The 2017 NBA Summer Leagues have been as entertaining as projected. They have also produced the surprises associated with the various Summer Leagues histories, since the Summer League became better organized with more guaranteed attendances. And as it has always been, new elements are also sprouting from the annual tournaments.
The biggest lesson from the Summer League has got to be a reminder of the willingness of the NBA front office to adapt to changes. That is what the introduction of the two-way rule from the start of next season underlines. The two-way rule simply states that the salary received by players is dependent on where they play. The addition of the 45-day clause – whereby a team can keep a player from the G League on its roster for 45 days, instead of the usual 10 days – will make the G League more appealing to undrafted players. It gives them a chance to dream of possible assimilation into the League, after (possibly) earning an NBA level salary for 45 days if they play well.
This rule has been in effect in other sports, but it’s just being introduced into the NBA and the G League. That’s good news for a player like Luke Kornet. The 7-foot-1 center was undrafted in June, but starred for New York Knicks in Orlando. He stretched the floor, put up 3-pointers, recorded blocks and was generally effective in a poor Knicks side. Now we know Kornet can effectively serve as backup for Kristaps Porzingis. And the Knicks will welcome the chance to hold on to him for 45 days, and pay him an NBA salary should the team lose Porzingis or Willy Hernangomez.
We also learned from the Summer League that Lonzo Ball is more than hype. His father, LaVar, bent the ears of the media out of shape with his non-stop talking and marketing of the family brand even before the Draft came into view. LaVar Ball got into arguments, and found creative ways to annoy his audience at every opportunity; and we wondered how the pressure will affect his son. We needn’t have worried. The kid is not only shrugging off the father-induced pressure, he is flat out balling. The 36 points he drilled against Philadelphia 76ers, his highest points total so far this summer, turned out to be the appetizer. He followed it up with his first ever triple-double against Boston Celtics in his third game, and did it again in his fourth game in the victory over Cleveland.
No player in the 13-year history of the Las Vegas Summer League has scored a triple-double; Lonzo has done it twice in four games. Damian Lillard, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson and Glen Rice Junior are recent MVPs of the Vegas tournament, but Lonzo Ball is rewriting history and his name will stand alone. He’s helped take his team to the Las Vegas Summer League Championship as the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 108-98— Ball added 16 points and 10 assists to go with four rebounds and a steal. It’s the first time in Vegas Summer League history that a player has produced four games with 10+ assists.
Did we just get a peek of the future of the NBA with the innovative winners-decider this summer, or not? The scoring system was tweaked for the group games of the Summer League: whichever team is ahead at the end of each quarter gets points, to be added up at the end of the game. The team with the most points wins. Which means: if a team led by a point or two each quarter for three quarters, they automatically win the game. Teams were therefore forced to be competitive throughout, every quarter. That would mean end of ‘garbage time’. Or will it? Fact is, the experiment gave us something to look at, and even if the ever-innovating NBA doesn’t take the rule beyond the summer, it was interesting to see how it affected teams.
The Summer League again confirmed to us that hard work can beat talent. Now with all respect to every player drafted ahead of him, Bam Adebayo was the revelation of first the Orlando Summer League and then the Las Vegas edition. Africa saluted Frank Ntilikina and looked forward to seeing what he was made of at the Summer League; the French/Rwandan didn’t show up, but the American/Nigerian Adebayo did, big time. Adebayo filled the lane, ran the floor, protected the rim, and was buzzing for the Miami Heat. He looked the best of the Draft, of all players of African descent selected in June. His average 17.5 ppg was fifth overall in Orlando, and his 8.3 rpg average was third. And he added 15.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg average over three games in Vegas. Adebayo may have Hassan Whiteside and some other vets ahead of him in Miami, but we now know not to bet against his huge work ethic.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi