After a week of escaping Las Vegas’ sweltering heat in the comfy confines of UNLV's facilities to cover the Blazers in the 2017 NBA Summer League, I've finally returned to the Pacific Northwest. Now armed with the experience of surviving several mid-July days in the desert cheering on my favorite team, I hope I can inspire more to do the same.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as they say, but I’m willing to share (most of) the details of my trip so you can avoid the amateur-hour blunders of a newbie and look like a Summer League veteran—even if you’ve never been.
Nestled just off the Las Vegas strip is the UNLV campus, home of the Las Vegas Summer League. The basketball facilities contain two courts that host games throughout the week. The bigger of the two—Thomas & Mack court—is where the Runnin' Rebels play their home games during the regular season. Cox Pavilion is similar in size to most high school gyms.
Each venue has its own set of pros and cons, but for me, watching the Blazers play in Cox Pavilion was a better experience. There isn't a bad seat, and the small setting allows you to hear the majority of on-court discussions. The small setting does have distinct downsides, though, mainly caused by the limited capacity; if a popular team or a highly regarded rookie is set to play there, you’d best plan on getting to a seat early.
The Thomas & Mack court provides a feel closely mimicking an actual NBA game. You won't enjoy the same intimacy as Cox, but it does provide the rare experience of being immersed in a hodgepodge of NBA fans who’ve travelled to Vegas, all there to watch a group of unheralded players and NBA hopefuls don their team’s uniform for a handful of games.
For those going through mid-summer basketball withdrawals, this is the best place to scratch that itch.
Pro Tips For Watching Games
Warning: for those bringing children, some of the language you'll hear on the court may not be suitable for your young one’s ears.
The majority of the seating is general admission, so plan your day around what gym has the most games you want to watch. If you stay in one venue, it’s much easier to get a better seat as people transition between the gyms throughout the day. If you’re hoping to watch a game that involves a team from California, planning in advance is crucial.
Be mindful of how you critique players out loud, as their families and friends are likely somewhere in the crowd, as well. The games move fast at Summer League, and you don't want to spend an entire quarter removing your foot from your mouth. I witnessed a fan shouting his distaste for the Suns' Marquese Chriss, as his banter caught the interest of those in the stands and from Chriss himself.
I can't stress this enough: you’re incredibly close to the action while watching inside Cox.
What To Watch For
Summer League provides a first glance at incoming rookies, but that also comes bundled with some downright sloppy basketball. Most of these squads were assembled mere weeks before their arrival in Vegas, so don't expect to see expertly executed set plays. Still, there’s plenty of basketball to soak in and enjoy.
For the rookies, see if they’re able to replicate their playing style from college. Caleb Swanigan was the perfect example of this—much like his time at Purdue, he established himself in the paint on both ends of the court. Zach Collins, on the other hand, played well on defense but clearly needs to add some bulk if he hopes to replicate his Gonzaga-era scoring prowess.
Patience is vital with rookies. They’ve spent very little time with their new organizations, so tempering your judgements of their performances is imperative.
Summer League becomes truly interesting when you get to see the returning players, as you get a more accurate idea of how they’re are progressing as professionals. Some prospects are clearly above the level of competition; Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, and Wayne Selden likely made their final trip to Las Vegas as players.
The opposite also exists. Georgios Papagiannis and Dragan Bender looked a little behind the curve last week, and unlike the rookies, it’s probably safer to put more weight behind the judgment of these players.
Take note of former NBA Lottery picks still on Summer League rosters, as you'll want to see these guys when you’re not watching your favorite team compete.
Invest in a physical program, because relying on a mobile device will drain your battery. This might seem obvious, but you don't want to be the person with a dead phone two hours into a full day of basketball.
The Fans at Summer League
Golden State’s incredible run of recent success has put the rest of the NBA landscape under the tires of the Warriors’ bandwagon, but Summer League offers the chance to travel back to a simpler time—when Lakers fans held the crown of loudest visiting fanbase.
The presence of fans from Los Angeles is without a doubt inflated by the team’s proximity to Vegas, but truly impressive is how many of them show up for Summer League. If you thought Warriors fans were over-the-top, buckle up for a trip down memory lane.
Along with a ton of California-based fans, the Blazers have a surprisingly large contingent in attendance. You can't go more than a few steps during one of Portland's game without running into at least a dozen Rip City enthusiasts.
Tips on Dealing with Lakers Fans
Lakers fans have a keen awareness of conversations critical of Kobe Bryant, so prepare to engage eavesdroppers if detected.
Be aware of when the Lakers are playing. The gym will be full, but the other venue will likely have a ton of excellent seating available. This was the case for the Blazers' games against the Bulls and Raptors.
A Token of Gratitude
While in Vegas I had the opportunity to stay in a house with other SB Nation contributors, and I came across a common theme from those I spoke with: the majority are impressed by the community here.
So thank you, Blazer’s Edge readers and Trail Blazers fans—I met some of you in Vegas and enjoyed your company. For those who haven’t made it down from Portland to watch your favorite team in person yet, I hope to see you next year.