The View From Vegas Summer League

Hi. Do you know me? I was once a Vegas Summer League phenom. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

Perspective: The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance.

Context: The conditions and circumstances that are relevant to an event, fact, etc.

Perspective and context. Do not venture into Vegas Summer League without them. Without perspective and context, you are likely to become overly excited over Donté Greene scoring 44 points in one game, or you might be led to believe that Mustafa Shakur might actually be the answer at point guard.

Vegas Summer League is less to the NBA than spring training is to baseball or training camps are to football. While the MLB and NFL counterparts are fighting for roster spots at their respective venues, the VSL is filled with guys that either have guaranteed contracts or are fighting for an invite to a team's (any team's!) training camp. The Kings version of spring training will occur when their team camp opens in September/October. We did not just witness your 2012-13 Sacramento Kings. We witnessed two guys that are locks for the roster (Thomas Robinsonand Jimmer Fredette), two guys that may make the roster (Hassan Whiteside and Darnell Jackson), and perhaps, on a long shot, a wing (Mitchell? Lee? Gabriel?) will earn a camp invite. None of the Kings top six (and maybe top eight by the time it's all said and done) are playing in Vegas.

Vegas Summer League is a slightly more organized version of Rucker. It is tailor-made for wings. The officiating allows for a lot of pushing and shoving underneath, and contact that would be called for fouls in the NBA are merely blocked shots here. The point guards are generally anything but, so the bigs are not being fed very often or very well. But if you're a wing, have we got a festival for you! If you've been following the VSL, list out the guys that have impressed you, and the vast majority of them are wings (they are for me, anyway): Chandler Parsons, Terrence Ross, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, etc. Now, that's not said to diminish the performances of these players (sign me up for any of them), but the VSL is set up for these guys. IfFestus Ezeli is going to impress (and he did), he's going to do it by picking up the garbage, not because his teammates were finding him. The Rockets did find Donatas Motiejunas often during the Saturday game, but it was virtually all transition or perimeter shooting, not the result of a big man working underneath.

So armed with perspective and context, I watched the "Kings" play a couple of VSL games this weekend. Some observations:

  • Jimmer Fredette The first game shocked me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I had never witnessed a summer league team throwing a full court press out there for practically the entire game as Charlotte did. Maybe it was because so many of Charlotte's core players were in attendance (Walker, Biyombo, Mullens, Kidd-Gilchrist, heck even Jeffrey Taylor might crack that rotation) and they are treating Vegas as an actual training camp. But it surprised the hell out of me, and it surprised the hell out of Jimmer and the Kings. As a result, we learned that (a) Fredette is still not ready to handle an NBA press, and (b) Bobby Jacksonis not ready to be a head coach - you would think that breaking a press is a coaching-101 thing, but again, I'm sure that no one considered that any team was going to show up in Vegas and treat like anything other than a glorified scrimmage.

    But we did see that Fredette is not ready to be an NBA point guard yet. But I'm wondering if that's a big deal in the short term. The Kings have a starting point guard in Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is not premier, but he is at least average for his position, and I sure wouldn't bet against him better. I envision that, if Thomas and Evans are the starting back court for the Kings, Thomas will run the point 70-80% of the time, with Evans handling 20-30% of the time. This would make sense, as you still want to give Evans some opportunities to create off the dribble, and Thomas could actually be the Kings best wing shooter. Now, if Thomas goes out and Thornton comes in, Evans is your point guard. And folks, if you can set the NaPG stuff aside for just a moment, you will notice that Evans is much better point guard than all but a small handful of back up point guards in this league (Andre Miller comes to mind as a bench point that could facilitate an offense better than Evans, but then the list thins out in a hurry). Put another way, would you rather have Bobby Brown, Ronnie Price, Chris Duhon or Tyreke Evans as your backup point guard? I'll take Evans, thank you very much.

    So in this regard, if Fredette were to get minutes while paired with Evans, he would not have to be the primary handler, but he could take on 20-30% while Evans shoulders the other 70-80%.

    I've seen Fredette compared to Mike Bibby by some, but I just don't see it. Bibby came into the NBA as a guy that could really handle the ball, and I'm sure not seeing that with Fredette. And I think that all of this focus on his facilitating skills is affecting his shot. For now, I'd sure like the Kings to simplify things for the kid, and just have him "grip it and rip it" whenever he comes into the game. Don't shoulder him with making his teammates better. Jimmer Fredette needs to make Jimmer Fredette better first.
  • Thomas Robinson OK, so maybe I'm a knucklehead, but I really liked what I saw. Robinson showed that he could handle the ball a lot better than what was advertised, and he sure was working. His rebounding fell short of expectations, but I write at least a little of that off to the fact that he was flat outnumbered in both of the games that I saw. He also falls into that rookie trap of trying to speed things up too much, instead of letting the game come to him a bit. As a result, he did get himself into some bad situations on the floor.

    And 1 - I see his athletic versatility as a good thing. The notion that it might lead the Kings into mistakenly playing him at small forward is a management and coaching issue. If the kid winds up being the second coming of Shawn Marion or even Gerald Wallace, you won't hear any complaints out of me. It's not going to happen overnight, but I think that Robinson is going to have a length and width to his game that goes well beyond Jason Thompson's skill set and along the line of DeMarcus Cousins (not comparing skill level here at this point, but the potential versatility).

    Bottom line, I was excited when the Kings drafted Thomas Robinson. I'm more excited after watching him play twice, even though his performances were that of a...a...a rookie. There, I said it. The rookie played like a rookie.
  • Hassan Whiteside Yeah, I'm a little disappointed with the "progress" of Whiteside. But he's really a penny stock that may never pay off. The Kings spent a 2ndround pick on him, and what they've paid him the past couple of years has not been much, and it certainly has not held the Kings up financially from signing someone else. The Kings will likely carry fourteen players, and six of those fourteen would likely be bigs. Unless the Kings intend on signing someone else, those six could be Cousins, Thompson, Hayes, Robinson, Darnell Jackson and Whiteside. So if the Kings don't waive him tomorrow, he'll see little time and get paid $850k for the season (with $150k also being guaranteed for next season). All things considered, that's not a bad price (by NBA standards) for bench fodder. And while it's disappointing that Whiteside looks less and less likely to become a 2ndround steal, his lack of progress is certainly not what is holding the Kings back.
  • Darnell Jackson During theWarriors-Lakers game, Darnell Jackson stood just off to the side of the grandstands, sporting a KU hat and a Sacramento Kings t-shirt. I made my way over to shake his hand, and I was cut off by a pre-teen boy, who went up to Jackson and said, "You're my favorite player, Mr. Robinson." Jackson politely responded, "I'm not Thomas Robinson, he's down there," and pointed him in the direction of where Robinson was hanging out. It wasn't a big deal, but I was just impressed with how he handled it. I shook his hand and said, "Welcome back to Sacramento, Mr. Jackson, nice to have you back."

    I don't know if Darnell Jackson will stick with the Kings or not, but he'll wind up with Sacramento or another NBA team. And whichever team winds up with Darnell Jackson will be a better team and organization as a result. I hope that the Kings keep him around.

Some rantdumb thoughts as it pertains to Summer League:

  • This is a candy store if you are a basketball fan, especially an NBA basketball fan. During the seven games that I watched over two days, I sat a couple of seats away from guys like Jared Sullinger and Andrew Bynum. I was within 30 feet of Jerry West. Hey, there's C-Webb! There's Kevin McHale! There's... You couldn't swing a dead cat in the place (sorry, Ziller) without hitting an NBA player or prospect.
  • All of the games that I saw were held in the Cox Pavilion, which I'm guessing holds about 2,500 people. The Thomas and Mack Center, which is attached to the Cox Pavilion, was not being utilized for the VSL while I was there. This was too bad from the stand point that in the past, you could literally wander back and forth and catch the different games. But the Cox Pavilion provided premium seating at every turn.
  • My MVP over the weekend would have been Klay Thompson. His shooting fell off in the 2nd half of his second game (likely a conditioning thing), but he was a man among boys.
  • The other MAB was Chandler Parsons, who sat on Sunday after looking dominant on Saturday (he was icing his wrist at the end of the Saturday game so he may have had Sunday off as a precautionary measure).
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the weekend's best rookie, based on his performance against the Kings.
  • I really like the Warriors rookies (even when adjusting for the VSL environment). Barnes looked good (and bad, but mostly good), Festus Ezeli could be a potential steal (solid minutes guy, not NBA all-star guy), and Draymond Green sure looked like he belongs on an NBA team.
  • Is there some rule that I don't know about that one of the prerequisites for playing for the Kings is that you struggle from the free throw line? Maybe that's why we traded Kevin Martin.
  • Jordan Hamilton (Denver) was the whiniest biatch in the place. I mean, he complained about every call and every non-call. It was amazing.
  • Donatas Motiejunas looked like an NBA player, but it will be interesting to see what happens once he is faced with real size and talent coming up against him. I liked him, though.
  • It was also fun to watch Pete Myers (Golden State's coach) just absolutely try everything he could to work the referees. While the other team's coaches were mentoring their players, Pete was at the refs. It was fun to watch. That said, Golden State was the best looking team while I was there.
  • If you're ever going to watch 14 hours of basketball over two days, you will not find a better wingman than betweentheeyes. The man knows his basketball, and he beat the tar out of me when it came to identifying the players and legends as they made their way around and through the arena.

At the end of the weekend, I can heartily and easily recommend the Vegas Summer League for any basketball fan and/or gym rat. Just remember to pack your perspective and context.

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