The past week has been an eventful one for Markis McDuffie.
He flew to Indianapolis for a mini training camp with the Indiana Pacers, the team who picked up the recent Wichita State graduate for the NBA Summer League. He then boarded another plane to Las Vegas, where he experienced an earthquake on his second night in town.
Then, on Monday, McDuffie made his Summer League debut, playing five minutes and recording a rebound and an assist in the Pacers’ 102-84 loss to the Detroit Pistons at Cox Pavilion.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” McDuffie told the Eagle. “It just shows you where basketball can take you. It’s a blessing to be a part of it and I’m just learning as much as I can.”
McDuffie isn’t the only former Shocker playing in the Summer League: 2018 graduate Conner Frankamp is playing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Like McDuffie, Frankamp has only appeared in one game — an 11-minute stretch that saw him score one point and miss three shots.
Not playing is something new to both of them. They came to Vegas to prove what they can do at an elevated level, so it’s natural for each to feel slightly frustrated when they don’t receive the opportunity to showcase their skills.
But the pecking order at Summer League typically gives draft picks the most opportunity, followed by players who signed two-way contracts, then players who played with the NBA team’s G League affiliate. Chances for players like McDuffie and Frankamp, who were brought in only to play Summer League, are few and far between.
“It’s very hard because there’s so much hype with the whole Las Vegas thing,” McDuffie said. “But everyone is here to prove themselves. So all you have to do is be a good teammate and everything else will work out.”
Even without playing time, there are benefits for McDuffie and Frankamp to be at the NBA Summer League.
While they don’t get paid — the teams provide them room and board — the experience of being on an NBA Summer League team is a resume-builder and could be a bargaining chip negotiating contracts in other leagues. They also are able to make connections with their NBA team, which could pay dividends down the road.
Frankamp has already agreed to a contract to play next season with the Rethymno Cretan Kings in Greece’s top-tier league, which runs from October to May.
For McDuffie, a rookie, these two weeks with the Pacers could potentially lead to an invitation to play in the G League. Or if he chooses to go overseas, McDuffie could earn more since foreign clubs view players who made it on a Summer League team in a higher regard.
“I can only control what I can control, so I’m just going to keep doing the best I can with my opportunity and continue to be successful,” McDuffie said. “Keep going forward, keep going up. I just want to experience being on the floor with these guys and winning. That’s what I’m trying to do, win games.”
There is still time for McDuffie and Frankamp to make an impression. Frankamp’s Lakers play the New York Knicks at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2, while McDuffie’s Pacers play the Toronto Raptors at 5 p.m. Thursday before the playoffs begin on Friday.
After getting a taste of floor time on Monday, McDuffie was eager for more. He missed a tip-in and a pull-up jumper, but he did make a nice play when he set a screen, popped out to the perimeter, received the pass and dribble penetrated all the way to the basket before kicking back out to former American foe Shizz Alston, from Temple, for a three-pointer.
Plays like that are what McDuffie believes he can provide a team. He just hopes he has a few more chances to show that during this week in Vegas.
“That’s where I want to be, out there on the floor helping my team win,” McDuffie said. “I hate seeing us lose, but we’re doing the best we can and we’re going to keep figuring each other out. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”