Continuing the round-up of training camp invites.
– Milwaukee played the training camp game in the spirit that it deserves…..briefly. They initially announced three signings; former Marquette point guard Domimic James, D-League big man Marcus Hubbard and former Temple guard Mark Tyndale, and they later added veteran big man Charles Gaines to that line-up. However, all four have already been waived, because I took too long to write this. Still, for the sake of consistency, we’ll give a cheeky round-up anyway.
James is an undersized guard with a sub-par jump shot and the worst free throw stroke on a point guard since Vernon Hamilton, who would have been a first-rounder two years ago, but who eventually went undrafted due to a string of injuries (and a lack of improvement). He’s quick, “dynamic” and great in transition, but being unable to shoot doesn’t do much for his half-court game, as any Kevin Ollie fan could tell you. James doesn’t turn it over a lot, but when you’re undersized AND a bad shooter, that’s not a great combination for the NBA. (He has signed with Mersin in Turkey for next year, alongside Jimmy Baron and Richie Frahm. So at least he’ll have shooters around him.)
Hubbard was in training camp with the Hawks last year, thus making this his second consecutive NBA contract. Yet it’s not immediately clear as to why. Hubbard is an athletic big man, but he’s not a good rebounder or a shot blocker, and his offence is based around a mid range jump shot. All the athleticism seems to do for him is prevent his jump shots from getting blocked. And that’s not that big of a deal, really. He wasn’t a standout in the D-League last year, averaging 8.2 points and 4.1 rebounds split between two teams with a true shooting percentage of only .520%, and he was worse in summer league, averaging 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21 minutes per game and shooting 31% from the field. He’s also 26 next month, which can cripple a man’s potential. So what it is that the NBA sees in him, I’m not sure.
Tyndale went undrafted out of Temple in 2008, despite averaging the hearty numbers of 15.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 4.3 apg on 48% shooting in his senior season. He then went to Australia, where apparently he was “really bad.” (That’s a direct quote from an Australian, backed up by others.) If he was really bad, then it didn’t show in the numbers, because he averaged a solid 13.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.9 apg and 2.0 spg in 10 games. After being released, he came back to the D-League, and averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg in 16 games for the Iowa Energy. Tyndale is 6’5, which should put those rebounding numbers into some sort of context, but he’s not really a shooting guard even if he’s the right height for one. His shot is poor, his free throw stroke poorer, and he doesn’t handle the ball in traffic all that well despite regular efforts. Defensively, things improve; the rebounding numbers speak for themselves, and Tyndale’s combination of athleticism and 6’11 wingspan make him a fine perimeter defender. But it’s damn hard to make the NBA at an offensively challenged 6’5. 6’8? Easy. 6’5? Nope.
Charles Gaines’ first NBA contract was last year, when the Spurs brought him in just after camp started. He’s 28 later this month, so by this time he is what he is, yet what he is is all right. Gaines is a very athletic 6’9 forward, who rebounds well and scores around the rim and in transition, although he fouls a lot and blocks remarkably few shots for a man of his athleticism. He’s a fairly late bloomer, who’s played in many of the big European leagues (Israel, Spain, Turkey) only a few short years after being undrafted out of the powerhouse Southwest Missouri State. The older he gets, the closer he gets to the NBA, but even after spending the majority of last season in the D-League (despite having big European offers; he eventually moved to Maccabi Tel-Aviv down the stretch), the NBA still doesn’t beckon. Well, it did beckon a bit, hence the camp signing with the Bucks. But as he’s already been waived, it didn’t beckon enough.
Prediction of who will make it that you can hold against me at a later date: None of them will make the team. That’s my theory, you choose your own.
– Not stopping after a busy offseason, Minnesota signed six players for training camp; Mustafa Shakur, Alonzo Gee, Jared Reiner, Devin Green, Jason Hart and Jack McClinton. We’re going to get through this whole thing without a point guard joke. Watch and learn.
Hart split last year between the Clippers (who pulled off one of the finest insignificant trades of a lifetime when they traded him for Brevin Knight last offseason) and the Nuggets (with whom he signed after the Clippers waived him). He averaged a combined 2.0 points and 1.2 assists per game, shooting 32% from the field, not making a three-pointer all year, and rocking a PER of 6.4. Hart used to be a genuinely decent back-up, who would rarely turn the ball over and run an offence to a decent standard, and his career PER is a healthy 12.2. He also had his one big year for the Bobcats, when about 95% of the offence ran through the point guard spot and both he and Knight (then teammates) had big years. But the last two years for Hart have been bad, and he needs a second wind.
Mustafa Shakur is the other point guard invited to camp. The Timberwolves are right to have brought two point guards to camp, because even after their offseason full of acquiring them, they only have three. And one of those three – veteran Antonio Daniels – has been told to leave, as he was wanted only for his contract. So there’s an opening for another point guard, in spite of all the jokes that that will bring. Shakur isn’t exactly a point guard in the traditional sense; he had more turnovers than assists last year in both the ACB and the EuroCup, which might explain why Tau let him sign in Greece partway through the season. But he has good size for one at 6’5, and he can get to the rim and finish against virtually anybody. This is his second turn in the NBA; he got a camp contract and a $20,000 guarantee from the Kings back in 2007, but after making the opening night roster, he was then waived for Orien Greene, who was then waived for Beno Udrih. Tough break.
Gee is a good-sized wing player from Alabama who is pretty athletic, a good exponent of the mid-range game and who rebounds well, but who doesn’t shoot well from further outside, and who is worse from the foul line. Despite what supposed “purists” would like you to believe, the mid-range game is a pretty inefficient place to be, unless you can compliment it with a decent three-point shot or an impressive number of free throw attempts. And Gee doesn’t. Gee gets to the line reasonably well, but since he shoots roughly 60% from there, that doesn’t count for a whole lot, and he’s not much of a three-point shooter.
Reiner has been in and around the NBA since the Bulls discovered him back in 2004, but he’s been way more “around” than “in” recently. This is his sixth straight season with a training camp signing, as last year he went to camp with the Sixers before being the final cut. After that he went to Germany, and averaged 12.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in the German league for Bremerhaven. Six straight training camps is a pretty outstanding feat, especially for a man with four career NBA free throws made (I realise the randomness in citing that statistic), but seven’s going to be the difficult one. Now aged 27, Reiner’s time is running out.
Devin Green is working on a decent streak of his own; this is his fifth straight training camp signing. One more for the Reiner. He played in 27 games with the Lakers back in 2005/06, but they were highly forgettable games, and if you haven’t already forgotten about them then Green might want you to, because he only shot 21%. Green is an athletic 6’7 wing player, who’s even capable of playing point guard on occasion. His size and versatility is what keeps getting him looks; if he could shoot better, he might have stuck.
McClinton was signed by the Spurs on September 14th, and spent all of nine days with the team that drafted him before being released at his request. McClinton requested his release after the Spurs signed Keith Bogans to a guaranteed contract, at which point McClinton saw there was no place for him on the roster any more. It’s an unusual turn of events, but it’s probably correct for all involved. McClinton is a shooting specialist, and you can never have too many outside shooters, particularly when none of your point guards are very good at it.
Prediction: If and when the buyouts with Daniels and Mark Blount are finalised, the Wolves will have two roster spots. At that point, they’ll need a point guard, which bodes well for Hart. Releasing Blount will leave the Timberwolves with only five big men, two of whom are Brian Cardinal and Oleksiy Pecherov (whom, since they’re expiring, are also slim possibilities for being released, as is Damien Wilkins). So that gives Reiner a chance. I’m predicting him and Hart.
– New Jersey had basically the quietest offseason ever. They traded away Vince Carter on draft day, drafted Terrence Williams, signed him…..and then did nothing for months. (Player wise, at least. There was that whole being-sold-to-a-Russian-billionaire thing to consider.) This seems strange, considering that they lost both $60 million and 48 games last year; then again, dumping that Eduardo Najera contract was never going to be simple. (That remains one of the worst contracts of last year; four years of mostly guaranteed money to a 32-year-old backup. Particularly on a team that had acquired Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Jarvis Hayes and Trenton Hassell in the same offseason. Just didn’t think this one through.) This means that the Nets still have the 15-man roster that they entered July with, and all 15 are guaranteed. So the camp signings they made – Will Blalock, Brian Hamilton and Bennet Davis – are basically arbitrary. Still, the arbitrary ones are the best ones.
Blalock is a former draftee of the Pistons, who played one year in the NBA. He averaged 12 minutes per game in 14 contests, and did nothing significant, averaging only 1.8 points and 1.2 assists on 30% shooting. That was two years ago. He spent the 2007/08 season mainly in the D-League (with a brief Israeli flirtation in there somewhere), and then he spent last year in Germany, where he averaged 4/2 for Quackenbrueck. That means he’s gone from 4/2 in the German league to a spot on an NBA roster. Someone buy the movie rights. Blalock is truly a pass-first guard, which is a rare and special thing, but he’s also small and a poor shooter, which isn’t getting it done.
Hamilton was with the Nets in camp last year as well, and was particularly impressive in their game in London versus the Heat. He’s an athletic wing player, who rebounds, picks up tons of steals, hustles, and plays very effective defence on the perimeter. Unfortunately, he’s also 27 years old with no jump shot at all, or indeed no offence outside of obvious ones. Furthermore, for some reason, as best as can be ascertained, in the four years since he left Louisiana-Lafayette, Hamilton’s sole professional experience has been his two stints with the Nets, the 2007-08 season with the Utah Flash, and one month last season in the Philippines. If he’s played anywhere other than that, particularly in the two years between 2005-2007, then I can’t find it. This seems odd for a man on the cusp of the NBA.
Bennet Davis, however, isn’t on the cusp of the NBA. He’s in it at the moment, but only technically. He’s the ultimate camp fodder signing, another ex-Flash player who averaged 6.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 18 minutes per game last year. He’s athletic, yet is that getting it done?
Prediction: None of them.
– The Hornets have done a fair job of retooling their frontcourt last season. This is the same team that aspired for greatness, yet which gave Hilton Armstrong starts in the playoffs due to a lack of depth (and because of yet another spectacular playoff drop-off by Tyson Chandler). They’ve brought in Ike Diogu for the minimum, turned Chandler into the superior Emeka Okafor, and obtained a decent backup power forward in Darius Songaila in a move which also saved them short-term money (and boy did they need both of those). They even brought back Sean Marks, whose career has been the ultimate case study for fringe NBA big men. (This will be his tenth NBA year, if you can believe that.) To cap it all, they’ve capped it all in one more big man for training camp – former Heat centre Earl Barron – as well as Larry Owens, who played for them in summer league. How capital.
Barron didn’t have the best year last year. He initially signed with Upim Bologna for a lot of money, but he never played a game for them after an ankle injury, and only started playing in March when he signed in the D-League with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. He didn’t do especially well for the D-Fenders, totalling 129 points on 130 shots, but that probably had something to do with the injury (and he definitely got better as time went on). Barron is a capable offensive player with a particularly effective pick-and-roll/pop game, which will come in handy for the Hornets, and he’s definitely big enough at 7’0. He could with being about 40 times more physical, though.
In the Hornets summer league round-up, I inferred that it was impossible that Larry Owens would ever make the Hornets roster. I’d like to retract that statement as being the mindless ramblings of a childish fool who doesn’t know anything about anything, and who should not give any predictions again ever.
Prediction: The Hornets could use someone with centre size, particularly if they’re going to pawn Armstrong off to the Clippers as I’m predicting they’ll do between now and February. As such, they could use Barron, and any and all frontcourt offence is welcome. But despite all their cost-cutting moves this summer, the Hornets are still over the tax (hence the Armstrong suggestion). So even if they freed up a roster spot by salary-dumping Devin Brown or whoever, any additional signing would then cost them double. And is Earl Barron worth that? No. So for that reason, he’s out. (Owens is out too, and I guarantee I’ll be right about him this time. Hopefully.)
– In lieu of signing any significant free agents, the Knicks have brought in a boatload of players between April and now to fight for spots on their inactive list. They are, in no particular order; Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter, Sun Yue, Gabe Pruitt, Warren Carter, Marcus Landry and Ron Howard.
Crawford is a former Lakers draft pick who didn’t make the Lakers team last summer, got waived, and went to the D-League with the Lakers affiliate, the D-Fenders. There, he scored a highly efficient 21 points per game, and got called up to the Knicks late in the season, appearing in two games. He’s kind of undersized for a two guard, measuring only 6’4 (despite all officially listed measurements saying otherwise; officially listed measurements normally lie), but he can score the ball from pretty much anywhere. He’d really help himself if he started doing more of the other things as well.
Hunter, who was only a bit-part player in his four years at Michigan, broke out as a scorer last year, averaging as-near-as-is 20 points in only 32 minutes per game for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the D-League. He got injured towards the end of the year, though, and was out for the rest of the season even before the Knicks signed him on the last day of the season. (Really strange times. It will now cost them $736,420 to keep Hunter for this season, rather than $457,588, because that one day on the inactive list counts as a year of experience.) Hunter not only scored big, but he scored efficiently, shooting 55% from the field and 81% from the field line, and even though he’s not really a defender or a shot-blocker, he rebounds well enough and measures in at 6’11, which is easily enough. Chris Hunter fact; his former Michigan teammate Courtney Sims was the man who Hunter replaced on the Knicks roster. Another Chris Hunter fact; his name makes for a great spoonerism.
To the Wisconsin fan to whom I said that Marcus Landry was not an NBA player; you were right, and I was wrong. Sorry about that. He looks a lot better when he’s not forced to play centre. Marcus is a bit like Carl, except he’s shorter and more perimeter-based. He has a decent outside shot, which he didn’t get to demonstrate much at Wisconsin, where he was forced to play centre most of them despite having the game of a perimeter forward. He’s not a good rebounder, and shoots inexplicably badly from the free throw line, but he did have a fine summer league with the Kings, averaging 9.4 points in 22 minutes per game. He boasted a blazingly hot three-point shot in that tournament, too, something he’d only hinted at as Wisconsin. If he keeps that up, he’ll be around for a while.
Howard spent last year as Hunter’s teammate with the Mad Ants, his second-straight year with the team. He scored 18.7 points per game in 48 games, to go along with 11.2 points per game in 47 games the year before. Yet in those 95 games, 3,078 minutes and 1,421 points, Howard hit precisely one three-pointer. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if he wasn’t a 6’5 wing, but he is. Howard is an effective and intelligent slasher (clearly) who scores big on merit and who competes defensively, but he doesn’t much rebound, run offence, shoot from outside, or any of that jazz. That’s a bit too samey to make it in the NBA.
Carter was a member of the Knicks summer league team, and turned in a solid two weeks, averaging 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in only 18 minutes per game. He’s a late bloomer, but his only season of a comparable standard to this was last year in Spain’s ACB, where Carter averaged 11.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 fouls in 29 minutes per game. And that ain’t great.
Gabe Pruitt has been a Celtic for two years, but has been a bust as a 32nd pick thus far. His career PER is 7.7, his career eFG is .382%, his career assists per 36 minutes is only 4.1…..etc. He keeps the turnovers down, but that’s about it. Pruitt is only 23, and may benefit from being on a team that’s less star-heavy and allows him to handle the ball more (and play less as a spot-up shooter), but his story is a lesson to us all – if you’re a fringe NBA player on an unguaranteed contract, don’t get arrested for DUI. You haven’t the leverage to get away with it professionally.
Sun Yue doesn’t have it.
Prediction: Unless the Knicks waive Cuttino Mobley – who is still on their roster, remember – those seven are competing for a maximum of two spots. Crawford and Hunter got there first, signing at the end of last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. (Mouhamed Sene was also signed at the end of last year through 2010, and he’s already gone.) Assuming that they don’t waive Mobley, my tips for the top are Crawford and Pruitt.
– Oklahoma City’s training camp signings are, err, strange. Already armed with Kevin Ollie, the Thunder have clearly decided that they need some more grit, heart and minimal talent, so they brought in old timers Michael Ruffin and Ryan Bowen to do whatever it is those two are supposed to bring to a team. They also brought in former Rocket Mike Harris (who’s kind of like a better RyBo) as well as point guard Tre Kelley.
Bowen has now been in the NBA for nine seasons, and I don’t mean to be rude when I say that I don’t know why that is. His 6’7 and 215-pound size is decent enough for a small forward, but Bowen is disadvantaged athletically in pretty much every other way. He’s not quick, he’s not explosive, he’s not strong and he’s not exactly dexterous. More to the point, he also can’t make a shot; while he does keep it decidedly real with the old-school one-handed set shot, it doesn’t do him any favours, and there’s a reason he averages 2.6 points per game for his career. His hustle and defensive effort and rotations and stuff are great and all, but they don’t equate to much rebounding (an average of 5.9 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career), and his athletic disadvantages hold him back there as well. He means well, and that’s nice, and it’s doubly nice to be good at all the little things. But he can’t do the big things.
Muffin also can’t do the big things, being – in my opinion, with a shred of statistical support – the worst scorer in league history. His sole offensive attribute is his offensive rebounding, something he’s very good at, but the scoring ability does not exist. Like Bowen, he too is athletically disadvantaged in every way, and his physical and heady play doesn’t make up for his lack of poise, talent or guile. Don’t take it the wrong way, though. I love players like RyBo, Muffin and Ollie. They probably shouldn’t be in the league, but they are, despite the hundreds of other more talented candidates. I have maximum respect for this. So, it seems, do the Thunder.
Mike Harris is a former Rocket forward who spent last year in China and Qatar. The Rockets waived him last training camp, so he joined up with DongGuan New Century Leopards and did the usual Chinese thing: 31.1 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 2.4 apg. He later averaged 21.0 points and 11.7 rebounds in the Asian Club Championships for his Qatarian team, Al Qadsia, making him something of a Qatar hero. (Yep, proud of this.) Harris has always been disadvantaged by his lack of height, measuring only 6’6 for a player who prefers to play around the rim, but he’s strong and athletic enough to compensate. His jump shot continues to improve, too, and his highly efficient scoring and consistently good rebounding always give him a chance of making the NBA.
– Kelley was with the Heat in training camp last year, but he lost out on a spot to Shaun Livingston. And he’s about to lose out to him again. As an undersized point guard with a mediocre-to-poor jump shot, Kelley will always face long odds to make the NBA, and even though he’s a decent playmaker and finisher, that’s not enough.
Prediction: It should be just Harris, but for some I suspect it’ll be just Ruffin. Maybe I’m too cynical.
– The Magic’s busy offseason continued with two more signings for training camp; former Jazz guard Morris Almond and journeyman forward Linton Johnson. The Magic don’t exactly need either player; J.J. Redick renders Almond redundant, and Matt Barnes does for the Magic anything that Johnson could do (and they don’t even really need Barnes either). Nevertheless, since they could, they did. And that’s how it should be.
Almond didn’t play much in his two years with the Jazz, appearing in only 34 games and scoring only 105 points. He spent most of his time in the D-League, playing 48 games down there in two seasons and averaging a massive 25.1 points in 35 minutes per game. He scored really well down there, including a D-League-record 53 points in one game (since tied by Will Conroy). Unfortunately, he only scored really well down there, sporting an awful 1:2 assist/turnover ratio, playing little defence, and not really contributing in any way that didn’t involve the ball in his hands. For that reason – and because of them being stuck with Matt Harpring’s contract – Utah saw fit to let him go, despite all the scoring and despite the very cheap price that his third-year option would have had. Almond has therefore suffered the indignity of being one of only five players in history to have had their third-year options declined. (The others being Yaroslav Korolev, Julius Hodge, Shannon Brown and Patrick O’Bryant. Even Mo Ager’s and Cedric Simmons’ were exercised.)
In accordance with prophecy, Johnson spent time on three NBA teams last year. He went to camp with the Wizards, got waived, signed almost immediately with the Bobcats, played in two games, got waived again, sat around until March, and then rejoined his first NBA team, the mighty Chicago Bulls. Johnson signed with the Bulls through 2010 as playoff cover for the injured Luol Deng, and played in eight games down the stretch of the season, plus the first three playoff games of his life. As always, Johnson is a good depth signing, a fine 13th man who’s gotten better with age. But now aged 29, this is also all he’s ever going to be.
Prediction: It depends on how much Orlando is willing to spend on luxuries. They’ve compiled their biggest-ever payroll, as well as the NBA’s biggest by miles, and so if they don’t want to carry the maximum of 15 then you could understand it. (Then again, having spent as much as they have this offseason, why stop now?) These two signings push the Magic up to 15 players, so they don’t need to make any cuts to keep this two, and for that reason I’m going to go ahead any say they’ll keep them, even though they probably won’t. (If that makes sense.)
– Philadelphia often deck the halls with bells of holly around this time, and this year is no different. They’ve signed five for camp; Stromile Swift, Dionte Christmas, Sean Singletary and Brandon Bowman, followed later by Rashad Jones-Jennings.
(Heh, that bells-of-holly/Christmas thing wasn’t even on purpose.)
Swift is a great signing, a rotation-calibre NBA player who has gone amazingly overlooked this summer. He has his faults – including, but not limited to, knowing the playbook – and he’s the same player that he ever was. But the player that he was is a good player, on both ends of the court. And that’s often forgotten. Swift isn’t even 30 yet, either, and if he’s lost any athleticism then it’s not a hugely noticeable amount.
Jones-Jennings is the epitome of a training camp signing, a player without NBA offensive talent who’s never sniffed the big league before, who gets a camp contract in a mutually beneficial way that might not mean as much to either party as it does to me. By signing for training camp, even for not a cent of guaranteed money, Jones-Jennings gets to put “signed NBA” on his CV, which will brighten up his European prospects no end. And the Sixers get a practice body, a specialist rebounder who will at least fill out the line-ups in intrasquad scrimmages, without them having to pay him later. Jones-Jennings isn’t NBA calibre; he’s a prolific rebounder, grabbing 13 per game in college and 10 per game last year in the German league. But it’s also perfectly standard behaviour for him to shoot 40% from the field, 50% from the line, and to get less points than rebounds. And at only 6’8 and 230lbs, he doesn’t have NBA size either. He’s not the Sixers replacement for Reggie Evans. (If you still need proof of that, how’s this; he’s already been waived.)
Christmas is a shooter, a good shooter, with a jump shot technique and body type not entirely dissimilar to that of Jamal Crawford. Unfortunately, the rest of Christmas’s game is similarly limited, and without Jamal’s great ball-handling ability. Christmas can and does cast up shots at a prolific rate, which is both a good and a bad thing, and the Sixers absolutely need a three-point shooter. They ranked last in three-point percentage in the league year, and adding Jason Kapono and Primoz Brezec isn’t going to change that much. But the rest of Christmas’ game is below average, and even though he supposedly measures 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan, the shot alone might not be enough to get him in. (He’s not even a great shooter, really. Just a good one.)
Bowman has been in camp before, with the Nets back in 2006. It’s weird to see him back here after three years, but he’s done well in the last couple of years, averaging 14.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in the German league last year and averaging 19/8/3 with the Bakersfield Jam in 2007/08. He’s still a decent three-point shot away from being NBA calibre, but he did shoot 36% from three-point range last season on 137 attempts, which is an improvement (although that was from the shorter three-point line).
Singletary was on four teams in his rookie season, which is not bad going. He was drafted and signed by the Kings, then was traded before the season started to the Rockets as a part of the Ron Artest deal. The Rockets didn’t want him, and needed to clear his salary, so they traded him to Phoenix (again before the season started) for the unguaranteed contract of D.J. Strawberry. Phoenix then kept him around for four months, even extending him the common decency of letting him play in 13 games, before they too traded him as salary filler in the Jason Richardson deal. Singletary saw out the season with the Bobcats, playing in 24 more games, before the team declined his team option and left him unrestricted this summer. He hasn’t exactly chosen the best team to sign with, because even though they don’t have a pure point guard, the Sixers already have Louis Williams, Jrue Holiday and Royal Ivey at the position, and needs much greater than a fourth point guard. Sean didn’t help himself by having more turnovers than assists as a Bobcat and shooting 33% from the field.
Prediction: In spite of needing a shooter more urgently, they’ve got to keep Swift. It matters not that they have Brezec, Marreese Speights and the returning Jason Smith: you can never have too much frontcourt depth. And even if he didn’t show it for the Suns, Stromile is great frontcourt depth. This is more of a plea than a prediction.