In less than a week from now the "Summer Suns" will kick off their five game 2009 Vegas Summer League season.
I along with numerous other SBN bloggers will be on hand taking it all in. This year I will be doing double duty covering our boys both for this site but also working on behalf of Suns flagship radio station Sports 620 KTAR. I will be in Vegas July 12th to the 18th catching three of the Suns five games and taking the opportunity to watch a lot of other young players and perhaps, just maybe have a little fun too.
The key thing to remember about Summer League ball is to ignore the game and focus on the individual play. These are teams thrown together with a wide range of talent. They get little opportunity to practice together and each and every player is out there to show his stuff and advance his own agenda.
Typically, we deride this "me-first" ball but in Vegas it is totally acceptable and expected so in other words ignore the score and focus on who does what in the context of the five on five competition.
Going into anything as monumental as the Vegas Summer League, you have to have a game plan and here's what I've got.
Our good friends over at Ridiculous Upside have taken the time to give us the skinny on the various roster filler on this year's team, They will have the privilege of mainly watching four guys with guaranteed contracts and one 2nd round draft pick get the majority of the minutes.
There's only two guys in that group that might be of interest. Jiri Hubalek a 6'11" F/C who played (well I thought) for the Suns last season in Vegas before departing early for a contract in Europe and Kaspars Berzins, a 7fter who's athletic and mobile. If nothing else, these big guys will be interesting to watch.
Enough about those guys though, Summer League for the Suns this year anyway isn't about trying to find a diamond in the rough. It's about gauging the development of three or five young Suns players and draft picks
Returning players development
The Suns are one of the only teams that will start three guys with NBA experience (Lopez, Tucker and Dragic) and each one will come to these games with something to show.
Goran Dragic - Goran's summer so far has kept him primarily in the gym. I haven't seen him yet myself but several people have told me how much muscle he's put on and how cut he looks. Aside from that improving his chances with the young Slavic girls at ASU, this additional strength will help him finish after contact and fight through screens. That's the plan anyway and what I will be looking for.
Talent wise, we know that Dragic has average handle and above average court vision and decent shooting and defense. For his development at point guard I am hoping to see a lot more floor leadership. It is a lot to ask from this young kid from Slovenia and I don't expect him to show up and be Chris Paul but I will be looking for how well he handles this team.
Goran's a nice kid with an out-going personality. Good sense of humor. Smart. He's a guy you kind of want to like and perhaps date your daughter but I've yet to see the "eye of a killer" in him. My expectations aren't high in this regard but perhaps on the court against a lot of guys who he will have a significant advantage over he might put the hammer down on occasion. I definitely want to see him respond tough to some physical play. He can be a nice guy off the court. In Vegas he's going to need to starting earning his reputation as a guy that isn't going to be pushed around.
Robin Lopez - The key for Robin has long been his will and desire. He had a tough rookie season playing in the shadow of both a revitalized Shaq and his brother Brook who turned consistent playing time into a great rookie season. How Robin responds to that challenge could be the key to his entire NBA career.
After seeing him down right dominate at times last summer in Vegas, I am convinced he has all the physical tools needed to be a Chandler-like defensive center. He also has the ability to be a better post player than Chandler with decent improvisational moves and counters and the opportunity to have range out to 10 or 12 feet.
In other words, Robin has a LOT of untapped upside and next week will give us a peak into how much of that he's ready to show next season. Or maybe he's just a laid back kid who enjoyed his time off and will coast through his contract until he's out of the league in a few more years. That could happen too.
On the court we probably won't see much post play from the up tempo Gentry-led Suns but we will have plenty of opportunity to see if Robin plays defense with as much intensity as last year but with more smarts. His rebounding was also a big question in his limited minutes with the Suns last year so I will be looking for how much he's learned about cleaning the glass. Offensively, I would be shocked if we don't see him in the pick and roll on numerous occasions. He can catch and finish both over the top and on bounce passes. He's no Amare but he's not a stiff either.
Alando Tucker - Tuck had a fantastic summer last year on both ends of the court. He showed me a lot of maturity and leadership and is a big reason why I am still sold on his potential. Tucker has nothing to prove to me other then his health.
I want to see him fully recovered from his knee surgery and continue to selectively dominate offensively both attacking the rim as well as shooting off screens. Perhaps his biggest room for improvement will be his outside shooting. He's done pretty well from behind the arc but his flat shot is a problem and will limit his consistent range. I am curious to see if he's changed his form.
I fully expect Tucker to be the leader of this team and I think he will have a lot of fun in that role.
Paul Coro recently suggested that the Suns may not want to pay Tucker $1.9m next year to get limited minutes behind Barbosa and Richardson. As much as it pains me, Tucker's main purpose for being in Vegas might be to showcase him to other teams and to increase his trade value.
Rookies first look
Earl Clark - Having never seen Clark play it will all be new for me. I can't wait to see how he uses his size and athleticism on both ends of the floor and I want to see how he interacts with his teammates. There's a fine balance between being overly aggressive and too passive and on a team like the Suns it is hard for guys to get a feel for their role. Jason Richardson struggled with this last season and it might be a tough adjustment for Clark coming into this situation. Obviously, playing in Vegas in July won't be the same thing as playing in Phoenix in November but at least we will get a first look.
The one area that Clark doesn't need to hold back is on the defensive end. If he can come in as a rookie and focus on impacting the game on that end he will earn more playing time and buy himself time to let his offensive game develop.
With that in mind, it may seem boring but I don't want to see Clark taking many (barely any) jump shots and I am hoping to only see him with the ball in his hands on limited occasions.
Taylor Griffin - Taylor by no means is certain to earn a roster spot on this team. He was a bit of a flyer with a second round pick and while he might be a cheap 12th or 13th guy he also is easily replaced by some other non-drafted player that might stand out.
Playing as a tweener 3/4 he's fighting an up hill battle on the Suns team with Dudley, Amundson and now Clark all standing in front of him in line. While the Suns are deep in that 6'7" to 6'9" range they are thin at center. I would not be the least bit surprised if the roster spot Taylor is fighting ends up going to a cheap big man that the Suns see in Vegas. A guy like Steven Hill, Courtney Sims or even one of the two bigs on the Suns squad.
Oh, and did you hear his brother got drafted 1st and is supposed to be pretty good? I am guessing we will see a bit of Blake hanging around the Suns games.
Other big names
My primary mission in Vegas is to cover the Suns with a big fat eye on the items mentioned above. But there's a lot of basketball being played and it is a great opportunity to get a look at some other interesting names. Last year I got my first look at Kevin Love (impressed) and Joe Alexander (meh). I also saw Jerryd Bayless destroy DJ Strawberry's NBA career and was impressed with Aaron Brooks and CJ Watson. It was the last time Alexis Ajinca has been heard from despite being drafted 20th by Charlotte.
I can't wait to see what happens this year. Here's some guys I am going to watch for...
- Chicago - Taj Gibson and James Johnson
- Denver - Coby Karl, Sonny Weems and Ty Lawson
- Detroit - Will Bynum, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko
- Golden State - Stephen Curry and Anthony Randolph
- Houston - James Flight White, Joey Dorsey and Chase Budinger
- LA Clippers - Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon (this should be a fun tandem!)
- LA Lakers - Adam Morrison?? (where's Sun Yue?)
- Memphis - Thabeet and Hamed Haddadi (the biggest pair in Vegas since Dolly Parton)
- Milwaukee - Joe Alexander, Brandon Jennings and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
- Minnesota - Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and Gerald Hendeson (on load from the Bobcats)
- New Orleans - Courtney Sims and Julian Wright
- NY Knicks - Nikoloz Tskitishvili (!), Jordan Hill, Blake Ahern and Mouhamed Sene
- OKC Thunder - James Harden!, Russel Westbrook, Shaun Livingston, BJ Mullens
- Portland - Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Pendergraph, Patty Mills
- Sacramento - Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Omri Casspi, Donte Green (this team is loaded!)
- San Antonio - DeJuan Blair, Malik Hairston, George Hill, Nando De Colo
- Washington - Javale McGee, Nick Young
- Dallas - Nick Calathes, Mikael Gelabale, Luke Jackson
- Cleveland - TBD
- Toronto - Demar DeRozan, Nathan Jawai, Brent Petway, Roko Ukic, Quincy Douby, Patick O'Bryant
- D-league Select team - Othyus Jeffers, Trey Johnson
Any other interesting talent
There should be a few guys you've never heard of that jump out. Last year a funny looking white guy with a pony tail really stood out for his energy and defensive effort. He was ALL over the court and really made an impression. He turned out pretty good.
1. Dallas: Monday, 3pm
The Mavericks are one of many weak Summer League teams. It will be interesting to watch Dragic and Calathes hook up but beyond that there's not much here to get excited about. I've always like Gelabale and Luke Jackson is a very good D-league player that has a legit chance at a NBA contract. Rodrigue Beaubois might be interesting to watch as well. He's a 6' point guard from France that the Mavs picked 25th overall. That's all I know about him until I see him on Monday.
2. Toronto: Wednesday, 5pm
This one should be the best game of the week for the Suns. Ukic and Douby can play and should be a good test for Dragic and it will be fun to see how Tucker handles DeRozan. Up front they are thin but Petway is a great defender and O'Bryant and Jawai are...big
3. D-league Select: Friday, 7pm
Ugh...There's a lot of very good D-league players balling in Vegas but most of them are playing for an NBA team. That leaves this group as not much more then a gimmick with only a couple of decent (D-league) players. Othyus Jeffers is nice. Walker Russell is an interesting PG that got a try out from the Suns last year in their big 6 player PG audition. And Trey Johnson can play basketball.
4. Memphis, Saturday, 5pm
The Grizzlies present two big match ups for Robin Lopez and Thabeet and Haddadi. This should definitely be a fun one for Robin to battle those two. He should have the strength advantage on Thabeet and quickness on the big Iranian but still, they are tall. Darrell Arthur was a starting power forward last year in the NBA. That's something. Not much but something. There are no guards to speak of on this team.
5. LA Clippers, Sunday, 730pm
This might be a decent game if it weren't on the last game on the last day of the entire event and is the 3rd game in 3 days for the Summer Suns. In other words, even though Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are exciting young players this isn't the match up to see them at their best. Shame the Suns aren't playing them on Wednesday or Friday but they aren't and based on last year there's a good chance the big names will barely play in this one.
It's Vegas Baby!
Aside from having the opportunity for some quality beer, basketball and bullshit time with all sorts of basketball types, my main plan is to crank out a daily podcast with brief interviews with various folks that will be in town for the fun. If you have anyone your interested in hearing from or any specific questions...you know what to do.