For the first time ever, all 30 teams are participating in the MGM Resorts Summer League, which makes for quite the party inside Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.
If you have a day and can get over there, you can check out multiple games at one time by simply crossing over from one end of the venue to the other. It’s a short stroll.
Action opened on July 6 and will close with a knockout stage that will ultimately crown a champion, making things all the more interesting since you can bet futures and individual games. There may be excellent opportunities based on projected matchups and key players often being held out. Knowledge is power in that regard, so you have to do your homework for these. Feel free to follow via Twitter @TonyMejiaNBA as I’ll be passing info along if I see an angle worth exploring.
Although teams do play hard late in the tournament to try and win the title, don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still just Summer League at the end of the day. If there’s a decision to be made whether to play a young building block who’s nicked up, teams are always going to take the cautious approach.
Westgate made the Suns the favorite, offering 8-to-1 odds since they’re being coached by the newly-hired Igor Kokoskov and with top pick Deandre Ayton, No. 12 pick Mikal Bridges, last season’s No. 4 pick Josh Jackson, 2016 No. 4 pick Dragan Bender and a few other guys who have already played in the league like Davon Reed, Shaquille Harrison and Jack Cooley.
Now, if you want reasons to fade this group, they do exist. Jackson, who is sporting a new look after shaving his hair, probably won’t play a full allotment of games. Bender could be in that boat too. Ayton had been dealing with back issues but got the better of Sacramento’s No. 2 pick, Marvin Bagley III, who hurt his hip.
Ayton went off for 21 points and 12 rebounds and is clearly going to have an impact, but it remains to be seen whether he’s going to be in it for the long haul, so riding the favorite has its risks.
Other teams that remain unscathed through their first two games of preliminary action include Orlando (15/1), which was playing the Suns on Monday in the best game of Day 4 action.
Don’t sleep on the Magic’s ability to win this event since they’re built to defend and could be a problem over the long haul given the length they bring to the table. No. 6 pick Mo Bamba and last year’s No. 5 pick Jonathan Isaac are being counted on to play huge regular-season roles if this young group is to make significant improvement, so their early chemistry is a fantastic sign.
Small forward Wes Iwundu and big man Khem Birch each played significant minutes down the stretch last season and have shown off that experience so far, while guards Isaiah Briscoe, Rodney Purvis, Troy Caupain and second-round pick Melvin Frazier have been given chances to put their physical gifts on display.
The Lakers (25/1) are perfect so far. They won the summer by landing LeBron James but went 0-3 in the new Sacramento-based California Classic that preceded this event, so their early success is a surprise. Getting Josh Hart to anchor the unit in Vegas has been the major difference, but it remains to be seen whether he’s going to play this out as well.
First-round pick Moe Wagner and second-rounder Svi Mykhailuk did have some nice moments in the California Classic and have excelled in major roles alongside guards Alex Caruso, Malik Newman and Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
The Under is a popular bet in Summer League action since most teams play at a more deliberate pace and solid execution is often hard to come by.
Houston (20/1) is one of the few exceptions and you’re going to want to lean toward the high side on totals since the Rockets employ their up-tempo style and let the 3-pointers fly. Seven-footers Zhou Qi and Isaiah Hartenstein are up front with 6-foot-10 Chinanu Onuaku and will be surrounded by shooters. Second-round picks De’Anthony Melton and Vince Edwards will look to impress, while Danuel House, R.J. Hunter and local product Rob Gray can fill it up. Duke point guard Trevon Duval is already raising eyebrows after going undrafted after leaving school following his freshman season.
New Orleans’ hope is that power forward Cheick Diallo can continue to show off his development as the focal point of this group, while former Duke point guard Frank Jackson is finally getting to show his stuff after essentially redshirting last season. He’ll have days where he’s rested and will be on a minutes restriction, so second-rounder Tony Carr will get an opportunity to run the show. Chasson Randle, who has been at Real Madrid and has had success in Summer League before, is also in the mix in addition to former Xavier standout Trevon Bluiett. At 25-to-1, the Pelicans are certainly worth taking a flier on.
One of the two longshots to win this Summer League, the Nuggets (50/1) are looking for guards Monte Morris and Malik Beasley to lead the way. The backcourt has done this Summer League thing before and are well-versed in the team’s system. Second-round pick Thomas Welsh will line up at center, while TCU product Kenrich Williams, ex-Syracuse sharpshooter Tyler Lydon, UNC’s Kennedy Meeks, Illinois State’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Wyoming sniper Hayden Dalton will be counted on to produce consistently. There doesn’t look to be enough depth to trust, but they’ve been a major surprise early.
Among teams that have actually lost games, there are two worth considering who have actually lost. The Pacers (20/1) have seen UCLA standout Aaron Holiday hit the ground running. It’s helped that he’s had plenty of familiar faces easing his transition here with fellow Bruins T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford on board in addition to USC’s Elijah Stewart. Forwards Alex Poythress, Ben Moore and second-round pick Alize Johnson join combo guard Edmond Sumner filling a deep group.
The Clippers (12/1) also have depth in their favor to help offset a lack of size, so we’ll see if they can overcome that in order to remain a factor. Seton Hall power forward Angel Delgado, one of the college game’s top rebounders throughout his career, has already signed a two-way contract with the team after going undrafted. Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans got time last year and will be joined by first-rounders Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, selected with picks No. 11 and 13. If those four can each find a way to have an impact, the Clips may make things interesting with their ability to employ position-less basketball.