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2021 NBA Summer League Preview

todayAugust 8, 2021 7

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By: Alexander Chan

The NBA Summer League returned to Las Vegas for the 16th time on Sunday. Summer league games will take place at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion. All thirty NBA teams will be participating in the Las Vegas summer league. The format for this year’s summer league provides that each team will play at least five games. However, only the top two teams from their first four games will play for the summer league championship on August 17th.

Fans have a treasure trove of opportunities to see the top picks from this year’s draft, some second- and third-year players, and undrafted college basketball stars, veterans and international players hoping to land a spot on a NBA roster. NBA superstars and head coaches frequently stop by these summer league games to cheer on their future and potential colleagues. For example, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Frank Vogel sat courtside for Sunday’s contest between the Lakers and Suns.

It may be difficult to choose which games to attend or watch with so many interesting contests. This preview looks at the players that should be must-see TV during this year’s summer league. For those interested in responsible sports wagering, this article also provides a prediction on which team will hoist the summer league championship.

The Top 5 Draft Picks

Fans will want to put any game involving the Pistons, Rockets, Cavaliers, Raptors, and Magic on their summer league calendar. These were the teams that drafted the first five players in last month’s NBA draft. The first five picks were Cade Cunningham for the Pistons, Jalen Green for the Rockets, Evan Mobley for the Cavaliers, Scottie Barnes for the Raptors, and Jalen Suggs for the Magic.

Cunningham, Mobley, Barnes, and Suggs were standouts in their single year in college. Green opted to play in the G-League instead of college basketball after graduating high school. Summer league will be the first time that most basketball fans will have had an opportunity to see the second pick of the NBA draft. Green impressed in his summer league debut by scoring 23 points in the Houston Rockets’ 84-76 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Huge expectations await these five players as they will all be starting their careers with arguably the five worst teams in the NBA. Summer league represents the first professional test for these potential future stars.

Breakout Star

Every summer league seems to have its unexpected breakout star. In the 2017 summer league, that breakout star was Donovan Mitchell, the 13th pick of the NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. Mitchell’s summer league performance was a precursor of bigger things to come as Mitchell is now a two-time all-star. The question is who will pick up the mantle of surprise star in this year’s summer league.

Davion Mitchell, the ninth pick by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA draft, has turned heads already with his performance during the California Classic. Davion Mitchell led the Baylor Bears to this year’s college basketball championship. Only time will tell whether history will repeat itself for another Mitchell but Davion Mitchell’s presence makes Kings’ games a destination spot for fans during this summer league.

The Dreamers

Unfortunately, most of the players who will be suiting up for summer league will never play in an actual NBA game. Many of these players will be recognizable from their time in college or from other pursuits. Two players unlikely to make a NBA roster but interesting to watch nonetheless are Mac McClung for the Lakers and LiAngelo Ball for the Hornets.

McClung had a successful college career at Georgetown and Texas Tech. His highlight plays have been known to go viral. McClung has already made a difference for the Lakers’ summer league squad as his clutch late-game shooting helped the Lakers escape with a one-point victory over the Suns on Sunday. LiAngelo Ball is the son of the outspoken Lavar Ball and brothers to NBA players Lonzo and LaMelo Ball. LiAngelo had a strong debut with the Hornets’ summer league team by scoring sixteen points and connecting on five three-pointers.


The Miami Heat’s summer league team should be considered the favorite to win the summer league championship. While the Heat’s summer league squad lacks the star power of other teams, Miami’s roster includes KZ Okpala, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus, three players who already have significant and quality NBA experience. The Heat’s summer league roster also includes former UNLV center Brandon McCoy. McCoy is the only former Running Rebel who will playing in this year’s summer league as he hopes to join Christian Wood, Derrick Jones, and Khem Birch in the NBA. The Heat opened the summer league with a bang with a 97-77 rout over the Denver Nuggets.

Most sportsbooks are posting lines for summer league action and riding with the Heat for the duration of the summer league may be a smart bet.


Written by: Ashton Ridley

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