Friday, July 10, 2009

NBA Summer League '09 Preview

Some guys just can't handle Vegas. Believe it or not, that saying can apply as easily to pro basketball as it can to hangovers. Every year, player's hearts are broken, dreams are shattered...or lit anew in the UNLV arena, with as many scouts and team officials on hand as fans as they watch their, and their opponents, prized talents and go head to head, plenty of them for the first time in an NBA uniform.

I think every fan has an idea sports getaway, usually a week-long Super Bowl excursion or taste of Fenway Park, but for me, watching the league's best, mostly uncultivated talent ferociously compete for playing time and a roster spot over 10 days in Vegas is my grail. I believe $200 gets you a pass to every game, and I plan on going next year. For now, I'll have to rely on the reported stats and other coverage. While we're going about our days at home, here's what will be going down in the desert.

Anthony Morrow will have opponents begging for mercy
Having averaged 10 ppg as a rookie and led the league in three point field goal percentage (46.7%) - as a rookie - it came as quite as a surprise to me to see Morrow on the Warriors summer league roster. Not only is Morrow one of the 2 or 3 best shooters in the league - the righty has reportedly been beating teammates in H-O-R-S-E left-handed, and in one drill hit 90 out of 102 threes he attempted - he's also a tremendous and well-rounded scorer, famously dropping 37 (15-20 FG) in his first career start. At the summer league, I expect him to be the player who, were he in high school, would be having opposing coaches asking to see his birth certificate.

The Minnesota Timberwolves soap opera premieres July 12
There have to be more awesome storylines associated with this team than with any other summer leagues squad in the history of the event. Were it a soap opera, the ads might communicate something of this sort:

Spanish prodigy and T-Wolves top pick Ricky Rubio nowhere to be found!
Bobcats rookie Gerald Henderson, the #12 pick in the draft, playing for Minny!
Johnny Flynn and Paul Harris, teammates in high school and at Syracuse, reuinited!
First-round pick Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderon, teammates in high school but rivals at UNC and Duke...Reunited!!
Mid-major wonder Ben Woodside, who scored 60 points in a game and 37 against Kansas in the tournament, on the roster!

Yes, it will be awesomely exciting, especially considering they have Corey Brewer, still looking to prove he can play, as well as the talented Bobby Brown and Oleksiy Pecherov, a first-round pick three years ago, on board as well. Indeed, no NBA fan will want to miss an episode.

The Kings could go undefeated
In many ways, the perfect team for this event. Down low they have the summer league equivalent of the Twin Towers in talented and proven big men Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson, who both averaged 11 and 7 last year, and are just 21 and 23 years old, respectively, and at the swing position Donte Green, who memorably averaged a whopping 22.6 ppg in the summer league last year, including 40 points in his debut. And if that weren't enough, they've also got #4 pick Tyreke Evans at guard and fellow first-round pick Omri Casspi in the lineup as well. If they can develop some chemistry, they're almost unbeatable.

The Cavaliers will suprise a lot of people
Looking at the Cavs roster you would probably think they just aren't trying, and really, they're not - but the players damn sure will be. With virtually no room on the roster for anyone besides current, but practically anonymous benchwarmers Tarence Kinsey and Jawad Williams, and maybe Christian Eyenga, who still might not join the team next year, the Cavs fielded a team of just 9 players, or, half as many as the Mavericks. Expect them to play their hearts, out, though, and steal a few games from some heavily favored opponents. They're very balanced, with a couple big, physical point guards (Jamont Gordon and Maureece Rice), athletic and dynamic swingmen (Eyenga, Danny Green), versatile forwards (Jawad Williams, Leo Lyons), and a great amount of NBA experience in Kinsey and center David Harrison. They won't run the table, but don't expect them to be run out of the gym, either.

The Knicks, as only the Knicks would, aim to mentor Jordan Hill with the biggest washouts of the decade
What's the best way to prepare your top draft pick, an extremely talented young big man, for success in the NBA? Prepare him with a few of the biggest busts ever at his position, of course! The Knicks roster boasts the unique talents of Nikoloz Tskitishvili (5th pick in 2002 draft), Yaroslav Korolev (12 pick in 2005 draft) and Mouhamed Sene (10th pick in 2006 draft), all of whom stand at least 6-10, and none of whom ever averaged more than 3.9 ppg in a season. These three supposedly talented big man stand for everything that's wrong with talent evaluation in the league, and are arguably the three least productive draft picks of the last ten years. Are these the guys they want to first surround Jordan Hill with? Best of all, only one of them (Sene) was on the Knicks roster last season, and the others haven't been in the league for two full years, meaning they actually made an effort to go get these guys.

The Nuggets are short but sweet
Like Cleveland, the Nuggets are coming off a conference finals appearance and have little room on their roster, so their team is comprised of just 9 players, including the best group of guards in the summer league. Among them are first-round pick and NCAA champion Ty Lawson, the resilient Coby Karl, fresh off leading the Celtics in scoring in the Orlando Summer League, Arkansas product Sonny Weems, who averaged a crazy 20.5 ppg in only 28.3 mpg in the D-League this past season, and six-year veteran Kareem Rush, who's averaged 6.5 ppg in career. If former lottery pick Cedric Simmons and C.J. Giles can hold it down the fort on the block, they're a dangerous squad.

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