The summer league in Orlando kicks off today and the Warriors begin summer league competition July 9 in Las Vegas, which means we’re in line for a week or two of reports about how the Warriors’ young talent fares against the summer’s subpar competition.
There are varying viewpoints on the legitimacy of summer league. Does it matter? I’m of the opinion that it does, but you have to try and get past just the statistical reports. We all know that Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow dominated the Las Vegas summer league last season, which didn’t carry over to the regular season. That’s common. The competition in summer league isn’t anything close to what these players will see in the NBA. So players with any NBA talent will often dominate. It doesn’t mean they’ll dominate the next season in the NBA.
There’s an article about this topic at True Hoop on ESPN.com and I’m going to include an excerpt here from David Thorpe about Stephen Curry’s performance in summer league last season that helps illustrate my point:
Whether you fail or succeed it’s really not indicative of anything. They are right that it is not an absolute predictor. But I think it absolutely does matter in a couple of different areas. For instance, last summer we talked a lot about Steph Curry. I think he’s one of the smartest players in the NBA. I wrote that a number of times this year in my rookie report. And one way I know he’s such a smart player is he was so bad in summer league last year, in terms of understanding how to play offensively. But he was so good, for most of the year, in the NBA. That learning curve was so evident because we saw him in July.
In this case, Curry’s performance in summer league wasn’t indicative of how he would perform in the NBA. He averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.4 steals, but shot only 32.5 percent from the field. But Curry’s summer-league play was helpful to use as a barometer when compared to his performance in the NBA regular season. As Thorpe wrote, Curry’s summer-league performance helped us understand how smart a player he is because we were able to see how fast his learning curve was.
You can learn a lot about the young NBA players in summer league by watching the way they carry themselves on the court, the way they interact with teammates and the effort they display on the court. Take Ekpe Udoh, for instance. He’ll be competing in Las Vegas this summer and will certainly get a lot of playing time. If you watch the games (they’ll be available on NBA TV), you’ll be able to see a lot about his game. Because of the competition, Udoh will probably have some impressive stats. That won’t tell us anything. But what I’ll be looking for from Udoh is his feel for the game. Does he play hard every second he’s on the court? Is he tough in the paint or does he shy away from physical play? Does he play with energy and joy or does he just go through the motions? Does he go hard after every rebound? Is he a smart defender? Does he communicate with his teammates on the court or is he quiet and reserved?
Those are the things I like to watch for in summer league because it can teach me things about Udoh (or other players) that I wouldn’t know otherwise. All of those things, in contrast to an impressive statistical line, are likely to carry over to future performance in the NBA.