Tag Archives: NBA Summer League

The Detroit Pistons: on the Cusp

Hope again (The Associated Press)

Hope again (The Associated Press)

Summer League brings with it a new sense of hope. It alleviates the summer doldrums that occur after the Finals have ended, the NBA Draft, and the start of training camps. This renewed feeling of enthusiasm is especially true for teams that have been mediocre or worse for a number of years. Perhaps the sense of renewal will never completely pan out in the long-term. However, for a time, it allows for a glimmer of what might be, new heights, and a new beginning.

The Detroit Pistons have not had a winning record since the 2007-08 season. Detroit’s fall from grace mirrored the fall of the city’s overall economic collapse, though basketball had nothing to do with the underlying issues that the city succumbed to. Nonetheless, as often is the case, sports teams are symbols of a city or region. They serve as an escape from the realities of everyday life. For Detroit, though, the Pistons are not an escape. The team and city have been through so much since the Pistons won the NBA Championship in 2004 that it is a distant memory. With Summer League in full swing now, the Pistons, and their fans, may actually have something to look forward to.

With the eighth pick in this summer’s Draft, the Pistons selected Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a guard out of Georgia. Caldwell-Pope’s best asset is his ability to pull up and make pump shots. With the frontcourt duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe clogging the middle and drawing double-teams, Caldwell-Pope’s opportunities, should he be on the court with one or the other, to get open looks should be frequent.

In the second round, Detroit selected North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. If ever there was a pure athlete, Mitchell is it. (I wrote about him in detail here.) What he brings to the table is an NBA body combined with phenomenal leaping ability. He is also adept at finishing at, but more than likely above, the rim as well as blocking shots.

The Piston’s also selected point guard Peyton Siva, from Louisville, in the second round. Silva is more of a defender than offensive threat, however he manages the pick-and-roll well. This skill will come in handy with the aforementioned frontcourt players as well as Mitchell. Of course, as with all rookies, his skills will only be in service if he sees playing time. Nonetheless, the Pistons hauled a promising young group of players in this year’s Draft.

Perhaps, though, the biggest addition to the Detroit roster is the free agent signing of Josh Smith. Smith has proven time and again that he has the capability of playing at an extremely high level and was one of the most coveted free agents this summer. The Pistons now have a star to build around and many pieces are already in place. However, Smith is not the most refined player. He is prone to taking jumpshots all to often, as shown here. Where Smith is most efficient and effective is within nine feet of the basket. Therefore, his role in Detroit is a tricky one to figure out.

With Monroe likely remaining as the starting power forward, Smith will move into the small forward spot. Drummond and Monroe do much of the heavy lifting inside. With his propensity to take so many ill-advised and low percentage jumpers, Smith could once again drift from the paint with it occupied. If this happens, it could turn out poorly for the Pistons. It will take a degree of ingenuity on the part of new Head Coach Maurice Cheeks to open up lanes and allow Smith to get his shots on the inside.

A solid model to study would be that of last year’s Denver Nuggets. That team took the vast majority of their shots, 55.74 percent, within eight feet of the basket. With so many big men, Mitchell included, who can score well inside, it would behoove Detroit to attempt something similar.

There are still a lot of uncertainties with the Pistons. It is a new new for all respects. Yet, there is reason to believe that this could be the start of Detroit’s turnaround. They had a solid draft and brought in a big-name All Star. Not only that, but a member of Detroit’s last championship team, the beloved Rasheed Wallace, has joined Cheeks’ coaching staff as an assistant. That in and of itself should be reason to take interest in this year’s team.

Summer League has a funny way of leading to the “what-ifs” of the season to come. Detroit’s team has shown promise, especially the play of Drummond. While nothing may pan out, we can all  hope for the best. Right now, that is all Detroit has but at least  the pieces are there to make things interesting until opening day. And that is the joy of Summer League.

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NBA Lockout could send Influx of Young Talent Overseas

Samhan, like many Americans has found success overseas but the NBA is still the goal

The immediate impact of an NBA lockout is obviously a negative one. It stymies the league and will only serve to anger fans for many years. It is especially destructive to the league after what was widely accepted as some of the best and most competitive playoffs the league has seen in some time. Now, as the owners are on the verge of locking out the players, all fans can do is hope for a speedy resolution.

Though the league, owners, and current players will all be adversely affected in financial terms and in loss of fan support for a time, there is a real danger that there could be longterm, lingering damage done to the league beyond the coming season. If there even is one.

Development of draft picks and undrafted free agents will be hampered greatly. With a lockout in place teams would not be able to workout or hold practice with prospects they would potentially like to add to their roster. For young players this is essentially a life’s work gone to waste as they watch their dreams put on hold because of issues that are out of their control. For teams looking to improve their roster with an influx of young talent it stops them dead in their tracks. Without the ability to see how these players can develop their hopes of improving for the next season are dim.

With the lockout looming earlier this year, the NBA canceled the summer league programs that are so valuable in scouting potential prospects who have not been drafted or played overseas. The NBA, of course, said the cancellation of the summer leagues this year had nothing to do with the prospect of a lockout. Players such as Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley made NBA rosters because of their play in the Las Vegas Summer League last year. Unfortunately, the Miami Heat cut Beverley just before the start of the regular season to add aging veterans to surround their trio.

Due to the cancellation of the summer leagues, the Atlanta Hawks are currently holding a mini-camp for three days in order to evaluate their draft pick, Keith Benson and 17 other free agents. The full list of participants can be found here. One of the more notable names on the list is that of Omar Samhan. Samhan was a standout at St. Mary’s before going undrafted in 2010. He was able to showcase his talents that summer, though, as a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team. He did not make the final roster cut as the team was a deep veteran group. His talents spoke for themselves however and he left for Lithuania to play in the Euroleague.

If the lockout persists for any lengthy amount of time and free agents and young players are cannot demonstrate their skills to NBA teams there could be a trend of more and more players looking to play overseas. Currently, Brandon Jennings is the most recognizable American player that chose to play overseas before being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. He will certainly not be the last though.

Ben Hansbrough, the brother of Tyler Hansbrough, who currently plays for the Indiana Pacers, went undrafted this year. Instead of waiting for the players and owners to come to some form of deal on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Hansbrough chose to forgo the NBA and signed a contract with German team FC Bayern München. It is not uncommon for undrafted players to go overseas to start their careers, however, it could become more and more common for higher profile players to do so as the labor talks continue to stall especially with American college players are seeing more and more Europeans being drafted.

One of the few hindrances to American born players playing in Europe, or elsewhere overseas, is that many leagues place a cap on the number of Americans that a team can have on its roster. Considering the number of options that a player could choose from in the European, Chinese, or ever Qatari (still unbelievable) markets, however, there will more than likely always be a spot and lucrative contract for them.

The NBA’s own Developmental League is also a possible target for players looking to break into the NBA. Despite the Summer League being canceled the D-League season will continue as scheduled. Yet, despite the D-League being directly affiliated with the NBA and its teams, it is not seen as that desirable of destination for some. The pay is minimal in comparison to what teams overseas might offer at less than $30,000 per year and the lifestyle is comparable to that of a minor league baseball players, traveling from small town to small town living out of a suitcase.

A lockout hurts the NBA. Much of what has been written and said about the CBA talks has centered around the financial state of the league and teams. Owners have been repeatedly beating the drum stating that their teams are losing money. That may very well be the case, but they are also circling their wagons to form a defense against the players. The only thing that is truly important is that each sides reach an agreement quickly. A prolonged dispute and work stoppage will hurt the level of young talent leaping for a chance to become a professional player in the NBA. Of course, the NBA will always be the end goal as long as it remains the best basketball league in the world. Other options are out there, however, and players have shown a willingness to see what other leagues have to offer. They will play overseas for a few years then try the NBA again. All they want is playing time and a chance to better themselves and their game. Yet, they cannot find that in the NBA if there is a lockout. The NBA must be a willing partner in the development of young talent if it hopes to keep its appeal as the destination for young basketball players in North America and around the world.

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Household names… of the future: J.J. Hickson

J.J. Hickson will be turning some heads this season.

With the exodus of you know who from Cleveland earlier in the summer, the Cavs had a big hole to fill and not much to fill it with.  However, it’s looking like they may not have to look very far or hard to find the future face of the franchise.

J.J. Hickson showed signs of improvement last year in his second season in the NBA.  His minutes were limited to just 20 minutes a game while LeBron James did most of the leg work at the forward position.  Although he had 73 starts alongside James’ side, it’s looking like the departure of the “King” is going to pay off for this young man.

Born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Hickson went on to attend Joseph Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia.  He was ranked as the 10th overall recruit of 2007 and No. 2 for forwards by Rivals.com.  He was named a 2007 McDonald’s All-American and went on to play at North Carolina State. In his first game as a freshman, he scored 31 points against William & Mary.

The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him No. 19 overall in the 2008 draft and he went on to having a mediocre rookie season.  He showed some promising signs with good outings against Oklahoma City, Chicago, Charlotte and even Orlando but only played in five of the Cavs 18 final games of the season.

He saw his first start his second season in the league at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on November 6, 2009.  With Anderson Varajoa, Jamario Moon, Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas all on the roster along with James, Hickson’s minutes were limited and so was his team output.  He finished the season with just five rebounds and eight points a game.

However, in his second season he showed that he had a great deal of physical endurance and strength.  He was a forward that could muscle his way into the lane but still needed a jumper.   To improve this, he worked out with former NBA player Chris Jent who now serves as the Cavs’ director of player development.  His efforts seem to be paying off and he was able to work on his jump shot in the last NBA Summer League.

Last night against the Atlanta Hawks, Hickson scored a career high 31 points hitting all 6 of his jump shots from outside the 16-foot mark.  Despite his impressive showing, the Cavs lost the game 100-88 mainly due to turnovers and their sheer lack of depth.  Hickson gave the ball up five times and three of their five starters only scored a combined 15 points.

However, he is leading the team with over 18 points a game and he actually mirrors the hustle and play that James gave to Cleveland.  The third-year forward is showing signs that he is improving greatly.  He still needs to work on his rebounding with only five a game but that number will go up as long as he gets his minutes.  Right now he is at 27 and if he can develop a jumper, he can build on getting his boards as well.

Hickson may be on the cusp of NBA stardom but he still has a lot of headway to make.  His development shouldn’t be questioned because it will happen but when is still to be determined.  He has the ability to be both a household name of the future and the future face of a franchise.

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