Nexus of NBA universe

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New York City was buzzing two weeks ago when the New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks made Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the NBA Draft, respectively.

It didn’t take long thereafter for Las Vegas to catch its own buzz, knowing the schedule makers of the NBA Summer League do everything possible to pit top picks against one another on opening night.

Williamson and the Pelicans will face Barrett and the Knicks this Friday at 6:30 p.m. in a nationally televised games, highlighting the 11-day, 83-game event presented by MGM Resorts.

“This draft is definitely loaded with talent,” event co-founder Albert Hall said. “You look at these kids who are ready to go and we’re excited to get season 15 going with the NBA Summer League.”

Hall said nearly 140,000 people attended last year’s event, and with the first two days sold out more than a week before this year’s league started, he expects that number to be eclipsed.

“Obviously this thing has grown in a big way,” Hall said. “We never want to lose sight of what we are — we’re the people’s league. You come here, you get an opportunity to be the first to see these young guys, you feel a part of the event.

“That’s what’s been successful for us over the years, is just really embracing everything and making fans feel like they’re a part of what we’re trying to do.”

The summer league features all 30 NBA teams and Chinese and Croatian National Teams, tipping off Friday with 10 games at the Thomas and Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. All 32 teams play four pool-play games, with the top eight teams seeded in a playoff-style tournament that ends with the championship game on July 15 at 6 p.m.

Teams that do not qualify for the tournament will continue with a consolation round, as each team is guaranteed at least five games, and could play as many seven games.

MGM Race and Sports Book Manager Jeff Stoneback said the annual event is an attractive draw for bettors, both local and tourists.

“It’s gotten more popular every year,” Stoneback said. “It started off as a niche thing, but the NBA has done a great job marketing it. Some of the games are sell outs. They get the (top) draft picks going and there is always a lot of interest in that game.

“Because NBA stars attend, the popularity of the event draws more crowds and helps boost the hoopla around the league, which generates more interest to bet the games.”

Stoneback said much like the fans who come to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl or March Madness, those who visit specifically for the summer league will bet games based on popular players or teams, or the games they’re attending, as they head to the arenas. He also said the book’s mobile app has made things easier, as fans bet games while sitting in the stands.

“The Lakers are the number one draw; the Lakers and whatever team has a marquee player here,” Stoneback said. “The Pelicans will be a big draw this year. I would think they will surpass the Lakers just because of Zion.”

Stoneback said his book might get $5,000 of action on certain games, and when all is said and done, close to $400,000 is wagered collectively on summer league games.

“We get big casino players who are interested in betting five figures on the game,” Stoneback said. “It doesn’t happen a whole lot, but it does happen on occasion. It’s all about who’s playing, the names. They’re more interested in the individual players. And if a marquee player makes it to the championship team, it might spike the action.”

Stoneback said the MGM sets limits at $2,000 on sides and $1,000 on totals and money line wagers.

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About the Author

W.G. Ramirez

W.G. Ramirez is a 32-year veteran covering sports in Southern Nevada, and resident of 46 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press.

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