Benson has spent the past two summer leagues and training camps with the Hawks, but seemingly that well has dried up. He briefly played in the NBA, managing nine minutes with the Warriors late in 2011-12, but didn’t make it back last year. Benson spent most of last season in the D-League, averaging 10.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in only 23 minutes per game in two stints with the Erie BayHawks, bookending a stay in the Philippines, where he averaged 23.6 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for Talk’N’Text in the Commissioners Cup. However, import big men ALWAYS put up big numbers in the Philippines, as there are very few domestic big men to compete with them. And so despite the ostensibly gaudy numbers, Benson was released for being “ineffective”, and replaced by Donnell Harvey, who was acquired to bring the “toughness, interior defence and communication” that Benson just didn’t. Therein lies the story with Benson – he’s tall, athletic, fluid, and fairly skill, but he’s just not tough enough, and shot blocking is not the same as defence.
Hagins just graduated from Delaware, where he was a three time CAA All-Defensive Team selection, and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior, he averaged 11.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, on an efficient 55% FG and 74% FT. Hagins was an invite to the Portsmouth Invitation Tournament, where he played extremely well in all facets of the game, demonstrating both his skills and his athleticism. In addition to this athleticism and fluidity of motion, Hagins has a strong frame, good rebounding instincts, hustle, a hook shot with both hands, and a mid range jumper. He rotates well, plays strong post defence, and, whilst not being a regular post-up option, can finish efficiently and run occasional pick-and-roll. Does he have a legit chance of a camp roster? Yes. Shelden Williams got drafted 16th with much the same game.
James returns to the franchise that drafted him, let him go merely half way through his rookie contract, then brought him back very briefly once more last season. It’s odd, in a way – by this time, they must surely know what they have in him, and also what they don’t. Clearly, something intrigues. James’s NBA career thus far has underwhelmed, and his D-League numbers last season still show big holes; he averaged 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in 30 minutes per game, but his 15.8 points came on percentages of 41%/26%/76%, and an unhealthily large 2.7 turnovers for a man who doesn’t dribble much. James is perhaps best used in the NBA in the role that Brooklyn very briefly used him for last season, that of a situational, one-play defensive wing specialist. But is such a role worth its own roster spot?
Perennial summer leaguer Janning has himself a quality European career going. He’s improved his three point shot since college and now cuts it in Italy, one of Europe’s better leagues, as a versatile “just a guard” type of guard. Last year he averaged 6.6 points for Serie A champion Siena, rising to 8.4ppg in EuroLeague player. The book on Janning is fairly well written – he’s a very solid player best suited to Europe. Yet his presence here would suggest he would rather be back in the NBA. This is fine, yet, notwithstanding the one year he spent in it with Phoenix, it doesn’t seem likely.
Lighty’s emergence as a versatile all-round player as an upperclassman was nonetheless not enough to get him into the NBA. He’s since spent two years in Europe, splitting his first season between Bennet Cantu and Vanoli Cremona in Italy, then moving to France last season and spending the season with Nanterre, averaging 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a leader on the championship winning side. Lighty scored 430 points on 314 shots and put up 21 points in the championship clinching game – from a French league perspective, there’s nothing not to like. Lighty has athleticism, a decent shot, passing vision and good if gambly defensive instincts. But there is likely not enough there for the NBA.
Plumlee has the offensive skill that his brother Miles doesn’t. That’s not to say he’s a hugely polished offensive player, but he’s better. Plumlee has rescued his free throw percentage from terrible to average, hits a few mid range jumpers, and has a hook shot and a reasonable handle. He’ll run the floor, has all the athleticism of a true Plumlee, and has a good rebounding rate. However, Plumlee can be a little clumsy, soft and mistake prone, moreso than you’d like from a four year college grad. But the height, athleticism, and decent skill level show good potential.
Scott was with the Nets in both summer league and training camp last season, which was quite the turnaround from a man who started his career in the less-than-stellar outlets of Portugal and Austria. (Great places, just not great basketball leagues.) After being waived, he went to the D-League, and averaged 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game for the Springfield Armor. However, he did so on sub-40% shooting, continuing to cast up the jumpers and rely on transition opportunities offensively, adding no post-up or dribble-drive games of note. Additionally, he’s also not that good of a defender – he just looks as though he should be. Scott intrigues with his athleticism and jump shot combination, but it’s not enough.
Shengelia is a shining example of what the D-League is for. Signed to a guaranteed contract but destined for the inactive list, Shengelia was assigned to the Springfield Armor five times, and played ten games, including posting a 23 point, 10 rebound, 12 assist triple-double on debut, his first competitive game for months. Shengelia finished the season with D-League averages of 24.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, on percentages of 53%/37%/68%. He also managed a double double in 25 minutes of the final NBA game of the season, hinting at his future promise. Huge turnover numbers accompany all this output – lest we forget, Shengelia is only 21 and still raw. But his inside/outside game, versatility, passing, smarts, savvy, agility, skills and mismatch potential all make for a rare combination, and he’s productive with it all. There’s a reason Brooklyn gave up MarShon Brooks and Kris Joseph in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce deal rather than Shengelia and Reggie Evans, and it wasn’t Evans.
Sutton went from a defensive role player at Kansas State to a leading offensive player at North Carolina Central, back to a defensive role player with the Tulsa 66ers. Slightly undersized at 6’5, but athletic, strong and extremely intense, Sutton averaged 9.8 points and 6.0 rebounds for the 66ers, using up pretty much every one of his fouls in doing so. He takes pride in being the garbage guy and hits the glass, chases down the ball, and gives no ground. He doesn’t, however, score much. Sutton is a poor shooter and ball handler, and has to survive in a similarly garbage-man style on offence. He also turns 27 before the next season starts, and while the aforementioned Damion James may not have the same consistently intense man to man defence, he offers better size and better skills to the defensive stopper role that the two both seek to fulfil.
Like Shengelia, Taylor was assigned multiple times to the Springfield Armor, and averaged 24.6 points and 7.5 assists per game down there. He also played in 38 NBA games. In those 38 NBA games, however, he had more turnovers than assists. Garbage time (which most of it was) is no great indicator of ability, yet the trend continued in Taylor’s games with the Armor; those 7.5 assists per game came along with four turnovers. As ever, then, Taylor showed he isn’t an effective half court point guard for more than mere stretches. And if he isn’t a half court point guard, what is he?
C.J’s brother has played in summer league before, with Golden State in 2010, back when C.J. was a free agent of the Warriors. It didn’t work as a means to convince C.J. to stay then, and it won’t work now either, given that he’s already agreed to sign with the Pacers. Kashif, a small but tough guard from Idaho, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 D-League draft by the New Mexico Thunderbirds, but did not make the team, and his only professional experience since that time appears to be a total of 33 minutes for the Windsor Express in the NBL Canada last season. He is here because of who he is related to, not because he might make it.
Chris Wright was told by a doctor to retire from the game 15 months ago due to a diagnosis of MS found during an ankle examination. Twelve months on, and he was in the NBA with the Mavericks on a 10-day contract. Decent comeback.
To make it back again, or to stick, will require either luck, a strong stretch of stand-out play, or the development of one particular skill. Or, more than likely, some combination thereof. There’s a lot to like about Wright, who has few flaws, but it’s hard to assign him a role in the NBA, and that’s all too often a requirement of anyone not deemed to have great upside. Having MS does not equate to having great upside, unfortunately.