No Names and Pro Names of the 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League
[Note: In Part I of his Summer League Round-Up, Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) reviewed eight of the biggest names in Vegas. In Part II, he takes a look at 21 other players from all walks of pro basketball life that helped shape this year’s NBA Summer League.]The NBA Summer League is not only about catching a first glimpse of high-profile lottery picks. It’s also about unheralded rookies trying to make their mark, second-year players pushing for a spot in the regular season rotation, older players with one last chance for a training camp invite, and still others who have no shot at an NBA career but are trying to latch on in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Below are 21 of those players who caught my eye in Vegas—some for positive reasons, others for not-so-positive reasons.
[Spoiler Alert: The most interesting player in Vegas is last on this list.]
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings, No. 8. I do not watch much college basketball so I came in blind on Stauskas. I expected him to be just like the other two shooting guards Sacramento selected in the lottery over the past three years but I was pleasantly surprised. Stauskas did not shoot particularly well from the field (43.3%), but he hit his 3-pointers (47.8%), and he showed good ability to attack the rim when defenders closed out on his jumpers.
Sacramento fans may be tired of hearing Stauskas compared to other white players but he reminds me a little of Rex Chapman. I liked Rex Chapman. He got screwed by the Bullets when John Nash allegedly reneged on a contract offer. Funny story… I was once sitting next to Chapman at a summer league game. I told him what I just told you—that I was a fan and the Bullets screwed him in the mid-’90s. Rex laughed knowingly and nodded politely. Those are the interactions you only get in Vegas.
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets, No. 9. I watched Charlotte play a few games in Vegas and I cannot remember one instance where I noticed he was on the court—except for the one time where I saw the back of his jersey and said, “Wait a minute, that’s Vonleh?” He was just nondescript. The same cannot be said of his teammate and fellow first round draft pick, P.J. Hairston (see below).
Adreian Payne, Atlanta Hawks, No. 15. This guy shoots every time he touches it no matter where he is on the court. That would be good if he made more than 37.5 percent of those attempts—and that percentage includes a 7-for-11 game. Nevertheless, Payne certainly fits Atlanta’s system as a stretch power forward/center. He attempted 30 3-pointers in his six games in Vegas, making nine of them. If you liked Pero Antic, you’ll love Payne.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz, No. 23. Hood reminds me of a more talented Calbert Cheaney, right down to the left-handed release. He just looks smooth. He runs the floor well and has a quick release from behind the arc. Hood’s skill-set fits well in the modern NBA where floor spacing and 3-point shooting are premiums. He can run straight to the corner and punish undisciplined defenses. One caveat, though: My opinion may be skewed by Hood’s spectacular performance against his old teammate Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks in his second game where Hood scored 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting (7-for-10 3FG). Hood’s shooting was much more inconsistent throughout the rest of the week in Vegas. So, he may end up being an equally talented Calbert Cheaney.Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat, No. 24. Napier’s favorite play is to dribble out the entire shot clock then miss a jumper. Not good.
P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets, No. 26. You know how Glen Rice, Jr. looked like a man amongst boys in Vegas? Well, Hairston looked the same way. Maybe it has something to do with both of them playing in the D-League before getting drafted. Hairston is listed as 21 years old but there is no way a carnival barker could guess within five years of his age. He looks 28. Hairston bullied his way to 18.3 points per game in Vegas but he was wildly inefficient, shooting 33.3 percent and hoisting an astounding 120 shots in 215 minutes. That will not work in the NBA.
Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs, No. 30. After four summer league games, Spurs GM R.C. Buford joked that Anderson is slow and can’t jump, so he’ll fit in well with the Spurs. In addition to being slow and vertically challenged, Anderson is a little awkward dribbling the ball, in a Jared Jeffries sort of way.
But perhaps Anderson’s biggest issue is that his head appears too big for his body. [Full disclosure: I did not notice this until the lady next to me pointed it out. But once she did, Anderson’s unbalanced dribbling made a lot more sense.] Not sure if they have a measurement for that at the combine. Anyway, Anderson is no slower than Boris Diaw and the Spurs have turned a lot less into a productive player, so I will not bet against San Antonio’s coaching staff.
Cameron Bairstow, Chicago Bulls, No. 49. Before the draft, a friend of mine insisted that Washington should take Bairstow in the second round. After watching him play in Vegas, I cannot blame Ted Leonsis for taking the $1.8 million instead. Bairstow is a poor man’s Tyler Hansborough. Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair are much better options.
Returning NBA Players.
Delonte West, Los Angeles Clippers. Contrary to reports from Doc Rivers, Delonte was not one of the best players in summer league. Sure, on occasion, he flashed his old offensive game with quick slashes to the rim for tough layups. But that was pretty much it. He gave no effort on defense, letting his man roam free with a Harden-esque indifference. I have no doubt that Delonte is better than 95 percent of the players who were in Vegas, but he did not play with the urgency of a guy who was being given yet another chance to return to the NBA.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings. Sacramento’s general manager gave McLemore a vote of confidence after drafting his presumptive replacement at shooting guard with the No. 8 pick (Nik Stauskas). Don’t believe him. McLemore certainly looks like he should be good. He has great size, runs the floor well, and has nice extension and form on his jumpers. But the shots just don’t go in. To his credit, McLemore improved his shooting percentage to 44.8 percent this summer (compared to 37.6 percent during the regular season). But those numbers are inflated by two good back-to-back games (7-for-10 and 7-for-11). McLemore is like a more athletic but worse shooting Nick Young, if that makes sense. Imagine if Nick Young shot under 40 percent. Would you want him on your team?
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls. Lost in all the hoopla over Otto Porter is the fact that Snell, who was the No. 20 pick last year, was better than Otto in Vegas (and during the 2013-14 regular season). Every year there is one NBA player in summer league who looks like he doesn’t belong—like a varsity player practicing with the J.V. squad. Last year it was Kenneth Faried. This year it was Snell. Snell shot 50 percent from 3-point range on 34 attempts and he did it with confidence, earning him a well-deserved spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team.
Kyrylo Fesenko, Minnesota Timberwolves. Remember him? Fesenko looks like Clifford the Big Red Dog on a basketball court. He is a lovable, plodding Ukrainian big man. Fesenko is not going to make it back to the NBA but there is just something familiar and comforting about seeing him in the gym.Matthew Dellavedova, Cleveland Cavaliers. I like this guy. He gets under people’s skin on defense (Bradley Beal included) and has a nice floater. He’s just a solid backup point guard. I also almost bumped into him, literally, in the lobby of my hotel.
Quincy Acy, Sacramento Kings. Acy looks exactly like Reggie Evans and he plays like a guy who looks exactly like Reggie Evans. He should be on the end of someone’s bench this season.
[Update: Sacramento signed Acy to a contract after summer league and subsequently traded him to New York.]
Austin Daye, San Antonio Spurs. No player was more frustrating to watch in Vegas than Daye. Apparently, the Spurs are giving the fifth-year player yet another shot to redeem his career after picking him up at the trade deadline last year for Nando de Colo. San Antonio’s summer league team ran its entire offense through Daye and he obliged by shooting every time he touched it, despite the fact that he converted a miserable 34.9 percent from the field and 24.3 percent from 3-point range (on a whopping 37 3-point attempts over six games). And he didn’t even look happy while doing it. Daye argued with the coaching staff on the sidelines every time they pointed out his indiscretions. I don’t question San Antonio’s front office for kicking the tires on Daye, but I also don’t think they will be buying.Ivan Johnson, Dallas Mavericks. Prior to summer league, I thought Johnson would be a good pick-up for Washington as minimum salary front-court depth behind Marcin Gortat. The Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair acquisitions put an end to that thought. However, Johnson did provide the most exciting dead ball sequence of summer league in the first-round tournament game between Dallas and Charlotte.
After a made jumper, Johnson turned to take the ball out of the net when a streaking Hornets player who was crashing the lane for a non-existent offensive rebound collided with Johnson, sending him flailing into the basket stanchion and onto the floor. [Coincidentally, it was the very same stanchion that would gain national attention following Paul George’s injury.] After not hearing a whistle, Johnson looked up at the ref from the ground and yelled “Really? M*****f****?” and he punctuated the second word with such aggression that the only possible outcome was an immediate ejection. The funny part was watching David Aldridge, who was contributing to the NBA TV broadcast, shrugging his shoulders and looking confused as he tried to figure out who just got ejected and why.
Darrell Armstrong, Dallas Mavericks. OK, Armstrong was an assistant coach on the Mavs bench, not a player. But he is also a die-hard Washington Redskins fan who once was fined $1,000 for grabbing the public address microphone at a Mavericks game and proclaiming, “How ‘bout those Redskins?” after Washington beat Dallas 35-7 prior to the Mavs tip-off. So, I asked Armstrong his thoughts on the upcoming Redskins season. Long story short, Armstrong thinks Washington has good pieces on offense and he is excited to see a healthy RGIII. Ultimately, though, he thinks the team’s success will come down to how well the defense holds up. Back to basketball…
Guys You Have Never Heard of But Might One Day.
Will Cherry, Cleveland Cavaliers. Cherry is what summer league is all about. The 6-foot guard out of Montana went undrafted in 2013 and played very sparingly on New Orleans’ summer league team last year. After a season in the D-League, Cherry earned a spot on Cleveland’s summer league team this year alongside Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Cherry took full advantage of his opportunity playing in front of packed crowds alongside the No. 1 overall picks. He is an undersized but aggressive shoot-first point guard who adds an offensive spark off the bench—like a young Aaron Brooks, back when being Aaron Brooks was a good thing.
In his second game he lit up the Spurs for 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting (3-for-5 3FG) with seven rebounds, four assists, and zero turnovers in 23 minutes. Best of all, he did it with an infectious enthusiasm that ignited the crowd and sent scouts scurrying for their programs. These types of unexpected performances from guys fighting for their professional lives are what make even the sloppiest summer league games interesting. Cherry kept it going all week, shooting an exceptional 52.1 percent from the field.
[Update: Cherry’s solid play earned him a two-year contract with the Toronto Raptors.]
Justin Holiday, Golden State Warriors. Jrue’s brother is a perfect example of how summer league success can be deceiving. Justin went undrafted in 2011 and has bounced around Europe with short stints on NBA rosters since then. Now, all of a sudden, he tears up Vegas with consecutive 29- and 26-point games. Holiday, a skinny 6-foot-6 inch shooting guard—emphasis on shooting—was not shy on the court. Summer league rewards scorers who thrive in a wide-open, playground-style game. For those types of players, success in Vegas does not necessarily translate to the NBA. Perhaps no player illustrates that point better than Anthony Randolph. Randolph is the Dominique Wilkins of Vegas. Unfortunately, he is the Anthony Randolph of the NBA.
Guys You Will Definitely Never Hear of But Who Deserve Recognition For Making Summer League Enjoyable.
Brock Motum, Utah Jazz. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in timing, hustle, and court awareness. No matter who guarded Motum, especially Jabari Parker, Motum beat his man down the floor and established good offensive position going into the set. Unfortunately, his teammates tended to ignore him just as often as his defender did.
Motum is not totally lacking athleticism though. He surprised the Thomas & Mack Center crowd after receiving an outlet pass on a fast break, driving hard to the basket, and jamming it home over an unwitting Milwaukee defender who didn’t have a chance. Motum also showed good timing crashing the offensive boards and a knack for avoiding box-outs from his opponents. When left open, he had no problem hitting the increasingly popular long-range 2. Motum’s game is perfectly suited for Summer League in which his hustle, high energy, strength, and skill can overpower most opponents. In the NBA, his upside, however, goes only about as high as a 15th man—Trevor Booker with less force but more of an all-around game.
Greg Somogyi, Utah Jazz. I covered Rudy Gobert’s dominant summer league play in Part I. In an apparent attempt to make lightening strike twice, the Jazz’s summer league squad also included Greg Somogyi, a 7-foot-1 Hungarian, who at some point took the floor for UC-Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, as they teach you in rehab, lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
Whereas Gobert was light on his feet, aggressive on the boards, and oppressive in his protection of the rim, the slightest movement from Somogyi looked labor-intensive. Somogyi protected the rim by fouling just hard enough to facilitate and-1s. He used his lanky frame and giraffe-like reach mostly to fan and swat at the already air-conditioned Thomas & Mack Center air, but his swats did not produce many blocks. Opposing point guards, with enough momentum behind their jumps, out-muscled him for rebounds. On offense, the most that can be said is that Somogyi seemed to have a real nice touch from the free throw line. He didn’t spend much time at the line, though. More often than not, he dropped the slick passes shuffled to him by Trey Burke and didn’t even see coming the ones dished by Dante Exum.
On the bright side, Somogyi has a full head of hair that, in old school fashion, he wears neatly parted to the side. Also in old school fashion, he opts for in-game celebration with a double high-five jammed right at the solar-plexus of the teammate he wants to support.
The Most Entertaining Player in Vegas.
Near the end of every summer league game the two teams playing in the next game start walking through the crowd toward the court to get ready to warm-up once the final buzzer blows. The crowd usually gets distracted by the assembly line of very tall people shuffling by—“Hey, that’s Andrew Wiggins walking right in front of me.”
In the final minutes of Washington’s first summer league game against Atlanta, the Dallas Mavericks, who were scheduled to play the next game, started their court-side trek.
I barely noticed the large cavalcade until the girl next to me tapped my shoulder and asked, “Is that a player?” I quickly scanned the over-sized group and my gaze stopped at an Asian guy who appeared no more than five and a half feet tall. My initial thought was he could be a trainer. Then, realizing it was the Mavs, I thought it might be a Mark Cuban gimmick. After all, Cuban toyed with putting Brittney Griner on the Mavs summer league squad last year.
A quick internet search revealed that the man in question was Yuki Togashi, a 5-foot-7 point guard from Japan who played his high school ball locally under Stu Vetter at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland. After failing to receive a Division I scholarship offer he returned to Japan to play professionally, where he established himself as one of the top players in his rookie season.That was enough to get me interested. I made sure I had a front row seat when Dallas played Charlotte for their opening round matchup in the summer league tournament.
The first thing you notice when Yuki walks on the court is that he is short, very short. But it’s not just his height that makes him look out of place. The 20-year-old also looks very young. Even Togashi joked after the game that “I look 15 years old.” As he stood under the basket awaiting a rebound during pre-game shoot-around, he looked more like a ball boy than an NBA hopeful.
Togashi had only played 10 minutes combined in his first three games (including a DNP), going scoreless on two shot attempts. So, as he took a seat on the bench before tip-off of his fourth game, it was anyone’s guess when, or if, he would enter the game.
That question was answered late in the first quarter when Mavs summer league coach Kaleb Canales called for Yuki. As he sat in front of the scorer’s table waiting for a stoppage of play, a palpable excitement filled the arena. The Japanese-speaking media assembled next to the Mavs bench and readied their cameras and video recorders.
Togashi entered the game and made an immediate impact. First, he deflected a pass out of bounds. Then he picked up a charge as the Hornets’ point guard tried to muscle him out of the way. Moments later he tipped another pass on the defensive end. As the first quarter clock wound down, Yuki found himself open in the left corner. He caught a swing pass and drilled a 3-pointer to end the period.
It was a nice start but Yuki was far from finished. He started the second quarter with another 3-pointer. A few possessions later he hit a floater in the lane that got the entire Dallas bench to its feet. Mavs assistant coach Darrell Armstrong called to the Japanese media member sitting to my left, pointed to Yuki and nodded his approval. The next time down the court Togashi pulled up for a heat check jumper that just rimmed out. At this point, the crowd was chanting “Toga! Toga!” every time Yuki touched the ball. Togashi said after the game that he was uncomfortable with all the fan attention but that he got used to it as the game went along.
Yuki kept the fans’ excitement going in the third quarter as he hit a pull-up jumper from the left elbow to beat the 24-second shot clock then ended the quarter with a nice crossover and floater in the lane that beat the buzzer and once again brought his teammates to their feet. All of Yuki’s highlights can be seen here.
He ended the game with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-2 3FG) in 11 minutes, but he was not just getting it done on the offensive end. His defense was surprisingly effective. Togashi picked up opposing point guards full court and frustrated them by getting into their chest. Yuki negated their height advantage the same way you negate a shot blocker, by getting into their body and taking away their space.
To hear Mavs summer league coach Canales put it, Yuki’s breakout game was not a surprise.
“We saw what we’ve been seeing since training camp. His speed is his biggest weapon and he used it to his advantage today and he got in the paint and he was in drive and kick mode and making good decisions and defensively I thought he established himself picking up the ball and that carried over to everybody else.”
After the game—which Charlotte won on a last second 3-pointer—a small group of reporters gathered in the tight hallway outside the Mavs’ locker room. Dallas’ press relations coordinator announced that he would bring Yuki out to the larger main tunnel because of the increased media interest.
After a couple minutes Yuki emerged from the locker room and seemed a little overwhelmed by the attention. He led the small group of reporters into an open area and shyly turned to face the cameras and handheld tape recorders pointed at him.
How do you feel about the fans cheering for you the whole game?
“Yeah, I know I look like I am 15 years old, so maybe that’s the reason the fans love me. Sometimes it’s too much, but I got to get used to it.”
What is the biggest adjustment playing in the NBA compared to the Asian leagues—is it the speed of the game?
“Not speed, strength-wise it’s different. I have to guard 6-foot-3 guards. I never guarded anyone in Japan over 6-foot-3.”
Are you used to driving in the lane and being so much smaller than everyone else, trying to weave through 7-footers?
“Yeah, in Japan we have a couple big guys. I am kind of used to this.”
Yuki explained that before joining the Mavs’ summer league team, he participated in a three-day mini-camp in Dallas. After seeing the competition, he was not too confident he would make the team. “The other point guard was very good. I thought he was going to be in this. I hoped I am in there but I didn’t have that much confidence.” That other point guard, according to SBNation.com, was Chris Smith, J.R.’s little brother.
So, what is next for Yuki? After the Charlotte game he said his goal is to play in the D-League and that his success against the Hornets gave him confidence that he can succeed.
One thing is for sure, Togashi is not looking for extra attention or special treatment when is on the court. During his previous game when he played four minutes and went scoreless a big portion of the crowd was cheering for him to shoot whenever he touched it. Yuki said he never experienced anything like that.
“They were expecting too much. Even my teammates tried to give me the ball and they want me to shoot it. I don’t like this kind of basketball. I just want to play basketball.”
That’s what makes summer league so great. So many players fighting for so few opportunities to do the one thing they love—just play basketball.
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