For many NBA fans, the Summer League circuit represents the first chance to see top draft picks compete at the professional level, and the last chance to soak in NBA basketball until training camp rolls around in the fall. In reality, the stakes are fairly low for the top players, the predictive value of the on-court results is murky at best, and most teams hope for the chance to experiment with their prospects and ultimately escape the event injury-free.
Two top-five picks from the 2013 NBA Draft will not be available to play due to injury -- No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett (shoulder) and No. 5 pick Alex Len (ankle) -- but there are still plenty of interesting prospects to watch. Rookie prospects Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore, C.J. McCollum and Shabazz Muhammad will join second-year pros Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dion Waiters, Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, Meyers Leonard, Kendall Marshall and John Henson to compete in Vegas from July 12-22.
Here's a quick breakdown of the tournament format, participating teams and the players you should be watching:
A New Format
In a new twist, the Las Vegas Summer League has chosen to adopt a single-elimination tournament format for the event. Each team will compete in three preliminary round games from July 12-16, and then the tournament bracket will be seeded based on those results. A tournament champion will be crowned on July 22. Every team is guaranteed to play at least five games.
The following teams will participate in the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League:
Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA D-League Select, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards
2013 Rookies to Watch
Otto Porter -- The No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft headlines a Washington Wizards roster that also features Glen Rice Jr., Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely. Porter is a versatile player who should receive plenty of opportunities to set up the offense from the high post and try to create good looks for the offense. His defensive length and high basketball IQ should also serve him well in the Summer League setting. Wizards fans are excited about the possibilities with Porter, and here's part of the primer from Wizards blog Bullets Forever:
"...four days of mini-camp before Las Vegas isn't enough for him to grasp the fast-paced nature of NBA offenses, and it will reflect in his game as he takes the court on Saturday. Unlike last year with Beal, Wittman should be able to run more structured sets early on to get Porter easy looks at the basket, a luxury that wasn't afforded to the young shooting guard till later in the regular season. Rather than running Porter off classic pindowns or staggered screens, Wittman should be able to get Porter the ball on the move through HORNS sets when he's able to make quick decisions with the ball. The key is for him to discover his comfort zone now that he's away from Georgetown, and doing so in-games regardless of competition is always a plus."
Cody Zeller -- Zeller joins Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo on an intriguing Bobcats roster that sets up some competition in the front court. With Al Jefferson now on the roster, Zeller and Biyombo will compete for playing time during the upcoming season. Zeller has to show that he can handle the length of NBA defenders in the post, but Biyombo may be the player with the most to prove. For more, be sure to visit Rufus on Fire's Summer League preview.
Ben McLemore -- The sweet-shooting guard from Kansas could earn a big role with the Kings next season, and Summer League will be his first chance to prove that he's more assertive and aggressive as a scorer than scouts assumed. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch McLemore stroke the NBA three.
C.J. McCollum -- McCollum is coming off a foot injury in college and may be a bit rusty when he hits the court, but it will be very interesting to see how he adjusts to playing with Damian Lillard in any creative lineups the Trail Blazers choose to use. Combo guard scorers are used to operating the offense with the ball in their hands at all times. Will McCollum get that chance, or will he start his transition to the NBA by working off the ball?
Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng should both be fun to watch for Timberwolves fans. Muhammad is a known quantity as a scorer, but people will likely be tracking his assist numbers after a rough season at UCLA revealed some of the flaws in his game. Meanwhile, Dieng is an older prospect who should be able to make an impact as a defender right away.
2012 Lottery Picks to Watch
Several big-name players from the previous draft class will also be worth watching. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson have plenty to prove after perhaps falling out of favor during their rookie seasons, but both players were considered premium prospects 12 months ago. How far have their games come since the end of the season?
Damian Lillard and Dion Waiters enjoyed a measure of success during their first years on the job, so most people will expect them to flash some dominance against questionable competition. These score-first guards will get the chance to use plenty of possessions and run the offenses as they please. It's not clear if Lillard will play, but he is listed on Portland's roster.
Austin Rivers and Kendall Marshall failed to impress anyone last season, and now both prospects are up against difficult situations with their teams. Rivers posted awful numbers during his rookie season, and now he could get buried behind Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon on the Pelicans' roster. Marshall got less playing time in 2012-13, but now Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe stand in his way. If either player shows a pulse, they could help their trade value.
Finally, Meyers Leonard, Terrence Ross and John Henson will get the chance to show they're ready to assume a bigger role on their respective NBA squads next season. All three players flashed some interesting potential, and minutes should be available to earn when the season rolls around.