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Vegas Summer League - A Breakdown of VSL Philosophies

How NBA teams think about prospects is on full display in VSL.

NBA: Houston Rockets-Media Day
Table Tennis Anyone? Lose and I take your 2nd rounder! Muhahaha!
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Two games into VSL, and two wins for the Rockets. That’s nice. The comeback against VSL GSW was enjoyable.

It’d be fun if there was some sort of tangible benefit to winning Summer League, now that all the teams are here. Perhaps the winner should get an extra pick in the middle of the 2nd round, or at the end of it. Or an extra two-way contract slot. The NBA needs more rewards and more contests, more ways to make the action relevant to fans. (Which I hope to discuss later in the summer.)

Honestly, I most enjoyed the sleepy minimal team mixes of the past. The low intensity spotlight and days of just chatting with players and major NBA figures appears gone. I regret I didn’t make my way out to Vegas to play table tennis with (and lose to) Daryl Morey. But the NBA is where the NFL was around 2005, or golf was when Tiger was hottest. People just can’t get enough of it. They’ll scrutinize undrafted signees. They’ll watch whatever the hell Big3 is - the Seniors Tour of the NBA, I suppose. Most especially, they’ll watch VSL.

In my view, VSL is a test of organizational depth. More than basketball, the games are a contest of of approaches to developing talent, a measure of how detail-oriented a team is. The play is going to be ragged, guards will be favored, the turnovers might drive you insane, but that’s the same for every team. Draft picks, long-term developmental guys, knock-around international players, fliers, that’s generally what everyone sends. It’s a fair test for all of them, and it allows those athletes to flourish without the full weight of the NBA on them.

But not every team sees VSL that way. Not at all.

Without further ado, here’s my first rough taxonomy of VSL teams.

First Drive in The Brand New Car

Just got a high lottery pick and by God, we’re going to show him off. Check out that acceleration! Look how shiny! He’s a baby god! Some might say he’s a cross between Jordan, Hakeem and Bird, but he’s clearly way better than that. 24 points on 32 shots? 24 big points, dude. Other guys? You mean the guys who once occupied his spot, and now need a 10,000 mile service, and maybe a new home? Perhaps they’ve learned something? They’ll look good against the other kids, anyway, and maybe we can move ‘em. Whatever, smell that new player smell! That’s not AXE, my friend, that’s the good stuff.

Year Three, Still at VSL

So yeah, we’ve got the early first rounder gone wrong. We suppose the term is “failure to launch”. Or maybe our franchise cornerstone has battled injuries. We’ve got some high draft picks on this team that, for whatever reason, haven’t jelled as reliable NBA players. Sometimes the spark of getting to play freely with lesser talents, or at least younger ones, lights a fire under these stalled prospects. Worst case, we can show him off dominating someone, anyone, that guy with the baffling name from the Chinese league, at any rate. We’ll kick the can down the road if that happens. Otherwise we’re obligated to give up if it doesn’t. Our VSL team is often built around making the big time pick look good, and subsequently offers few opportunities for the other poor souls toiling away to make a moribund 21 year old multimillionaire look good.

Let’s Just Get This Over With

The bad romance of VSL. The restaurant wine list written by the giant wine distributor. There are no young prospects of note on the NBA team itself, so we, aka Management, has cobbled together a roster of guys our favored agents asked us to bring to Summer League as a kind gesture. Maybe they won’t rip our throats out next time. Some of their guys might even be useful, or were in fact very useful to a team in Ukraine, or Australia. There are some guys you heard of in the NCAA tourney four years ago, and never heard about again. But you’ve heard of them! Almost no one is going to get an NBA job no matter how well they play. This is the VSL team of a franchise that wouldn’t know talent if it bit them in the ass. The coaches and front-office guys are mildly excited about eating steak and sushi at the Vegas headline restaurants and playing blackjack at the Wynn. Good luck, gentlemen!

We Are Not So Different, You & I

We’re a good, no, great, NBA team. We know what we do, and what we are. We have a plan. We bring in guys, any guys, from anywhere, if there’s a chance they might be able to do what we do. It could be shoot, it could be defend and move without the ball, it could be being really tall and athletic, it could be cerebral power, ethics and devotion to fine wine. We bring unheralded guys in quantity to VSL because we don’t care about labels, mock drafts, prestige schools or any of that. We’ve turned factory equipment, robots and wild animals into MVP caliber players and we can do it for you, too, kid. Or not. We buy in bulk, pick the best and there’s a new crop every year.

Yeah, We’re Going to Win, You’re All 27

You guys are all seasoned pros. Not NBA pros, but you’re paid to play basketball, and given some of those foreign rules, possibly carry a franchise. You want a shot at the NBA, not Belgium. We get it. We don’t care that you’re not 18, because we’re not expecting miracles here. Ultimately we want a guy or two who can play 8 minutes competently. If you prove you can handle more, cool, because we’re not exactly loaded with talent down the bench. In the meantime, because you’re adult men, and dedicated craftsmen, we expect you to kick those 20 year olds’ asses. Oh, yeah, there’s a pick of ours here, too. We have hopes for him, but if he gets punched for being an arrogant prick, he gets punched. Time to grow up.

You’re All Auditioning for One Spot

We don’t care what your agent told you, there’s maybe one roster spot available here. Maybe. Something’s up at the NBA level, and the team is static. It could be a matter of a raft of questionable signings. It could be a great team that’s largely filled out. It could be a team full of higher picks that haven’t been paid the big bucks (uh oh) or a bunch of old guys because management or the coach only trusts veterans. In any case, all but one player is going to the G-League, Abroad, or Home. Odds are it’s the draft pick. Two way contracts? Either already full, or it smacks too much of effort. The selfishness of the guards on these teams is breathtaking, nobody passes, and they steal rebounds from teammates. Team most likely to fight each other.

You Are Here To Confirm Our Brilliance

Every single one of you is, statistically (perhaps), an NBA player. You (possibly) possess one or more (potentially) elite abilities or skills. You dominated those 8th graders in that Norwegian church gym so thoroughly that the model gives you a 0.05% chance of being the next Lebron, and that my dear 38,704, uh, Sven, makes you an excellent gamble! We’re all kind of on vacation here in the very capital of gambling, after all. You, ah, whoever you are, are both a low risk move and a de minimis sort of expense in the NBA scheme of things. Thus, I don’t feel dumb playing these odds. So, you do you! It’s why you’re here! Fortune and Glory (provisionally) awaits!

Precious, my Precious!

We’re not joyriding around with our shiny new high lottery pick, no way! Might get a scratch, a ding. Then where would we be? We don’t care if our fans have been waiting years for a glimmer of hope. Bad things happen when guys play basketball, bad things. We know because the guys we pick mostly do bad things or bad things happen to them. If the inevitable injury happens in July, rather than November, it is so much worse, somehow, isn’t it? He what? Has the sniffles? He felt a little dehydrated yesterday? SHUT HIM DOWN. NOW! CODE RED! We can’t risk this. We’re going to lose 60 games, and if he’s not there for that because of a freak injury where’s the hope? WHERE IS THE HOPE? Put him in bubble wrap. No, do a precautionary MRI. Prehab, that’s the key. Game? What game?

If you’ve got some more, post them below.



This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Spot on!
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Not on!
    (2 votes)
  • 58%
    You’ve watched too much Summer League. We’re worried.
    (46 votes)
  • 13%
    Mavs rule VSL, others drool. Mavs in three VSL games!
    (11 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now