For the most part, the NBA Summer League is an intimate, but sparsely-attended event that features a lot of empty seats even in the tiny Cox Pavilion. Truth be told, there may be more "inside" NBA people (general managers, media, agents, players, etc.) at each game than there are fans.
There is, however, one major exception to this rule: whenever the number one pick in the NBA Draft makes his debut, the place fills up. It happened last year with Los Angeles Clippers No. 1 pick Blake Griffin. Today, it will happen with Wizards rookie John Wall.
Honestly, you don't want to mis this. Wall came down with a minor groin injury during a Wizards minicamp practice a couple days ago, but he's okay to play today. One day before that injury, the Wizards' Summer League squad (along with Nick Young and Al Thornton, who aren't on the roster, but might play a bit out here in Vegas as well) had a scrimmage, and while I wasn't there, from everything I've heard and read, Wall dominated. As a Wizards fan, and as an NBA fan, I think he should and will do the same out here in Vegas. Summer League is a fast-paced, point guard's game, and Wall is at his best in the open floor.
Wall will debut at 8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. PDT) when the Wizards take on the Golden State Warriors in the third of four games today. Here are some notes on all four:
(Also see: Ridiculous Upside's preview).
4:00 p.m. EDT: New York Knicks vs. Denver Nuggets
So far in Summer League: The Knicks are playing their first game. The Nuggets are 2-0, having defeated Dallas 88-70 on Friday and the L.A. Lakers 92-74 on Saturday.
Best player for each team: Ty Lawson has been his usual solid self for the Nuggets thus far, averaging 14.5 points and six assists on 53-percent shooting in the Nuggets' first two games. He's most at home out here in Vegas, where the game is fast-paced and his teammates are all playing off him. The Knicks' have an odd Summer League roster that's led by Toney Douglas, the team's late first-round pick in the 2009 Draft. Douglas was very impressive late in the 2010 season, and with the Knicks currently shallow at point guard, this is a big opportunity for him to impress.
Key players to watch: Coby Karl wasn't quite as impressive yesterday as he was on Friday, but still managed to get to the free throw line 10 times to score 12 points. He's always someone to watch, especially for a Nuggets team that needs cheap backups. As for the Knicks, they're giving Bill Walker a chance to show his stuff this summer despite him having a non-guaranteed contract. Walker was also very impressive at the end of the 2010 season after coming over in a trade with Boston, so he can definitely play.
Someone to watch that you might not know: Othello Hunter, a former Ohio State big man, had a great game for the Nuggets yesterday, dropping 12 points on 5-6 shooting, including a thunderous alleyoop dunk late in the game. He's athletic and can really run the floor, both plusses for a big man in Summer League. You should also keep an eye on Chris Hunter (no relation) of the Knicks today. Chris Hunter played some good minutes for the Golden State
D-Leaguers Warriors last year.
6:00 p.m. EDT: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets
So far in Summer League: The Blazers are playing their first game, while the Rockets are 2-0, with wins over the Suns (100-82) on Friday and the Mavericks (87-78) on Saturday.
Best player for each team: For Portland, this is a tossup between Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham, two young big men that got significant playing time last year with all of Portland's injuries. I'm guessing both players will start alongside each other today. The Rockets, of course, feature Jordan Hill, who is playing extremely well, and Chase Budinger, who is not.
Key players to watch: After a very impressive first game, Houston's Patrick Patterson really struggled against the Mavericks yesterday, shooting just 3-11 for six points. He didn't really play any differently than he did in the opener, but the shots he was hitting then weren't going down yesterday. I wouldn't be too concerned if I'm a Rockets fan. As for Portland, keep an eye on their two first-round picks, Luke Babbit and Elliot Williams. It'll be interesting to see if Williams plays point guard today or if he slides to the off-guard position alongside Patty Mills.
Someone to watch that you might not know: I wish I could mention someone else on the Rockets' roster other than Jermaine Taylor, but I can't, not when he's leading the Summer League in scoring. For Portland, keep an eye on Mills. He was a second-round pick last year, but got hurt and missed the entire season. Today is his chance to make up for lost time.
8:00 p.m EDT: Washington Wizards vs. Golden State Warriors
So far in Summer League: The Wizards are playing their first game. The Warriors are 1-1 after a 77-76 win over New Orleans on Friday and an 89-69 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
Best player on each team: We already talked about John Wall, so I don't need to say anything more about him here. He'll be going up against Reggie Williams, who continues to impress with his deceptive quickness and his shot-making ability.
Key players to watch: This is a pretty big Summer League for Wizards center JaVale McGee. Last year, he alternated between great games and awful games, and then showed up to training camp significantly weaker than the Wizards' staff wanted. He displayed some potential at the end of the year and has reportedly grown an inch and gained some weight, so it'll be interesting to see if that translated into better play. He'll go up against Golden State's Brandan Wright, who wasn't quite as impressive against Greg Monroe yesterday as he was in the Warriors' opener.
Someone to watch that you might not know: He might not play much, but Sun Yue, the Chinese youngster, is on the Wizards' roster. Hey, the Wizards do need a small forward, so you never know. As for Golden State, former NBA D-League MVP Kasib Powell has to play better if he wants to finally make an NBA roster.
10:00 p.m. EDT: Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Hornets
So far in Summer League: The Heat are playing their first game. The Hornets lost their Summer League opener 77-76 to the Warriors on Friday.
Best player on each team: Miami's roster is really shallow, which tends to happen when you get rid of your entire team to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Their two best players are probably Jarvis Varnado and Dexter Pittman, two of their second-round picks this year. The Hornets, on the other hand, feature Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, who are both probably too good for this league.
Key players to watch: The only other Heat player with some NBA experience on the roster is power forward Shavlik Randolph, who got in a few games for the 76ers over the past couple years. Randolph could start at power forward and get the majority of Miami's touches. New Orleans, on the other hand, has both of their first-round picks on the roster in Craig Brackens and Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter in particular really struggled on Friday and is going to have to find a way to contribute without controlling the ball much.
Someone to watch that you might not know: Miami must like Dookies, because they also have guard Jon Scheyer on their roster. The Heat are a good fit for Scheyer because he should get some good playing time. Scheyer might spend a lot of time matched up with Aubrey Coleman, the high-scoring guard from Houston that led the NCAA in scoring last year.