A trip to NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is like most trips to Vegas: fun, informal and frequently leaving you with more questions than answers. Read through previous Bright Side Summer League coverage and you'll see articles and comments littered with praise for has-beens and never-wases (what up, Zabian Dowdell!). Similarly, you'll also see poor performances by guys who have since gone on to successful NBA careers (holler back, Goran Dragić!).
So what is Summer League all about? And what can we actually take away from it as viewers?
Summer League is about effort. Dudes who sell out in Summer League are going to bring similar intensity when they get their shot in a real game. Regardless of the quality of basketball being played, players with energy glow in Summer League.
Summer League is not about good team basketball. If good basketball occurs during a Summer League game, it's more by accident than design. These guys have only played together for a couple of weeks and very few of them are actual NBA quality players. The games will be sloppy and ugly and that just is what it is.
Summer League is about individual performances. Think of Summer League as a lab full of individual experiments taking place within a team dynamic. While you might be able to get a sense of how Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss can function together on a team, you will definitely get a sense of how they will function as individual players. Actual teamwork won't come into play until training camp and practice.
Summer League is about potential. If you're hoping what you see is what you get in Summer League play, you will be disappointed. Players who excel in Summer League are excelling against marginal basketball talent. Players who struggle could be struggling due to lack of talent or because they are suddenly divorced from a college/semi-pro system designed to maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. Either way, Summer League rarely tells the whole story of who a player is and who he will become.
Summer League is not about winning and losing. See above notes about team basketball and individual performances. Of course, everyone wants to win, but Las Vegas is more about individual talent assessment than team achievement. I guarantee Ryan McDonough and Earl Watson (and Nate Bjorkgren) are way more interested in figuring out their rookie power forward situation than hoisting a Summer League trophy.
Summer League is about fun. It's glorified pick-up ball. This Grantland article about great Summer League moments barely scratches the surface. For every retired Nate Robinson jersey, there's an Anthony Morrow 50-point game attempt. For every history-making Becky Hammon, there's a head-scratching Michael Beasley. Las Vegas Summer League is NBA Summer Camp in the best possible way.
There are lots of reasons to watch NBA Summer League, but be careful with what conclusions you walk away with. Every performance -- good bad or otherwise -- comes with caveats galore. Like the rest of what one encounters in Las Vegas, Summer League is shallow and fun. It's best to enjoy the entertainment and not get too wrapped up in the wins and losses.