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Viva Las Vegas Summer Suns

One week removed from my fabulous Vegas Vacation the image of casino floor desperation is fading but the smell of Summer League perspiration lingers on.

That line just proves I should stick to basketball observation and leave the poetry to my betters.

I'd like to think though when I see great things they make a mark and when dreams crumble in front of me that's hard to miss as well.

Here's a recap of those crushed dreams and rising stars...


There really were only two meaningful take aways from Vegas if you're a Suns fan. The rise of Lopez as a new fan favorite and the demise of Strawberry to the point where he might not even make the roster.

It's important to remember of course we are talking about two rookie bookends being judged by yours truly in what was essentially four practice sessions. Practice. We are talking about Practice (eternal thanks to AI for the best quote ever).

Robin Lopez - The Second Coming of Tyson Chandler

Suns fans are in for a real treat when it comes to Robin Lopez. This kid has got potential to be a very solid rotation player. The kind of guy that championship teams absolutely need to win.

He's got a perfect body for today's NBA game. He's long and athletic but still strong and wide. He physically reminds me of Tim Duncan with a solid base and ample rear-end but more narrow in the shoulders. And while he certainly doesn't have Duncan's touch and array of moves he does share a certain command of the floor both near and away from the rim. His defensive stance is best described as an animal crouch. He gets very low and wide in the post and is very aware and active. He kind of looks like Ray Lewis with those slightly crazed intense eyes.

In a summer league where 90% of the guys are battling for attention so they might land a contract as the 13th man on an NBA team, Lopez was the hardest working most intense guy on the court each and every game. And it rubbed off on his teammates as well. When he rested on the bench the team intensity dipped.

Offensively, there's no let down either. When you have a guy like this playing on the floor with offensive wizards you want him first and foremost to not screw up his chances. He needs to be able to score garbage points on the glass and be able to catch and finish when teams leave him alone to double Amare. Robin will score 8 to 10 pts a game like this when he starts getting consistent minutes.

In Vegas though he was the primary option in the post and displayed nice touch with a right handed 5 ft hook shoot. Most surprisingly, at one point he faced up his man at the top of the key and drove the lane finishing with a 360 spin dunk. He also can shoot free throws (73%) which makes you think in a few years he will be able to hit from 12-15 feet. He showed the ability to catch and finish lobs and pick and rolls as well as Tyson Chandler.

I believe he will end up a better offensive player then Andy Verajao and could easily be more valuable then Joakim Noah in a few years when it's time to extend contracts. Suns fans - start growing your hair now.

Spoiled Strawberry

On the other end of the scale was poor DJ Strawberry. I don't recall ever feeling so bad for a professional basketball player. You know this guy just wants to do well and he is trying so hard. But when he single-handedly choked away a 5 point lead with a minute to go with poor play on both ends of the floor you just knew that there would be consequences. For all the gory details read this and then this.

I know he's not expected to be a true point guard and that he's going to make his way on defense. How then do you explain rookie Jarryd Bayless absolutely torching him for 17 points in the fourth quarter of what was a very tight and intensely contested game? DJ simply could not keep Bayless out of the lane and if he can't do that, then his poor outside shooting and inability to lead the team do not auger well for his future at this level.

Strawberry has great athletic prowess and a lot of desire. He just doesn't have enough of an NBA level game in my opinion. At least not yet. My prediction is that by this time next year he will be in Europe playing for a second tier team.

Tucker Time

Alando Tucker, a close personal friend of mine, looked sharp. He's making the transition from playing power forward in Wisconsin to playing a SG/SF in the NBA. He certainly looked good this summer. He shot 44% from 3 and lead the league in offensive efficiency with 57% FG shooting. A lot of those buckets where in the paint where he simply dominated opposing guards but he also was sharp from mid-range and showed a lot of poise. I hope we get to see Tucker play around 15 mpg behind Bell this season.

Other Faces You Might See Again

Putting on my scouting hat there's a few other guys that jumped out at me. I think all of these guys have seriously potential to make and stick with an NBA team:

CJ Watson - a smallish point guard with serious skills Watson is (I believe) under contract with the Warriors. He's kind of like a mini-Monta Ellis and with Baron gone could see some solid backup minutes. He's got great quickness and handle and can score the ball.

Elton Brown - I watched Elton Brown and Joey Dorsey go head to head in one of the better games I saw. They both put up similar solid 20/10 numbers but I left much more impressed with Brown. He showed more offensive skill then Dorsey (who finished only when spoon feed the ball in scoring position) and was easily as tough. Matt Moore has a great profile on Brown over at Ridiculous Upside. Check it out. Brown is a strong 6'9" throw-back power forward like Jason Maxille. I think at some point this guy is going to make a name for himself.

Gustavo Barrera - This guy is my sleeper pick. A 6'5" true point guard Barrera played for Houston and was impressive. The guy can run a team and can certainly deliver the ball. He didn't put up big numbers and his story is somewhat sketchy but he's the kind of guy that could show up in a few years on a roster and do well.

My dogs of the summer were the twin undersized forwards from Golden State - Anthony Randolf and Brandon Wright. Both are highly athletic and both are rail thin at 205 a piece. That's 6'10" and 205. I'm 5'10" and 205 and not exactly fat. These kids are twigs and I just don't see how they are going to make it in the NBA despite their athletic skills. Too small to play power forward and neither has the range to play small forward. Both in my mind are destined to tear it up in Russia or Greece or somewhere other then the Association.

It was a fun trip and I highly recommend taking a few days next year and heading up to Vegas for a surprisingly casual and under-hyped NBA experience.

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