The sports calendar is at one of the slowest times of the year in early July, but the last week of NBA Summer League action has shown fans that these games are becoming must-watch television.
While Orlando and Salt Lake City host brief Summer League events of their own, the two-week showcase in Las Vegas has become more than just an offseason basketball competition for the NBA's rookies and young players. It's become a social event for celebrities and the stars of the NBA, with the likes J. Cole and Fred VanVleet being spotted courtside. Even Britney Spears has been spotted trying to rub elbows with the summer league's biggest star in Victor Wembanyama (although that didn't exactly go according to plan).
Aside from the off-court parties and social life, the NBA Summer League is becoming more than just a forgotten offseason event, and the ratings are proving that.
All Eyes Are on Victor Wembanyama (and the Other Rookies)
Fans across the country (and likely the world) traveled to Las Vegas over the Fourth of July weekend to watch Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2023 NBA Draft. The San Antonio Spurs rookie has been discussed as the greatest prospect in NBA history, coming into the league after a professional career in France where he dominated the competition with his 7-foot-3 frame and unique skill set.
Wembanyama drew a sellout crowd in his Summer League debut, something unthinkable to the NBA just a few years ago. In fact, this year's event made NBA history with three straight sellout crowds over the holiday weekend, with fans flocking to the Thomas & Mack Center to watch one of the most distinctive players to ever step foot on a basketball court.
The TV ratings were nearly as strong for Wembanyama's debut against the Charlotte Hornets. The game averaged 1.39 million viewers on ESPN, nearly setting the record for a Summer League game behind Zion Williamson's 2019 debut, and eclipsing the highest-rated Summer League game from last year by nearly 1 million viewers. It also drew more viewers than San Antonio's lone primetime matchup against the Golden State Warriors last season.
While the No. 1 pick struggled in his debut, Wembanyama came back in his second game and put on a much more dominant performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, shooting 9-for-14 with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Victor Wembanyama displays his tantalizing skillset in his 2nd #NBA2KSummerLeague outing!
27 PTS, 12 REB, 3 BLK pic.twitter.com/Nqw23FEFbL
— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2023
Wembanyama wasn't the only rookie that fans came to see, however. Portland's Scoot Henderson looked dominant in his debut before exiting the game with a shoulder injury, logging 15 points, six assists and five rebounds in just 21 minutes. Meanwhile, No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller outshined Wembanyama in their head-to-head matchup with 16 points and 11 rebounds, showing off his shooting touch in scoring a handful of threes.
Even more under-the-radar rookies are making their presence felt in Vegas. Utah's Keyonte George turned heads with a 33-point, 10-assist double-double in his debut, while Indiana's Jarace Walker dominated on defense in his first game with three blocks and three steals.
Jabari Smith Jr.'s NBA Summer League Breakout
While the Summer League is an opportunity for rookies to get their first taste of NBA playing time, it's also a chance for other young players around the league to work on their games, and former Houston Rockets top draft pick Jabari Smith Jr. took that to heart.
The former No. 3 overall pick gave an honest assessment of himself and his team from last year, explaining why he is still playing in the Summer League despite being a top pick in 2022. While he could have showed up to Las Vegas in street clothes and sat courtside with friends and teammates, he opted instead to put on a show against his peers — and did so with tremendous success.
Smith was on fire over two games for the Rockets, scoring 29 second-half points and hitting a last-second, game-winning shot against Portland, then following it up with a 38-point outing against the Pistons.
Jabari Smith Jr scored 29 2nd half points with a game-winning three!!
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 8, 2023
The Rockets star is being shut down for the remainder of Summer League, along with teammate Tari Eason, but Smith has already proved that he's ready to take a big step forward in 2023.
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