dish just once they're going to get noticed.

It's no surprise that guys like Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford are Summer League legends while you barely remember LaMarcus Aldridge's summer outings. Don't be too shocked if a lot of point guards and wings look really good or really bad while your big man ends up looking so-so no matter who he is.

Rule #5: Stats don't always matter.

Sometimes you'll see a guy average 16 and 10 over the course of the summer but he won't make a team. Sometimes you'll see a guy average 7 and 5 who does. The latter guy is not likely to see regular rotation time in the fall but a team is taking a flyer on him because of something unusual they saw, probably relating to freakish athleticism or raw ability. This could also be known as the Nicolas Batum Rule. Batum looked lost, disoriented, years away from playing in his Summer League debut. Even so there was a grace and fluidity to his game that made him different that most of his peers. He consistently got open shots off of the dribble and just as consistently missed them. The Blazers got far more excited about the former than they got discouraged about the latter. Once he settled down Petteri Koponen looked like a more confident, ready player than Batum but he seldom got by anyone, dribbled the ball too high, and released his shot too low. Batum now starts for Portland. Koponen has yet to come over from Europe. Watch for things a player does with his body that nobody else is doing. Watch for guys you notice getting free in the halfcourt, getting higher than everybody else in traffic, moving to places from which they can't be budged or dissuaded. The little things sometimes make a big difference.

Rule #6: Among the glitz and glamour moments, be prepared for some ugly, slow foul-fest games.

Part of it is the players. Part of it is the refs. It's par for the course. Bring snacks and a friend to get you through those rocky outings.

Anybody with Summer League experience is welcome to chime in with thoughts or rules. Blazer's Edge will have you fully covered all through the event. Ben will be down there as usual and rumor has it that I may even put in an appearance during the first week. Stay tuned for all the latest developments!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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