Your Complete Guide to the NBA Summer League | LeoVegas

NBA Summer League Guide

With the NBA Championship in the books and the next generation of basketball heroes taken at the draft, all eyes turn to the NBA Summer League. The Summer League is very different from the NBA’s regular season, being more restrictive in who can play. However, fans who tune in will get a chance to see some of the league’s younger and less experienced players ball out to impress teams across the NBA.

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To help you get to grips with the annual competition, here’s your complete guide to the NBA Summer League.

Introduction to the NBA Summer League

Given its name, some basketball fans may think that the NBA Summer League contributes to a team’s fortune each season. While it certainly helps teams and players develop, it isn’t a tournament that teams crave winning, as they do the NBA Championship. Still, the NBA Summer League certainly has its uses.

Definition and Purpose

The NBA Summer League is a basketball competition held by the National Basketball Association during its offseason. The purpose is for NBA teams to pit any of their players with three years or less experience in the league in a competitive arena. This way, they get to have a closer look at rookies, see how much a third-year fringe player has improved since the season ended, and put some undrafted free agents through their paces.

Historical Background

Basketball summer leagues have long been a staple of the circuit, but it took until the turn of the century for some form of set structure to come into play. That pioneering major professional summer league came in the form of the Orlando Pro Summer League, which ran every year bar two from 2002 to 2017. Still, it wasn’t long after the Orlando league’s inception that the NBA introduced its own official Summer League in Las Vegas (2004).

Significance in NBA Development

The NBA Summer League is much more an assessment of individual talent as opposed to team-building and the true strength of the NBA roster. While the Las Vegas Summer League does hail a winning team as champions, the focus is rarely on how well players play together.

The league allows players who have little or no NBA experience to give teams a better look at their abilities and skills. It helps draftees compete at a higher level than they’re used to, and lets teams have another look at players who went undrafted.

Jeremy Lin is the most famous undrafted player to get a contract out of the Summer League. He played for the current second-favourites to win the Southwest Division, the Dallas Mavericks, but was signed by the Golden State Warriors.

Evolution of the NBA Summer League

The NBA Summer League has become more refined and even moved location since it started to become an official and organized part of the calendar. It’s gone from a select few teams competing, to a two-week spectacle that spans three events.

Early Years: Origins and Format

The Orlando Pro Summer League is essentially the origin of the organized NBA Summer League that we know today. It would be a behind-closed-door tournament, but could be watched on TV, enforcing teams to only bring players who had at most three years of NBA experience or had just been drafted. The inaugural league saw six teams attend to play each of the other teams once. In its final season, the Orlando competition welcomed eight NBA teams to compete in five games each. The games themselves complied to the FIBA format of 40 minutes and overtime of two minutes each if necessary.

Expansion and Growing Popularity

In 2004, the Las Vegas Summer League was brought into action. Six teams attended to play 13 games in total. By 2007, the potential and popularity of the Summer League became apparent to the NBA. The league attached its name and brought in a major sponsor, the video games firm EA Sports.

With the cash flow upped significantly, the league expanded to 22 teams in 2008, and then all NBA teams by 2018. The Salt Lake City Summer League and California Classic Summer League are also considered part of the NBA Summer League schedule. Nowadays, they compete a few days before the Las Vegas event, giving a handful of teams an extra chance to get a look at their prospects.

Notable Milestones and Changes Over Time

Perhaps the two most notable milestones came in the form of EA Sports opting to sponsor the Las Vegas event in 2008 and ESPN picking up the broadcast rights. In the 2023 edition of the NBA 2K24 Summer League, the debut of Victor Wembanyama for the San Antonio Spurs resulted in the most-watched opening weekend with an average of 456,000 viewers. Talented as he undoubtedly is, he wasn’t quite able to pull the Spurs into NBA Championship contention in the 2023/24 campaign. The viewership for its first three days even managed to become the best since 2009. Easily, the biggest change over time is the fact that now, all NBA teams attend at least the Las Vegas leg of the NBA Summer League, making it must-watch TV for avid basketball fans, encouraging major sponsor and broadcast deals.

Structure and Format of the NBA Summer League

It may feature all 30 teams for the NBA, but the NBA Summer League doesn’t work the same as the real NBA. Instead, there are two precursor leagues and then the big one in Las Vegas, Nevada, with a whole bunch of games taking place each day.

Participating Teams and Divisions

For the Salt Lake City Summer League and California Classic Summer League, four and six teams, respectively, attend to get some reps in before the core NBA Summer League. In both, the teams play two or three games before heading off to the Las Vegas Summer League. This is where all 30 NBA teams will be seen playing in the summer months. Every team plays four games, with the four boasting the best records going to the two-stage knockout. The 26 teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs play a fifth game to get those reps in.

Venue Selection and Hosting

The Las Vegas NBA Summer League continues to be held between the Thomas and Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, both of which are in Paradise, Nevada. The Salt Lake City Summer League is commonly held at the Delta Center in Utah, while the California Classic Summer League continues to be staged at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Schedule and Duration

The opening NBA Summer League competitions tend to last for three or four days, depending on where the days sit. Then, the very next day, the Las Vegas Summer League gets underway. The main event lasts for 11 days, putting on between six and eight games per day for the first ten dates, culminating in the championship game on the final day.

Player Participation and Eligibility

The NBA Summer League is all about developing talent and giving up-and-coming players a stage to impress. So, as you’d imagine, you won’t be seeing any established NBA superstars at the NBA Summer League. Instead, you get a glimpse at the future.

NBA Rookies and Draft Picks

Rookies and picks from the most recent NBA Draft take centre stage in the NBA Summer League. Naturally, everyone wants to see how those who went on the first day perform before they get thrown into NBA action or are sent to the G League affiliate for more experience. Of course, rookies don’t have to be from that year’s draft and could be a pick from a prior season who have yet to be featured in the NBA proper.

International Players and Prospects

Anyone with three years or less experience in the NBA can be invited to play in the NBA Summer League. So, some young players who have already featured in the NBA might attend, but usually, roster spots are reserved for those who are more on the fringe and in need of experience or assessment. International players often make up a good chunk of the players in attendance. Many will be without NBA experience or will have gone undrafted either due to the draft’s limitations or being too old to enter. The NBA Summer League is their chance to impress.

The 2022 Summer League featured 86 international players, and at the 2019 NBA Summer League, the Croatian and Chinese national basketball teams were sent to compete, making it a 32-team spectacular!

G League and Free Agents

While the G League runs alongside the NBA season, for the most part, the NBA Summer League gives its players the chance to impress the head coach of their NBA affiliate beyond the confines of salary cap, roster moves, and needs presented by injuries. At the 2023 NBA Summer League, Isaiah Mobley of the Cleveland Charge was named the Championship MVP with only 13 games played for the Cleveland Cavaliers since being drafted 49th overall in 2022. Free agents and players who went undrafted can also be invited by teams to play, and if they impress, any NBA team can offer them a contract.


What is the NBA Summer League?

The NBA Summer League is a two-week tournament featuring all NBA teams. It’s often used as a testing ground for new draft picks, rookies, sophomores, players with under three years of experience who need game time, G League affiliate players, and undrafted signings.

Who can participate in the NBA Summer League?

To participate in the NBA Summer League, a player has to be a new draftee – otherwise known as a rookie - or a player in their second or third year of play in the NBA. Players who went undrafted may also be invited by NBA teams to play in the Summer League to prove that they are worthy of a contract post-draft.

How are teams selected for participation?

The NBA Summer League has three main competitions. The Salt Lake City Summer League and California Classic Summer League featured four and six teams, respectively. The teams selected were generally teams close to the tournament, but any team could be invited to compete. Then, there’s the Las Vegas Summer League, which features every team in the NBA.

Where is the NBA Summer League held?

The NBA Summer League is held in Sacramento, California, and usually on the same dates as one being staged in Salt Lake City, Utah. The big NBA Summer League tournament featuring all 30 teams in the NBA takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada.

How long does the NBA Summer League last?

The complete NBA Summer League schedule tends to last two weeks. In 2023, it ran from its July 3 start dates in California and Salt Lake City to the July 17 conclusion of the Las Vegas Summer League.

What is the significance of the NBA Summer League for NBA teams?

For NBA teams, the NBA Summer League offers a significant opportunity to have fringe, new, and prospective players play in competitive games. Not only does this give teams a good look at the level of their up-and-coming players, but it also gives their potential stars a lot of valuable playing time. Without the NBA being in play, coaches and other staff members are granted a good opportunity to assess their team’s needs.

How does the NBA Summer League impact player careers?

The NBA Summer League can be incredibly impactful on a player’s career. For the most talented rookies, it offers an early stepping stone to NBA level competition while giving them the ever-needed experience to become a top-class player. For the undrafted and unsigned free agents, the NBA Summer League gives them a shot at a professional career. Every year, many players get Summer League deals, compete, and then get signed by one of the teams in attendance.

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