The dates for the 2017 NBA Summer Leagues were announced recently, marking a new opportunity for drafted and undrafted rookies, as well as former D-League players to make an impression and earn an NBA roster spot.
A year ago, the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues featured 22 players who have either played for the Skyforce in the past, or would go on to play in Sioux Falls during the 2016-17 season.
10 out of those 22 had played been on Sioux Falls’ 2015-16 Championship roster at one point, and three of those 10 players wound up on an NBA roster to begin the year, including Rodney McGruder (Miami HEAT), DeAndre Liggins (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Jarnell Stokes (Denver Nuggets).
To get a better understanding of the summer league process, we sat down with Rodney McGruder, who went from playing in Sioux Falls during the 2015-16 season to starting 65 of 78 games played for the Miami HEAT in 2016-17. McGruder shared his take on the benefits of summer league to aspiring NBA players, and how the HEAT differ from other teams around the league during this time of year.
What was your mentality heading into summer league last season? What were your goals, and what skills did you want to be sure you put on display for coaches in attendance?
“I just wanted to go out and have fun, and just play as hard as I possibly could. Just play basketball the right way, you know? I just tried to utilize the things I learned from Sioux Falls, playing under a great coach like Dan Craig. I just wanted to showcase that ability, my knowledge of the game, the things I’ve learned from past experiences with different coaches.”
I’ve heard from some of the guys that players are just out there casting up shots, trying to score as many points as possible during their short time in the Summer League. Is there a different mentality within the HEAT organization, even beginning this time of year?
“Yeah, I feel like it is different. It’s different because we have a great staff that does a great job of putting a good group of guys together. You know, just making sure they know the goal of Summer League. Just breaking things down how some guys do look silly when they’re out there just jacking up shots, and how players look good when you can just come together. You know, just knowing each other for such a short period of time, and coming together and trying to gel, that says a lot about your game as well. So [the HEAT staff] just explains that as well, you know, what scouts are actually looking for when they watch.”
You talked about the quality of the Miami HEAT staff. How was last year’s summer league Head Coach Juwan Howard in a lead role?
“Oh man, he was phenomenal. He’s the guy. He’s a great coach, man. He’s going to be a great head coach someday. He’s just so relatable because he’s been there and done it. It just makes it that much easier to understand him. I’m not saying that other coaches aren’t the same way, but you know, you look at the things he’s done in his career as a player, so you have that much more respect for him. Again, not discrediting coaches who weren’t players, but [Coach Howard] knows the process that all of us are going through and he’s been where we’re trying to go.”
Was there a specific coach, trainer, or staff member that you feel like you bonded with more than others throughout the summer league last season and on throughout the regular season with the HEAT?
“It’s crazy. Everybody. It really is a family here. It’s a family bond with every single one of them. Like, one day you might have a long conversation with one of the trainers, the head trainer. Then you might have a long conversation, with the assistant trainer, and another one with Coach Spo, with Coach Dan Craig, with one of the video guys, so it’s everybody here. It’s all hands on, so you just bond with everybody. It really is a family culture here, so it’s different.”
Did you get a sense that the coaching staff invested just as much in the last few guys on the bench that may have come in later in training camp and whatnot as they are in some of the bigger names on the HEAT roster?
“They treat everybody the same. They treat every single person the same. Nobody gets special treatment no matter who you are. If something’s wrong, Coach is going to call you out. That’s why you have to respect him, because he holds everyone accountable, and that’s what you need to be successful in any occupation, not just basketball.”
The Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues are known for catering to different audiences. No tickets are sold for the Orlando Summer League, which is catered more toward NBA media and staff, but Las Vegas turns out big crowds and seems to put on more of a show. As a player, which league did you find more beneficial, or simply enjoy more?
“I feel like both of them were really beneficial. You know, for some reason I feel like Orlando is made up of more of a slow, grind game. For some reason, maybe because no fans are there really, but then when you get to Vegas I feel like it’s an up-tempo game and it’s different. I feel like the crowd plays into that a little bit. I feel like they’re both very beneficial, though. It’s two different paces that really showcases where guys can play, whether they’re better in the up-tempo speed, where I feel like in Vegas it’s more run-and-gun, or whether they’re better slowing down and running different sets like in Orlando.”
Having just gone through the process, and having found success this past season, what advice would you give to some of the guys that will go undrafted, or who have been in the D-League, who will have the chance to play on a summer league roster this year?
“I would just say go hard. Every single drill. Every play. Someone is always watching, you know? You can’t have any negative energy. You might not get to play, because some guys are getting drafted so they’re going to play, they might have young guys who are already on the team that they want to see more of. Just stay ready and don’t have any negative energy, and listen. No matter what it is, like getting down on yourself or talking bad about one of your teammates, just stay positive and have faith that your time is going to come.”