The NBA Summer League tournament starts today, with seeds 11-22 playing in Round 1. The Spurs are the 10th seed in the bracket, so they won't be playing today. (They begin tournament play tomorrow versus the Cleveland Cavaliers.) The tournament is single-elimination style, but don't fret, there's a consolation bracket so we get EVEN MOAR BASKETBALL. (Here's the full bracket.)
Personally, I'm not a fan of this new tournament. To me, summer league is different from regular NBA games in terms of the goal in sight. It's more about evaluating players, and less about winning games. the biggest positive of summer league is knowing who is going to fill out those final few roster spots, and getting an idea for how, and how well they play. A win or a loss isn't going to help or hurt your team.
But, as we saw with that crazy Chicago/Portland game yesterday, if the games are close enough, and the players do enough, summer league games can draw fans out. And what else can draw fans out? Tournaments! Ranking things! Seeing which is the best team filled with fringe NBA guys! And I'm sure that that's all this is. An attempt by the NBA to make summer league more fan-friendly, and to get a little more recognition and money for it.
Anyways, no matter if it's in a tournament or for pure exhibition, there is basketball being played today. There are six games in the first round, and because I can't physically be in two places at once, I can only attend three. So let's get to the previews for this shortened day.
(All times listed are STTOTTM)
5:00: #11 New Orleans Pelicans vs. #22 Denver Nuggets
I'm in this purely for the Pelicans. I've only seen glimpses of their team this summer leauge, but I have been impressed with what I've caught. Austin rivers and Brian Roberts form a backcourt that, while undersized, is one of the best ones here. They can take anyone off the dribble, and both (especially Rivers) have shown the ability to run the pick-and-roll at a good level in summer league. The Nuggets, however, are terrible. They haven't had many bright spots this whole week, and their seeding as the worst team in Las Vegas is appropriate. I expect this game to be a blowout victory for the Pelicans.
Player to Watch; Austin Rivers, New Orleans Pelicans
As a rookie last year in New Orleans, Austin Rivers was flat-out horrible. Statistically, he had arguably the worst season ever for a highly-drafted rookie in the league, and his future seemed dim. It remains to be seen how he'll play against the best the NBA has to offer, but he looks a lot better than he did last summer. He takes better shots, is able to get to the rim, and is a better decision maker when handling the ball. I still think he has a long way to go, but from what I've seen and heard about him this week, it again seems possible that he could become a good player eventually.
7:30 PM: #14 Atlanta Hawks vs. #18 Portland Trail Blazers
Both of these teams are fantastic to watch. The Hawks have fun rookies that all enjoy each other's company and love playing together; and the Blazers have C.J. McCollum, he of Clutch-landia, who scores points as quickly as promising young Portland players develop career-threatening knee problems. Still, keep an eye on Atlanta's Lucas Nogueira and Dennis Schröder, who are both very promising, and have developed a quick chemistry with one another.
Player to Watch: Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lemons has had an up and down week at summer league, but his individual performance doesn't matter. Just watch him because he's an entertaining person. His post game is reminiscent of a middle schooler asking a girl to dance at a school function. He's awkward, sweaty, and doesn't quite know how to react. If that doesn't do it for you, then watch him because he hustles all around the court. In yesterday's game, he even dove into the stands for a ball, and had a couple tip-ins that were all grit. So please, I beg of you, watch Mr Meyers Leonard: Awkward-heart-and-hustle extraordinaire.
9:30 PM: #16 Dallas Mavericks vs. #17 Los Angeles Clippers
I know next to nothing about the Mavericks' summer league squad. I haven't watched them. I haven't heard anything about them other than Ricky Ledo can shoot, and Gal Mekel has swag. Not exactly the best scouting report, huh? Other than gaining intel on the Spurs' division rival, this gives me a chance to see Reggie Bullock and Samardo Samuels again, who have both been really, really good this week. Bullock's game screams "Future 3&D guy," and Samuels is kind of like that school bully in the paint. He hits you, hits you, then hits you some more until you back down and he scores.
Player to Watch: Gal Mekel, Dallas Mavericks
We'll see whether he's worthy of being praised as swaggy or not, after all.