If I had told a layman that I flew out to Las Vegas specifically to watch basketball, they'd tell me I was insane, illogical, but the predominant question would remain: why? Of which I'd say: Summer League NBA basketball, no doubt attracting more skepticism and defying the gravities of logic. When presented with Vegas, one does Vegas, and less so with the never-ending amalgamate of D-League stars, undrafted rookies and veterans trying to make a name for themselves. It isn't so much that the games aren't aesthetically pleasing—everyone agrees on this—it's the location duality between Vegas and everyplace else.
This year, I got to tag along with Nate Parham for the opportunity to watch the Golden State Warriors live and closer than the usual nosebleeds without a credential. And though I didn't get a chance to talk to any of the players, the experience was wholly different than that of someone looking to pass the time after a long night of questionable decisions. The seats were first come, first serve and though there were plenty of empty seats, it was a much different experience watching basketball for fun or in relative earnest.
A year ago, I had stayed in Vegas for a couple days, but only as a fan watching the likes of Damian Lillard, Josh Selby and even Royce White fill up the box scores. The feelings of a game as a fan felt more like a backdrop; the pounding of the rock beating against the hardwood only interrupted by the abrupt breaks of the rim and net. This provided an intoxicating and unsuspecting remedy to the incessant throbbing in my head. More importantly, watching a game as someone not invested—as opposed to someone writing—makes it easier and even less stressing. It's rather easy to let the mind wander for a few plays, but perhaps on a larger degree, it's different watching a game this way. Instead of worrying about whether the other game is in the key for too long on defense, where the backside rotations are coming from, and noting the issues with the lack of shooters on the weakside, it's much less thought-consuming to key in on the key player of the single possession: the ball-handler. More often than not, said dribbler, especially in the case of these Summer League games, will end up shooting, attempting a highlight-reel pass or make nothing out of nothing.
Conversely, it's much more stressful, if that is possible watching a game we all love, to diagram the strategic ins and outs of a single possession. There's much more to basketball that just the simple act of shooting, passing and rebounding. The process is so often missed in the grand scheme of ball-watching that makes it impossible to consider where and how these players accumulate their statistics. On a single Warriors possession last night, Bazemore ran a high pick-and-roll, expecting to probe the defense or kick it to the release valve, Draymond Green. In reality, the play was already over before it started. The Mavericks had shifted their defense to the middle, packing the paint, easily two steps away from each corner spot. Bazemore rose, dropped an over-the-head pass a la Steph Curry and Green—an excellent passer when given the opportunity—took a dribble in, sucking in the defense, and kicked it to a wide-open Scott Machado (who proceeded to airball).
I'm not implying that it's a significantly smarter way to watch a game but that it's a fresh outlet with which to glean information. There's much more than meets the eye during a game and watching for specific player skill-sets, team tendencies and coaching trends are as integral to what we intend to learn as a contract itself to these players.
Like my high school coach once taught me: Stop watching the ball, watch the court.