NBA Handicapping: Using Summer League Games To Better Your Game

NBA summer leagues are underway. They are being played in Orlando from July 5-9, and in Las Vegas from July 9-18. While they generally aren’t of much interest to fans, there are a few good reasons for NBA handicapping bettors to pay attention to the summer leagues. They aren’t likely to make or break your betting success during the regular season, but information is important, and there is lots of information to be gathered if you are looking for it. Here are four things to look for, and three things to be cautious of:

What To Look For

Coachable rookies – Stats by themselves aren’t particularly useful coming out of the league because of the different rules – 10 fouls instead of six, for example – and the general caliber and quality of play. When it comes to the hotshot rookies, therefore, what you are really looking for is not how well they perform, but how well they progress over the course of the course of the games. Tyreke Evans is a good example last year. He looked lousy in his first game – frenzied and uncontrolled. As the league progressed, though, Evans definitely settled into his game and showed marked improvement. In fact, he wound up as perhaps the most impressive player of the whole league.  By itself that wasn’t enough to tell us that Evans was going to be rookie of the year, but it did tell us that he was able to make adjustments and listen to those around him.

Journeymen and free agents who are working very hard – Lots of guys play in the summer leagues with hopes of landing a roster spot with strong play, or to secure a bigger role on their teams. Many of those guys don’t ending up looking like much in game play. Some, though, play like they are possessed. That clear determination can be a sign that the players are committed to turning their careers around, and they could be worth keeping in mind if and when they do land on a roster. Washington’s Nick Young is a good example. He was incredibly impressive at the summer league in Vegas – he had 36 points in his first game. With the Wizards last year he didn’t get as many opportunities as he would have liked, but he often looked very good when he did – he scored 16 or more points in seven of the last 11 games of the season. He was a guy that looked committed to improving his career, and that’s good to know.

Guys that look to be clearly above the field – If a guy stands out for his play – and especially if he exceeds expectations while doing so – then it can be a good sign that he’s ready to contribute in an impressive way during the season. Darren Collison stands out in this regard. He looked very good in Las Vegas – he scored well, penetrated effortlessly, owned the free throw line, and outplayed the more experienced George Hill in head-to-head play. He looked more comfortable and effective than many expected, and went on to be a very useful player during the season.

Sophomores elevating their game – Teams will send big name players entering their second season to the summer leagues to get them more settled and comfortable. If that player shows a notable swagger and confidence in their play then they could be poised for a solid season. Eric Gordon of the Clippers looked very good last summer. He set the tone, was very physical, and shot the lights out. He was coming off a good rookie year, and the performance was a clear sign that he was ready to progress. Though his stats weren’t significantly better in his second year than his first and he had to deal with an injury, his play when he was healthy was clearly advanced. As a sophomore he looked like he knew he belonged, and that he was confident in his role and abilities.

Points To Remember

Don’t read too much into it – This is still an exhibition league against random players. Most of the teams haven’t played together before much before their first game, and they aren’t playing any complicated systems or schemes. In short, this league bears little resemblance to the real thing. While you can spot individual players who could be ready to contribute, you’re making a real mistake if you figure that a summer league star is going to be a regular season star, or if you expect a team to take a big step forward because they dominate the summer league.

Look for context – By themselves the stats and results mean little, but they can mean much more when you consider what circumstances they occurred in. Did a young player put up big numbers when lined up against another hot rookie? Did a star player have an off day because a defender had a particularly good day? Did a player score a pile of points because he was getting countless opportunities, or was it because of razor sharp shooting? Who was a player playing beside and against when they had a big game? How and why something happened is far more important than what happened.

Consider the team’s approach – Some teams take summer leagues very seriously – they send their best young players, top assistants run the show, and scouts, management and the coaching staff are always present. Others don’t really care about the league, and their efforts show. The more a team puts into the league, the more you can read into their results.

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