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Willie Cauley-Stein, Duje Dukan Impress in Vegas

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This felt like a relatively uneventful Vegas Summer League for the Sacramento Kings. For one, the Kings’ summer squad only had one locked in roster player on it (Willie Cauley-Stein), and the team as a whole really lacked offensive firepower. The games weren’t very good in large part because of poor guard play, and truth be told, it would have been hard, if not impossible for this team to live up the excitement and talent level of last years championship roster which featured five players (McLemore, McCallum, Stauskas, Moreland, Acy) that were part of the big league team.

I probably take what I see in Vegas more seriously than most. It’s entirely possible that I put too much stock into what happens there. If a player plays well, it’s a good sign. If a player plays poorly, it’s a bad sign. It’s not meaningless to me, but it certainly won’t guarantee future success or failure. I don’t think it’s pointless, however, and I do think you can learn quite a bit about a player by watching how they react in that atmosphere. With that being said, lets talk about some of these guys.

Willie Cauley-Stein played almost exactly how I expected him to play, which is to say he was quite good defensively, and showed a lot of good signs offensively. He is an opportunistic scorer right now, which is why he shot over 50% in Vegas. He doesn’t force his offense, which will translate well to the Kings NBA roster, but doesn’t show as well in summer league. The guards’ inability to throw a decent lob pass coupled with Cauley-Stein’s less-than-stellar hands probably cost Willie 4-6 points off his per game average. He only attempted one jumper by my recollection, a missed mid-range shot from the corner. His court vision was better than what I expected, and he’s obviously a fantastic asset in transition because of how hard and effortlessly he runs the floor. He even showed some decent touch around the basket when slamming home a dunk wasn’t an option. He’s still a bit jittery on that end, with a few ‘deer in the headlights’ moments, but overall, I thought his offensive contributions were a good look at what he can become on that end with some polish.

Cauley-Stein also showed that he’s going to be able to contribute defensively from day one. His 2.8 blocks per game is a testament to how poor the Vegas Summer League stat trackers are, because I know for a fact that they missed a lot of them. His rim protection was fun, but you can see why his rebounding numbers are as unimpressive as they are. He hunts down shots, which frequently puts him out of position as a rebounder. It's just part of what he brings to the table. His decision making can improve, he can get better at choosing which shots to go after, and which ones he should focus on boxing out for, but when you play with that kind of bounce, others have to cover for you on the glass. The Kings didn’t have that in Vegas.

He fouls a lot. We see this all of the time with rookie big men in the NBA. If anything is going to keep him out of the starting lineup, and without a huge role on this team next season, it’s going to be foul trouble. This is a legitimate concern that I have, and it’s just something he’s going to have to get better at.

And finally, his conditioning was very hit or miss. He only averaged 22.4 minutes per game, but beyond the numbers he really looked completely out of gas at times. He had to sub himself out quite a bit, and this isn’t a knock on his training. He’s clearly in great shape, and he is a tremendous athlete, but ‘great shape’ and ‘basketball condition’ are two different things. He alluded to this issue after the Kings’ final game, and said that he will be working on that for the rest of the summer. I don’t think it will be a long-term issue.

Eric Moreland had a similar summer league performance this year as his did last year where his play was rewarded with an NBA contract. He was the Kings best rebounder, and it really felt like he was a calming presence for this team down low. He isn’t going to be a prolific offensive player, but he showed some skill as a passer, and had a few impressive finishes at the rim beyond your typical garbage-type buckets. I don’t know if he showed enough to earn a roster spot for this season, though. He and Cauley-Stein play a similar game to the point where the team struggled when both were on the court together. When Duje Dukan or David Wear were used to spread the floor, the offense opened up. I’m rooting for Moreland, and he showed me enough in Vegas to the point where I’d guarantee his contract for next season, but if I put myself in Vlade Divac or George Karl’s shoes, I get the sense that they might want a more proven offensive player in that 4th or 5th big man role.

James Anderson’s contract details are still unknown. I don’t know why the Kings would guarantee his contract if they did, in fact, guarantee his contract, but I would classify his performance in Vegas as ‘fine’. I would have liked to have seen a bit more offensive punch considering his veteran status. He shot the ball well from the floor, and had a few really nice plays attacking the basket, but his three-point shot was non-existent, and he turned the ball over way too many times for my liking. I saw nothing that said ‘roster player’, but we’ll see how this one plays out.

Duje Dukan was the biggest surprise performer. He was the best deep threat on this roster, and it wasn’t even close. He’s listed at 6’10, which would theoretically put him in that ‘stretch four’ conversation, but he doesn’t play or look like a power forward, and his 2.4 rebounds per game would back that up. He has really good offensive skills, though. His three-point stroke looks great, and he has a good handle for his size. I’m intrigued, and I’d like to see more. He actually reminded me a bit of a young Peja Stojakovic with his size, offensive skill, and beautiful jumper. I hope the Kings keep him around, and I think he earned himself a training camp invite.

Quick Notes

  • David Stockton was solid, and certainly did a better job running the team than any of the other summer league point guards. He didn’t show me anything that would make me think he’s an option for the main roster’s third point guard spot, though.
  • Julyan Stone was not good.
  • David Wear was a lot more aggressive than what we’ve seen out of him in the past. He showed some offensive skill as a shooter, and some nice touch inside, but if I’m trying out one of the stretch four options from this roster, I’m taking Duje Dukan.
  • Sim Bhullar only stuck around for one game before he went to train with the Canadian National Team. I just don’t think he’s an NBA player.
  • Corey Hawkins missed the entire summer league with a sprained ankle. I was really looking forward to watching Hawkins play, and I thought he had a decent chance of sticking with the team if he had performed well in Vegas, but he never had the opportunity to do so. I bet the Kings will keep a close eye on him this summer, anyway. They like him.
  • CJ Leslie had a few decent moments inside, and his athleticism and length make him a decent defensive prospect, but I just didn’t see enough offensive skill to think he could make it in the NBA.
  • DeAndre Liggins was solid. If his three-point shot showed up he could have been a real breakout player. I like his style of basketball, though. Tough, defensive, smart, under control, good court vision.