2008 NBA Las Vegas Summer League: Preview
[img_assist|nid=1091|title=Eric Gordon|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=399]The NBA bills its annual "Las Vegas Summer League" as an opportunity to get an up-close-and-personal look at a handful of potential superstars.
In reality, it's a highly entertaining batch of pickup-style games that gives basketball nuts a reason to head to Sin City for a few days. Just don't expect a lot of tight fundamentals, sharp off-the-ball movement or defense of any kind.
Now in its fourth year, the NBA Summer League features 21 teams with dozens of players looking to make their mark in between trips to the blackjack tables -- well, those who are old enough, at least.
Games start up July 11 and run through the 20th at the Thomas and Mack Center and Cox Pavillion on the UNLV campus. For those fortunate enough to make the trip, keep your eyes peeled for the roster dynamics unique to Summer League.
At the top of the Summer League food chain resides the hot-shot lottery picks. The ink isn't even dry on their first NBA contracts and they're already being mentioned as future franchise cornerstones. OJ Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, these guys get to transfer that BMOC aura from college to Summer League. Enjoy it now, fellas. Once the regular season gets going, "rook" is just another four-letter word.
Just below the lottery picks, you can find the younger veterans. The majority of these guys are recent lottery picks -- second-year guys, mostly -- who still have a steep learning curve before that precious upside can be converted into actual NBA-level production. Marco Belinelli -- who put on a clinic in last year's Summer session -- is among the headliners in this tier. You can also expect some monster showings from Al Thornton, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes, among others.
The fringe roster guys occupy tier three. These are the guys that have signed more than a few 10-day contracts and look at Summer League as a crucial opportunity to catch a GM's eye. This is also a fan's best opportunity to take a trip down memory lane ("Hey, I totally forgot how awesome Tamar Slay was at Marshall!") The Charlotte Bobcats are giving a number of tier three types -- Guillermo Diaz, Jackie Butler, Orien Greene and Donnell Harvey to name four -- a chance to shine. Diaz, in particular, is built for Summer League ball. Expect the former Miami standout to impress the crowd with some jaw-dropping windmill jams.
An unexpected bonus from tier three: Occasionally, someone will come out with guns a-blazing, post 25 points a game and cause reasonable basketball decision-makers to temporarily lose their minds. This phenomenon is called "pulling a 'Skita," for when former Denver Nuggets' uber-bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili ran wild and convinced Minnesota GM Kevin McHale to offer him a guaranteed contract. This year's Skita candidate? Knicks guard Von Wafer, who isn't a total stiff like Skita, but averaged 24.2 points per game -- second only to Louis Williams -- in last year's summer league, despite a paltry 1.4 ppg career average in regulation NBA contests.
Your final tier consists of late second-round or undrafted college stars looking to make their presence felt. These guys take Summer League more seriously than Kevin Garnett approached Game Six of the NBA Finals. They're not only looking to stand out; they're hoping to make every GM in the building feel stupid for passing on them. As a result, these players break the unspoken Summer League rule of "no defense allowed" and attack their man like a vintage Scottie Pippen. You have never seen a person give more effort in a basketball game than a tier-four guy at NBA Summer League. This is also the most endearing group, because you know these athletes are putting their entire hearts and souls into every loose ball, every rebound, every possession. Chris Lofton, Jawann McClellan, Shan Foster, Derrick Low and many others occupy this tier.
Check in with NBADraft.net for constant on-site updates from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. And if you can think of any under-the-radar players poised to make a splash this summer, make their case by leaving a comment below.