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Summer League thoughts from two first-timers

Two Golden State of Mind writers took in the craziness of Summer League for the first time, and lived to tell the tale.

NBA: Summer League-San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Summer League is a wild time. There are too many basketball games to count, legends and celebrities everywhere, and an enormous amount of writers and bloggers. This year, Golden State of Mind sent three people to the bright lights of Vegas: Nate P., Charlie Stanton, and Brady Klopfer.

For the latter two, it was their first trip to Summer League, and their first extended time in Sin City. Here are their thoughts and reflections after the crazy event.

Not only is Summer League a strange scene, but Vegas is too. What immediately stuck out to you about Las Vegas?

Charlie Stanton: You land in Vegas and the strip looks like it’s 1,500 feet from the airport. And then you walk outside and it feels like you stepped in an oven. It was literally 105 degrees at 9:30 at night. After arriving, I visited the strip by myself and checked out Caesar’s Palace. Within 5 minutes of being there, I saw Bill Simmons and David Chang and others hanging out by a black jack table. As a blogger and lover of food, it was my instinct to talk to them, but then I realized they probably valued their anonymity as much as anything. So I didn’t. This was a theme for the weekend. As a blogger, especially one without a press credential for the weekend, it was strange to feel like a part of the whole thing, but in reality, quite removed.

Brady Klopfer: The most striking part of Vegas, to me, is that it stands out as a bubble of civilization in the middle of a vast swath of land not meant for people. Whether you arrive by car or by plane, you see nothing, and then nothing, and then nothing, and then WHAM!.....Vegas. You step out of the airport or out of your car and 110-degree weather hits you in the face, but don’t worry, the entire city is designed around people being inside with the air-conditioning. It’s in the middle of nowhere; it’s hotter than you realize heat can be; it’s utterly abnormal and unlike anything else in humanity. And yet, it’s there, entirely designed for people, in the least predictable of places. And while I can’t imagine ever living there, I also can’t imagine not going back.

What was your favorite part about Summer League?

CS: The NBA converges on Vegas for Summer League and it felt like one big community gathering of very tall and talented people. The number of famous writers, players and coaches who just walk right by you is thrilling. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the “closeness” of it all. I sat at mid-court, a few rows up from the sidelines all weekend. I’ve never watched professional basketball so close to the action.

BK: I realize the official name is “Las Vegas Summer League”, but for all intents and purposes it could be changed to “Las Vegas Basketball Nerd Convention.” Most of the people whose basketball stories you read are there. Most of the people you interact with on basketball Twitter are there. You take in 10 hours of basketball a day, then go out with a bunch of people who want to spend the evening talking about basketball. It’s nonstop basketball. And it’s utterly beautiful.

To answer more specifically, I was fortunate enough to have media access, and if I thought it was a basketball nerd convention in the stands and media rooms, it’s really a basketball nerd convention in the tunnels where the big rigs hang out. NBA superstars, executives, coaches, and agents wander around like minglers at a house party. Harrison Barnes tripped and fell into me. A staffer asked Jerry West to move out of the way, then checked to make sure Adrian Wojnarowski had a media credential. At one point I observed an animated conversation between Steve Kerr, Rick Carlisle, Adam Silver, and Bob Myers, in which Kerr proceeded to imitate a foul-baiter so intensely that he fell over and Myers had to catch him. It’s a glimpse into the lives of all these people we obsess over.

What confused or frustrated you about Summer League?

CS: Watching 4 games per day, one after the other, is a perfect way to live life. That said, somewhere in the middle of game three, the brain enters a Summer League haze where nobody is good, nobody is bad and the orange ball with black stripes just clanks against the hoop. Other than that, Summer League is perfect.

BK: Charlie nailed it. During the first game, I was tweeting thoughts on prospects every 30 seconds. By the third, it was every ten minutes. By the fifth, I was legitimately having a difficult time focusing my eyes on the players. Repeat daily.

What lesser-known player separated himself do you think will surprise NBA fans?

CS: The Pistons drafted two intriguing players in the second round: Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown. I would have been happy if the Warriors drafted either of them at the end of the first round. Both players have potential to be defense specialists in the League. Be sure to follow their development this season.

BK: Élie Okobo. The 31st pick displayed highly impressive comfort and poise while running point for the Suns. His technique was stellar - great footwork, and a low, balanced dribble - but his understanding of the game stood out. Few rookies are able to contribute value immediately, and fewer still are able to do so while maintaining some semblance of All-Star potential. Okobo looks to be the rare second-round steal that can do both.

What player(s) didn’t impress too much?

CS: Orlando’s Melvin Frazier was a player who I hoped was on Golden State’s draft shortlist. In Orlando’s Summer League game against Phoenix, Frazier looked lost, especially on offense (I think he’ll be a good defender). His jump shot needs work. In his final season with Tulane, his three-point shooting percentage rose 12 points—Frazier will need to prove he can still shoot it against elite talent and show us all that we don’t suffer from judging a player from small sample size after one good shooting season.

BK: DeAndre Ayton. Admittedly this is confirmation bias, as I’m far lower on the number one overall pick than most are. Ayton looked Herculean in size and strength, but painfully pedestrian in skill. He was shockingly immobile on defense, appearing both unaware of where to be, and unsure of how to get there. Offensively he showed touch when at the rim, but had a nearly impossible time getting into deep position or creating his own shot. He put up big numbers, but that was more due to towering over much smaller Summer League players. Drafting Ayton was always about betting on upside, so the Suns shouldn’t be concerned, but it was a sharp reminder.

What non-rookie(s) should we keep an eye on?

CS: Current Celtic and former Cal Golden Bear, Jabari Bird, had a great Summer League. Danny Ainge took notice. It remains to be seen what Bird’s future in Boston will be. Boston still has a roster spot and a two-way contract left. Bird fits Boston’s system perfectly: he’s a 6’6” wing, and an athletic defender with a smooth jumper. Last season, Bird played on a two-way contract, and he averaged nearly 17 points a game in Summer League this year. If Boston chooses to go in another direction, another team will take a chance on Bird.

BK: On the first day in Vegas, Furkan Korkmaz dropped a 40-piece, and needed only 17 shots to do so. He was making threes from everywhere on the court, creating openings through a series of pump-fakes and jab steps, and getting to the rim at ease. After that, his summer slowed down dramatically, but he proved that he has a serious case of the buckets. He may not get much play in his second year, but in the next two or three years he should be ready to replace JJ Redick in the Sixers’ lineup. Elsewhere, 2017 lottery pick Jonathan Isaac was nothing short of phenomenal. The Magic will be bad, but the 3-5 combo of Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Mo Bamba will be a must-watch triumvirate of superhuman athleticism and length.

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