2014 Summer League rosters – Houston
July 2nd, 2014
Miro Bilan – The 6’11 Bilan turns 25 later this month, yet this is his first foray into the NBA. He has long been on the radar of clubs around the world, appearing in European championships at various age levels, and finally cracking the Croatian national team this past season. Bilan has never really broken out, however, merely making steady improvements to his game year on year. A brief spell in the EuroLeague in 2012/13 coupled with a longer spell in the EuroCup last season to allow him to take on the best European centres at his position, and he held his own on the offensive end at least, where his post and pick-and-roll play helped him to 8.8 points in 18.4 minutes on 58% shooting, alongside 13.3 points in 22 minutes per game of Croatian league play. Bilan is a prototypical European big man – big enough and offensively skilled, but unathletic, and a defensive factor only by the virtue of giving a good hard foul. He can make shots around the basket and from mid-range, but neither his physical tools nor style of play are ideally suited for the NBA and he is probably best where he is. Greg Smith admittedly played a bit like this while being slightly smaller, but Greg Smith was faster and had hands like mattresses. Or like Tim Howard.
Tarik Black – Black was covered emphatically in the 2014 NCAA Senior Centres round-up. Click here.
Jabari Brown – Brown plays and photographs with a permanent look of insouciance. He never ever smiles, save for one time after a game winner. It does not undermine his skill set, but it would have helped his draft credentials a bit better had he looked like he was enjoying himself.
Brown played alongside Earnest Ross on Missouri’s wings last season, where his role was not to chuck as much as Ross did. He is aggressive as a scorer, hunting his shot and taking plenty of them, but not an undue chucker, a player who will take some quick shots at times but not too egregiously. An excellent shooter who merits such looks, Brown shoots off the catch and off the dribble from both two and from three, shoots a pull-back, and can make jumpers off a spin move. His drives to the rim are a bit unceremonious at times, but they result in many fouls calls, as Brown is fully prepared to take the contact and finds plenty of ways to create scoring opportunities for himself.
The downside unfortunately is that Brown cannot create for others at all. He only looks to score, and it is the only thing he is good at. Brown will occasionally throw a nice pass, but he does not feed the post, has little handle, and, on his rather wild forays to the rim, it is to shoot or get to the line, not to pass off. Brown is also a concern defensively – as evidenced by his exceedingly low foul rates, Brown does not always compete defensively, and lapses at times. And despite having a decent frame for the shooting guard position, Brown is not tall, long or elitely athletic, and thus has not the physical tools to make up for this coasting. He seeks only to score and can only be relied upon for such. It is fortunate then that the jump shot is good enough to cure these ills.
In a high tempo game where he can push the ball (which he loves to do), shoot quick and shoot often, Brown thrives. He’s going to love summer league, then.
Jahii Carson – Carson plays big minutes of every game and dominates the ball throughout. He plays a lot of pick-and-roll action, and succeeds in it, even though he cannot drive left and even though he is usually using the screen to try and score. He is a committed and fearless driver who uses his hardiness, toughness, speed and tight low dribble to get into the paint, whereby he will use his body control to get a look around the basket, compensated with floaters and runners should he be smothered at the rim. Although Carson at a mere 5’11 does not take contact very well, he will take the contact anyway and try to finish, getting to the line a huge number of times per game, and is adept at jinking his body around anyone in his path. He often has to resort to contested runners, but he makes enough of them for this to be a weapon in the halfcourt. Also, given the opportunity, he can really get up.
Underpinning all this however is a poor jump shot, one born out of bad mechanics. Carson has improved his three point stroke to the point it can just about be classified as mediocre, but the mid-range shot is still absent, and the form is inconsistent. Carson tries to play like a shooter anyway, be it through step-backs and the like, but it is a weakness in his game, so much so that he is also a poor foul shooter (not helped by an unnecessarily leaning back on the release). He takes some bad shots, particularly bad jump shots, and tries to play too much isolation ball, particularly down the stretch. The dribble is always alive with Jahii Carson, and he can drive right into and right out of the trees in a manner reminiscent of Kirk Hinrich’s younger days, but he primarily looks to score, drives into trouble, has no left hand, has not the greatest floor awareness (missing, or perhaps ignoring, better matchups elsewhere) and is not a good catch-and-shoot player off the ball. And defensively, he is just too small, bumped off the spot too easily and not seeing as committed on that end as on offence.
As a point guard, Carson is always attacking and pushing the pace, but is nonetheless primarily a scorer. Give him a poorly communicated defence, and he will attack it. He too should love summer league, then. But going forward, while the athleticism and aggression are nice, there are too many question marks for the NBA.
Chris Crawford – Crawford was the fourth guard in Memphis’s four guard lineup last season, and did a little bit of everything for the team. Best known as a shooting specialist, Crawford is a very good catch-and-shoot player who struggles much more when shooting off the bounce, but who can fill it up with the feet set. He also masquerades as an occasional point guard – Memphis were catered for in his position by Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon last season, but Crawford can fill in for possessions at a time, and was similarly relied upon for versatility defensively. Too often forced to guard bigger forwards and defend the paint, Crawford was never all that effective, given how easy his 6’4 frame was to shoot over, but he used his strength to body up as best he could, and win some occasional possessions with his anticipation.
However, all language used above to indicate intermittent effectiveness is deliberate, because there is nothing profoundly secure about Crawford’s production. His defence seems to be tied to his scoring output – when he’s shooting well, he defends well, attacking the boards and competing on D. But when he’s not, he will lazily reach, overplay the passing lanes, forgo the glass and close out slowly. Even when plugged in defensively, he is quite slow laterally, undersized and easily gotten around by opposing guards, so he needs maximum effort to compensate and it is not always there. This is not something that he phased out as an upperclassman, either – indeed, Crawford was arguably more liable to switch off and play soft as a senior than in any previous year. And he also seemed to get slightly stockier. On offence, Crawford’s mid-range jump shot is nice, but he won’t use it, and despite his decent athleticism and solid enough handle, it is a wonder why he so often refuses to use them on the drive. It is not an especially nuanced handle, and Crawford rarely gets beyond the first line of the defence, instead racking up his assets from a willingness to pass and moving it around the perimeter. He never gets to the foul line, is not a speedster, heat checks too often, and does not even work as much off the ball as you would want a shooter to do.
Crawford never improved a great deal in his time at Memphis. It is true that he didn’t have to improve much to be a contributor, but it is a big hindrance at this next level. Crawford is an occasional shooter, occasional point, occasional ball handler and occasional defender who will be advertised as having defensive versatility, but he is also streaky, undersized, not hugely athletic and unassertive who never made himself all that reliable. It is not too late to start, but these ills will not be cured in or before summer league. Wayne Ellington has a similar physical profile and skill set, but Ellington competes and moves off the ball.
Troy Daniels – Houston signed Daniels down the stretch of the season to a contract with a team option for 2014/15, and an actual team option for 2014/15, not an unguaranteed contract merely reported as one. They then declined it, which was expected considering their cap space aspirations, but they then extended Daniels a qualifying offer. Under the 2005 CBA, qualifying offers only had to be guaranteed for the same percentage of guarantee as the final season of the previous contract, but under the 2011 CBA, they have to be fully guaranteed regardless. So Daniels now has a $1,016,482 qualifying offer out to him that is fully guaranteed, that he can accept any time, that is his cap number, and that is twice the size of the $507,336 roster charge that Houston would have had had they declined the option and renounced his non-Bird rights. It is odd. If they wanted to retain him as a player, they could have exercised the option, had him enter the same restricted free agency next offseason and keep him dirt cheap in the interim, and while they could always rescind the QO if they needed to and maybe just extended it to keep his price competitively low should anyone come bidding, they could also have not taken the risk. It is odd, especially given Daniels’s number of suitors. The Rockets will not have Bird rights on Daniels, remember, and will likely have to match with cap room or an exception, depending on the amount he signs for. Nevertheless, it is known what Daniels does – catches and shoots. And it works. And Houston seems to want him back. And that’s all good. Although the predominance of shooting guards on this list might mean they are open to reason.
Andre Dawkins – Dawkins is a shooting specialist, a very good shooting specialist, and little else. And it took until he was a senior to even be consistently aggressive in taking shots.
Off the ball, Dawkins puts in the work to get open. On the ball, he….well, he’s never on it, so it’s tough to say. Dawkins is very much a specialist – it’s all jump shots, and they’re all off of other people’s work. There is a floater in the lane every now and then, but it is rare, as are any two point field goals. And foul shots are rarer still. Dawkins passes little, and struggles to create his own shot, let alone for anyone else. On the defensive end, Dawkins has good size and has developed some strength (aided by having some extra pounds of fat that he shouldn’t), and chases around off the ball, but is ineffective at keeping anyone in front of him. He is, then, pretty much as one dimensional as can be. It is his mercy then that he is big enough and good enough of a shooter to compete at any level. And at least he plays within the confines of his role.
To be blunt, Dawkins benefits greatly from the name of the program from which he graduated. This is not to say his shot is not NBA calibre – it is. And he is just about big enough, if not overly athletic. But the NBA can afford to be picky, and must be considered highly likely to prioritise slightly lesser shooters with better defensive profiles to become their next three-and-D role players. The door is just about still open for Dawkins, but he might have to go through it the Troy Daniels way.
Oh look, he’s on the same team as Troy. What are the odds?
Luke Hancock – Hancock is determined to make the NBA. He was an excellent collegiate role player who did multiple things on successful teams, who does a bit of everything.
Offensively, specifically as a scorer, Hancock mostly takes threes. He takes quite a lot of them, availed by the talent around him and Louisville’s fast pace, casting up 5.5 per game in only 23 minutes. He also however only hit 34.5% of them, down from 39% as a junior, and much more in keeping with the numbers he shot on much lower usage with George Mason. The 39% is the outlier, not the 34.5% – Hancock, then, is a good but not great shooter. He however did pick up his percentages throughout the year, finishing the season well after being down to 24% on threes at one point while struggling with the adjustment to a new shooting technique, a technique that when honed will give him a quicker release with more arc, so there is potential for the uptick to sustain, even if the 34.5% suggests not.
Elsewhere on offence, Hancock is an excellent passer, a very willing one and a good entry feeder who betters any offence he is in with heady, high IQ play. He is a crafty occasional right-hand-heavy driver with a solid handle, endlessly throwing fakes that always seem to get bites, an efficient offensive player despite his near-40% field goal shooting because of his high numbers of threes and foul shots. Without being all that explosive, Hancock can occasionally get up and is deceptively quick, and attacks the contact, even if he cannot finish through it. And defensively he plays well within the team concept and plays with effort, committing far too many fouls but not giving away anything for free.
The NBA is still a big ask, as there is no one stand out skill. But Garrett Temple and Antonio Anderson made similar skillsets work. And they couldn’t shoot at all.
Geron Johnson – Johnson was Crawford’s team mate at Memphis for the last two years, and played off the ball just as much as he did in an entirely different way. The hallmarks of his game are playing hard and playing athletically, and he thrives on all the things those things avail. He runs the court, is always pushing the ball, and can drive to the rim and finish explosively. He really is a dynamic full court player, a tremendous rebounder for a 6’3 guard, and, at times, a quality defensive presence. Johnson’s speed and hands make him a very capable defensive player of both guard positions when the tenacity is there (and it normally is, but there are lulls). Strong with a long wingspan and a great leap, Johnson’s physical profile belies his lack of height for the two guard position, and yet he can also masquerade as a point, bringing the ball up when needed and a good extra passer, if not a defence collapser.
All good so far. Sounds like the upcoming Chris Kramer if Kramer could do something with the ball, if he had longer arms, and if he was even more athletic. Indeed, Johnson shares Kramer’s poor shooting ability, struggling with any form of jump shot and yet not letting that stop him from trying them. The comparison goes further – Johnson struggles to create his jump shots or any offence of his own, cannot shoot off the dribble at all and struggles with poor touch around the rim, but is a good extra passer and has good hands and drives open lanes. Johnson can split a double team and drive baseline in ways Kramer can’t, but there are many similarities nonetheless. Yet what really separates them is Johnson’s knack for turnovers, stemming from forcing the issue, not being able to dribble at the same speed as he can run, throwing the ball away and making too many poor decisions. Johnson makes much happen when he is on the court, but when he’s on the ball, those things are all too often not good things.
This all lends itself terrifically to a workout setting, and Johnson played himself into fringe NBA range in that period. But it may be as close as he gets.
Nick Johnson – Johnson put up ridiculous numbers at the combine, which cemented his already fairly well cemented draft prospects. Yet for all those measurements, he doesn’t play in the overly athletic style of, say, Geron Johnson. Instead, Johnson picks his spots and uses more skill than physical tools, knowing they are in the back should he need them.
Johnson is a fairly complete player on both ends. Defensively, he plays tenaciously, using his foot speed to stay in front of opposing guards and blessed with the ability to clean strip it from them. He moves quickly to recover and rotate, and plays strong help from the guard spot, going down to double cleanly and quickly and yet being adept enough to recover back should he need to. Better than the help is the man to man defence, where Johnson shone as one of the better man to man perimeter defenders in the country at either guard spot.
Offensively, Johnson was also the Wildcats’ highest scorer, doing so in a variety of ways. He is best as a slasher, attacking the rim with craft and guile, and, should he need it, that extra level of explosiveness. Given a clear lane to drive, he can get up and finish – given an unclear lane to drive, he can contort through the defence, use fakes and find seams. Johnson also does a good job on drive and kick action, and racks up decent assists totals despite only very occasional point guard turns. Johnson can also be run off the ball to spot up for jump shots, and drive off of curls all the way to the rim, utilising a floater in the lane and finishing well for a smaller guy. He does not prioritise the jump shot, but can still create ones for himself on occasion with step-back and crossover moves. Not isolating much, not the best three point shooter and not big enough to shoot over anyone on the perimeter, Johnson nevertheless maximises his offensive talents with judicious shot selection and high IQ, low mistake play.
There are no big weaknesses to Johnson’s game, unless we were to nitpick and say his height. It is the ideal point guard’s body he plays in, but slightly too small for an NBA two. But let us not overevaluate that. Without ever really hitting dominant scoring stretches, and while not projecting quite so favourably on the defensive end at the NBA level due to said height, Johnson nonetheless just gets it done. And by “it” I mean a bit of everything. He’s just good.
Chris Kramer – Kramer has long been in the NBA conversation, and has signed contracts with the Bucks in the past. It’s been a while since then, 2010, although Kramer has done enough to keep himself on the NBA’s radar in that time. On the face of it, it is hard to see why – a 6’3 26 year old defensive combo guard who can’t shoot and has every single facet of his offensive game in question at this level. But then you see his athleticism, tenacity and relentless defensive pressure, and it starts to make some sense. Kramer keeps coming back because he is the type of player a coach wants to coach, and the kind of player a team so badly wishes its projectable 6’7 long and athletic wings would channel. But Kramer can never be a 6’7 long and athletic wing, and so it will never work out. Mind you, he’s got more chance than Aaron Craft.
Maarty Leunen – Leunen is something of a forgotten man from an NBA perspective, but is a fixture in Italy, where he has spent the last five years. In each of those last five years, he has shot better than 40% from three, save for one season at 39.6% to which we’ll grant a mulligan. Leunen is not aggressive with this shot – last season for Cantu, he scored only 7.2 points in 31 minutes per game. He also only rebounded for 5.4 per game in that same time, a very poor return for a 6’9 starting power forward, and barely shot more than one free throw per contest. Leunen is about as unpowerful as a ‘power’ forward can be. But what he does do is take his unathletic face-up game and make the best of it, shooting timely shots, moving the ball around, passing very well, occasionally driving, and so often making the right place. This does not lend itself too well to an NBA which, much as it likes a good stretch four these days, requires its stretch fours to actually hunt and take shots. But at least it is pleasingly different from all the things summer league is normally known for.
Jermaine Marshall – Marshall has a pretty ideal profile for a high quality European import off the ball player. Playing alongside Jahii Carson, Marshall was all the things Carson wasn’t – efficient, low usage, fairly big, playing off the ball. He could actually stand to do this last thing a little better, as he is a very good catch and shoot player, yet he does not put in as much movement off the ball as he ought. Nevertheless, he affected the game through his scoring without doing so because of excessive touches.
Marshall will occasionally be called upon to run a pick-and-roll play, but is mostly a jump shooter. His shot selection is fairly good, save for the occasional bad one, yet that was partly due to the nature of the team’s style. When slashing, he demonstrates a sneaky hesitation dribble and can finish with a floater, yet this is not a part of his game he favours. Rather than attack the basket or the shot-blocker, Marshall prefers to shoot, and the jump shot is the biggest part of his arsenal. Its efficiency is also currently a one year outlier, which is mildly uneasy. Nevertheless, Marshall showed last year that he can score, he will score, and he can be an effective and efficient weapon on medium usage. Defensively, Marshall plays hard and contests even when beaten, with long arms and anticipation and a consistent defensive effort, all of which overcome a lack of ideal size. He is not standing out in this facet of the game, but he is not sitting down either. And he’ll take a charge when he can.
At times, he gets wild, and there is no one amazingly strong facet of the game. But Marshall is versatile and efficient, doing a bit of everything. This is always marketable. NBA? Probably not. But certainly somewhere.
Akil Mitchell – As a senior, Mitchell completely lost the free throw stroke he had built up to mediocrity as a junior, and his 42.7% shooting from there made him a liability. He rushes the release on the shot and snatches aggressively at it, and has absolutely no rhythm on it nor any jump shot. Given what an offensive liability he became from the line, this also affected his minutes, and as good as Virginia was last season, Mitchell had to watch some of it from the bench, averaging only 25.7 minutes per game.
Mitchell nonetheless played a big role for the Cavaliers, mostly defensively and on the glass. He is a good leaper with a high motor, who returns a very good rebounding rate and embraces his role as a dirty worker. He uses this motor in a similar fashion on the defensive end, where, despite an average amount of lateral quickness that his jumping ability rather masks, and despite a lack of optimum size for post defence, he nevertheless contests on everything. Mitchell hedges hard on pick-and-roll actions and can stay in front of driving big men, but he can be blown past on closeouts given that he does not change direction too quickly, and sometimes those pick-and-roll hedges are a little too hard. He nonetheless moves his feet as best he can, has some shot blocking timing around the rim, and is a nuisance defensively if not a lock-down player at any position.
There is occasionally some offence from Mitchell, who is not Reggie Evans out there. He runs the court hard and can finish around the rim if set up, throwing a little spin to a righty hook if impeded and going straight up if not. He has not the best footwork, has very little handle, has even littler of a jump shot and travels a bit, but his sprightliness and cuts to open spots give him a purpose offensively, and he stays within that role. Players who recognise their limitations and play within them are always fun to be coached, and Mitchell is so capable of and willing to embrace his interior role playing status that he has made it all the way up to this level. But at 6’8 and 230lbsish, anything further is a long shot.
Omar Oraby – Oraby was covered emphatically in the 2014 NCAA Senior Centres round-up. Click here.
Richard Solomon – Solomon never developed all that much offensively in his career at Cal, but is a tremendous rebounder and sometime defensive pest who somehow does it all without looking like he is trying all that hard. That is not to say that he isn’t, save for some defensive lapses, and he is especially active on the glass. Sometimes, though, that activity is tied to his scoring output. If he’s not scoring, he’s not fighting. For the most part, though, Solomon boxes out on the glass and uses his height and length to clean up loose balls in and around his area. He is mobile and athletic, if a bit thin, and is also a weakside shot-blocking presence on the interior. Solomon fouls a lot and can be pushed out of position all too easily, but he is long if not strong and pursues the ball, improving throughout his Cal tenure as the back piece of the zone.
Offensively, Solomon is a finisher, not a creator. His athleticism allows him some looks at the basket and the occasional ugly drive to the rim, but he has poor touch on pretty much every type of shot, and especially struggles to finish against strength. He does however use his mobility well to dive to open spots and run the court in transition, and makes enough mid-range jump shots, putbacks and wild flails to make defenders at least play him. In the post, Solomon rather premeditates his moves instead of reading and reacting, and is not consistent down there, save for his consistent desire to go to his right hand, but he can nevertheless be effective through the length alone on his occasional post-ups, and utilises a spin move to a righty hook and reasonable footwork. Coupled with the occasional mid-range jump shot, and even the very occasional turnaround from the post, Solomon is a passable offensive player, if highly unpolished.
Can he make it in the NBA on the rebounding alone? Probably not at a thin 6’10, no. But summer league is not just an NBA audition, and Solomon will no doubt be in Israel or something soon.
Chris Udofia – Udofia puts up highly entertaining stat lines, especially from a player standing only 6’6. He averaged 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game on the defensive end, 12.0 points and 3.9 assists per game on the offensive end, and 5.3 rebounds per game in between. This somehow put him in the top 100 in the nation in both blocks and assists per game. And that fact is magnetic.
Denver struggled badly to score, which worked for and against Udofia. Their lack of shot creation and scoring let him play a point forward role, and he led the team in assists, but he also has a poor jump shot of his own and couldn’t answer their need for a primary scorer. He is a sharer of the ball without the handle to create the assists are more from him being easily the best talent on the team rather than because he is a primary playmaking option. Nonetheless, Udofia plays both posts and is a good passer from either, playing both halves of the pick-and-roll at times.
Physically, Udofia is a very good athlete, an NBA calibre one in an NBA’s body. A dunker who will run when he can, Udofia figures to have no problem defending the small forward position, despite playing a lot of power forward to date. He moves well laterally and has the length and anticipation to be a disruptive presence in help defence situations, while also being a committed man to man defender. If he could shoot, this would be a quality three-and-D candidate. But the shot is a problem. He’s going to have to defend perfectly to overcome the lack of it.
Pendarvis Williams – Penny worked out for the Rockets before the draft, fresh off of a senior season at Norfolk State in which he averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. The 6’6, 195lbs combo guard has a good frame for the NBA wing position and is a decent enough athlete, and plays good defence at the position. His 35.5% three point shooting as a senior was lower than the near 40% he shot in the previous three years, and, capable of taking over the point guard duties in a pinch, is a very versatile player who contributes in all facets. Williams is not an offensive creator and does not do much with the ball inside the arc, but he plays accordingly, shoots 49% from the field, and is a projectable under-the-radar role player who should make his money somewhere.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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