NBA Summer League: Betting tips, analysis and best bets

By Jonathan Von Tobel  (Senior NBA Analyst) 

July 5, 2023 08:54 AM


The NBA Summer League is upon us. Play in both California and Salt Lake City began on Monday, and the Las Vegas Summer League tips-off on Friday. All 30 teams will participate in the Las Vegas iteration of the Summer League, and as usual we can bet on the winner of the entire league.

For those unfamiliar with the format, let’s go over the basics.

Each team will play four previously scheduled games. Once all four games are played the four teams with the best records will participate in a four-team tournament to decide a champion. There are some complicated tiebreakers in place to determine seeding should we run into teams with a similar record.

Two-team tiebreakers

  1. Head-to-head record
  2. Point differential
  3. Total points
  4. Random drawing

Three or more team tiebreakers

  1. Point differential
  2. Total points
  3. Random drawing

The system certainly creates some variance, and that presents a challenge when it comes to betting the event. There is a scenario where a team you bet to win the tournament doesn’t even make it despite a 3-1 record in the four games played. Having said that, there is some opportunity here. If you can properly evaluate the rosters in place you can find yourself in a position to cash in on some futures to win the Summer League..

Before we do that, it would be beneficial to discuss what I believe to be the characteristics of what could be a successful Summer League team.

One of the first things I look for on a Summer League roster is a second-year player who had a solid workload in his rookie season. The term “solid workload” is obviously subjective, but you want to look for a player that was in a similar situation as Quentin Grimes last summer. Grimes had played in 46 games for New York his rookie year and averaged 17.1 minutes per game.

A second-year player that has some kind of NBA workload under his belt is going to have success in a developmental setting like the Summer League. The game is going to move slower, the opposing talent is worse and it creates a scenario where a player like that can be the best player on the court in Las Vegas. Grimes proved that with an incredible stretch last summer in which he finished with an average 22.6 points and 4.0 assists per game while leading New York to the Summer League Championship game. The team they lost to, Portland, had a second-year player who helped lead them to victory as well in Trendon Watford. In his rookie season Watford played in 48 games and averaged 18.2 minutes per contest, which is a profile in line with what Grimes did his rookie season.

Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Detroit, Houston and Indiana are all teams who have guys going into their second years on their roster, but make sure to confirm their workloads for the Summer League. Some players are on rosters just to get the extra practice time, and might not even participate in games at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The second thing you want to look for is high-end rookie talent. Teams that were selecting in the top of the lottery, and that will have their top prospect playing throughout the four games. The latter factor is tough to pin down, but those players tend to have a leg up on the competition. Paolo Banchero put up 40 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in two Summer League games last season before getting shut down. There is always a risk these players play a minimal role, but it helps to have them on the roster.

But it’s not just high-end talent either. Look at a team like Houston, which is going to have Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore on the roster. Thompson was the fourth overall pick, and Whitmore was expected to be a top-five selection before medicals scared some teams off. That is a great rookie duo to have in this type of competition.

Lastly, it always helps to have college standouts on the roster. It’s hard to evaluate rookie players coming from overseas, as we do not get to watch them as much. However, we do get to see some of these college players up close, and for quite some time. Players this season like Marcus Sasser (Detroit), Malachi Smith (Portland) and Omari Moore (Milwaukee) are just a few players that will play in Las Vegas that could impact their teams in a positive way.

With that, let’s discuss three teams that fit some of these parameters, and why they might be worth a small wager on to win the Las Vegas Summer League.

For those looking to do some research, I've created a document with every Summer League roster on it.

Odds via DraftKings

Portland Trail Blazers (10/1)

The strength of this Portland team is definitely its backcourt. Scoot Henderson is a great lead guard to have, and the other guards he is playing with will thrive alongside him. Shaedon Sharpe is a second-year player who has NBA experience, and he should be one of the best players on the court at all times throughout the Summer League. That duo alone is going to carry Portland far in this format, but there is quite a bit of talent throughout this roster.

Kris Murray is a good wing player that is built in the same mold of his brother Keegan who dominated this league last summer. Malachi Smith is an experienced guard who played four years in college, most recently with Gonzaga. He can score efficiently, and his shooting should carry over to this level. There is also Rayan Rupert, who is a very good defender who can make his presence felt on that end of the floor.

When it comes to betting teams to win the Summer League I like to find a bit more experience on the roster, but Sharpe is good enough to fill that need on his own. There is also some very high-end rookie talent here, making the Trail Blazers a real threat to win the whole thing and worth taking a flier on at this price.

Detroit Pistons (11/1)

This one comes with some risk, but there is no denying the talent that is on this roster. Second year standouts Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren are on the roster, as are others with NBA experience like Buddy Boeheim, James Wiseman and Isaiah Livers. Teams that have success in the Summer League tend to have players heading into their second year that played decent minutes in their rookie years. That experience helps give those players a leg up on opponents who are mostly rookies or players from either developmental leagues like the G-League or overseas. 

Detroit also has some very high-end rookie talent on this roster. Ausar Thompson obviously leads the way, but do not forget about Marcus Sasser out of Houston. Sasser shot 38.4% from 3-point range last season, and he is a great facilitator that assisted on 19.6% of Houston’s made baskets when he was on the floor. He also had the second-best individual offensive rating in AAC play, according to KenPom. 

The risk here is that the second-year players will not play for the entire Summer League. We have seen plenty of examples of impactful second-year players appear in maybe one or two games before shutting it down in favor of participating in practices instead of live games. Regardless, this price is worth playing in case we get extended minutes and games from the second-year studs.

Charlotte Hornets (14/1)

Charlotte has some immense defensive talent on their Summer League roster. Leaky Black was an All-ACC defender in his time at North Carolina, and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in the conference last season. Nathan Mensah is a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Second overall pick Brandon Miller is a good defender in his own right as well, and he has some versatility in which positions he can defend. Amari Bailey was a very good defender for UCLA last season as well. They should be a sound defensive team with these four serving as the backbone, and there is some intrigue on offense as well. 

Miller shot 38.4% from beyond the arc for Alabama last season, and he can score effectively at all three levels. Nick Smith Jr. was considered to be one of the better scorers in this draft class, and if James Bouknight, who has played in 65 NBA games, plays to his potential it gives this team another scorer and shooter to lean on. Shooting should definitely be a strength of this team on offense once play begins, and pairing that with good defense makes them one of the better rosters heading into the Las Vegas Summer League. They also have the added benefit of playing in the California Classic, which means more time and games to build continuity.

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