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The NBA’s annual summer league gives most fans their first looks at the next generation of stars. People travel from all over the country to watch these prospects—and lesser-known players shooting for camp invites—play barely watchable games and try to deduce whatever they can about who’s going to be good and who isn’t.
The summer league is also good for at least a handful of viral moments every year. There was the Ben Simmons-Brandon Ingram showdown of 2016, LaVar Ball’s grand entrance in 2017 and 2019’s Zion Williamson debut—which was interrupted by an earthquake.
The 2022 edition has been no different with plenty of moments, both on and off the court, that got social media buzzing.
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Why It Went Viral: Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the draft out of Gonzaga, was one of the most buzzed-about prospects at the top of the draft—and one of the most criticized. His two-way ability, and in particular his potential on the defensive end, was obvious. But his physique raised questions about whether he’d be able to hang at the pro level.
His debut at Salt Lake City Summer League was dazzling. He put up 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four assists and six blocks in just 24 minutes against the Utah Jazz.
There were growing pains during Holmgren’s time in Utah and Las Vegas, as he had to contend with the physicality of players such as the Memphis Grizzlies’ Kenneth Lofton Jr. But his upside and star potential were obvious.
Buy or Sell? Buy. It may take time for Holmgren to come around once the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season starts and he plays real games, but it was clear right away that he belongs at this level and can make an impact. If what we saw over the last week-plus is any indication, the Thunder could be ahead of schedule in their rebuild.
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Why It Went Viral: On Monday morning, the NBA announced that former player and current ESPN commentator Richard Jefferson was going to make his refereeing debut, working one quarter of that night’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks.
This is probably going to become a running joke on the NBA Today and during games he calls, so congrats to ESPN for creating future content.
Buy or Sell? Sell. Summer league games don’t matter to fans or viewers, but they can be the difference between fringe players getting training camp invites or not. Executives and scouts also try to glean at least some insight from what they’re watching.
If the NBA is going to turn a summer league game into a publicity stunt, why should any of those people take it seriously?
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Why It Went Viral: LeBron James, one of the biggest stars in the NBA and one of the richest athletes in the world (he became a billionaire last month) took in a couple of Los Angeles Lakers summer league games in Las Vegas and got hungry during the process.
To solve this problem, he pulled out a bag of what looked like mixed nuts that he clearly brought from home—these were not for sale on the concourse at the Thomas and Mack Center.
This prompted all kinds of jokes about why someone as wealthy as James would bring their own snacks from home when they could easily spring $8 for a pretzel from the concession stand.
This isn’t out of character, though. Remember, James acknowledged several years ago that he was too cheap to pay for an ad-free subscription to Pandora, among other things?
Buy or Sell? Sell. Who among us hasn’t brought their own food to a game or movie theater rather than pay exorbitant prices at a concession stand? It’s probably the most relatable thing James will ever do.
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Why It Went Viral: While James’ snacking habits attracted attention at summer league, it wasn’t the only time he found himself the talk of social media. With rumors swirling about Kyrie Irving possibly being traded to the Lakers, the two former Cleveland Cavaliers teammates were seen in the stands watching games—but not together.
Fans took on a secondary pursuit, one possibly more interesting than what was happening on the court, tracking the movements of James, Irving, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, James’ agent Rich Paul and anyone else relevant to the story that they could get their eyes on.
Who was sitting where? Who was interacting and who wasn’t? It was all up for discussion and speculation.
Buy or Sell? Buy. When you’re as famous as all these people are, you know exactly what’s going to happen when you’re in public anywhere. James and Irving didn’t come to summer league for people not to notice or talk about them. It was all probably being filmed for a future Uninterrupted documentary.
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Why It Went Viral: Nobody has ever gone broke betting on the incompetence of the Sacramento Kings. They’re the easiest franchise in the NBA to second-guess—their track record speaks for itself.
On draft night, they selected Iowa forward Keegan Murray with the No. 4 pick, passing on the more widely heralded Jaden Ivey, which prompted yet another round of “What are the Kings doing?” chatter on social media.
But they might have…gotten it right? Murray has looked terrific in Summer League. He appears ready to contribute right away on both ends of the floor, which is something the Kings will need as they attempt to make it back to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
Buy or Sell? Buy. There’s no guarantee the Kings will get a spot in the postseason, especially since the Western Conference is as deep as it’s ever been. But Murray looks like a real player, in a way that feels real. Plenty of players put up big numbers in summer league that don’t translate. Murray’s skill set and confidence don’t do anything to suggest he won’t be successful in the league.
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