- You know what’s fun? Live-betting an NBA game while inside the arena and then going to pick up your cash winnings afterward.
- I was wrong on Jaren Jackson. The kid is legit, showing off great range and unparalleled effort during Summer League.
- Trae Young has had a lot of trouble when trying to isolate. There’s still hope, but his stock is at an all-time low.
LAS VEGAS — The first thing you need to know about Summer League is that reality has no bearing here. The threads of normal existence bend and waver, shimmering in the margins like a television signal fluttering out on UHF.
Vegas, in and of itself, is a strange place that exists outside of convention. Things never close, the late hours give way to warped biological clocks, your lungs are full of supplementary oxygen and hydrofluorocarbons.
Summer League, in and of itself, is bizarre. It’s a never-ending stream of games with vaguely familiar names always just slightly off of what you’ve come to expect from professional basketball.
It’s as if you took an NBA game and cloned it, over and over again, losing a little bit of the genetic makeup along the way. It’s coaches who usually wear expensive suits rocking cargo shorts and polos. It’s NBA players on vacation, sitting courtside in shorts and T-shirts yelling at teammates they vaguely know. It’s everyone, from scouts to executives to players to coaches to media, watching players miss alley-oops off bad passes, careening out of bounds and a constant barrage of “S—!” followed by loud claps from players angry they have lost yet another ball out of bounds.
Everyone is hung over.
Everyone is going out tonight.
Here’s more from life in the basketball geodome amid Las Vegas’ uninhabitable heat at NBA Summer League.
THE BETTING LIFE TO COME
I signed up for the Westgate’s app to get a sense of what it would be like to live -bet an NBA game you’re actually attending. Many offshore books have mobile websites or apps, of course. This isn’t some revolutionary idea. But I wanted to try an actual casino’s process to simulate what we could be seeing in the coming months as mobile technology expands with more states passing their own legalization legislation following the Supreme Court decision this spring.
I also wanted to bet on Summer League, because, well, if you’re going to go degenerate, you might as well go all the way.
After setting up my account, I zeroed in on a few games to spread my bets around at three different levels. Most notable to me? It felt different than placing a bet at an offshore. The mechanism is the same, but something about knowing I could go and cash out that night did increase the stakes. It also made watching and analyzing these games much more fun. Yes, it is largely an exercise in futility based on how random the performances are. However, the bad basketball actually accentuates the excitement when the frantic pace sets in. Things can turn quickly, and most of the games are close.
Betting live for a multigame event was also fun for the little rushes as info came out. “Oh, the Cavs pulled Cedi Osman? Quick, hedge the Bulls!” “Wait, where’s Dennis Smith Jr.? Is he playing?!”
Betting through the Westgate app accounts for a significant amount of the book’s handle, according to Assistant Sportsbook Manager Jeff Sherman. It provides a model as corporations extend operations into various new locales.
This meshes with what the NBA envisions as well. You’ll be able to log onto your phone, make a live bet from your seat on how many points Damian Lillard will score in the fourth quarter, and add that to your experience. Not only does this add another layer to the fan experience, but it will make what are often routine, soul-killing regular-season games into something fans can remain engaged in.
Then fans will be able to either withdraw directly to their account or head to the local book to cash out. You go to a game, you cheer on the home team, you make some wagers on the opponent, and you go out after with your winnings.
It’s a pretty enjoyable experience. Again, DFS has allowed something similar for years, but the possibilities are exciting as the scope broadens and bookmakers continue to get more creative with their props. As a not-so-random example, I would have been all-in on betting Trae Young missed field goals plus assists as the Hawks continued to get waxed.
The future is coming. Let’s just hope it’s not as nerve-wracking as hoping an undrafted guard who was playing in the Balkans last year can drain the fadeaway game-winner.
THE TRIPLE-J TRIPLE-MANIA
I didn’t buy Jaren Jackson stock in the draft. I watched all of his possessions in college, and, sure, he looked good. But playing against the good job, good effort kids of the Big Ten just didn’t sell me. I didn’t trust the shot despite the numbers.
I trust it now. The kid is legit, even with the standard Summer League precautions.
It’s not just the 3-point shooting he’s shown, which has been phenomenal:
His effort has stood out most to scouts and media. The kid goes all out like he’s trying to stay on the roster, despite being a top-five pick. This chase-down came at a point when he had run out of gas and was trying just to catch his wind, and yet he wound up diving into the media section, nearly spearing my sternum with his effort.
The Grizzlies also signed Kyle Anderson this week. Anderson can’t spread the floor, but he’s a great cutter and passer, an awesome defender. Memphis may get back to being a top-10 defensive unit next season if Mike Conley is healthy. If Jackson provides enough offense with his floor spacing and finishing, there’s a chance Memphis might actually be good. It’s a lot to put on Jackson to help that turnaround after a handful of Summer League games, but it’s the way he plays that inspires some confidence in a roster that is just two seasons removed from making the playoffs.
And as a reminder, Memphis’ season win total is going to be pitifully low after a horrendous 2017-18 campaign. Something to keep an eye on.
- There is a continuing mystery among those in the NBA community about why Wayne Ellington hasn’t been signed. He shot 41% last year for Miami, with a 53.5% effective field-goal percentage off dribble handoffs, which was 81st percentile. However, Miami is cap-strapped, starting to brush up against the luxury tax and still has to figure out the Dwyane Wade situation. Ellington is a stellar remaining value still on the market.
- Mo Bamba is just impossibly big. His arms are helicopter blades. The Magic’s defense might be elite this year with Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. They just have so much length.
- Wendell Carter Jr. turned heads, showcasing an all-around game. Two scouts brought up the Al Horford comparison. I still have worries about Carter vs. NBA speed, but it’s another sign of how much the bigs have shown off in this Summer League.
- In related news, Trae Young has caused mild panic among his backers in the media. There’s a strong argument to make that he needs to be on a team with structure, but it’s concerning how defenders have essentially wrapped him in a carpet and thrown him in a trunk when he tries to isolate. He’s made great passes, though. There’s still hope, but his stock is at an all-time low.
- Aaron Holiday is going to be the backup point guard for Indiana, and he’s going to be good. One thing I’ve learned to track is assists in Summer League. You have guys who have never played together, making cohesion difficult, and so many fringe point guards are just looking to score to get theirs. Holiday has nine assists in two games, which is good for Summer League, and some are pretty sick.
- Speaking of, the way some players mismanage their approach always bums me out. Talking to a Western Conference coach Friday, he lamented that so many players fail to do the things that would actually get them a job. If a big came into Summer League and just set good screens and played defense, he’d get a camp invite. If a guard just focused on setting up teammates and running the offense, he would get more attention. Quit trying to earn a guaranteed deal in Summer League. Get a camp invite where you can impress with your work ethic.
- Denver’s small forward depth after trading Wilson Chandler looked bleak. But you can expect the Nuggets to have Will Barton starting alongside Torrey Craig, who will most likely be re-signed as a reserve, in addition to Juancho Hernangomez and … Vlatko Cancar. If Cancar joins Denver his year, he might seriously play. He’s got a great feel for the game with a little shooting and some finishing. Denver’s Euro scouting continues to be top-notch.
- There is less expectation than ever of any changes to the playoff format in advance of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday.
- Monday is the point of no return for getting Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic on the floor together. If it doesn’t happen Monday, we won’t see Doncic until the fall. But Dallas has to reach an agreement on his buyout with Real Madrid, and then clear paperwork for his NBA contract. It’s looking less and less likely to happen. Meanwhile, it’s definitely time for Dallas to stop playing DSJ after a mediocre showing in Summer League.