Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vegas Summer League: What happens there stays there

There are a lot of people out there who have insisted for years that Vegas needs a pro sports team. The combination of sports, athletes, parties, gambling and strippers make it Eden for professional athletes, their entourages and their fans. Not to mention those people supporting their socially acceptable gambling problems with sports bets.

But for an abbreviated season, Las Vegas is home to professional basketball. It’s not exactly a minor league and it’s not exactly the NBA, it’s the NBA Vegas Summer League. It’s one of several summer leagues the NBA runs that FSC will be reviewing and features an interesting mix of legit NBA players, high draft picks and “Hey, I can beat that guy in HORSE!” guys.

Among the legit players trying to work on their games this summer are Sebastian Telfair, who wants to make a good impression with the Celtics now that Portland has traded him, and Shaun Livingston, who’s probably trying to replicate playing in college. The great thing about these guys is that they are alternately mailing it in and putting up legit numbers. Against some questionable talent (we’ll get there in a minute) Livingston has put up 4 in one game and 17 in another. Telfair can drop 5 or 26, depending on what he had for lunch in Caesar’s or what kind of day he had at the craps table. In the NBA this is understandable. Guys have off nights. In the summer league? That’s crap.

The highly touted rookies aren’t even hit or miss, they’re just “Eh.” Andrea Bargnani, the first pick in the draft, looks pretty good, averaging about 13 points and 4 rebounds. But other than a lanky, 7’ (wink wink, nudge nudge), kinda awkward 20-year old from Italy (is it too early for the nickname “Principessa?”) simply getting some playing time in America, is the Vegas League any good for him? Is it providing him a legit-NBA simulation? Do we learn anything about him as a big league player in Vegas?

And it’s the last group of players – my favorite group – that leads me to conclude that no, we learn nothing about players in the Vegas Summer League. What they do in Vegas doesn’t travel with them to the NBA.

The guys playing at the Y last week, the guys you were beating in shoot arounds… they make the Vegas League entertaining and fun, but they don’t make it a good NBA litmus test. There are guys like Casey Jacobsen, who in the NBA didn’t manage 6 points a game, but is averaging almost three times that in Vegas, solidifying Vegas’s well-earned reputation for keeping the things that happen there. There are also players like Rodney Billups, whose fantastic role as the brother of Chauncey Billups guaranteed his Vegas roster spot. Don’t worry, though, he’s earning it: 1.7 points in 9.3 minutes a game. Hmm, on second thought, that stat line will absolutely follow him to the NBA from Vegas… if he ever makes the big show.

But my favorite dude is Paul Shirley, a forward putting up “Better than that guy at the gym” numbers with the Timberwolves. He has an incredibly self-indulgent basketball diary with ESPN, and you can read all about his Vegas League experience here, here, here, and here. And you should read his past exploits running through the minor leagues of pro basketball. It’s worth it. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, he’s just so thoroughly miserable in a way that’s all his own fault.

The Vegas league is entertaining and rightfully has its proponents. It’s not the same caliber as the NBA, but there’s more talent than minor leagues like the ABA and the D-League. And there are more compelling subplots too. Nobody’s in the ABA because they’re someone’s brother. But don’t expect interesting back stories and talent to translate from Vegas to the NBA. What happens in the Vegas Summer League frequently curls up and dies there, or at least camps out at the craps table.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:37 PM  

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