Continuing the round-up of training camp invites.
– Phoenix are going to run with 13 players, because they always run with 13 players. And they already had 13 players before training camp started, so the prospects of their signings were slim to none before they even started. Regardless, the Suns brought in three more, just in case; Carlos Powell, Dan Dickau and Raymond Sykes.
Dickau joins one of the few teams that he hadn’t previously on. For those counting, he’s now up to 10; Kings (drafted by, but never signed), Hawks, Blazers, Warriors, Mavericks, Hornets, Celtics, Blazers again, Knicks, Clippers, Warriors again, and now the Suns. It’s not bad going, that. Last year he was in Germany, averaging 17.6 points in only five games for Brose Baskets Bamberg, doing the Dickau thing of shooting jump shots and not much else. The story’s been told on him by now; he is what he is, and what he is is perpetually on the cusp. Well, except for that time Danny Ainge gave him $7.5 million.
Carlos Powell has put up very big numbers in far smaller leagues, including one frankly awesome season in the D-League when he put up 22.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for the Dakota Wizards. Last year was similar, when he put up 25.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game for Black Slamer in South Korea. He also led Australia’s NBL in scoring back in 2007, averaging 28.2 points per game. Those numbers are big, regardless of the context, and Powell’s scoring talent speaks for itself. He drives, shoots off the dribble, exploits the mid-range game, and his three-point range has gotten a bit better over the years. However, there’s also a reason for them; Powell completely and totally dominates the ball, in a way which is great for his own numbers, but not always beneficial to the team. He’s a ball-stopper, who’s very good at being the guy on minor league teams, but who can’t (or won’t) do much movement without the ball. And since this is the NBA we’re talking about here, somewhere where he’d only ever be a role player, he needs to change that. But he hasn’t, and so the fringes are where he remains.
I only got to watch one Clemson game last year, which is a shame, because I wanted to watch more. Partly because I liked the novelty of the press, but also because I think Trevor Booker is the next Paul Millsap (with less rebounding, obviously). Raymond Sykes was in the game, but he wasn’t exactly impressive. He looked for his offence more than he should have, looked more keen than skilled, and didn’t have NBA size. His numbers weren’t great either, averaging 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 turnovers and 1.0 blocks in 21.7 minutes per game. There’s nothing NBAish there, aside from some good athleticism. More importantly, you can tell that he’s viewed as a ‘hustle’ player, because he has big hair. Why are all players with big frizzy hard considered hard workers? Do we just think that they are because their hair is so bouncy and vibrant, and it confuses our tiny minds? Or are they actually all hard workers? Because they do all seem to be. Sykes, Joakim Noah, Anderson Varejao, Mikki Moore….had it not just ended, the list would have been endless. (NB: Robin Lopez should shave his head so as to not confuse the issue.)
Prediction: None of them. Money talks, and even if we can’t explain why Taylor Griffin has been signed to a $175,000 guaranteed contract, we just know that he has. So he’s here until at least Christmas.
– Portland brought in five players for training camp, although we’re already down to three. They brought in long term NBA veterans Juwan Howard, Ime Udoka and Jarron Collins, as well as former Wizards guard Donell Taylor and rookie forward Quinton Hosley.
Udoka has spent the last two years with the Spurs, playing the Bruce Bowen role behind Bruce Bowen himself. However, even though it should have been a perfect fit, Udoka didn’t play very well for San Antonio. This was particularly true last year when he didn’t shoot the ball well, shooting only 38% from the floor and 33% from three-point range. Considering that the man’s job on offence is largely limited to catching and shooting, that level of inefficiency is pretty poor, and Udoka needs to catch a second wind to get back into the NBA. He’s not been in it for especially long, with only three full seasons under his belt, but at aged 32 this might be his last chance for a contract.
Howard looked all kinds of done in the 2007-08 season, flumping round the court like a damp box of new born puppies and playing the worst defence since Stallone in Rocky II. He sported a white hot PER of 4.4, had more fouls than points, and only just had more rebounds than that. Last year saw a slight redux, though, as Howard had a slightly better season for the Bobcats. He found some touch on the midrange jump shot again, and even though his 171 total points came on an inefficient 145 shots, that was good enough for the highest single-season true shooting percentage of his career at .534%. However, Howard’s rebounding, always bad, was worse than ever last year, grabbing only 7.2 per 48 minutes, and his 0.1 blocks per game was right on line with his career average of 0.2. He was only ever really a scorer, and not a very efficient one at that, and now that he’s hurtled past 36 and 1,000 games played, he’s basically done.
Taylor is a good sized combo guard who plays good defence. He’s fairly athletic and fairly strong, and he has quick hands to go with that. However, on offence, he’s more awkward than your granddad’s skidmarks, permanently stricken with massive limitations on that end. Taylor can’t consistently create for himself or for others at this level, and all forays to the rim when facing any kind of traffic often result in some kind of turnover. He’s also not a good outside shooter, and that carries over to the free throw line. Taylor can finish at the rim, but since he can’t get there too readily unless it’s in transition, that’s not worth a whole lot.
Jarron is the lesser known of the Collins twins, but he might be better than Jason. He’s spent the last 8 years with the Jazz, despite the fan’s patience with him running out five years ago, and his last three years have been utterly forgettable. He suffers from many of the same flaws that Jason has; Jarron is not a scorer, who takes only easy shots, yet still manages to score inefficiently (a career eFg of .459%). He also rebounds badly, averaging less than 9 rebounds per 48 minutes for his career. If you rebound badly and score worse, you’d better be a good defender to make it this long, and Jarron’s all right at it. But even at that end, Collins mimics his twin brother quite strongly. He takes plenty of charges, can stay in front of similarly slow face-up orientated big men, and does a reasonable job in the low post, but he’s not a shot blocker, fouls a ton, is not quick or athletic, and not especially strong. If it sounds harsh to say that he’s disadvantaged in some way in every facet of the game, then I apologise, but he’s had 8 years to disprove that notion and has not done so.
Hosley started last year with Real Madrid before being released and replaced by Kennedy Winston. He’s hardly the most unique player in the world, being a classic example of the collegiate power forward who has to try and make the transition to small forward to make it at the next level because he’s too small for the pros. Unfortunately, Hosley’s never done a great job of developing these perimeter skills; he’s still turnover-prone and not a great ball-handler, and the jump shot is still under par, even though he uses it as often as ever. He didn’t have a great year last year, but in his defence, Hosley did average a huge 22.9 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in the Turkish TBL in 2007/08, and after being released by Real Madrid he went back to Turkey, averaging a further 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for Galatasaray. For a guy whose major strength may be his defensive versatility, those are good numbers, and he covers ground.
Prediction: Udoka is the better player than Collins, and in a way he fills a need for the Blazers. They could use the extra defender, and you can never have too much shooting. Unfortunately, the depth chart is totally against him. The Blazers already have Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster and Nicolas Batum at the small forward position, the latter of whom ranks somewhere between the next Scottie Pippen and the next Michael Curry. Meanwhile, they only have Ghostface Przybilla and Greg Oden at centre, and even though those two will swallow all the rotation minutes, they could use a third option for insurance. This tips matters into Collins’ favour. (Note: I’m also assuming that Howard is a lock to make the team, and that seems to be a safe assumption considering that it’s one the Blazers themselves have essentially publicly stated. Hosley and Taylor have already been waived.)
– San Antonio finalised their camp roster early. After the Jack McClinton thing happened, they brought in Dwayne Jones and Curtis Jerrells on unguaranteed contracts to compete with Marcus E. Williams and Malik Hairston (who were already there).
I saw a lot of Jerrells for Baylor last year, and I have to say that if he’s making it in the NBA, it may be as a specialist shooter. That’s not to say that other aspects of his game are bad, because they’re not. He’s pretty solid in the pick-and-roll. But he’s also going to struggle to get to spots against NBA defenses, and his size at 6’1 isn’t helping his cause any. The jump shot is a good one, though, even when he’s not fast enough to get by.
Hairston and the Spurs couldn’t decide how they thought of each other last year. The Spurs traded the rights to Goran Dragic for him, and then they waived in training camp. Then they brought him back again midseason. Then they waived him again at the end of the season. And then they signed him again at the start of this offseason to a minimum salary contract with a $50,000 guarantee. Strange. In the times Hairston wasn’t on the Spurs roster, he was on their D-League affiliate, the Toros, scoring a crazily-efficient 23.7 points per game. He can shoot and he can score, and he’s of the size that makes those skills worthwhile. But until the Spurs can decide what they think of him, I’m not sure that any of us can.
Williams is another Spurs second rounder that they can’t quite decide on. They drafted him high in the second round in 2007, signed him, then cut him in training camp. Then they brought him back midseason. Then they cut him again. Williams went to the Clippers for a bit, then attended training camp last year with the Bobcats, but was waived and went to the D-League. Inevitably assigned to the Spurs-owned affiliate, the Austin Toros, Williams put up massive numbers; 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in 45 games. This as a 22-year-old in the NBA’s premier minor league. Not bad. The Spurs brought him back in April and signed him through 2010, where he’ll compete with Hairston for a camp spot. Who will win? Will it be Williams? Will it be Hairston? Or will it be Keith Bogans?
Dwayne Jones is a personal favourite, who rebounds and blocks shots at a good rate wherever he goes, but whose offence is a bit spotty and borne out of opportunity. Last year shows this as well as any: Jones averaged 17.2 points and 13.5 rebounds for the Austin Toros, plus 14.3/10.3 for the Idaho Stampede, and also spent some time with the Bobcats (six games) Efes Pilsen (two games) and the Iowa Energy (one game). He’s well travelled and keeps on rebounding, but not so much developing.
Prediction: There’s not enough room for Jones, and after the signing of Bogans, the Spurs wing positions just got full as well. Jerrells might be the least skilled of the bunch, but the depth chart is most in his favour, so I vote for him.
– Sacramento were set to bring in Jermareo Davidson to camp, but he bailed at the last minute to go and sign in Turkey. In his place, the Kings brought in former Hornet Melvin Ely, as well as D-League player Lanny Smith.
Ely is has been overrated by NBA fans for years, but the fact that he’s been reduced to signing unguaranteed training camp contracts now reflects that the league has him finally pegged him about right. Ely was genuinely decent for one year, but the other six have been poor. He’s not a scorer, he’s not a rebounder, he’s not a shot-blocker, he’s not really centre sized…so what is he? An inefficient foul-prone 31-year-old wannabe-scorer. It’s up to you if you want that.
As for Lanny Smith, I knew nothing about him, so I asked. Here are the thoughts of Scott Schroeder, the Dakota Wizards’ director of public relations:
…..pass first point guard… can knock down open jumpers… one man press break… good size as a point.. very good in open court and passes well on the move… solid size defensively… competes……I’m pretty good friends with him, also, so that’s probably too nice. He’s planning on playing in Idaho again this season.
It’s good that he has a contingency plan, because Smith isn’t going to be playing in the NBA this season. He is in camp with the Kings as a Rashad Jones-Jennings-esque depth move, perhaps mainly because the head coach of last year’s Idaho Stampede (Bryan Gates) was hired by the Kings as an assistant this summer. Smith played for the Stampede, on a team that also featured former fringe NBA players Jamaal Tatum and Kevin Burleson, and he averaged only 6.0 points and 3.0 assists per game, shooting 40% from the field and 31% from three-point range alongside 1.9 turnovers a contest. Smith used to be a decent scorer and solid prospect from the University of Houston, but he badly broke his foot in 2006, and hasn’t been the same player since. As evidence of this, he averaged 14.7 points and 4.2 assists per game in his sophomore season of college, numbers which capitulated to 5.5 points and 3.7 assists per game (on 31% shooting) in his senior season. That must have been a bad old break.
Prediction: The two have signed with the same franchise that gifted away John Salmons and took on the long-term commitment of Andres Nocioni, just to be able to save some money on Brad Miller’s salary this year. They could have had eight figures worth of cap room this summer, but they let it all sit there instead, signing only Sean May for the minimum and trading for Sergio Rodriguez on draft day. That’s how fearsomely committed they are (or have to be) to saving short-term money right now. As a result, neither player will make the team, as the Kings are already carrying the minimum of 13 players.
– Toronto didn’t sign anybody for training camp, and that’s not cool. They rarely play the training camp game – last year’s offering of Jamal Sampson was a mere token gesture equal to that of Dallas’ signing of Jake Voskuhl this year, and 2007 saw only a camp battle between Luke Jackson and Jamario Moon, a battle that wasn’t even close. But those two underwhelming years were still better than this year, when they brought in nobody at all. They didn’t even bring in anybody to battle for Quincy Douby’s roster spot. A team staring down an inactive list line-up of Douby, Marcus Banks and Sonny Weems can’t claim that it has no way of improving the roster, so there’s no real excuse here. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
– In contrast, Utah played along suitably, bringing in Ronald Dupree, Wesley Matthews, Alexander Johnson and Paul Harris, as well as bringing back their camp signing from 2005, Utahian legend Spencer Nelson. They also signed their second-round draft pick Goran Suton earlier this month to an unguaranteed contract, from whence he will have to fight to make it on a team already kitted out with lots of foreign size.
Matthews is a virtual lock to make the team. I wouldn’t have said this had I written this post on time, but it’s become obvious that Jerry Sloan wants Matthews. He even started the preseason game versus the Bulls, and while it isn’t unlike Jerry Sloan to start a third-stringer over a second stringer when a regular starter is out, there was also no reason why he couldn’t have started Dupree or Ronnie Price instead (especially since Jannero Pargo started at two guard for the Bulls). That counts for something. What also counts for something is Matthews’s solid all-around game. He excels at nothing, and he isn’t the best athlete, but he’s athletic enough, big enough and skilled enough. The jump shot’s solid, too, and if he ramps it up a bit, he could make it for several years as a specialist shooter.
Had the Matthews situation not transpired as it did, I would have picked Doop to make the team. He has NBA-calibre defence, and always has, and even though he seems to leave his scoring ability behind in the D-League on every call-up, he does enough on that end to cover for all the missed six-footers. With Matt Harpring inevitably retiring, C.J. Miles out with a thumb injury and Kyle Korver always afflicted with something or other these days, the Jazz could use an extra wing defender. I thought Doop was going to be it. But now, it doesn’t look like it. Matthews is a better shooter, younger, and – perhaps most importantly – cheaper.
Nelson starred during a four-year career at Utah State between 1998 and 2005 (I’ll explain later), and made the Jazz’s summer league and camp rosters in 2005 as a result of that. After being waived from there, he’s spent one year in Germany, two in Italy, and then last year in Greece, where he averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 fouls in 27 minutes per game for Aris Thessaloniki. The rebounding’s good, but Nelson remains a 6’8 and 230lb power forward without a complimentary good three-point shot. He posts up and faces up OK and can hit from mid-range, but it’s not easy to be a 6’8 post-up offensive player in the NBA. He’s not Tyler Hansbrough, sadly.
Johnson has played two years in the NBA. The first was with the Memphis Grizzlies, for whom he averaged 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and a whopping 2.1 fouls in only 12.8 minutes of 59 games, including 19 starts. The Grizzlies then waived him before his second season became guaranteed (which is never a glowing endorsement), and Johnson went on to join the God-awful 2007-08 Miami Heat, playing in 43 more games and averaging only 1.9 fouls in the exact same amount of minutes. So that’s an improvement. Less of an improvement was the fact that the points and rebounds dropped as well, to 4.2 and 2.2 respectively, with the rebounding being particularly bad. Johnson spent last year in Germany, where he averaged 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game, but the reason he only played 23 minutes per game was he once again couldn’t stop fouling (3.4 per game, and they foul out with five over there). He’s now 26, and still hasn’t remedied the problem that has plagued him for his entire collegiate and professional careers. Until he does so, he’s on the outs.
I’ve covered Harris a lot recently and won’t do it again. He’s like Dupree, only five years younger, four inches shorter and with a shorter history of success. And a worse shooter.
Suton’s a personal favourite, but only because I favour people with big noses. (I’d explain why, but it’s too close to home.) He’s a tad short for a centre and isn’t a leaper, but he’s quicker than he looks, is strong, plays good post defence, can shoot the jump shot and rebounds fairly well. I can’t tell if the fact that he’s a bit like other players the Jazz already own works for him or against him; it might mean that they see some potential in him (which would explain why they drafted him), yet it might also mean that they’ll see him as superfluous and let him go (in which case, why draft him?) But as the only real size in camp, he has a chance.
Prediction: The Jazz are on for their biggest ever payroll by miles. If Harpring retires and they waive him, that cuts them down to twelve players, meaning there’s a maximum of three spots up for grabs. But it also means there’s a minimum of one, and given the size of their payroll, I wouldn’t be shocked if one is what they went with. If it’s only one, I vote for Matthews. If it’s two, I vote for Matthews and Suton. If it’s three, I vote for Matthews, Suton and Dupree. If it’s none, shame.
– Finally, Washington’s painfully quiet offseason triumphed into a rousing crescendo when they made two training camp signings; former Clippers big man Paul Davis, as well as Vincent Grier, who’s tried out for assorted NBA teams and who got some guaranteed money from the Heat back in 2006.
Davis re-signed with the Clippers last offseason for his third season with the team, but was waived before his contract was to become guaranteed. He averaged a highly inefficient 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12 minutes per game before his waiving, which isn’t great. Davis only does three things; shoot mid range jump shots, offensive rebound and foul. The first two are positive virtues, no doubt, but they’re not enough. Davis’ defensive rebounding is poor, his defence is soft and clumsy, and his scoring is highly inefficient, as evidenced by his career eFG of .400%. (See earlier discussion about the mid -ange jump shot. A man’s got to do more.) Davis has had three years in the NBA and done little with them, so his time may be up by now.
Grier is a 6’4 slasher out of Minnesota (the university, not the T-Wolves) who shoots about as badly as a 6’4 player can. Like Ron Howard from earlier, Grier not only doesn’t shoot threes; he simply can’t. Evidence of this can be found all over the show, but for example, last year in France, Grier played in 45 games for Cholet and hit only two three -pointers all season. Grier can slash for days, will happily rebound and racks up the steals, but the lack of a jump shot is a crippler, and the measurements aren’t great either.
Prediction: Neither. The Wizards already have 14 players and are in the tax, so taking on extra players for the inactive list won’t be done unless they’re hit by their usual injury bug.