Today was my first opportunity to see an NBDL game.  I wanted to check out Sonny Weems, Cheikh Samb and James Mays of the Colorado 14ers and what I found out is there is a pretty darn good team in Broomfield, Colorado. 

The 14ers toyed with the Reno Bighorns and after getting outscored by Reno 44-27 in the fourth quarter, they still won the game by 21. The 14ers have size, athleticism, good to great ball handlers and shooters. They are now 4-1 and good seats are still available for their next home game. If you have kids, they will have a blast and you will see some pretty good basketball yourself. Plus, if you are into beer, for ten minutes after every quarter in which the 14ers score 30 or more points beers are only two dollars. The loudest the adults in the crowd ever were was when Overland High School grad and team leader Eddie Gill missed a free throw with a couple of seconds left in the second quarter stranding the 14ers at 29 points.

The purpose for this post was not as an ad for the 14ers, but to scout Weems, Samb and Mays. I am sure you know Weems and Samb, but in case you are wondering who James Mays is, he is a rookie forward from Clemson who was in the Nuggets training camp. I saw him play a little in the Real Training Camp feature on the Nuggets by NBATV and a little against the Timberwolves in the Nuggets first preseason game. I was impressed with his size and how he moves, but it seemed like he was a limited player on offense. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered he was the leading scorer in the D-League and tenth in rebounding. Needless to say I was excited to see how he was doing it.

The setting is the Broomfield Event center just off highway 36 between Denver and Bolder. It is a nice facility if not tremendously large. The seating consists of one bowl with boxes above it. It is a state of the art arena complete with an LED ring above the boxes and a scoreboard that may be a little too big for the space it occupies. There is one banner hanging in the building commemorating the 2007 14ers run last season as the NBDL Western Division Postseason champs. There is also a minor league hockey team that plays there and luckily for me, the game was delayed due to a slick floor from condensation from the ice.

I was offered a seat at the end of the scorer’s table and I gladly accepted even though there was free food in the press box. I guess I may never be a true member of the media until I can no longer say no to free food.

Weems came off the bench for his first game with the 14ers, but today he started at small forward. His defensive assignment was number 11 for the Bighorns who happened to be former Syracuse standout Damone Brown. Weems was giving up some size, but was easily the stronger of the two.

From the start the coaches were yelling at him to get up and pressure Brown when he had the ball. Unfortunately, Brown heard the instructions and when Weems hoped forward Brown took advantage and drove past him.

Weems showed pretty good awareness on defense though. He did get the chance to play some shooting guard and he seemed a little more comfortable. At one point he ended up guarding Antonio Meeking, a very big boy, in the post and held his ground pretty well before getting called for a push. He did do a very good job hitting the glass as he ended the game with six rebounds in only 15:36 of game time.

That’s right, he played less than 16 minutes. The reason was foul trouble. He drew his fifth foul just a couple minutes into the third quarter. When he rejoined the game in the fourth, he lasted all of 11 seconds before committing his sixth foul. He picked up his sixth and final foul defending a fast break. Instead of playing Stephen Jackson defense where you position yourself to grab the ball as it falls through the net in order to inbound it quickly, he did not quite get out of the way enough on the drive and was whistled for the foul.

It may have been disappointing to see so little of Weems, but he did some pretty impressive things in those 15 plus minutes of action. He scored just 24 seconds into the game with a thunderous dunk off of a loose ball. While he did not shoot very well in the first half he managed to put up 12 points on a barrage of dunks. He even threw down over a teammate after soaring a little higher off an alley oop pass.

Weems’ shot looks nice, but he seems to struggle with his release. In the first half his shot showed some inconsistent spin. One effort was a knuckleball. In the second half things were different. He drained two catch and shoot threes that had beautiful rotation. He also hit a shot from the top of the circle off the dribble. He actually pulled the rebound, dribbled up the floor and hit the shot. A very nice play.

He has a pretty good handle and can drive well with either hand. Before the game he was shooting set shots from the baseline left handed and it looked very natural. He also has good size and a scorers mentality. In his time on the floor he managed to dump in 20 points on 9-14 shooting. I did not get a good read on his passing as he never attempted anything risky or flashy.

We have all had the chance to see Samb play some garbage time minutes, so honestly there was very little I saw from that I had not seen before. He was the tallest dude on the floor and Reno was clearly not used to playing against a player with his shot blocking ability. It took them a while to stop tossing up meatballs for him to swat away. They did not even throw him any shot fakes.

Samb reminds me of Marcus Camby in that he plays every possession for the block. He lays off his man giving him room to drive so that he has the space to gather himself and go up for the block. That tactic may work at this level, but he cannot expect to get away with that type of defense in the NBA. He does try to block everything. On one occasion he actually tried going at a shot when he was under the basket far enough he was closer to the other side of the rim. He also had a teammate between him and the shooter. As a result, when the shot was missed Samb was completely out of position and the Reno player tipped in the miss completely unchallenged.

It also goes without saying that Samb has a difficult time holding his position either defending the post, posting up himself or boxing out on free throws. He is not quick, but on one occasion he was able to help off on a drive and still recover to block his man’s shot. He also had a sequence where he had the ball tipped away from him when he was doubled on the fight block, but he got back quick enough to get a piece of the layup on the fast break at the other end of the floor. Sadly it hit the backboard first and was correctly ruled as goaltending, but it was an impressive play.

Offensively Samb has a very smooth release. We all know he can hit the 18-20 footer. He started getting the ball in the post a little in the fourth quarter. On one occasion when he was posted up on the left block he waived everyone away, made a decent move with his right hand pushing into the lane and lifted a right handed hook that settled softly into the net. Unfortunately it came after the shot clock expired and although it was not called, I think he may have traveled. On another occasion Samb had the ball on the same block, but a little further out. He tried a fade away turn around and although it looked like a nice shot, but it missed badly.

Samb does have very good hands and does a good job of clamping onto the ball when fighting for rebounds. I look for two things in a big man, one is good hands and the other is good footwork, Samb is halfway there.

Overall, he is a very intriguing prospect, but right now the only parts of his game that are NBA caliber are his help side shot blocking and his perimeter set shot.

James Mays is very impressive in person. As I said, I was taken by surprise when I saw he was having so much success as a scorer. Let me tell you, it is legit.

Mays is very athletic and has a smoothness to his game. He reminds me of Andray Blatche although he is not quite as creative of a passer. He can drive with either hand although his first step is better to the right. He has deep range and hit a step back three like it was a 15 footer. His shot has very nice rotation and looks effortless.

Defensively, he plays with a solid base and attacks the glass going for and grabbing rebounds that are out of his zone. He does not look to dominate the ball and actually did not really make his mark on the game until Weems left in the second quarter with just under four minutes left. At that point he only had two points and scored five more points before the end of the half.

Other Observations

  • Both Weems and Samb were guilty of defensive three seconds violations.  Samb’s came because he looked to be expecting a drive and wanted a chance to block the shot.  When the drive never came he was hung out to dry.  Weems seemed to come more from confusion.  It looked like he wanted to leave the lane, but he had a hard time figuring out which side of the lane he should be on.
    I have no idea how there can be so many kids at a game without some of them illegally driving themselves.  Perhaps some of their parents thought they were in the basement playing Super Mario Kart or whatever it is kids play today.
    Samb did get dunked on and then was called for a technical as he protested that the dunker pulled his arm down with his off hand in order to throw down.  I could not tell if Samb was right, but ala George Constanza, it is not a lie if you believe it is true and Samb clearly did not think he was lying.  Cheikh did seem to be motivated by it though as he threw down a dunk of his own right after and then changed a shot at the other end.
    When the opponents are shooting free throws the 14ers work to get the crowd working together.  The jumbotron encourages everyone to make the same noise.  It ranges from beep beep like a car horn to moo like a cow to say ‘doh like Homer.  My favorite one was laugh like it’s funny.  At one point the spectators were instructed to make a sound like a Turkey and it was apparent most of the crowd was not exactly sure what kind of a sound a turkey makes because I heard all kinds of different sounds emanating from the stands.
    I was very tempted to try to run off with one of the referees silver windbreaker jackets that was sitting on the table nearby.  I was proud of myself that I chose not to.
    James Mays is apparenlty very polite.  After bumping into a couple seated between the Reno coaches and the scorer's table (the Reno team's owner?) when going after a loose ball he very sincerely said, "Sorry, excuse me."  It was quite refreshing.
  • Samb does show decent passing ability.  He made a nice dump off to a cutting teammate that resulted in a jam off of an offensive rebound.
    The refs must have been on suicide watch, they had no belts, but they did have shoe laces.
    I am a little worried that Cheikh is going to get into some bad habits on defense.  It is so easy for him to block shots at this level the coaching staff is going to have to stay on him to play sound defense.
    I have long lamented the demise of the sophisticated basketball crowd over the years as being subservient to the jumobtron and now I have seen why.  We are raising out kids to worship the jumbotron.  Instead of learning from their dad when to cheer they are left to just watch the jumbotron and they respond to it.  We are going to lose yet another generation of fans to the jumbotron and I have no idea how to fight it.