Summer league is the Super Bowl for the NBA’s undrafted free agents

Updated: July 17, 2017

9:58 AM ET

We’ve all had fun watching Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and other lottery picks put on a show in the NBA summer league this month. But for every top pick lighting up Las Vegas, there are dozens of undrafted free agents scratching and clawing for the chance to land an NBA roster spot.

“I don’t think there’s a difference between me and some of the players who got drafted,” said former Pittsburgh standout Jamel Artis, an undrafted free agent who played summer league with the New York Knicks. “I just wanted to show that I was better than anyone out there.”

Artis’ mentality illustrates the other side of the NBA’s summer leagues: more than 300 undrafted free agents playing in front of NBA general managers, scouts and other decision-makers in an extended job interview.

“You didn’t get drafted, so there’s nothing guaranteed for you. So you just have to stand out in any way possible.”

Bryce Alford, Warriors Summer League guard

These players have a small window to make a big impression — and they’re fighting long odds. NBA rosters have expanded to 17 players this season, but there still isn’t much room for an undrafted free agent to gain a spot. For every Tyler Johnson, Jonathon Simmons and Jeremy Lin, there are dozens of undrafted players who never spend a day on an NBA roster after playing in summer league.

“You just have to find a way to stand out,” said Bryce Alford, who suited up for the Golden State Warriors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. “Whether that’s showing up early and staying late, asking questions or getting an extra film session in. You didn’t get drafted, so there’s nothing guaranteed for you. So you just have to stand out in any way possible.”

To aid with that process, Nurse becomes a coach both on and off the court for his clients, supporting them with skills development and a ton of positive reinforcement.

“He’s trying to make sure that mentally I can get over any obstacle that gets in my way,” Alford said. “Being an undrafted free agent, there’s going to be a lot that gets in your way that you have to get over.”

Those are hurdles that Artis, Alford and hundreds of others hope to leap after playing for teams in summer league. Many will end up playing overseas or in the NBA G League, never reaching their goal of an NBA roster. But a select few will make that uncommon jump from undrafted rookie to the NBA.

The jump that McAdoo made three summers ago.

“Looking at the past three years, I’m honestly so blessed. I couldn’t have written a better story in terms of going undrafted and where I am today,” McAdoo said.

“I think the biggest thing for me is continuing to have the same mindset that I had when I was in summer league: show up, work hard and have a chip on your shoulder.”

Sounds like a good blueprint for the undrafted free agents of the 2017 summer league.

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