For the past week, much of the NBA universe has descended on Las Vegas for the league’s annual Summer League competition. For the first time ever, all 30 teams are participating in the Las Vegas Summer League, which means things have been even more crowded and hectic in Vegas than they usually are at this time of year.
But while everybody who’s anybody has been in attendance for at least a day or two, most of the people on hand at least tacitly acknowledge that the games themselves are somewhat beside the point. Agents, scouts, and media members display this by congregating for hours’ worth of chats in the hallways between Cox Pavilion and the Thomas & Mack Center, while teams themselves acknowledge it by holding certain players out of games with minor injuries while deciding against allowing others to participate at all.
Barring injury or exigent circumstances (like Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic having played over 90 games in the last calendar year), most drafted rookies participate in at least a few Summer League games. It makes sense — let the first-year guys get their feet wet against some sub-par competition while learning the system and developing a rhythm with some of the other youngins who will either be on the active roster or in the G League. In the best-case scenario for the team, the Summer League prior to a player’s rookie campaign is the last time he ever plays a Summer League game.
Take Donovan Mitchell, for example. He damn near won Rookie of the Year after a spectacular season in Utah and the Jazz see no reason to risk exposing him to injury by having him suit up for the summer season, so instead he’s been sitting courtside watching the Summer Jazz do their thing with teammates like Rudy Gobert and Jae Crowder. Jayson Tatum, who finished just behind Mitchell in the 2018 ROY race, is not playing in Summer League, either. Guys who average 14 points and 5 rebounds a night with 48-43-83 shooting splits during the regular season of their rookie year and then operate as the de facto No. 1 option of a team that makes the conference finals during the playoffs do not play in Summer League prior to their second season. That’s how it works.