This week I got to check out the last couple of days of the Orlando Pepsi Pro Summer League, I thought I would share my thoughts with whoever is left out there reading. Here are some observations. Keep in mind that it's just summer league we are talking about here. As a Milwaukee Bucks scout that was sitting next to me wisely said: Try not to read too much into the games here, just always remember that Tim Duncan played pretty poorly in his first summer league.
Anyway, here are some thoughts about players that stood out for good or for bad in one way or another.
The Celtics were easily the most enjoyable team to watch in Orlando, which was a great thing for people like me considering how boring most of the games were and how unprepared I was to sit through 6 hours of that everyday.
Marcus Banks: The biggest reason for that, he was always using his blinding speed to up the tempo and push the ball forward in his time on the floor, creating many eye pleasing plays but also getting himself into trouble on a couple of occasions. He seems to have serious problems with the fullcourt press, he tends to pick up his dribble easily and needs to become a better decision maker in general, moving the ball around more efficiently, not running into brick walls and knowing when it's time to shoot and when to pass. As most Celtic fans probably know by now, his defense is fantastic, both man to man and when applying pressure on his matchup. He is extremely tough and aggressive (a little too aggressive sometimes) and is going to earn a ton of minutes his sophomore year just off that. If his outside shooting can improve (he has a lot of work to go here) we are talking about a very good starting PG here.
Al Jefferson: The player that really impressed me the most in Orlando. I was initially shocked by how skinny he is after hearing about how much of a beast he is in the paint, but then I was even more shocked by how much of a beast he really is even despite his obvious lack of bulk. Once this guy puts on 20 pounds or so of muscle he is going to be really tough to guard in the post. His footwork is light years ahead of anyone his age, especially Dwight Howard. His hands are absolutely terrific; he catches anything and everything thrown in his general area, especially with those long arms of his. I think he is a little more athletic than people give him credit for, he got off his feet quite nicely to block some shots and he runs the floor pretty well. He even hit a couple of shots from the perimeter, which makes his offensive game that much more lethal. Defensively, he still has a ways to go, but gaining experience and growing into his frame should help him out with that considerably. Ball-handling is another one of his biggest flaws. I suspect that those who called him a bust right after the draft are going to be eating their words for years to come.
Tony Allen: Showed off his excellent athleticism on a number of occasions while slashing to the hoop and playing tenacious defense. Has a chiseled body and a motor that doesn't quit. He was responsible for the two best plays here, one where he took an alley-oop pass of the backboard from Delonte West for an emphatic reverse slam, and another where he slashed to the hoop, took off from way too far out, soared amongst the clouds for a bit, got fouled hard, switched to his left hand and somehow managed to finish soft off the glass ala MJ (but not quite). His ball-handling looked pretty good when he wasn't forcing things, his crossover is just deadly, the only problem is that he can't shoot a lick from outside, and when you are a 6-4 shooting guard and your entire game revolves around slashing to the hoop, you are not going to be effective at all once that is scouted and exploited. Thankfully he makes up for that on defense, he guarded all three positions in summer league and did it well, but he'll really have to put some serious time into at least becoming adequate from outside so teams are forced to respect his shot which will open up everything else for him.
Kendrick Perkins: Looks a lot more raw then Al Jefferson, if I had to guess without knowing who's who which one is the highschooler and which one has a year of NBA experience under his belt, I most definitely would have been wrong. Has pretty much no offense whatsoever at this point, looks somewhat confused when he is trying to post up his man not being able to get anywhere at all. Traveled with the ball a couple of times and has trouble shooting outside of the paint. He has a terrific body, though, and what looks like a pretty good attitude. Solid rebounder and a pretty good passer. His defense is definitely the best part of his game at this point, blocked a lot of shots and rotates nicely to help out as well. Lack of athleticism hurts him somewhat, kind of stuck between the 4 and the 5 spots it seems. He's a year or two away at this point but should be fine as long as he keeps working hard.
Delonte West: Looked a lot better at the off guard position than when he was forced to play the point with the second unit. Has just enough quickness to be a backup point guard but has no experience doing so, and that's quite obvious when watching him. Can create for others first and foremost by creating for himself. Is known as a terrific shooter but things weren't falling for him in the games I saw him. Not strong enough to finish at the basket at this point, although he will continue to take the ball strong again and again because of his relentless attitude. It's hard to write him off just because of that. He's a fighter.
Justin Reed: Looked very lost, as if he doesn't belong here. Stood out in the corner an awful lot and made his team play 4 on 5. Got burned defensively a number of times, didn't help on the boards either which was his forte in college. Probably isn't going to even get the chance to show that he can't play small forward in the NBA. Hopefully he's got something lined up in Europe already where 6-7 power forwards with limited athleticism and shooting ability can somehow get by.
Lots of firepower, played like a true team, definitely the best roster assembled here.
Steve Blake: Looked terrific here, will likely be a very good backup PG for years to come. Not shy to pull the trigger on his picture perfect shot, but plays the game the way a true PG should. Threaded the needle on some beautiful passes and always made sure to keep his main guys happy and feed the post. He is a lot quicker than people give him credit for, if you aren't careful he'll blow right by you. Got to the line a number of times. Had some problems defensively with Marcus Banks like every opposing PG does. Just a solid, solid performance from Steve Blake. The Heat are supposedly kicking themselves for passing on the local kid in last year's draft, as they'll once again be scrambling for a backup PG this summer.
Jarvis Hayes: The best player on the court in Orlando. What a shooter this kid is going to be, he's got such a sweet stroke. Takes him about a quarter of a second to set his feet and get his shot off, can do it moving in all directions and especially while fading away. Very athletic too, he'll take you right to the hoop and finish strong if you get too close. If the Wizards let him play his natural position at the two he should really start to come into his own his year. I've always been super high on this kid since his SEC days; he's developing into a fine player now.
Jared Jefferies: Looks a little bit stronger, did what he needed to do, scored, rebounded, blocked shots, etc. but not really too much to get excited about here. Still looks like a bit of a tweener. Handle and outside shot still aren't good enough to play the three, doesn't have the back to the basket game or defensive presence to play the four. Looks like a good teammate, though.
Michael Ruffin: A player without a position that lives off doing all the small things a team needs. Really fun guy to watch as he hustles his way all over the court. A terrific defender and rebounder. Should be playing in the NBA next year on one team or another. If Brian Cardinal is worth 39 million dollars, he should get the max. Just kidding on that, but you get the point.
Kwame Brown: Wasn't officially supposed to be here, but surprisingly decided to drive down from his home about three hours away for a private workout with the Wizards on Saturday. I got to watch most of it, and I think there is still a lot to be excited about this kid. He's got a great body of course, it looks like he has put on some weight and he was really throwing it around during the workout. His outside shot is very nice for a big man, so is his handle and he looked pretty serious while working up quite a sweat. Needless to say he is still a freak athlete.
Dwight Howard: Very up and down. Looked like a future superstar for stretches, then got dominated by NBDL caliber scrubs. Lack of strength is his biggest detriment at this point, he just can't do anything inside the paint in a half-court offense. Gets frustrated and settles for ugly jump shots from outside, or if he's lucky--a funny looking hook shot from 5 feet out. Had a couple of nice weak-side blocks and did a great job rebounding in general, the Stromile Swift comparisons look pretty accurate at this point, but he's got a world of potential to keep improving if he works hard. There is no doubt that this kid has talent, but the Magic would be smart to keep Drew Gooden around for at least a little while longer because it's probably going to take him some time. Howard certainly got the benefit of the doubt from the referees, though, every time someone breathed on him he was sent to the line, he got away with goaltending, traveling and push-offs on a number of occasions.
Britton Johnson: After the way he played against New Jersey (20 points, 8/11, 6 steals in 24 minutes) on the third day, I am officially on the Britton Johnson bandwagon, now if someone can just point me to it that would be great. Seriously, though, this guy is alright. He's a little more athletic than you would think, he runs the floor pretty good and is very active and aggressive with a ton of energy, he's just all over the place. He has a nice shot from outside and mid-range, moves very well off the ball, tries to play as much defense as he can by taking charges and getting in the passing lanes, although he doesn't excel here, he just plays the game with a ton of heart. I'm not really sure what position he plays in the NBA, but you could probably do a lot worse with a minimum contract.
Mario Kasun: Very hard player to gauge. He's a big body and he moves OK for his size, not too goofy, he has decent footwork and can score with back to the basket in a physical manner. He doesn't rebound particularly well, he has problems with positioning and timing it seems. He blocked some shots, but that seems like strictly a summer league type deal, he seems very foul prone, being a little too aggressive. He'd probably be an OK 10 minute type backup center for the Magic, but apparently he's already under contract for next season in Germany so they would have to buy him out if they really liked him that much.
By far the worst team here, poor point guard play really killed any chances they had.
Josh Powell: Didn't get the minutes he deserved and was played out of position when he was in the game, but in spite of that this guy looks very, very intriguing. First off, he's a great athlete, very quick and with an excellent vertical leap which he uses to bounce up off the floor in the blink of an eye. He was very intense in the games I saw him, playing in an active and aggressive manner on both sides of the floor. When he was going up against Dwight Howard it was hard to guess who was the #1 pick and who went undrafted, he simply outplayed him on both offense and defense, establishing position deep in the paint on him and finishing strongly at the basket. His perimeter skills are much improved as well according to people that watched him this year in Italy, to the point that he is now considered a forward capable of playing both the 3 and the 4 spots, although he didn't quite get the chance to show them off while playing power forward for the Heat next to Wang Zhizhi, as the Heat were stacked at the 3 spot with Darius Rice, Matt Freije and Ron Hale. Powell will now be moving on to play with Seattle, where he should have a decent shot at making the roster.
Ron Hale: Looked like the player with the best chances here of making the Heat roster. Has great size as a 6-9 SG/SF with excellent range and very good ball-handling skills. Had some problems defensively but should be able to open up the floor nicely for the Heat with Shaq on board now. Reminds of Rasual Butler with better slashing ability.
Jerome Beasley: Somewhat of a disappointment for being such a high 2nd rounder in an excellent draft. Looks like a classic tweener, but with all the tools to get better if he can put his mind to it. Strange looking body, disproportioned, very skinny legs but with a huge upper-body. Looks pretty athletic, moves well which will help him at whatever position he plays, very good ball-handling skills, decent shot from outside but can't hit his free throws. Poor decision maker, just doesn't play very smart at all, very poor rebounder. Not very intense on defense.
Albert Miralles: Another player with no defined position on the court. Pure hustle player, must have shouted let's go guys at least a thousand times, but no one was really paying him too much attention. Tries real hard, but the results are few and far in between. Needs to work on his body if he'll have any shot at playing in the NBA. Has a nice stroke, pretty limited athletically, doesn't really do any one thing that great. If I had to guess it would be off to Europe for him.
Darius Rice/Matt Freije: Seemed like the same exact player. Both are soft and like to hang on the perimeter, very streaky shooters, poor defenders. Freije turned it on for one game and reminded people of the type of player he was in college (25 points in 32 minutes). Darius Rice turned it on for about 5 minutes one time and that was about all we saw out of him. Freije has a decent shot at making the roster after the Shaq trade gutted the Heat down to 6-7 players, with almost no one at the 3-4 spots, which he just happens to play.
New Jersey Nets
Zoran Planinic: Didn't have the best stats, but I really like this guy. Runs the pick and roll to perfection, always finds the open man, and can stop and elevate nicely for the mid-range jumper. Isn't the most athletic player in the world, but gets by on his court smarts. Played some decent defense and did a great job running the team.
John Wallace: Can you believe he is still in summer league? I bet he can't either. Wallace did his usual thing, he is a scoring machine and everyone knows that. For once he didn't look like a complete black hole. Defense has never been something he's been interested in, but at least he tried here. With Rodney Rogers off the team, he would probably make a decent 8th or 9th man here.
Brian Scalabrine: Mr. Everything on the court, the assistant coach so to speak. The real coach, Lawrence Frank was sitting right next to me for this game, and it's not hard to tell that he is in love with him, he was cheering on Veal the entire game.
Dajuan Wagner: I am not sure if there has ever been a more frustrating player to watch than this guy. The term point guard should never be placed anywhere near his name, he has to be one of the most selfish players I have seen in a long time. It takes him about 12 seconds to even get the offense started as he dribbles and dribbles and dribbles the ball until he absolutely has to give up, and then demands to get it right back. From there he will either pull up for an impossible fadeaway shot off the dribble with a hand in his face (which he sometimes makes) or he'll take the ball with a head full of steam all the way to the basket. His teammates may as well start walking back up the court at that point because everyone in the gym knows he's not going to pass it. Any assists he made in this summer league were purely incidental, I assure you. No defense, terrible shooting, he'll dribble the air out of the ball if you let him. That's Dajuan Wagner for you right there, a homeless Allen Iverson.
Luke Jackson: It must be tough playing next to a guy like Wagner, but Jackson certainly didn't make things any easier on himself. He didn't play well at all when I saw him. He had problems getting his shot off, he played poor defense, didn't shoot very well, but played in his usual unselfish manner and made some very nice assists. It didn't really seem like he was all that interested in what was going on, and considering the level of play in some of these games, it's not hard to figure out why.
Desagana Diop: A Cleveland scout was sitting next to me for one of the Cavs games I watched. In the second half, his phone rang and that's when news about the Boozer signing/backstabbing broke apparently. He looked like he was about to cry after that, and watching his new starting power forward Diop lumbering up and down the floor didn't seem to cheer him up too much. He looks overweight and very inconsistent still, he can hit the mid-range jumper and block some shots, but his low post game is solely based on overpowering smaller and lighter players out of the way. Very little in terms of real skills, if he can get into shape there might be something to talk about.
Andre Brown: Pretty effective in the post because of his quickness and excellent vertical leap, always one of the most athletic players on the floor. Decision making isn't great, he still has a long ways to go in terms of learning how to maximize his time on the floor. Great body, should make a team somewhere next year solely based on his upside.
Kedrick Brown: Will probably be playing in summer league for the rest of his life, still can't shoot or dribble, but boy can he jump. Looked surprisingly out of shape, and didn't play great defense which also comes as a surprise. A strong candidate for the worst lottery pick of the past few years. Still two or three years away, that's the Kedrick Brown mantra.