Even the greatest NBA players of all time are susceptible to hunger, fatigue, the common cold, and streaky shooting in games of significant importance. But history teaches us that star athletes (and potential star athletes), are held to a higher standard of excellence than common citizens like you and I. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, these young players dive head first into the pressure cooker known as NBA summer league, often ill-prepared for the blistering heat that awaits them. Once upon a time, a player named Tim Duncan experienced his own version of NBA growing pains known as the summer league blues. This is his story.
It was only a few short weeks after draft day and Tim Duncan had already begun his intensive program of individual skill development, team drills, and physical training in preparation for the 1997 NBA summer league season. He had been highly coveted by teams all over the league after capping off an impressive four-year career with Wake Forest University the previous year, but in the end the San Antonio Spurs were the only ones lucky enough to land the Virgin Islands native. No one questioned Duncan’s superior talent in the weeks leading up to summer league, but fans and opponents still waited anxiously to see if he could meet the high expectations placed upon him. What later ensued would shock everyone in the basketball world, including Tim Duncan himself.
While matching up with Jermaine O’neal of the Portland Trailblazers, Duncan scored 12 points on 5/9 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds, compared to O’neal’s 23 points on 8/13 shooting. The even bigger shock came when Greg Ostertag of the Utah Jazz made Duncan look like a school boy with little to no basketball experience. Oddly enough, Duncan scored only 14 points on 6/10 shooting, compared to Ostertag’s 21 points on 7/12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds. No doubt, the Greg Ostertag pill was a tough one for Duncan to swallow. Duncan had come into summer league as the king of basketball, with all the potential in the world. He left with his head between his legs. But while the media began its debate about whether Tim Duncan should even be admitted into the NBA the following year, Duncan was already busy preparing to answer the criticism, which he later did when he took home NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1998. As Duncan’s career drew on he added to his rookie success and managed to silence more doubters along the way, making 14 all-star appearances, winning two MVP’s, three finals MVP’s, and leading the San Antonio Spurs franchise to four championships in five NBA finals appearances.
Tim Duncan wasn’t the only one to transform believers into doubters during the summer months. Ten years after Duncan’s summer blues at the Rocky Mountain Revue, another hyped player burst onto the NBA stage ready to solidify himself as one of the best in the game. The Texas University alum Kevin Durant played admirably at times, but struggled for the better part of the 2007 summer league season, leading the media to lace words such as “disappointment” and “overrated” throughout their daily articles. In one blog post, The Wages of Win Journal respectfully reminded basketball fans that over the course of the summer league tournament in Vegas, Durant only managed to pull down eight rebounds in 137 minutes of play, a number surpassed by over 99 percent of NBA players in the previous 14 years. He also struggled to shoot well from the field, scoring only .73 points per field goal attempt, an average surpassed by over 96 percent of NBA players since 1993-1994. Though the numbers were surprising at the time, everyone knows that Durant, like Duncan before him, also found a way to beat the odds and reach his full potential. If the summer blunders of Durant and Duncan aren’t enough to shock you, think about Derrick Rose going 5/17 from the field in 2008 and Jrue Holiday going 15 for 39 in 2009. Barring the severe injury of Derrick Rose, the above mentioned players have panned out pretty well. So now we must wonder, what does this all say about the summertime woes of our own Trey Burke?
Everyone in Jazz land is still wondering what happened to Trey Burke’s game this summer. He definitely hasn’t performed like the Michigan wonder we know him to be, and even though no one can find any rhyme or reason behind his recent lack of success, everyone is still desperately searching for a descriptive answer to the situation. Only time will tell how this situation will play out, and I suggest you cut him some slack. Ask yourself if you believe Trey Burke is a bust waiting to be exposed; or if like Duncan, he’s just experiencing a minor bout of the summer league blues.