What Reggie Jackson is doing right now is a perfect example of why the NBA Summer League matters.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder reserve guard set a record for the Orlando Pro Summer League by scoring 35 points—23 in the fourth quarter—in a game meaningless beyond individual recognition.
On Monday, Jackson stimulated hoops fans eager for a new highlight with a made-for-YouTube dunk.
Of course, this won’t help the Thunder’s bottom line, nor will it give them a boost in the standings next season. None of the team stuff matters.
Individually, though, Jackson, and is gaining more leadership, confidence and swagger with each standout performance.
Summer league has multiple aims. It’s about continuous practice and the development of youngsters, but more importantly, it’s about assessing talent and growing strengths.
To say it doesn’t matter, as some do, is to ignore the sudden where-did-he-come-from element of basketball.
It’s not the NBA draft, nor is it preseason basketball. Summer league can’t be seen as a snapshot with a specific objective of “player X gained this in July, and that will benefit team Y.”
To grasp the context is to see its value alongside every other stage of development, including high school, AAU, NCAA and international ball.
Jackson, for instance, isn’t going to master the Thunder's offensive schemes—the summer-league offense is just a basic shell—nor is he going to build chemistry with the teammates he will be sharing most of his floor time with in the regular season.
It does, however, give Jackson an edge when he takes the floor again in the fall.
Summer league also matters for guys like Jeremy Lin, who played as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010 Las Vegas Summer League and created enough buzz to earn a contract with the Golden State Warriors.
Who else has done this?
Gary Neal was the San Antonio Spurs' Las Vegas Summer League scoring leader, per ESPN, in five games in 2010, averaging 16 points and shooting 17-of-34 from three-point range. Neal, who had gone undrafted in 2007 and played overseas after not signing with an NBA team, earned a contract with the Spurs that same month due to his July performance.
Without summer league, the NBA may have never known Neal's feats in the NBA finals including a breakout performance in Game 3.
Summer league is also a time for rookies to shake the nerves of first impressions. At some point, rookies have to debut for their current teams, and summer league allows them to wear their pro sneakers for the first time with nothing at stake.
It’s not always a time to reveal the league’s next great superstar, but glimpses of potential are certainly flashed.
While Portland Trail Blazers Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard earned co-MVP honors in Las Vegas last summer, the other co-MVP was second-year player Josh Selby, who only played 59 minutes total last season with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Summer league can also be more about networking and marketing young players as much as it is about evaluating the strengths and holes of specific players or recognizing diamonds in the rough.
Sometimes, it just becomes AAU on steroids with guys hoping to create YouTube highlights. Other players are just seeking added offseason runs. Even so, summer league is an important step in recognizing potentially unnoticed talents and a trigger for individual development.