Training camp. Love it.
Ever since I grew up with a mild addiction to the Championship Manager series of computer games, I have nurtured a mild fascination for transactions in sports. I know it’s not healthy, but I also know I’m not alone. It might be harsh on the players involved, but it’s always fun to us hardened losers when players change teams. It gives us something to think about, something to analyse, and something to find important. Judging the people that are competing at the highest standard in a profession we could only dream of competing in is strangely fun, hence the existence of this website and the presence of your eyes on these words. We love it. Maybe we’re crazy. Oh well.
– Atlanta have well and truly played the training camp game. Teams are allowed a maximum of 20 players under contract in the offseason, and as of last week, Atlanta had only 12. Yet now they have the full compliment of 20, re-signing two of their own free agents (Mario West and Othello Hunter) and bringing in six more (Aaron Miles, Mike Wilks, Juan Dixon, Frank Robinson, Garrett Siler and Courtney Sims), playing the game in the spirit it deserves.
The first four of those latter six are guards, which isn’t a coincidence given the Hawks’ lack of depth there. Miles and Wilks are journeyman point guards with NBA experience, and Dixon can pretend to be one on occasion; in case you missed it, the Hawks are openly in the market for a third point guard. Robinson is an undersized shooting guard who was also with the Hawks in training camp last year, and Siler and Sims represent two decent offensive centre prospects.
The eight are fighting for a maximum of three spots, but with the Hawks’ offseason addition of Jason Collins and Joe Smith (and with Randolph Morris cradling his guaranteed contract like the sole surviving Fabergé egg), the Hawks frontcourt is already six deep, so there’s not much room for Sims, Siler or Hunter. Hunter did little last year to justify a second contract, and he doesn’t have the size of the others, so his prospects look particularly bleak. Siler has intriguing potential from his sheer size and his startlingly efficient scoring, and Sims has been in and out of the NBA for two years, so if he doesn’t catch on here, he’ll catch on somewhere else at some point.
West has been with the Hawks for two years now, which may give him the inside track on a roster spot, but at some point Atlanta are going to have to realise his tiny single-possession role does not merit a spot, and maybe the time is now.
Dixon has by far the biggest NBA resumé of the guard candidates, but he’s a largely one-dimensional scorer who scores inefficiently, something which no team with Jamal Crawford needs duplicated.
Wilks is probably the best of the point guard crop; however, he missed all of last year with a knee injury, and if he’s not back at 100% then he’s of no use to an NBA team. He’s a fringe NBA player even then.
Miles has had brief NBA experience with the Warriors, and is a perennial summer league/training camp candidate. However, he still has the same flaw he had coming out of out college – his jump shot, which is basically non-existent. Shooting less than 20% from three-point range in Greece last year isn’t helping anybody,
Prediction of who’ll make the team, that may be held against me later: Dixon, Wilks, Siler. Or any two from three.
Hudson gives the Celtics a third point guard, and considering that one of the other two is the unsuitable Eddie House, that’s kind of welcome. (House can get away with being a point guard with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels or any wing player that can do an above-average share of the ball-handling, and he can defend the point guard, hence his value to the Celtics. But if called on to do more offensively than shoot, he’s struggling.) Hudson isn’t exactly the veteran option that may be befitting of a team still convinced of its title window, and his only experience against non-crappy competition came in his three summer league games. But the veteran backup point guard market is pretty bland, and if I had to choose between Lester Hudson or Brevin Knight (or whoever), then I’d choose Lester too.
Sweetney claims to have lost 40lbs, but if he did, it’s only because he put 60 more on in his time off, because he’s as big as ever. He’s plenty skilled enough to be in the NBA, and always has been. But as long as he’s over 300lbs, he’s not going to be in it. He may be comparable to what Glen Davis was like at his fattest, but Davis was still mobile, and Sweetney isn’t. Even if he showed something, there is probably not a spot available for him, as Shelden Williams’s guaranteed money makes him basically a lock to masquerade as the Celtic’s third string centre.
Prediction: Hudson, for now at least.
– Seemingly unaware that Alexis Ajinca is currently their only backup power forward option (can’t WAIT to see more Vladmanovic there!), Charlotte signed only a combo guard and a perimeter forward; Memphis graduate Antonio Anderson, and journeyman Stephen Graham, who spent the last two years with the Pacers.
Anderson was supposed to go to summer league with the Spurs, but didn’t play for them. He worked out for the Grizzlies at one point – as did pretty much everyone – but he went undrafted anyway, and didn’t really come close to being drafted. Anderson is a big guard who can play some point on occasion, who plays good defence and passes well, but whose jump shot is far below average. He’s the latest in a long line of defensive guard candidates that the Bobcats have brought in recently. And when I say “long line,” I mean basically four; he, Dontell Jefferson, Shannon Brown and Donell Taylor. Taylor and Brown are long gone, but Jefferson is under contract through 2010 after spending some time with the team last year, and he’s a very similar player to Anderson. Therefore, it seems logical that the two are fighting each other for one spot. But given that the signing of Ronald Murray means there won’t be a single guard minute available all season, it wouldn’t be surprising if both players lost out.
Graham is a versatile but unspectacular forward, who has developed more perimeter skills than his brother Joey (remember; it’s mandatory to compare brothers, and doubly mandatory for twins). He’s played for about 17 different NBA teams, and has spent the last two years with the Pacers, appearing in almost as many games last year as in the rest of his NBA career combined. Graham’s a fringe NBA player, who has had to make his trade in the NBA as a catch-and-shoot player, something that he’s not very good at. He’s also set to star in an as-yet-untitled This Is England spin-off; having worked in references to both Joey Graham and the actor Stephen Graham in this Stephen Graham-themed segment, I can now leave this here.
Charlotte also intended to bring over Amara Sy, an athletic French forward hurtling towards 30, but were prevented from doing so because of a visa issue. They also were supposed to have interest in Florent Pietrus, another athletic French forward hurtling towards 30. Maybe they want to keep Ajinca happy. Or maybe they still don’t recognise their need for a power forward. Couldn’t say.
– In the last five years, ten players from Iowa State have played in the NBA, if only in preseason. Six of them have been Bulls, if not for very long. (Fred Hoiberg, Marcus Fizer, Chris Alexander, Jared Homan, Jackson Vroman, Paul Shirley.) There’s now an 11th Iowa State player joining the party – Curtis Stinson. And he too is now a Bull, signed by Chicago along with Steven Hill, Chris Richard and Derrick Byars.
A longer description of the Bulls signees can be found here. Hill and Stinson have been waived since that was written, and third string centre Aaron Gray has gone down with a stress fracture, which may improve Richard’s chances. But I stand by the prediction made previously; it’s Byars or no one.
– The Cavaliers are good sports, who love to rock a 15-man roster and bring in 20 for camp, even when they have no reason to do so. Last year they brought in six camp invitees, and one of them (Jawad Williams) ended up sticking with the club for almost the whole year. He played only 20 minutes in that time, ten of which came in the final regular season game, but still; the Cavs always give themselves options and bring in many players, which is good for the game and great for this post. Their six signings this year are Andre Barrett, Coby Karl, Rob Kurz, Luke Nevill, Russell Robinson and Darryl Watkins. (Additionally, Williams and Darnell Jackson have unguaranteed contracts, and Danny Green is only $140,000 guaranteed, so they too are in competition for their spots. It’s any three from nine. Gotta love that.)
Barrett is an NBA veteran with sleepy eyebrows and the gift of the gab, who spent many years on the cusp of the NBA before spending last year in Spain. Andre signed with the powerhouse that is Barcelona, but he was only the third string point guard behind Jaka Lakovic and Victor Sada. And even though European coaches always employ three point guards in twice-weekly 40-minute games (we’ve seriously got to get a European coach in the NBA someday, if only for the dissention it’d cause on Sports Reporters), Barrett still didn’t play much, averaging only 2.8 points and 1.3 assists in ACB games. Barrett’s career probably peaked in the 2006 preseason, when he starred for the Bulls and hit multiple game-winners, before spending the rest of the season on the inactive list. He’s a highly talented ball-handler and solid passer, and the Cavs needed an extra ball-handler even before the depressing Delonte West saga. So he has a chance of making the team. Counting against him is the fact that he’s a fairly slow 5’10 with a mediocre jump shot.
I was convinced Karl was going to the Nuggets, since there’s nothing wrong with a bit of nepotism. As it is, he’s found a decent place for himself on the Cavaliers, who could use the ball-handling help. You can also never have too many shooters, too, and Karl is an excellent one. He is a bit slow and a bit short, and he’s already 26 years old, but since we’re only talking about inactive players, Karl will be fine if the Cavs decide to keep him.
Kurz joined Cleveland after nearly joining the Nuggets, and is a pretty good fit for the Cavaliers, filling the profile they needed; a combo forward who plays decent defence and hits open outside shots. It’s the same need that made me try to convince Cavs fans last season that Andres Nocioni would be a great acquisition for them, to no avail. Kurz’s problems are obvious; he can’t make it if it’s not a set shot, he fouls a lot, and he’s not very athletic. But he might still make the team.
Luke Nevill, however, won’t make the team. He’s extremely big, measuring in at 7’2, and he’s a capable scorer in the low post. He’s also responsible for one of the funnier headshot pictures that you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, he’s also really, really, really slow. This hampers his NBA prospects for any team, but it kills them for the Cavaliers, who really need some athleticism in their frontcourt after already owning the slowest centre combo in world history of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal. Even relative to those two, Nevill is slow.
Robinson went undrafted out of Kansas in 2008, even though he was the starting point guard on the national champion Jayhawks and had just made his third straight All-Defensive team. This was largely because he was a bit small, and was not a very good shooter. After a year in the D-League, Robinson is still small, as the D-League doesn’t pay well enough for one of those leg-stretching operations that wannabe stewardesses have. This still counts against him at the NBA level, and it doesn’t do much for his stewardessing prospects either. But Robinson did demonstrate better offence last season, scoring nearly 13 points in less than 30 minutes per game last year and shooting 37% from three-point range. If he keeps that up, he’ll get a shot somewhere, if not here and now.
Watkins is the other centre candidate along with Nevill. He spent last year in China, which isn’t exactly a proving ground or a great place to examine someone’s flaws, as evidenced by the 20 three-pointers that Watkins took in China after shooting none whatsoever in his college and pro careers before then. American players are allowed to pretty much do whatever the want in China, racking up huge numbers in the process but not exactly improving themselves as players against such weak competition. Nevertheless, the numbers were suitably huge; Watkins averaged 20.2 points, 14.0 and 3.5 assists per game in 43 contests for TianJin Rongcheng. Watkins is tall and athletic, and was considered a project even after his four years at Syracuse, but he hasn’t got particularly far since then, and remains on the fringes (this is his third straight training camp appearance, and he even played in nine regular season games with the Kings back in 2007). He’s big, athletic and strong, and has developed some fledgling offence around the basket, but he’s soon to be 25 and still hasn’t done anything of note yet. (China doesn’t count.)
Prediction: Jackson gets cut, Williams and Green survive, Karl and Kurz make the team.
– Dallas’ offseason was pretty much over with by July, as they’d already assembled 17 players by that time. One of them – Greg Buckner – has since been waived, but that still sees them one over the maximum, and with all contracts except Drew Gooden guaranteed. And given that Drew had already been announced as the starting centre (and was signed specifically to be a trade chip), then there’s no way he was being waived. There was no point, then, in bringing in any training camp players, not even any randoms like Jared Newson.
They did bring in one when they signed journeyman centre Jake Voskuhl, who spent last year with the Raptors. Clearly recognising their dire need for a centre (see earlier comment about Gooden starting there), the Mavs brought in what may be the best remaining veteran option on the market. Yet that statement says more about the market than it does Voskuhl, because while Jake used to be decent, those days have long gone. If you don’t believe me, check out last year’s PER. Jake’s sole remaining quality on an NBA court is to give hard fouls around the basket, and while some old timers might think of that as an asset, it isn’t. There’s physical play, and then there’s counter-productivity. Jake gives you both, sadly, and no matter how down the Mavericks might be on Nathan Jawai, he wins the battle over Voskuhl in every conceivable way; age, skill, potential,
Prediction: As you were. No Jake. As for the other cut, I’m assuming it will be Shawne Williams.
– Denver were linked to basically every remaining halfway-decent free agent in the last fortnight, names such as Ronald Murray, Rashad McCants and Wally Szczerbiak. However, they’ve come away with none of them, and have had to plunder the D-League instead. Their signings come in the form of Joey Graham, Dontaye Draper, Keith Brumbaugh and Kurt Looby, only one of whom has played an NBA game before. That one is Graham, and all he’s shown in four years is jarring inconsistency and a Drew Gooden-like understanding of defensive philosophy. His main contributions to the world of basketball have been his resemblance to Panthro out of Thundercats, and also this slightly brilliant picture:
Nonetheless, he’s the best depth signing of the bunch, even if small forward isn’t really the position the Nuggets need help at.
Draper is a blindingly-quick scoring guard who puts up big numbers everywhere he goes, but who has never gotten a shot in the NBA before because he’s only 5’11 tall. Last year he had a hefty increase in his assist numbers, passing for 5.1 apg in the French league and 4.6 apg in the Belgian league, both times in less than 30 mpg. Considering that he averaged barely 3 apg in college, this is quite the improvement, and it’s enough to have gotten him into the league. Unfortunately, the Nuggets already have two backup point guards, one of whom has just signed his rookie contract (Ty Lawson), and one of whom has about 80 years of NBA experience as well as George Karl’s undying love (Anthony Carter). So he’s struggling for a spot before he even begins.
Brumbaugh didn’t even start in the D-League last year, which isn’t ever a glowing endorsement of someone. If you know anything about his story, you’ll know that talent was never the issue, not when compared to his lengthy arrest record and lack of professional background. It’s why he didn’t play in the NCAA, and why he subsequently did not get drafted. Last year’s D-League stint represented his first steady basketball stint at a decent standard of play, and while he did all right, he did nothing outstanding. As highly touted as he is (or was), Brumbaugh is also now 24, and has done nothing so far. It’s a hell of a reach by the Nuggets.
Looby is a defensive centre with scant little offensive ability, who didn’t play much in his two years at Iowa, and who was barely playing in the D-League either, until he was forced to due to a huge hole appearing in the Energy’s frontcourt. He responded well, though, and posted season averages of 2.5 blocks and 8.4 rebounds in only 25 minutes a game. (I deliberately didn’t list the points.) He’d be a good project were he not already 25, but those numbers are impressive enough to warrant a look.
The Nuggets also traded for the unguaranteed contract of James White, who’ll get a look in at the wing positions, where the Nuggets really do need some depth. Unfortunately, all the candidates are disadvantaged by the fact that the Nuggets are about $5 million over the tax already, and with no obvious means of getting under it, thus making any salary they take on count for double. The Nuggets have only 12 players at the moment, and thus will more than likely have to keep one of them, but it’ll probably only be one.
Prediction: Only White, but if the Nuggets get Szczerbiak in the end, then none of them.
– Detroit’s first 14 players were set a while ago, and it was publicly stated (somewhere) that they had no intention of filling the fifteenth spot. They brought in two players for camp anyway – veterans Maceo Baston and Chucky Atkins – and were rumoured to have signed Curtis Jerrells at one time. Jerrells, though, went to the Spurs.
The only hole on the Pistons depth chart (and I’m speaking purely in depth chart terms here; I’m not saying they’re flawless) is a third string point guard. Rodney Stuckey is the starter, and Will Bynum is the freshly-broken-out backup, but after that there’s nothing. It’s conceivable that Ben Gordon could play there at times, as long as Tayshaun Prince is there to help handle the ball, but some insurance wouldn’t hurt. And even though Chucky Atkins is 35 years old and fresh from the worst two years of his career, it was as recently as 2006-07 that he put up career numbers for the Grizzlies. In that year, Atkins put up a PER of 17.4, a true shooting percentage of .580%, took more foul shots than three-pointers for the first and only time in his career, and was generally a highly-effective little scoring guard. He chucked a bit to do so, but that was to be expected. Just look at his name. If Chucky gets a second wind from somewhere, he has more to give.
Baston’s NBA redux over the last three years has seen him not play a whole lot, but he did do quite well in the time that he did get. Like Atkins, Baston is 34, and like Atkins, Baston is coming off of his worst season. Yet Baston’s worst season was also pretty good; he averaged 2.5/2 in 8 minutes per game, and his PER was 12.3. His career PER is 14.4, too, which makes you wonder why he’s only played 831 NBA minutes in three and a bit seasons. In theory, even at this age, Baston still has something to give. But Detroit probably isn’t the best place to have chosen, considering that they already had six big men under contract.
Prediction: Probably neither, unless Atkins shows there’s still a spark on the fire. If there is, he needs to throw a log on it.
– The Warriors waived Richard Hendrix partway through last season, and have since spent their lives pursuing good rebounding forwards that would do a worst job of it than Dick. They’ve brought in former St Mary’s forward Diamon Simpson and former Iliinois big man Shaun Pruitt for training camp, both of whom are perhaps too short for their position, which should help them blend right in.
Simpson is a prolific rebounder, who unfortunately is stuck with the tweener label. He plays his offensive game around the rim, where he’s very adept at getting to the foul line, only to split the resulting free throws. He measures in at 6’7, which isn’t ideal for a man who plays solely around the rim, and he hasn’t the perimeter skills for the small forward spot. His jump shot is uglier than Al Trautwig’s teeth, and his free throw stroke is about as comforting as an Ed Gein postcard. Yet in four college years, he never remedied these. And because of that, he’s not NBA material.
Pruitt led the Czech Republic league in rebounds last year, which is about as meaningful as being Britain’s most dedicated NBA blogger; in the grand scheme, it counts for little. He also spent some time in China, averaging over 12 rebounds per game, so you’re getting the idea about what his major strength is. He’s also a lot bigger than Simpson, measuring 6’10 and 245lbs, although that’s not really the required size for an NBA centre. Pruitt is also disadvantaged by his size, being kind of slow and unathletic, and he doesn’t have much offensive skill to make up for it. It’s nice to know that the Warriors understand that rebounding is a problem for them, but maybe they should have thought of it before they signed Mikki Moore.
Prediction: Neither. The Warriors already have a 15-man roster.
– Stuck in transition, the Rockets have heaped their roster with young athletes, and are sorting through the pieces. They have 15 guaranteed contracts already, yet they’ve brought in four players (Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Romel Beck, Will Conroy and Garrett Temple) to fight for a spot anyway. This is because even though they have 15 guaranteed contracts, the Rockets don’t have 15 players. Brent Barry won’t be with the team next year (either salary-dumped somewhere or just simply waived), Yao Ming is out for the year, and Tracy McGrady is not healthy enough yet to start a comeback that will only lead to another breakdown anyway. Brian Cook is also only on the roster because he was the collateral damage for obtaining Kyle Lowry, and since his contract is now expiring, it wouldn’t be too painful to eat it. (Of course, word out of Houston is that Cook has revitalised himself, stopped hawking up threes and dedicated himself to an all-around game. The fluff piece/contract year combo is a beautiful thing.)
Regardless of how biased I may be about it all, Pops Mensah-Bonsu can play. He makes things happen, in good ways and bad. He’ll run the floor, finish powerfully, go after rebounds and get them; he’ll also put way too much trust in a jump shot that he doesn’t have, plough over people that got to the spot three weeks before him, and isolate way too much for a man with little dribble. If he knew his role, he’d be awesome; as it is, he’s pretty decent. In a league where bigs such as Jake Voskuhl are being signed in spite of their lack of production, just because they’re big, the virtues of a player who at least makes things happen shouldn’t be underestimated. Although why Pops couldn’t get any more money than this (fully unguaranteed minimum salary, became $50,000 guaranteed last week, becomes fully guaranteed on December 22nd) is beyond me.
If Shane Battier was smaller, a lesser defender, and a far less efficient scorer, he’d be a bit like Garret Temple. Temple was a terribly inefficient scorer in college, doing so while taking few shots, and that can’t ever be good. He’s a good “little things” player, and is a solid defender on the wing, but his shortcomings are very short. Daryl Morey loves him. so maybe advanced statistics are way more flattering towards Temple than the basic ones, but our eyes can tell us this; Temple does not have much offensive skill at all.
Conroy put up big numbers last year; 26.5 points, 8.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, shooting 48% from the field, and scoring 1,300 points on 915 shots for a peachy .582 true shooting percentage. Of course, playing 45 minutes a game helped with that, and those numbers did come alongside 4.2 turnovers a contest. But, still. You can’t really argue with numbers that big from the D-League. If it was that easy, then everyone would be doing it. Conroy’s jump shot has improved a bit over the years, and although it’s still not great, it’s sufficiently complimentary to his fast-paced transition game. He still turns it over too much and isn’t a half-court guard, but if he was flawless, he wouldn’t be on this list.
Beck is one of the most selfish players on the court that you’ll ever see. It can be an advantage to have a scorer’s mindset at times, but it can also make people dislike you, and Beck was recently kicked off of the Mexico team for being too selfish, even though he was leading them in scoring at the time. Beck is at least a talented scorer, with a good jump shot, the ability to get to the rim, great height for a shooting guard (6’8) and athleticism, but the selfishness is a killer. He also doesn’t do a lot outside of scoring, playing mediocre defence and not rebounding. But if you want a thin 6’8 scoring guard, if only for novelty’s sake, then he’s your man.
Prediction: Barry waived, Pops makes the team. The obvious flaw is that it leaves the Rockets with only two point guards, and it would make more sense to waive Cook as well and keep Conroy. They should probably do that. But for some reason, I don’t think they will.
Benson was a bad rebounder in college, who has somehow made himself into a rebounding specialist in the last three years. He’s been in camp with the New Jersey Nets before, but has not played in an NBA game. You might know him best as a blogger, for his Too Much Rod Benson blog that has appeared in various places around the web, but Benson has said (or been told) that he’ll no longer be blogging for as long as he has an NBA contract. Even the archives have disappeared. This probably isn’t representative of Benson’s chances of making the team, but it is a tad upsetting that it had to happen. Ah well.
The oft-misspelt Demetris Nichols probably has the best chance of the three, being a wing player on a team with not a whole lot of wing options. Danny Granger is great, obviously, and Dahntay Jones just got a four-year contract that they’ll soon regret, but there’s not a lot else behind them. Mike Dunleavy is the forgotten man, who had broken out (lest we forget) before suffering a serious knee injury that will keep him out for a while longer yet. Luther Head is a personal favourite, but even though he can’t dribble or pass, he’s still better suited as a point guard alongside a star wing player, something which the Pacers have. Brandon Rush is…..average, and outside of those three, the Pacers will be having to turn to Travis Diener (or Earl Watson) at the two or Josh McRoberts at the three to fill some time. That’s not really a great plan, so there might be a spot for Nichols, who plays decent defence to go along with a good outside shot
Prediction: None of them will make it, because the Pacers already have 15 contracts, 13 of which are guaranteed. Larry Bird truly loves Head, so his $250,000 guaranteed salary is probably here to stay. If any of them make it, it’ll be Nichols, but to do so he’ll have to beat out A.J. Price, who has a $175,000 guaranteed salary for next season. And even though the Pacers don’t need Price – what with T.J. Ford, Watson and Diener all playing point guard ahead of him, and Head, who could do – they have a weird habit of carrying four point guards, dating back to the timeless Eddie Gill days. So the odds are against Nichols.
– The Clippers could use some depth pretty much everywhere except centre, and they obliged with a few signings. They brought back Steve Novak ($1,030,000) and Brian Skinner (minimum) on guaranteed one year deals, and brought in Anthony Roberson, Taj Gray, Kareem Rush and Jerel McNeal. Strangely, despite having the worst small forward rotation since the 2003 Nuggets, that’s the one position they didn’t address.
Taj Gray is a former Oklahoma power forward who went undrafted three years ago and has been in France ever since. Last year he broke the hell out, and averaged 19.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in the French league, by far his best ever scoring output (and way up on the 10 ppg of the year before). He even shot some three-pointers, attempting more than two a game and hitting 38% of them, which is a new wrinkle for him. This new offensive output, when coupled with the aggressive defence that he’s always had, make him interesting.
About 85 times in the past, I’ve banged on about Rush’s inefficiency, and he obliged my concerns last year with his most inefficient year ever. Rush will be 29 later this month, so if he’s not corrected it by now then he’s not going to. He’s had some good moments in the NBA, but he’s never been that good of a role player, and it’s not going to start now.
McNeal is fresh out of Marquette, where he had a great senior year, averaging as-near-as-is 20 points per game. This is especially impressive considering that he’s probably better as a defender. Unfortunately, being a 6’3 shooting guard is not an easy sell in the NBA, particularly when you’re not very fast and have a pretty average outside shot. McNeal shot very well from three-point range last year, way better than ever before, but it’s very much the outlier, so doing it again somewhere would be a big help.
Roberson is like Eddie House, but worse. Does this need fleshing out?
Prediction: I’d like McNeal to make the team, but suspect that Rush will.
– The Lakers brought in some big men in Michael Fey, Tony Gaffney and David Monds, along with two wing players in Mickael Gelabale and Thomas Kelati. They didn’t bring in a point guard, which is a bit odd, but considering that none of the five are likely to make the team anyway, it’s no great loss.
Some players are signed for training camp, not with a slight chance of making the team, but with literally no chance whatsoever. They are signed as practice bodies, and disposed of accordingly. Michael Fey is one such player, a former UCLA big man who (I’m informed) was bad for them. In lieu of knowing what form that badness took, here’s some numbers; Fey’s best season in college was his junior year, in which he averaged 8.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg in 23 minutes shooting 55% from the field. He then averaged less than 2 points and 2 rebounds in his senior season, for reasons unknown (it can’t all been because of Ryan Hollins). Since leaving school in 2006, he has played in only low standard leagues; namely China, Poland, and Jordan’s Excellent League (which sounds more like cagey softcore porn, but which is a real league). Last year, Fey was in the powerhouse United Arab Emirates league; believe me when I tell you that I did try to find some numbers for that. Didn’t find any. (At the very least, though, I learnt where the UAE are.) Fey also recently tried out for the seminal KBL Draft, which may well be where the Lakers saw him. I’d like to believe that they scout the UAE league, but my heart’s not really in that.
David Monds did a great Malik Allen impression during summer league, and even though the only shot less efficient than the 20-footer is the 21-footer, it’s nice to see a power forward consistently hit a shot of any kind. Monds averaged 35 points per 48 minutes in summer league, which is pretty brilliant; we’ll ignore the 0 blocked shots and 1 assist for now. Monds was solid if unspectacular in the D-League last season, averaging roughly 13/10 for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, but he doesn’t have much of an NBA CV outside of the summer league performance. He’s also 26 next week, which doesn’t help his cause.
Gaffney came out of nowhere last season to rank third in the NCAA in shot-blocking (3.8 bpg, alongside 11.5 ppg and 10.5 rpg). In his senior season, Gaffney had averaged only 3.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, and this was as a 23-year-old in the Atlantic Ten (a mid major conference with a deceptive 14 members). So that’s quite the unprecedented breakout there. He had signed in Israel a couple of months ago with Galil Gilboa, but clearly that is negotiable, if he just walks off and leaves them for another team. Gaffney measures in at only 6’8 and 205lbs, which is small forward size in an exclusively interior player, but his “motor” (God I hate that phrase) makes up for a lot of his size deficiency. He’s gritty and undersized, so he’s clearly a gamer who goes home with a dirty uniform every day and who knows how to play the game. I turned into Rick Sutcliffe a bit at the end there, but you get the gist.
Gelabale had started to break out for the Sonics before suffering a bad knee injury approximately 18 months ago that he’s been recovering from ever since. His only game action since then was six games down the stretch of the D-League season for the D-Fenders, but he did all right in them, averaging 16 points per game. Gelabale had a slight moment of drama this summer, when he agreed to sign for Lucentum Alicante in Spain’s ACB, only to find that the agreed salary had been changed without his knowledge when he turn up to sign the contract; he then left without signing and fired his agent, which seems reasonable. When healthy, Gelabale is a decent two-way player who had really started to develop a jump shot; it all depends on whether he is healthy. I talked to him before the game, and he said “Sham, I’m ready. Whenever coach calls on me, I’ll be ready to go.” And that’s just the kind of player he is….no, wait, I’ve turned into Rick Sutcliffe again. Sorry about that.
Kelati at this level is a one-dimensional shooter, who fortunately chose to exploit the one dimension that he’s very good at. He’s of average size for an NBA shooting guard, measuring 6’5, but there’s not a lot else to his game. Like Gelabale and Gaffney before him, Kelati too had signed somewhere this summer, joining Greek giants Olympiacos back in July. However, they later released him after he failed a physical, and plumped for former Laker Von Wafer instead. Kelati is an American citizen by birth, an Eritrean citizen by heritage, and a Polish citizen by marriage, which makes him one eclectic mix. He’s also the only professional Eritrean basketball player in the world, which has got to make a man feel good. Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia Dustin Pedroia. Billy Murray!
Prediction: If Gelabale proves his health, he will make the team. If he does not, none of them will.
– Needing some guard depth, Memphis brought in two reasonable candidates to make the team; former Clipper Mike Taylor and former Hawk Thomas Gardner. They also brought in 29-year-old European journeyman Leon Rodgers, whose presence in the NBA is truly heart-warming if you’re a fan of everything the Chinese Basketball Association represents. Earlier, they had brought in Trey Gilder on a $25,000 guaranteed, giving them four so-called “camp” signings.
Taylor was waived by the Clippers last month before his contract became guaranteed, a move made curious by the fact they’ve since signed Jerel McNeal. I guess McNeal on a rookie minimum is more valuable than Taylor on a second-year minimum, to the Clippers if not to the Grizzlies. Taylor showed some flashes last season, including a 35-point outing against the Knicks, but the defence wasn’t epic that night. He wasn’t particularly good most of the time, though, sporting a true shooting percentage of .477% and turning it over 1.5 times in only 15 minutes per game. Mind you, considering that this is the same Mike Taylor that shot 37% and averaged 5.4 turnovers per game in his only college season, those are actually improvements.
Gardner spent all last year with the Hawks, where he boosted his career PER to a healthy 2.4. He’s very big for a shooting guard, measuring 6’5 and 225lbs, and he has a decent outside shot, but he’s not very athletic and doesn’t do much other than shoot jump shots. After two seasons in the NBA, he still hasn’t done anything; a third might be a bit generous.
Rodgers has been a scoring sensation everywhere he’s been. He averaged 21.3 ppg in his final college season for Northern Illinois. He averaged 19.4 ppg for Brandt Hagen in Germany. He averaged 20.8 ppg for Orleans in France. He averaged 19.9 ppg for Eiffel Towers Nijmegen in Holland, and 21.8 ppg the season after for Eiffel Towers Den Bosch. (Not the same team. It’s a long story.) He averaged 22.6 ppg the year after than, again with Den Bosch. He averaged 13.1 ppg for Quakenbrueck in Germany in 2007/08, and then last year was his crowning glory, averaging 35.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 3.3 apg for Jilin in China. His point totals from his last three games: 38, 66, 63. In the 66-point outing, he went 15-26 from three point range. (Chinese basketball – it’s faaaaaantastic!) But what’s the common theme amongst all of these teams and all of these leagues? It’s that they aren’t top tier. This gig with the Grizzlies represents by far the best standard of play Rodgers has ever encountered. Let’s see how well it transfers.
Prediction: One slight problem is that the Grizzlies already had 14 players under contract, and all were guaranteed, save for Marcus Williams’ as-yet unfulfilled weight clause things. Steven Hunter is one of those 15, and having not played all of last season and nearly retiring, he is not expected to play much if at all this year, but if the Grizzlies want to get insurance payouts on his contract then he needs to stay on the roster. (I think. Correct that if it’s wrong.) The other player who might lose his spot is Marko Jaric, whom the Grizzlies have told not to report and allowed to seek a trade. However, they’re not going to get a trade, because no one is taking on that Jaric contract. A buyout, therefore, seems inevitable. But such a buyout might take some time, which might mean that the Grizzlies will keep all 14 current incumbents. If they do, I predict Gilder will make it; if they open a second spot, I predict Gilder and Taylor make it.
– In addition to just generally needing a lot of everything, Miami also need a power forward and a point guard. With that in mind, their camp signings are John Lucas III, Shavlik Randolph, Andre Brown, Alade Aminu and Anthony Tolliver.
Alade Aminu isn’t the good one; that’s his brother, Al-Farouq Aminu. This is no real surprise; whenever you get two basketball playing brothers, the younger one is almost always better (for those wondering; yes, Robin Lopez came out the womb first). Aminu says he can be a Chris Andersen type of player, and he might be right; he’s not hugely offensively capable, scoring inefficiently and turning it over a lot, but he’s an athletic 6’10 with a 7’3 wingspan and excels at blocking shots. Then again, there’s a lot of Chris Andersen type of players out there, and you don’t hear from many of them. On a completely unrelated note, I wonder how Ken Johnson’s doing.
Brown is getting his customary training camp contract; that’s four straight years now, and five out of the last six. Good effort sir. Brown is an offensively-inclined power forward who’s also one of the worst free throw shooters that you’ll ever see; if you think that it’s rare to see both of those things, then you’re right, because Andre is one in a million. Brown also rebounds well, but his defence is pretty much limited to fouling, and a 6’9 post player with David Monds-like assist and block numbers isn’t wowing anybody.
Randolph won a spot in training camp last year with the Blazers fair and square, particularly with a 19/10 in 19 minutes performance against the Hawks in which he shot 9/9 from the field. He’s long since been stuck with the “soft” label, but after four straight years in the NBA, Shavlik seems to have had the last laugh. As if to prove his rugged hardness, here’s his views on homosexuality. You alpha-male, you! Grrrrrr!!!
Anthony Tolliver learnt how to shoot three-pointers about two years ago, and hasn’t stopped doing it since. His rebounding has suffered accordingly, and he seems destined to turn himself into a man without a position, which seems like an odd career decision. Tolliver has been in and out of the NBA for the last two years, with the Heat being his fourth NBA team, but he hasn’t stuck yet. If he’s that determined to turn himself into Brian Cook, though, then he may yet stick somewhere like Cookie did.
Lucas spent some time on the Thunder’s roster last year, but didn’t play in a regular season game for them. He spent the rest of the year in the D-League, where he averaged a solid but spectacular 15.1/4.4. Lucas is a very small scoring point guard, who doesn’t turn the ball over much, and who has good range on his shot. But his size has always hurt him in the NBA’s eyes, and it’s been over three years since his last big league game. He’s also 27 next month, so the door is almost firmly shut. This might be his last real chance to make a team. Then again, with only two point guards in front of him, one of whom is Chris Quinn, it’s definitely a real chance.
Prediction: One small problem for all of the candidates is that the Heat are already over the tax, even with only 13 players. And while it would be great for the Heat to start splashing come cash in a bid to improve their short-term fortunes and convince Dwyane Wade that they’re serious about winning, it takes only one look at their offseason to know that that’s not the case. All they’ve done is re-sign Joel Anthony and Jamaaal Magloire, lose Jamario Moon and buy Patrick Beverley. That’s not getting it done. So on that basis, I’m predicting none of the five to make it; however, if any of them do, I vote Lucas, Randolph, Tolliver, Aminu and Brown, in that order.
We await with baited breath on the accuracy of these predictions. Part 2 later.