God bless the folks at NBA TV. The Las Vegas Summer League kicked off on July 11th, and every game is broadcast either on NBA TV or NBA.com, meaning Rick Kamla, Vince Cellini, Steve Smith, and their on-air cohorts have to spend 8 hours a day — for seven days — calling games (there are more games beyond that, but as teams get eliminated, the number of games dwindles to a lone championship on Monday). I give them such props because I just spent a measly three nights there (for those who’ve never been to Vegas: that’s a tall order even without spending entire days watching mostly D-Leaguers and journeymen), attended three days’ worth of games, and want to die. Probably not helping my cause: going to nightclubs all three nights and staying out until the sun came up.
Somehow, I was able to cobble myself together enough each day — Monday through Wednesday — to take some mental notes on what I saw:
1. Sim Bhullar is the biggest human being I’ve ever seen (in person). I’m not sure how he compares to, say, a Yao Ming, but I’ve never stood next to Yao Ming, so I can’t really compare the two. Bhullar didn’t play in the one Sacramento Kings game we watched, but he did sit down in front of us in the stands for another game. Imagine having to yell “down in front!!!” to a guy who’s already sitting down. That’s how big he is.
2. Speaking of big people, here’s one who I did actually see play: Rudy Gobert. I’ll forgive you for not knowing who he is. He’s French, he’s 7-foot-2, and has a standing reach of 9-foot-7. I don’t think he even jumped on his dunks. He moves around really well, and threw a one-man block party against Milwaukee on Monday night. Now, you’re probably asking why I am dedicating an entire paragraph to Rudy Gobert, a guy who averaged just ten minutes per game last season? Because every time he blocked a shot, the crowd — about half of which was children — reacted as if it was a prime Shawn Kemp swatting a shot four rows into the crowd in a playoff game.
Newsflash: if a guy is 7-foot-2, he should be blocking everyone’s shot. Especially a guy with NBA experience, and playing in Summer League. Also, any player who has played one year in the NBA should be dominating Summer League. It should be considered a red flag if they don’t. More on that later.
3. Alright, fine, I’ll talk about the players everyone really wants to know about.
I’ll start with Andrew Wiggins, because he’s indirectly responsible for my lone gripe with Summer League. Wanna see the #1 pick in the NBA Draft? Good luck! The NBA decided to put all of his games in the tiny-ass Cox Pavilion, which holds approximately 53 people. Okay, it actually holds about 2,500 people — far less than Thomas & Mack, which, you know, is a full-size arena. I spoke with a friend-of-a-friend, an employee in UNLV’s athletic department, who told me the NBA did it on purpose because they knew the arena would look “sold out” on TV.
I get it from a television perspective. However, it really is a disservice to the paying customers who just want to see Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Nerlens Noel, etc. Attendance on Monday, which featured Wiggins vs. Noel, and Parker vs. Exum, was by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at UNLV. I know for a fact ticket sales were through the roof for this year’s event, and the NBA (along with a team that rhymes with “Fixers”) denied a lot of those customers the chance to see those players. We knew hundreds had been turned away Friday night during the Parker-Wiggins game, so when we walked in at 5 pm Monday night, the line to get into Cox was roughly 200 people long. I’m guessing approximately none of those people got in.
We didn’t even bother trying, so we staked out a good spot for the Exum-Parker game, which actually managed to fill about half the arena. With the top level of Thomas & Mack blocked off, is it really a stretch to the think Wiggins vs. Anyone wouldn’t draw the same crowd, if not more? The arena would have looked plenty full. The NBA really dropped the ball on that one.
You know who else dropped the ball? The Sixers. They rolled out Nerlens Noel against Andrew Wiggins, then packed him in for the rest of the tournament. I had the pleasure of watching Noel sit at the end of the bench for two whole games because they’re so scared to death of an injury, that they refused to play him in back-to-backs. The one concession I’ll make here is that he did play in Orlando, so he’s already seen more action than almost every other player over the last two weeks.
As for Parker, I don’t have much to say other than what’s been said already. You can’t put a whole lot of stock in these performances, but his body is NBA ready, and he moves really well. (How’s that for some solid analysis). Exum? Well, I liked his explosiveness, his intensity, and the fact he kinda, sorta looks like Bird from The Wire.
4. Getting back to Cox Pavilion, I will offer this one defense: the atmosphere in there is far better than Thomas & Mack. It’s a small gym, and you’re much closer to the action. Sitting in the top row still feels like you’re close to the action. Even non-marquee match-ups can get exciting in there. The Lakers-Warriors game Monday night was bonkers. It felt like a playoff game, with a crowd that felt evenly split.
5. Doug McDermott is one of those types of players who you’ll watch for three quarters, look up at the scoreboard, and ask yourself “wait, when did he score 20 points?!?” His final stat line on tuesday: 20/6/5. Yeah, I know, Summer League, yadda yadda…but trust me, the guy can play. I think.
6. Personal, non-game-related highlight of Summer League: Atlanta Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder, a poor man’s Rajon Rondo (not an insult) and starter on the Popeye Jones All-Ugly All-Stars (probably an insult), sitting next to me during the tense final moments of the Lakers-Warriors game Monday night, and launching an elbow into my side. After the Popeye Jones comment, I probably deserved it.
Another note about this game: my buddy put down $20 on a four-team parlay that would have paid out almost $300 if the Warriors had won (and covered). He got greedy, adding the fourth game. Also, betting on Summer League is like betting on NFL preseason games: it’s a crap shoot (pardon the pun).
7. Personal, game-related highlight from Summer League: this put back dunk from Tyler Honeycutt.
Believe me, the video doesn’t even do this justice. It was in Cox Pavilion, in front of a sparse crowd. That dunk echoed through the place while everyone was frozen in awe. Also, this was Wednesday afternoon, and I was on my last legs, with my eyes drooping in the stands. That was the wake up call I needed.
8. Totally-unrelated-to-basketball highlight of my trip: meeting Leroy Garrett from The Challenge at XS Monday night, bumping into him again at Drai’s the next night (beautiful club, btw), and partying to the wee hours with him and a bunch of locals (and Brent Barry!). Runner-up: having a table at XS right next to Eric Gordon, and watching him awkwardly talk to (or not talk to) women all night. It’s nice to know that I have something in common with at least one NBA player.
9. Holy crap, Rodney Hood can shoot! Exum vs. Parker was the main attraction Monday night, but it was the Jazz’s other first rounder draft pick who ended up stealing the show. He went 7 of 10 from deep, and hit a few in a row that brought the entire Thomas & Mack Center down. (Cue college basketball fans saying a collective “duh!”, to which I say “I don’t watch college basketball”.)
10. If your name starts with the letter “S” and ends in “-AZZ”, let’s just say you left a lot to be desired. I watched Shabazz Napier and Shabazz Muhammad twice, and in four games, they combined to shoot 11-for-51 from the field. Woof! Muhammad falls under the category of “guys who should be tearing up Summer League but, inexplicably, aren’t”. Actually, scratch that, I don’t think it’s inexplicable. He may just not be very good at basketball. Also, he looks like he’s 35 years old, with the attitude of a bratty 3-year-old.
11. Sudden Death! I missed the game (because it happened on Sunday), but there was a lot of buzz on Monday about the sudden death game between Atlanta and the D-League Select squad. When Warriors-Lakers went to overtime Monday night, I’m not kidding when I say people wanted it to go to a second overtime just to see the most insane ending possible: golden goal…err…basket. It didn’t happen, but we did get a buzzer beater in OT, which was almost as exciting. Almost.
This brings me to my next thought: why isn’t sudden death basketball a thing? It doesn’t even have to be the first basket made, but maybe first team to score five points? Doesn’t this make sense for the NBA regular season, just to spice up an interminable January game between two bottom feeders? Here’s a simple proposal: Any regular season game that is tied at the end of double overtime will play a first-to-five third overtime. First team to five points wins.
Admit it, you’d watch that. Even if you missed it live, you couldn’t wait to see how it went down. Hell, ESPN would probably cut in for a live look-in like it does with no-hitters. Now, imagine if it’s Spurs-Thunder in April, with home court advantage on the line.
Also, it’s not as if this would occur enough to the point it’d affect the integrity of the sport. The 2013-14 season featured eleven double overtimes, and three triple overtimes (the 2012-13 season featured twelve and two, respectively). Would it really be a terrible thing if sudden death affected the outcomes of only two or three games per season? This needs to happen.
You know what, now that I just re-read #11, I think I might be still drunk. It’s been real, Vegas. See you next year.