Last month as teams gathered in Orlando and Las Vegas to evaluate young talent and watch (sometimes sloppy) basketball, it was hard not to hear the reminder that this was "only Summer League." Yesterday's Summer League heroes — paging Marco Belinelli — rarely become today's and tomorrow's future All Stars.
Unless the player is returning to the team the previous season or is the team's top pick, there is usually very little chance a player that emerges with gaudy numbers in Summer League will break out and get the same number of shots or have the same role in the regular season.
This is one of the chief reasons why you cannot read too much into Summer League stats.
That is not what you want to hear if you are Dwight Buycks, an undrafted free agent who played for the Thunder and Raptors and averaged 9.4 points per game who got a two-year deal with the Raptors. Or if you are D-League MVP Andrew Goudelock who spent some time with the Lakers last year and played in Vegas with the Bulls. He averaged 19.0 points per game in Vegas, but only 4.3 points per game in 41 games over two seasons (OK, he only played one game with the Lakers last year and six minutes at that).
There are many other players who were in roles they would not fill when the regular season comes. These are not the players that will get the most minutes or the most shots. Otherwise, it is very likely they would not be in Summer League to begin with.
However, coaches still have a lot they can learn from the guys that are able to make the roster. They can figure out which players will fit and which ones will not.
"You try and tell them what are you looking for, what do we want someone in your role to be able to do," Celtics Summer League coach Jay Larranaga said. "A lot of the onus is on them to figure it out. It's not your job at that point to say this is how you're going to make an NBA team. You've got to grind and work as hard as you can and figure it out for yourself.At the end of the day, you have to take ownership of your own career and figure it out."
The reality of smaller roles certainly is not one those players are thinking of. NBA teams are not the only ones at these games watching the players. European teams are also looking to mine the NBA lost talent and players that have not been able to find their way in the NBA.
Those teams might be looking for a player in a more expanded role. There is plenty of incentive to play well even if an NBA bid is not in the cards.
"These guys are trying to make NBA teams," Larranaga said. "They have to understand that they're not the stars. They aren't the guys that are playing 35 minutes a night during an NBA season. They are the guys that are going to get two minutes to show what they can do. They have to remain focused throughout each opportunity that they get."
And so those Summer League stats likely will not translate to the regular season. The games are really just for show and so the coaches can see how the players integrate the things they have been taught and fit the culture the club is trying to build.
The skills at this point are largely known because of the intense scouting these teams do.
The diamond in the rough is out there, but a team is not likely to find him. At least not as ostentatiously as one might expect in Summer League. Finding what translates is a little more nuanced.
As training camps get set to open next month, it will be those nuances that the players who were lucky enough to make NBA rosters will have to hold onto and display.