LAS VEGAS — You don’t have to be a basketball junkie to love the NBA Summer League, especially if the venue is Las Vegas, Nevada. For the general admission price of $25 you get to watch a slew of games at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, and if you’re paying attention you could bump into some celebrities or NBA executives. That’s like watching four live shows for the same price you would pay for a dinner buffet at Mandalay Bay.
Each year I make a pilgrimage to Sin City to observe and absorb what is fast becoming one of the best shows on the Vegas Strip. This year should real exciting with most of the heralded 2014 NBA draft class — headed by No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker — playing for their new teams.
The New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks will tip off the festivities on July 11 at 1 p.m. PT in the first of 67 games to be contested over the course of the 11-day event. Here are some of the top games to watch:
KNICKS VS. MAVERICKS, 1 p.m. PST, July 11: Derek Fisher will make his NBA coaching debut when New York takes on Dallas at Cox Pavilion. Fisher wasn’t Phil Jackson’s first choice as head coach (he courted Steve Kerr who went decided to take the coaching gig at Golden State), but he was always on Jackson’s short list of coaches, having played for five championship teams for Jackson with the Lakers. Fisher is also very familiar with the triangle offense, something near and dear to Phil’s heart.
WARRIORS VS. HORNETS, 5:30 p.m. PST, July 11: Speaking of debuts, Kerr takes over the reigns in Golden State and will try to fill in the massive shoes of Mark Jackson, who successfully guided the Warriors to spectacular playoff runs the last two years. The Warriors are the defending Vegas Summer League champions. Charlotte debuts its new/old team name — the Hornets. Second-year forward Cody Zeller is expected to lead the Hornets, and this will be an important summer for Zeller because he has to show the Hornets that he can hold down that starting power forward spot next to franchise center Al Jefferson.
LAKERS VS. RAPTORS, 3 p.m. PST, July 11: Julius Randle, the seventh overall selection in the draft, will not participate in the summer league because he hasn’t signed yet. Randle says he was disappointed he went seventh in the draft, so he’ll have a chip on his broad shoulders to try to prove wrong those teams that passed on him. The Lakers may be auditioning for coaches to run the show this summer because as of now they still don’t have a skipper. Someone better remind GM Mitch Kupchak and president Jim Buss that the league requires every team to have a coach on the sidelines.
CAVALIERS VS. BUCKS, 5 p.m. PST, July 11: The marquee game of the first day is Cleveland and Milwaukee. This game features the top two picks in the 2014 draft in Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Wiggins and Parker have faced each other in AAU circuits and high school all-star games, but this is the first time they’ll be dueling as professionals. Most experts are already predicting the 2014-15 rookie of the year race will come down to Wiggins or Parker. Also expected to play is last year’s top pick Anthony Bennett. The Cavaliers forward struggled mightily during his rookie season but should be better this season. He’ll be energized by playing alongside Wiggins, his fellow Canadian. Both teams also have new coaches this season. The Cavaliers are now led by former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, while the Bucks gave Larry Drew the boot to make room for former Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd.
HEAT VS. ROCKETS, 7 p.m. PST, July 12: After a shaky opening game in the Orlando Summer League, Miami rookie point guard Shabazz Napier has settled down and is showing the skills that made him a two-time NCAA champion at UConn. Napier has shown to be turnover prone, but that’s to be expected since he’s learning on the fly on how to run an NBA offense.
BULLS VS. CLIPPERS, 5:30 p.m. PST, July 12: Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau will likely be in the stands watching first-round pick Doug McDermott. Most scouts were split on McDermott. Some don’t think he can be an NBA starter, while some believe he could be a star. His performance in this year’s Vegas Summer League will provide some answers.
JAZZ VS. SIXERS, 7:30 p.m., July 12: The marquee game on Saturday, July 12, is the matchup between the Sixers and Jazz at Thomas & Mack Center. Sixers forward Nerlens Noel looked impressive in the Orlando Summer League, but all eyes will be on Utah prized rookie Dante Exum. Outside of a few YouTube clips and highlights from the 19-and-under tournament, very few have seen Exum play. Some of the mystery behind the Australian phenom will finally be uncovered. The primetime game that will be televised on NBA TV.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.