There are often NBA players who clearly seem destined to drop out of the league after a short stint. Usually lower draft picks but occasionally higher ones as well, these players fail to make a significant enough improvement in their skill sets to continue to justify a roster spot.
With that being said, Sonny Weems did not necessarily seem like such a player with the Toronto Raptors. From age 23-24, Weems played 128 games with the Raptors and started 47 of those. He shot 48 percent from the field, 25 percent from three-point range and posted a PER of 11.5. Per 36 minutes he tallied 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
The Raptors won only 62 games in those two seasons combined, so Weems did not get any experience playing for a great team. But at the very least he seemed capable of sticking around in the NBA as a role player. Instead, when his contract expired, Weems took his talents to Europe.
He spent one season with Lithuanian club BC Zalgiris before moving to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow. It was there that he underwent a transformation, gradually becoming more of a shooter and distributor for a high-ranking team that had plenty of offense and that, if anything, needed some scorers to take a backseat.
Weems was not the best player on CSKA last season. That would be Serbian star and former Euroleague MVP winner Milos Teodosic.
But Weems played a major role, contributing 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range. Keep in mind that Euroleague games are shorter and starters log fewer minutes. Using his per 36 minute stats Weems averaged about 17-5-5.
If Weems was at least a decent role player four years ago, why can't he accomplish even more now? At 29 years of age he has become a basketball veteran, and playing in Europe has clearly improved his passing and shooting. No longer just a one trick pony, Weems could potentially display for the Suns a skill set that almost resembles an odd cross between Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker.
Weems' athleticism is what was most noticeable about him during his Toronto stint. Even though it's no longer as much of a principal part of his offensive production, he can still get up there. Watch a couple of clips of dunks he had last season. The first dunk is a typical transition bucket, and the second one is an alley-oop created by a smart backdoor cut.
Additionally, here is a clip of Weems using his vertical to jump over everyone else in his vicinity and ferociously grab the rebound with one hand. After grabbing the board he quickly darts a pass down the court, leading to a transition layup.
After watching Weems for several games I never quite came to the conclusion that he would hustle after loose balls with the same intensity as someone such as P.J. Tucker. However, he's a perfectly capable defensive rebounder for a 6'6" wing and he owes that more to his athleticism and timing than anything else.
Overall, I have to say that Weems looked pretty average on defense. He was beat by an opposing player with a quick first step a few too many times for my liking, but he worked to contest shots and put in an admirable amount of effort.
In the first clip, Weems tracks his man well and sticks his arm into the passing lane in order to force his opponent to catch the ball with his back to the basket. He doesn't fall for any dribble moves, stays in front of his man the whole time and shuffles his feet well with his arms raised and stretched out to the side. All of these tactics ultimately induce a travel and CSKA gets the gall back late in the fourth quarter. As a sidenote, apologies for the quality of the clip in the first few seconds.
The second clip occurs at the very end of the second quarter in a game against the Olympiacos. Weems is tasked with defending Euroleague star Vassilis Spanoulis, and at first he successfully cuts off Spanoulis' drive to the left. Weems drops back to stay within close range of the screen setter while stile keeping an eye on Spanoulis and the ball. Then, guard Matt Lojeski drives in from the wing and Weems is able to play great help defense, contesting the close-range shot just before the buzzer sounds.
Shooting is the most obvious improvement in Weems' game. A career 24 percent three-point shooter in the NBA, Weems connected on at least 35 percent of his threes in all four years in Europe. During the 2014-15 season he took more threes than ever before. Three-point attempts accounted for 42 percent of his total shot attempts last season, significantly up from 33 percent in '13-14 and 30 percent in '12-13.
With both Nando De Colo and Milos Teodosic capable of handling the ball and driving to the rim or shooting, Weems was perfectly content to sit in the corner for quite a few offensive possessions. He would occasionally handle the ball and try to create offense for himself, but he is not the most capable ball handler. Instead, Weems spent more time than ever before as a legitimate "floor spacer".
The Suns have a lot of those now, but they all do different things. Mirza Teletovic is a floor spacer who will likely spend a lot of time at the top of the key. Either he'll set a pick for one of the guards and wait for the shot behind the perimeter, or else he'll trail the entire offense during a fast break in case of a kick out pass.
Devin Booker is another "floor spacer", but he specializes in off-ball movement. Booker is similar to players like Richard Hamilton or current Warriors star Klay Thompson. You'll find him running off screens and working to get open for quick shots. He's an elite shooter who doesn't need much time to get his feet set.
Sonny Weems is in a third category. He's a corner specialist, which in a lot of ways makes his job the easiest out of all floor spacers. Although Weems is dangerous in transition and has a solid slashing game, he's often most effective when he simply stands in the corner and waits for a guard to break down the defense. You don't want too many corner shooters on the court at once or else ball movement stagnates, but he's a nice option to position there when Tucker is sitting on the bench.
And of course, below are the clips. The third one demonstrates that Weems may be a corner specialist but is also capable of branching out. He has plenty of range and isn't afraid to take shots in other areas.
By the way, who's that in the third clip at the free-throw line? It's Mike James! Not 40-year-old former Raptor Mike James, but the Summer Suns' Mike James! Small world, huh?
In the Euroleague, where games are only 40 minutes long and rotations often include more players, it's sort of rare to find a team with three 13+ PPG scorers in a single season. CSKA narrowly accomplished that feat last season with Weems, Teodosic and De Colo, who averaged 13.1, 14.8 and 14.4 points per game respectively.
Naturally, Weems wasn't faced with so much pressure and was encouraged to move the ball around. As a result, his assist rate soared.
In the NBA, Weems averaged 2.6 assists per 36 minutes. In Lithuania he was even worse, averaging 1.6 assists per 36 minutes and turning the ball more than twice as often as converting an assist.
But in the past two seasons, Weems has averaged 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. He has gone from having a 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in his final season with Toronto to posting a ratio of 1.82 over the past two years in Europe.
That number would be fairly poor for a point guard, but for a SG/SF it's very reasonable. If Weems could sustain that rate with the Suns, he'd beat out both P.J. Tucker (1.33 ratio over past two seasons) and T.J. Warren (0.93 ratio) easily. And don't even get me started on Archie Goodwin (0.70 ratio since entering the league).
Here are the clips. His passes aren't flashy at all, but the point is that he's willing to pass. Weems is a player who knows his role and plays within it.
I would just like to include this last clip, which resulted in a turnover and an easy basket on the other end. If there is some criticism to give Weems' passing, it's that he has a nasty habit of jumping into the defense and not knowing what to do. Jumping into the air always forces the player to rush a pass, and oftentimes it will lead to a turnover.
Weems isn't a very skilled ball handler, but he can still get to the rim. I may have compared him to Tucker in that both are becoming corner specialists, but Weems is definitely a more well-rounded offensive player. Take a look at a few examples of Weems hopping and shoving his way to the basket, either in transition or in heavy traffic.
It's hard to tell just how well Weems will adjust to the NBA after being away for so long. But if one thing is clear, it's that he has the tools to be a very good second-string player. He has the speed and athleticism to play in a fast-paced system, the shooting ability to space the floor and the strength to drive to the rim.
It's hard to describe Weems' style as anything other than "All-Around". Maybe things were different several years ago, but he appears to be a changed man. If McDonough played his cards right, this could be the team's next big success story.