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What to Expect at Summer League

Technically the Vegas Summer League begins today even though the Blazers don’t play their first game until Monday.  I wanted to give a general overview for those going down, but this could also be useful for those watching on TV and those just curious.  Here are Dave’s handy tips for Summer League.

1.  If you go, you are going to fry.  Be prepared.

It’s Vegas.  It’s July.  Don’t even bother packing anything that covers up skin below your thighs.  Hawaiian shirts are great too.  Blazersedge t-shirts are best, of course.

2.  You’re paying for an entire day of games.  Get your money’s worth.

Tickets are sold by day, not by game.  This allows you to see at least four games if that’s your pleasure.  The arenas are air-conditioned, so why not?  Plus you have to understand that Summer League is a different game than what you’re used to seeing.  You’ll start to pick up on those differences if you watch a couple games before your team plays.  You’ll also be able to put your own players’ performances in perspective.

3.  If you go to multiple games, get multiple vantage points.

Every seat not reserved for V.I.P.’s or media is general admission.  Watch a game from the first row behind the bench.  Watch a game from the other side too.  Then compare the difference when you watch from a higher vantage point.  Try to see how the individual nuances you noticed from your close-up seat translate when you can see the whole floor.

4.  Understand what this is about.

95% of the time you see basketball on a professional level winning is the most important thing.  This is the other 5%.  Of course everybody will say they want to win…that’s competitive nature.  But really you’re not looking for wins and losses here.  They don’t mean much.   Consider:  the Blazers went 3-2 a couple years ago year with Roy and Aldridge in the fold.  They went 2-3 with Aldridge and Oden last year.  The Rockets were undefeated in ’06 and the Knicks and Mavericks in ’07.  Which roster would you rather have suiting up in October?

Rather you’re looking for individual performances.  That doesn’t mean you celebrate the ball hogs.  It means you’re measuring each player based on the criteria set for their prospective positions in the league.  You’re also looking for physical attributes, understanding of the game, and the ability to play well with others.

5.  Parse out the junk.

One great lesson from Summer League is that everybody has skill and can play this game.  Just about every non-point guard, for instance, can make the crowd come to its feet by throwing down hard when unopposed on the break.  Once you see this from twenty-two guys who have no chance to earn regular minutes in the league this year you start to understand its relative importance.  On the podcast a few weeks ago we were talking about the relative importance of lateral quickness versus vertical speed or leaping ability…how the former was more valuable in most cases while the latter tended to be overrated.  Summer League is the petri dish in which those observations become clear.  It’s not how high a guy leaps when dunking, it’s how many times you see him get free to dunk in the first place.  It’s not just whether a guy is stroking his threes, it’s how much time he needs to get them off and the spots and situations he’s comfortable with.  This is a great opportunity to see why and how players are making an impact in addition to going crazy when they do.

Another Summer League cliché is the guy who has “bulked up”.  Every year we get people oohing and aahing over somebody’s newfound size.  I suspect part of this is people looking bigger when you’re standing ten feet away from them in real life than they do on TV.  Some of it is legit…guys do lift over the summer.  But here’s a tip:  ignore the biceps.  Watch instead how a guy is using his body, weight, and muscle to get position or gain advantage.  He can look plenty impressive in warmups but if he’s getting beaten to spots or can’t make a dent in his defender in the post or is outworked for rebounds those Popeye-sized guns don’t matter much.  It took about five minutes of watching Lamarcus Aldridge move last summer to tell that he had arrived physically.  But you’ll see plenty of guys pretending.  Don’t fall for the faux bulk-up.

6.  Don’t expect your big man to prosper.

For the most part this is a slashing, scoring, shooting league.  The reason is simple:  every guard and forward out there is trying to earn a spot and/or minutes on their team.  They earn their place by standing out.  They don’t stand out by making five nice entry passes into the post.  Since little guys control the ball, that leaves big men rebounding those spastic guard misses and running like heck hoping to get downcourt soon enough to qualify for an alley-oop.

Also keep in mind that these guys are, for the most part, inexperienced at this level and haven’t played much together.  It’s a game of mistakes.  A ball-handler can make a mistake and still be handling the ball the next time down the court.  But let a big guy fumble away one pass and Shorty McShooter is never going to look his way again.  The passer isn’t going to risk going down for the center’s mistake.  If he’s going to go down, it’ll be hoisting his own shot.

7.  Watch for the guys who can play defense.

Even here it’s a prized and somewhat rare commodity.  Some guys can make their team just by manning up tight and rotating quickly…as long as they can hit half a shot, that is.  If you can’t score at all then all the hard work and defense in the world won’t get you an invite to training camp.  But if you’re not totally incompetent with the ball in your hands then defense really pumps up your chances.

8.  Watch the coaches.

There are two types of coaches leading teams at Summer League:  brand new head coaches who want to get a first-hand look at their talent and top assistant coaches auditioning for jobs.  Both take the process seriously.  Obviously they know that part of their job is to nurture and teach, so their demeanor will usually be as calm and reassuring as they can make it, but if you watch closely they’ll let things slip.  Veins will bulge in foreheads, temples will shake back and forth in cupped hands, incredulous stares will be aimed at players’ backs.  Sometimes you’ll even get a straight-up tongue lashing or conflict.  Here’s a helpful hint:  it’s not good to cause your coach major angst in Summer League.  That’s a dead giveaway that either your game or your attitude has a long way to go.

9.  Bring your autograph book.

I guarantee you are never, ever going to have the kind of close-up views and access to NBA people that you do at this venue.  Mind you, you’re not going to be able to walk up to Kevin Pritchard or Nate McMillan and chat them up.  And frankly if a current player of any name value shows up in the stands he’s going to be swamped with autograph seekers (though you can take your shot, of course).  But if you have a little nostalgia in you or enjoy seeing players up close, this is your opportunity.  There’s no telling who’s going to be there, of course, but if you’ve always wanted to walk up to a Jerome Kersey or Buck Williams, shake their hand, and thank them for what they’ve given you this would be the best place to do that.  If they’re there, you will see them walk by.

10.  Don’t forget the Blazersedge Dinner.

It’s at Quarks on Friday, July 18th at 7:00.  You can see this post for information.  Contact jayson262001 at for details and reservation info.

--Dave (