Ivan Aska – Murray State graduate Aska has played two professional seasons, splitting last one between Greece and Puerto Rico. He averaged 15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 fouls in 29.9 minutes per game for Ikaros, then averaged 6.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 fouls in 13.8 minutes per game for Santurce. The 6’7 power forward never really developed at Murray State, saved for an improved free throw stroke he has subsequently lost again, but he brings plenty of athleticism to the table, easily his most alluring quality. There are occasional post ups, straight line dribble drives and mid-range catch-and-shoots in there, but the athleticism doesn’t seem to make him a shot blocker, and there are no NBA calibre skills other than it.
Danilo Barthel – In his first significant season of playing time at the highest level of German basketball, the 6’10 Barthel won the Bundesliga’s Most Improved Player award. A 6’10 face-up power forward who does a bit of everything, Barthel is a very good athlete for his size, and uses it to put the ball on the floor. He shoots jump shots from mid and long range (albeit not especially well yet), plays the pick-and-roll, can get up to throw down, and handles it very well for one so large. He is also a good passer of the ball with good vision, and who knows how to get open for others, a high IQ offensive player and a very real prospect who has started to realise that potential. Barthel has more to do to put it all together – he makes mistakes at times, forces the issue at some, being too passive at others, and needs to toughen up defensively. But he would have been a high to mid second-round pick had he done what he did this year last year.
Jerrelle Benimon – Making no effort to dress it up, let’s be honest and say that Benimon was a disappointment in his two years at Georgetown. He wasn’t given much to do, admittedly, especially on offence. But he didn’t really do anything. Benimon never scored, never looked to score much, mostly took jump shots at which he was never good, rebounded poorly, turned it over remarkably often for someone with so little offensive responsibility, fouled everyone, and only occasionally had a blocked shot to show for his efforts. He did nothing in two years.
Then he transferred to Towson and became someone else. Transferring to Towson involved a much lower standard of play, of course, but it’s not as if anyone else did there what Benimon was doing. He suddenly became Mr Everything, a muscular and reasonably athletic power forward who drove the team on both ends, playing huge minutes of every game, carrying the load. Benimon rebounds well using this strength and motor, and can also get position and finish down low, albeit not with the greatest range of post moves. Instead, he plays a perimeter role based around a jump shot, some ball handling skills, and, bizarrely, a jump shot born out of his ballhandling skills. Benimon runs both halves of the pick-and-roll, but mainly the guard part, and likes to shoot pull-up jumpers, something at which he is frankly not that bad. Benimon runs the break and does everything you would expect a guard to do, and does so without being too ridiculous in the process. The turnover numbers are very high, and Benimon does have a tendency to barrel into people without knowing why he is doing it, but this is partly due to the cirucmstances he was put in. Towson asked him to do everything, and he pretty much did. This from the man who previously was asked to do pretty much nothing.
A complete transformation, then. And now Benimon looks like a player who can play in any league in the world, except possibly this one, given a lack of supreme size or athleticism. Although, if he proves he can consistently stretch the floor without needing the ball too much to do it, you never know.
Nobel Boungou-Colo – This is Nobel’s first NBA foray at the age of 26. Last year, the Congolese forward averaged 15 points in 32 minutes per game, alongside 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 turnovers, on 40% three point shooter. This was his first season of being a good shooter after a career hitherto of being a poor one, which is promising. However, as he transitions from interior to perimeter player, his rebounding has fallen off a cliff and his turnovers have shot way up. Boungou Colo is a very good athlete with a pro body, but he has never quite known what to do with them, and he just doesn’t have the handle of a small forward. He’s a something forward, an athlete, apparently now a shooter, and a productive player warts and all, but also a question mark in many ways.
Larry Drew II – The Heat continue their interest in Drew, who joined them for both summer league and training camp last season. He spent his first professional season in the D-League, where he was given the keys to the Sioux Falls Skyforce offence (or at least was when DeAndre Liggins let him) and returned averages of 11.0 points and 6.7 assists in 34 minutes a game, alongside only 2.5 turnovers. Drew is certainly willing to pass, and can pass, and wants to pass. But he’s small, no threat in the paint, and his defence is fairly unthreatening. What Drew has does is consolidate the uptick in his three point stroke he demonstrated at UCLA, hitting 38.8% of them on a reasonable number of attempts with the Skyforce. This has to continue to be the case, as he cannot collapse a defence well if he’s obviously not going to score.
James Ennis – Last year’s second-round pick went to Australia and dominated. He averaged 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks in 31.7 minutes per game, and the only reason he didn’t win MVP was because Rotnei Clarke’s scoring was considered more valuable for whatever reason. The Australian league is not an athletic one, and Ennis’s leaping ability and transition games were unparalleled and very unstoppable. Ennis also shot the ball fairly well from three (35% on quite high attempts), finished at the rim, and got there in the halfcourt better than usual. With the athleticism and frame to play defence at the NBA level, along with a long wing span and decent passing vision, he seems to be a legitimate roster spot candidate next season. The handle and shot creating in the half court are not there, but as an NBA role player, they wouldn’t need to be.
Langston Hall – Hall is a big point guard at 6’4, but not a fast one. He passes for big assist numbers with few turnovers, and is a poised point guard who runs the team well, but this is partly due to a lack of dynamicism. Hall hasn’t the speed to get into the lane or collapse the defence, and thus is not able to take many risks even if he sought do. What he does do is play within him limitations, and cater to his strengths, those strengths being sensible passing and his shooting. Hall is a good shooter with better shot selection who can catch and shoot, or take pull-ups off the bounce, including utilising a step back jump shot. His lack of foot speed and athleticism rather undermines his size, but point guards with height, discipline and jump shots generally do well somewhere.
Justin Hamilton – Hamilton is only one of two Heat players under contract at the moment, along with Norris Cole. The one time Heat draft pick has already been waived by the team once, but is back for now and signed to a unguaranteed contract for next season. In 38 D-League games with Larry Drew’s Skyforce, Hamilton averaged 19.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 35.4 minutes per game, making his living mostly with a righty hook but also in shooting 39.7% from three on a limited and increasing number of attempts. He has stretch five potential and weak side shot blocker potential, and if he can toughen up on the offensive glass, Hamilton can be a rare type of 7 footer in the NBA.
Eli Holman – Regular summer league attendee Holman is back, having spent last season in Turkey playing for Usaf. There, he did usual Eli Holman-esque things – grabbing 9.4 rebounds in only 28.5 minutes per game, as well as scoring 13.5 points in that time (almost all from inside the foul line), and fouling everyone who gets near him. Physical, tough and aggressive, if unathletic and not much of a rim protector, Holman’s paint finishes and pick-and-roll looks are tailor made for European basketball, where his lack of breakneck speed matters less. He projects less favourably at the NBA level, particularly defensively, but rebounds pretty much always translate, so he could have a role.
Tyler Honeycutt – After a couple of years of moving around and getting little in the way of regular playing time, Honeycutt settled down to a regular gig last year, and it worked out for him. Playing a full campaign with Israeli team Ironi Nes-Ziona, Honeycutt averaged 15.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. The rebounds were second in the nation – this from a wing player – while the steals ranked third, the points eighth, the blocks seventh, and the assists only just outside of the top 10. Honeycutt was Kyle Anderson before Kyle Anderson, and while it’s not a perfect comparison – he isn’t the playmaking option every time down that Anderson is – Honeycutt is more athletic than his currently touted compadre. Honeycutt has NBA talent, and always has done, getting stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time in his NBA opportunity to date. If he sticks around in the D-League and stays healthy, he’ll make it back.
Tyler Johnson – As a senior at Fresno State, the 6’4 Johnson was asked to do a bit of everything. And he did, to the tune of 15.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, shooting 46.5% from the field and 43.8% from three. Although he led the team in scoring, Johnson didn’t dominate the ball to get those points – the Bulldogs were a fairly high scoring and fast paced team who used multiple ball handlers and player movement to get good looks for multiple perimeter offensive weapons. But Johnson was the best of the bunch, a very discipline high IQ and athletic player who picks spots, makes good passes, sells fakes to open up both the J and the drive, and plays within his limitations. He also crashes the glass hard, and can absolutely sky for his size. Johnson is small for a two guard – even the 6’4 seems a bit generous – and he has no one stand-out facet to his game, but if Chris Babb is projectable as a shooting guard role player, so is Tyler.
Trey McKinney-Jones – In the D-League last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, McKinney-Jones poured in numbers as solid as solid can be. In 32.2 minutes per contest, he averaged 14.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals to only 1.5 turnovers, shooting 46.7% from the floor and 35.3% from three. McKinney-Jones is a good athlete with a strong mid-range game and projectable if not entirely cemented yet three point stroke, who defends well, plays within his limitations, makes few mistakes and loves to run. Role players play roles.
Shabazz Napier – As an underclassman, Napier took many a bad shot. He came in as a scorer and still wanted to be one, but that aggressiveness became damaging as he took too many bad ones and too many early ones. But once he learnt to temper this, Napier became a leader and a go-to offensive option, fearless and unflappable. That is not to say he is not still liable to weak moments – Napier is occasionally still fearless to the point of recklessness and always liable to take a heat check jump shot on his good shooting days but mostly justified now in his decision making. He cannot resist a few bad ones, and often threatens to ruin his hot scoring steaks by playing with tunnel vision. But it is less so now. And a bit of aggression never hurt.
Napier does not really make his team mates better, at least not in a conventional way. Despite decent assist numbers, some pick-and-roll passing and some drive-and-kicks, this is still a score-first player, perhaps even a score-second player. But he does make the team better. Napier is a very talented shot maker, mostly with the jump shot, who regularly hits contested ones and who can shoot off the catch or off the pull-up, needing only a small amount of space to get the shot away. Over time he has put away the excess of long two-pointers and turned them into threes, which has brought up his efficiency, and although he is too small to do much around the basket, he can at least get there, so he cannot be overplayed for the jumper. Napier’s blistering speed and good ball handling skills gets him to the basket with ease even when amongst the trees, and defensively, that same speed combines with good hands, good anticipation, timely passing lane gambles and an improved effort level to be a pest on that end, sufficiently so to often overcome his size disadvantage. He is clutch, a very good foul shooter, and a competitor.
It’s easy to see why LeBron likes him. Given how small Napier is, he will always be slightly hampered at this level. But put talent around him, and he’ll be a fine fourth or fifth offensive option.