In what will hopefully become a daily segment here at the Beef (depending on our work schedules and social lives) we will bring you a diary of sorts on topics related, directly or indirectly, to the NBA lockout. In a sense these entries will be little different from regular postings found here but since NBA news is scarce right now these musings will have to fill the void.
Several days ago I wrote about the possible exodus of young talent jumping ship and headed towards leagues overseas to continue their careers. Many players, including veterans hinted at the notion throughout the season as CBA talks stalled but I was speaking more along the lines of players who had previously attempted to join the league via free agency or who had gone undrafted. However, today brought news that Sonny Weems of the Toronto Raptors has decided to play in Europe for the coming season. He is not the first to make the decision to play in Europe. Nenad Krstic, Hilton Armstrong, and David Andersen have all chosen to play overseas next season. Like Weems, all of them became free agents this summer. Yet, Weems is more of a recognizable figure, to those who follow the sport, as a rising talent mired on a dreadful team.
Weems saw increases in his minutes and scoring last season with the Raptors and made the most of the opportunities before him. Toronto extended a qualifying offer to him but he turned it down as the current lockout leaves the entire NBA season up in the air for the foreseeable future. It is unknown where Weems will sign but the deal will be for one year, allowing him to return to the NBA after what will likely be a lockout shortened season.
The transition to the European style of play should not be difficult for Weems as General Manager Bryan Colangelo has cultivated a Euro-centric team in Toronto. Shooting big men, bad defense, and hard to spell names are the norm there. With the fifth overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, the Raptors selected Jonas Valanciunas. Names do not get more Eastern European than that. Valanciunas is a 6’11” center from Lithuania that has been compared to Krstic. No one knows for sure if he has quite the folded chair throwing abilities that Krstic has, though.
Colangelo and the Raptors were widely criticized by fans when they drafted Valanciunas as it was seen as Colangelo simply going after the most European name in the draft. However, some have come around to the notion that Valanciunas could be a viable contributor in the NBA. They cite his performance in an exhibition game against the Team USA Under 19 squad as evidence of that. In the friendly, Valanciunas scored 23 points and had 11 rebounds as Lithuania routed the United States 108-75. Unfortunately for him, no player in the NBA is under the age of 19 and he will be matched up against the best frontcourt players in the world. Obviously his performance against Team USA U19 must be taken with a heavy dose of salt but it is something to note.
As for Team USA U19 there is one player to keep an eye on: Tony Mitchell. He has been one of the team’s best players as they have advanced through the FIBA U19 World Championships in Latvia. Mitchell did not score in the most recent contest versus China but had eight rebounds to go along with smothering defense that helped Team USA shut down the Chinese. For the tournament, he is averaging six points on 50 percent shooting from inside the arc, nine rebounds (which leads the team), and 1.3 assists.
Mitchell is exactly the kind of player that the NBA cannot afford to lose as the lockout drags on. Yes, he has yet to play a single college game at the University of North Texas, but his upside is what teams are looking for when they are scouting college talent. He has already proved that he is a good rebounder with defensive instincts. Those two assets always translate well to the NBA. What the lockout may do is cause Mitchell to take pause when he must choose between another year of college or entering the draft next year, depending on how long the lockout goes on. It can be said that Harrison Barnes chose to remain in college rather than enter the draft this year because of the impending work stoppage. Perhaps a trend of players staying college longer than a year will emerge after a prolonged lockout. This is all speculation of course.
What is not speculation is that Mitchell should be watched. His stock is on the rise and if he can grow during the regular season it would not be surprising to hear his name more frequently as the NCAA basketball season approaches and beyond that. What he is doing with Team USA right now is very positive for his future.