To Las Vegas and Back Again - A Stiff's Tale

340x_mediumLast weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas and take in the NBA Summer League. It was a great experience and one that I highly recommend all Denver Stiffs readers attend if you are given the chance.

The best part about the summer league is the overall atmosphere. Everyone is relatively relaxed and laid-back and it is nothing like a regular season NBA game. There are NBA personalities left and right. Scouts, coaches, front office people, and players are sitting right next to you and initially it is unreal but by the second day you get used to it. It was very cool to rub elbows with these guys and most of them are pretty nice. Aside from the NBA people, mostly everyone that attends these games is a hardcore fan so it’s fun to chat it up with them as well. Another great thing about these games is that every seat is general admission (except for courtside). So, we were able to walk in, get a seat in the second row and be very close to the action. It’s simply a very cool experience for an NBA geek like myself and I hope I get another opportunity to go back.

The games themselves are very watchable. Most of these players are trying to earn their keep on a team so they are playing their faces off on both ends of the court, which makes it easy to appreciate these games.

I’d like to take some time to dissect some of the players that I thought stood out among the rest of the pack. Then I’ll do an extended section on the Nuggets’ team. Pretty much every team had one or two players that you could tell were special, but I will go over my five favorite players that I think can make an immediate impact in the NBA. I’ll only look at rookies because I assume we all know the second or third year players’ games by now.

Derrick Caracter – The big man out of UTEP was someone who the Nuggets made clear they were after but the Lakers were the ones who came out on top with him on draft day. It will pain Nuggets Nation to hear this but Caracter looks like he could have really helped us out this year. Through his first three games this weekend, Caracter had double-doubles through all three. He works hard, going to the glass and grabbing rebounds and tipping in put-backs. Not only that, but he has good footwork and showed some great moves around the basket. He is also pretty quick for a big man and was able to take a few defenders off the dribble. Though he certainly has room to improve, Caracter can definitely help the Lakers this year and it is a shame that the Nuggets couldn’t have gotten this guy.

Devin Ebanks – After a stellar sophomore season at West Virginia, Ebanks was taken by the Lakers with the 43rd pick in the draft. To put it in simple terms, Ebanks looks like a young Trevor Ariza. At 6’9’’ and just 20 years of age, Ebanks is certainly NBA-ready. He was knocking down contested jumpers, taking the ball strong to the basket, and plays great one-on-one defense. I'd say Ebanks can contribute on an NBA level this upcoming season. Don’t be surprised to see him getting regular minutes with the Lakers.

Omar Samhan - After Samhan became a household name for his March Madness heroics this past season, he went undrafted, but then was signed to a summer contract by the Mavericks. Samhan actually looks like he can be a decent NBA player. Omar would regularly demand the ball on the post and had some pretty nice moves around the basket and a few times he would clap and yell to get his team up and provide some extra fire. I can see him more as a energy player (Joakim Noah-esque) than a conventional 4 or 5 but if he keeps working on his game he could round out pretty nicely. I’m definitely a fan after watching him play live, though. The unfortunate thing for Samhan, however, is that the Mavericks are so clogged in the frontcourt (Dirk, Haywood, Chandler) that I don’t see him getting much playing time, but maybe he can work himself into the rotation.

Edgar Sosa The senior point guard from Louisville went undrafted but caught on with the Detroit Pistons’ summer team. Sosa didn’t score much in the games I saw him play but this was due to the fact that he was creating a bunch of good looks for his teammates. When he did get to the basket he usually was able to finish. The overall thing that I noticed about Sosa’s game, though, was his ability to see the floor and make the smart play (usually a tough pass) and to keep his composure. I think that Sosa has a chance to see some major minutes with the Pistons this season. Rodney Stuckey, their starting point guard, really is a shooting guard and Sosa could definitely compete with Will Bynum, Detroit’s backup point guard.

John Wall – Wall was obviously the player that everyone came to see. His first game, the arena sold out (every other game, it was maybe half full).  You could see that Wall was nervous when he first got out there, forcing passes, missing easy jumpers, etc. However, by the start of the second half, he was playing up to his potential. He was making brilliant passes, going hard to the basket, finishing with contact, and getting rebounds. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know about Wall but I had to include him in this list because he was a joy to watch. He should flourish in the league in no time.

I was able to see just about every player that I would have liked to, except for DeMarcus Cousins, Wall’s teammate from Kentucky. Now, let’s talk about the Nuggets’ team in depth.

Obviously, the most dominant player on the summer roster was Ty Lawson. We’re all familiar with Lawson’s game right now and nothing has really changed in his game. He was finding his teammates for easy baskets, getting to the rim without getting blocked that much (something with which he has really come a long way), and shooting pretty much lights out (.587 FG%).

After Lawson, however, the roster gets somewhat underwhelming. One guy I was really looking forward to seeing was Brian Butch, the center the Nuggets signed from the D-league last season and the only player close to seven feet tall on the roster. However, the second game into the weekend, Butch ruptured his left patella tendon and is expected to be out for a large chunk of the season. I was pretty devastated, as Butch, I thought, could have maybe helped us out at the beginning of the season. Having said that, I liked what I saw in short time that I saw him play. He was extremely active on the defensive end, bodying up guys, yelling out picks and such, and on the offensive end he has a nice stroke from the outside (reminiscent of Matt Bonner). Hopefully, Butch can make it back soon, but I’m sure it will be hard for him to get integrated into the rotation midway through the season. I have a soft spot for Butch because he works hard and he’s just a blue-collar guy that us fans can appreciate. Get well soon, Polar Bear.

Another player who I was curious about was Coby Karl. Karl was also signed along with Butch last season and like everyone else I was curious about whether or not Karl could actually play and find a place on the Nuggets’ roster or if he was simply a gift to Karl, as some have labeled him. Watching Karl’s game, I wasn’t sure if he could actually play meaningful minutes in the NBA or not. He is a good, not great, three-point shooter, he is a pretty good passer, but what he did most often was drive to the rim, create contact, and go to the foul line. It worked for him in the summer league but I don’t know if he will be able to get by with this strategy in the NBA. The biggest problem that I saw with Coby’s game was that he had a hard time guarding the more athletic players. The two games that I saw him in, he average five fouls per game. This can be a major problem at the next level and it is something that Coby may have a hard time fixing in his game, but if there is one thing Karl does, it’s work hard. Either way, I don’t see Coby getting much run even if he does make the active roster. The Nuggets are pretty much set in regards to swingmen, which is what Coby would play.

Former CU Buff Richard Roby was on the roster this summer and I was excited to see him play. Roby is super-athletic, which allowed him to throw down some monstrous dunks, but the rest of his game left me wanting more. Roby doesn’t have much of a jump shot, is not a good free throw shooter, and besides his athleticism, has little to offer in terms of helping the Nuggets. As stated before, the Nuggets have enough swingmen on their roster and I don’t see a place for Roby to log minutes.

Other than Lawson, Butch, and possibly Karl, I do not see any other player on the summer league roster getting a spot with the Nuggets. Besides those three, the only other player that I was somewhat impressed with was Othello Hunter, a 6’8’’ forward who was scrappy and had a good jumper. The problem for people like Hunter and just about everyone else on the summer roster is that we have all of their positions filled already. Besides Butch, every player was either a guard or a small forward. And unless you can separate yourself from the pack like Lawson has, you aren’t going far in this league. Having said that, I don’t think the Nuggets were looking to add to their roster. With the recent signings of Al Harrington, Shelden Williams, and Anthony Carter, we’re likely to see the same rotation of players as we did last year (plus Harrington). The only thing I wish the Nuggets could have done was get a seven-footer like Brian Zoubek or Omar Samhan on their roster. Maybe they would have, if they had known Butch would have gone down like he did. But, hey, I’m satisfied with our roster right now and looking forward to 2010-2011.

Here’s to another season!

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