NBA Summer League is a great time to watch young players develop. However, it has the potential to be much more– a solution that could keep kids in school longer, improve the evaluation of top talent, and even turn the NBA into a true year-round sport…
This past weekend I went to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. I was on my feet cheering loudly as the Lakers and Sixers helped shatter the record for attendance and D’Angelo Russell was hitting his game-winning three-pointer. However, the raucous crowd was there mainly to see the showdown between the top two picks of the 2016 NBA Draft– Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
All of this excitement over the two most lauded NBA prospects finally playing each other got me reconsidering the potential of the NBA Summer League: What would happen if the Summer League was a precursor to the NBA Draft as opposed to its product?
Of course, the way the teams are currently constructed would have to be replaced– as the teams that make up Summer League wouldn’t be directly affiliated to NBA Franchises. Instead, the top young talent from around the world could come and compete against each other in a way to definitively display their abilities.
While this would certainly create some complications (the development of non-rookie talent), it would also create three key solutions to more pressing issues. I will break these down one at a time.
1. Increase the Success of College Players
It seems like every year around the NCAA tournament we begin to discuss college athlete compensation. For the record, I am absolutely in favor of paying these athletes who help to rake in billions of dollars. For those of you who are uncertain about compensation of athletes, I am not going to spend the time here breaking down the entire argument as others have already done that for me.
Instead, I will propose that a Pre-Draft Summer League could help to bridge the gap between those that want to keep collegiate sports unpaid and those that think these young men should be able to capitalize on their very small earning windows.
With the proposed Summer League occurring before the Draft, there could be an opportunity for collegiate athletes to enter the Summer League and then go back to school. Much like taking a summer job, there should be no conflict in these athletes taking a salary when they are not in school. While the NCAA’s current rules are a bit more draconian, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be willing to make some concessions as they have recently.
What’s better, these summer forays into the professional world of sports can allow for players to make a bit of money, but also further evaluate whether or not they are ready for the NBA. Alleviating some financial pressure as well as a more accurate assessment of talent could very well lead to more athlete retention for colleges as well as lead to more prosperous careers for the players.
2. Greater Talent Scouting for Teams
Thon Maker very well might be the best case of “if you’re watching me in Summer League, it’s too late.”
One of the more unique cases in recent NBA talent evaluation, Thon Maker was a young man who, for various reasons, was allowed to enter the NBA draft without ever having to play in college. This wildly affected his “draft stock” as his range on draft day was anywhere from a top 10 pick to the middle of the second round.
Why was Thon Maker such a wild card? Because no one quite knew how his game would translate with more increased competition. And because GMs in 2016 are far more risk-averse. However, in his first week of play Maker has proven to be quite the prospect. While there’s no consensus yet on the young center, few would argue against the fact that the first couple games of Summer League have helped to better evaluate the young man’s talent. He belongs.
In addition, using NCAA basketball to evaluate talent is inherently flawed. Take Ben Simmons as the prime example.
Simmons played for LSU this year, a team that was mediocre at best and then failed to make the NCAA tournament. In an optimal scouting environment, Ben Simmons is playing in the most important games with the closest representation of a professional basketball team. Furthermore, last Saturday was the first time all year that Simmons and Ingram had shared the court.
In a world where teams have to decide between these players, to not have a means to get them competing against each other is not just less-than-optimal, it’s potentially hazardous for these organizations.
3. Keep the NBA Machine Churning
The NBA is a business, and few changes will be made without a monetary incentive. With complaints that the NBA season is long enough as it is, teams are limited in their ability to increase revenue.
However, the NBA Summer League provides a new opportunity for fresh talent. And while the NBA Draft is already an exciting event that is growing in popularity, placing it almost immediately after the NBA Finals seems like a poor decision. Why squeeze two marquee events back-to-back? Not to mention the fact that NBA Free Agency takes off the week after…
Imagine the ratings for a prospect-driven league that aims to answer which of these rising stars is the most deserving of the first pick in the draft? The increased revenue would help out the other Summer League players as well, who right now make little to no money while risking their health and careers. And with the talent pool consisting of players yet to enter the league, there’s no conflict with those proponents of extra rest.
To devise a system that can aid in compensation for collegiate athletes without compromising their eligibility, improve the talent evaluation for front offices before making franchise-altering decisions, and to continue to drive popularity for the sport of basketball, I strongly feel that this re-configuring of the NBA Summer League has the potential to be the most optimal version. And, quite frankly, would also be a ton of fun…