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Why NBA Summer League is now Worth Watching

Since the Warriors swept the Cavs in the finals last year there’s been a lot of negativity floated towards the NBA. Some disappointment over super teams like the Warriors is warranted, sure, but talk of “the NBA is dead” or “the NBA is no fun” is just hyperbole. If you really think the NBA is “dead” or “no fun”, then you haven’t been watching this year’s NBA Summer League.

The Summer League has been generally ignored in the past by both passionate and passive NBA fans, but with the changes that were made to Summer League this year the whole thing is a lot more interesting. For starters, this is the first time in history where all 30 NBA teams are participating in Summer League. So no matter what team you root for or where your favorite collegiate player got drafted, you can see them play some games, which is pretty cool.

The other change to the Summer League is that now, after 3 qualification games, the summer concludes with a March Madness style knockout tournament. This is great not just because you can now get a taste of March Madness in July, but also because it has made this year’s Summer League games much more competitive. To be honest I’d argue that the Summer League semi-final game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the LA Lakers on July 16th was better than any of the four NBA finals games.

The game went to double overtime with second year player Josh Hart of the Lakers, who promised his coach he’d win the Summer League championship and MVP, up against Cleveland’s new hope, 19-year-old Collin Sexton from Alabama, and the matchup was intense.

The game ended on a last second 3 point attempt that went just off the front rim, and the Cavs lost, but this game was packed with great plays and story lines. Aside from Sexton (27 points, 2 steals) vs Hart (37 points, 9 rebounds), and the drama of Cavs vs Lakers with Lebron in the building, another great story to come out of this game was the performance of a lesser known rookie, Svi Mykhailiuk.

If you don’t know Svi, he was a Ukrainian basketball prodigy, and played professionally for Ukraine’s national team at 16 before he came to play basketball in the US at KU. Svi started at KU when he was just 17 and spent all four years at Kansas, often playing second fiddle to great Kansas point guards like Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, but in all four years he never gave up the number 2 guard spot. Svi was not expected to go high in the draft, considered a great shot maker but with athleticism questions, he’s 6’8” with a 6’5” wingspan (weird), and he certainly wasn’t expected to make an impact on a Laker’s team that just signed Lebron. However, in this summer league playoff game versus the Cavs, if you were watching, I’d bet you now believe in Svi. Svi had 31 points and 4 rebounds on 60% shooting hitting six threes, some of which were just audacious attempts right in the face of multiple Cleveland defenders. It didn’t matter, splash.

Svi if you don’t watch the NBA Summer League then you won’t get to hear about great players like Svi and learn their stories. You also won’t ever get to see all 30 NBA teams in a battle royal for a championship, and chances are you won’t get to see players playing as passionately as these young guys play while battling for their jobs.

If you don’t watch the NBA Summer League then you’re missing great basketball. You’re missing a sneak peek into what the NBA will be in the near future, and you’ll probably be frustrated when the regular NBA season comes back around and you have to watch the Warriors blow the whole league out again. When that happens, don’t get upset. Don’t protest that “the league is broken” or that “the NBA is no fun”, just relax and get excited for Summer League, where there are no super teams, just good hard fought basketball games where everyone is trying to make an impact and make the cut.

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