Ripples of a Stone’s Throw

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 21, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

There are few things sports fans cling to as tightly as a good underdog story, and Jeremy Lin’s tour with the Mavs through Summer League as an undrafted free agent has endeared him to NBA fans and writers all across the internets. Here is just a sample of the responses to Lin’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors:

Jeremy Lin’s agent, Roger Montgomery, via the Dallas Morning News: “All the components fell in place, especially when you look at their roster. They’ve basically got three guys who are ahead of us. We can be nothing but appreciative because we wouldn’t be in this position if Donnie Nelson and the Mavericks didn’t give Jeremy Lin a chance…He may put on a Golden State jersey, but he definitely is very, very appreciative of the shot that Donnie and the Mavs gave him.”

Matt Moore, NBA FanHouse: “Lin makes sense for the Warriors, who traded C.J. Watson to the Bulls this weekend. Stephen Curry is obviously the star,and Monta Ellis will play the backup role, but Lin provides a good skill set for a third point guard and could flourish in Don Nelson’s system, unless, you know, Don Nelson Don-Nelson’s him. The fact that he’s Asian-American (Taiwanese American, to be specific), will likely make him a hit with the Bay’s fervent community. But beyond the cliche racial implications is the fact that he’s a local boy who made the most of himself, worked his tail off, and now has a big league contract. This is a better ending to the tale than playing toy soldier for the Lakers or working in the Mavericks‘ new D-League team, the Texas Legends.”

Scott Schroeder, Ridiculous Upside: “I don’t wish to offend anyone, but I have a feeling that Lin’s Asian-American background played a rather substantial role in what seems to have amounted to a bidding war between two teams with substantial Asian communities – the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State – as well as the Dallas Mavericks (who previously showed to have interest in signing and assigning Lin to their new NBA Development League team). I don’t mean to infer that Lin isn’t worth an NBA training camp invite (he most certainly is), but I do feel that his race had a prominent role in his getting a better contract than probably any other player without prior NBA experience this offseason.

I went back and watched every one of Lin’s offensive possessions – right around 85 by my count – and he’s a pretty solid player (might be better on defense with his size and instincts, honestly), but not one that I wouldn’t make earn his job in training camp by all but guaranteeing he’ll be on an NBA roster at least until all contracts become fully-guaranteed on January 5, 2011.

Regardless, if the public relations boom goes as expected (and it seems like the Golden State fans are in high spirits already), this might pay off in a Sun-Yue-with-the-Lakers sort of way. The problem in that, though, is that Lin is getting opportunities that could be afforded to other players without the amazing background story – and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Brian McCormick, Director of Coaching at the Playmakers Basketball Developmental League: “While basketball fans concentrate on the athleticism of John Wall or the psychology of DeMarcus Cousins, from a developmental perspective, Jeremy Lin is the most important rookie in the 2010 class…I am not interested in the economic impact of a successful Asian-American player. My focus is developmental. We spend too much time looking at race, and not enough time controlling things within our control – our effort, skill development, practice habits and more. Once one player breaks through the perceived barrier, it becomes easier for others to set higher standards for themselves.

From a developmental perspective, I am interested in eliminating excuses. I want players to create their own positive self-fulfilling prophecies rather than allow prevailing myths to create a perpetually negative self-fulfilling prophecy to limit one’s dreams, goals and effort. Jeremy Lin may never be an NBA all-star. However, his impact as a player may not be felt immediately; instead, his greatest impact may be felt a generation from now when young Asian-Americans no longer view college or professional basketball as an unattainable dream, but a worthwhile goal to pursue diligently.”

Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk: “Lin might well make the Warriors, however. Stephen Curry is going to get the lion’s share of minutes at the point, and Monta Ellis will get some, but the Warriors just traded away last season’s backup C.J. Watson. They need a backup point now, and Lin is going to get the chance to get the job.

Lin won over Summer League fans in Vegas because he plays a fearless game. Nobody attacked the rim as hard as him, as relentlessly. His game is not fully NBA ready — got to improve his jumper, he’s got to finish at a higher rate near the rim. But he has a great feel for the game, makes smart passes and is the kind of guy that will change the mood of a practice because he will not coast. Coaches love players who maximize their talents, and Lin is one of those guys.”

Eric Freeman, The Baseline: “This is a phenomenal story. Lin would be the first Asian-American athlete to play in the NBA and the first Harvard product in more than 50 years. In case you forget, Harvard doesn’t hand out scholarships, so Lin entered college with no publicity. He’s a real success story, someone who worked his way to the NBA when few believed he could do it.

Yet his story goes even deeper than that. At Palo Alto High School, Lin led his team to the 2006 state championship and defeated SoCal powerhouse Mater Dei (a team with no fewer than four high-level college prospects) virtually by himself. It was one of the biggest upsets in California basketball history and made Lin a Bay Area legend. Still, his exploits weren’t enough to get him a scholarship. Lin wanted to go to Stanford and was accepted to the school as part of the normal admissions process, but the coaching staff only offered him the opportunity to walk on. (Two guards awardedscholarships during the same recruiting cycle accomplished very little for the Cardinal.) So he went to Harvard, where he had the chance to play early and often. He proved that he belonged quite quickly.”

Sold Out

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, News | 3 Comments to Read

The Mavs haven’t had a ton of success in free agency this summer, but they had previously done a terrific job of taking care of their own. Dirk Nowitzki was signed to a great value deal, keeping Dallas’ window forced open for a bit longer. They re-signed Brendan Haywood, who was the Mavs’ best option for a legitimate center next season. Yet when it came time to secure a free agent on the other end of the pecking order — undrafted point guard Jeremy Lin — Dallas was beaten out; Lin and the Golden State Warriors are close to an agreement on a multi-year, partially guaranteed deal that will allow Jeremy to reprise his role as a local hero in the Bay Area.

It’s unfortunate, particularly because Donnie Nelson was so pivotal in Lin’s emergence. Though Jeremy wasn’t committed to any one team, the point guard seemed like the Mavs’ to lose. Well, they lost him. It’s not earth-shaking, but it does set the Texas Legends back a bit. The Warriors were ultimately able to offer Lin the contract, role, and potential for playing time he was looking for, and regardless of the franchise’s intentions in signing him, it’s a good fit. The organization may be a mess, but running the point for the Dubs will give Lin a chance to really show off for other NBA suitors, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t parlay this one opportunity into a few more.

The Mavs still have J.J. Barea, who is the better player today, and for the future until Lin proves otherwise. Let’s not forget that J.J. was once where Jeremy is right now, but he carved out a rotation spot on one of the top teams in the Western Conference by force of will alone. He was once the plucky underdog, but has elevated himself into an NBA player worthy of being judged by his limitations, which is something that at this moment, Lin can only aspire to. It would be terrific if the Mavs could have signed Lin to be the face of the Legends next season. Although, let’s not forget that while Lin is an interesting prospect, he’s still just a prospect. Barea, faulted though he may be, is already a legitimate player.

The Mavs missed out on an opportunity to pick up a good, young player for very little, but considering what the Mavs have already done to bolster their depth at almost every position this off-season (let’s not forget that while the Mavs let Lin slip through their fingers, Mark Cuban shelled out the cash to draft Dominique Jones, who was even more impressive in Vegas), it’s nothing more than a pity.

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume V

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

In lieu of a delayed recap of the Mavs final game at the Vegas Summer League, I’ve opted for a player-by-player review based on their exploits. If you’ve come in search of some analysis of Moussa Seck that’s probably more serious than it should be, actual praise for Mouhammad Faye, or a first look at Ian Mahinmi, you’ve come to the right place.

Rodrigue Beaubois: Experience is important, but Beaubois didn’t demonstrate much growth in terms of running the point. He had his moments — a read here, a read there — but this was not a particularly successful trip for Rodrigue. However, Beaubois did show off his pull-up game a bit, something he didn’t do with much frequency last season with the Mavs. Granted, he didn’t have much of a chance; pull-up threes are the kind of shots Beaubois is able to take in Summer League, but probably shouldn’t be taking with the actual team. There are better shots to be had when playing with Dirk Nowitzki et al. Aside from that wrinkle, Beaubois played off the ball a bit too much and didn’t blow me away as a traditional point guard prospect. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s worth noting.

Dominique Jones: Dominique Jones isn’t quite a bull in a china shop — he stands just 6’5”, after all — but at the very least he’s a Tasmanian devil in a Pottery Barn. It’ll be nice to see if Jones can get to the basket (and to the free throw line) consistently against bigger and badder NBA regulars, but he passed his first exam in that course with flying colors. Jones isn’t a particularly versatile scorer just yet, but his driving abilities are sealed and ready for NBA use. He has a quick first step. He’s incredibly strong. He can drive in both directions, finish with contact, and attack the basket in a variety of ways. Jones may seem like a black hole at times, but he’s not an unwilling passer. He’ll find his teammates, but there’s no question that his offensive focus is to score as frequently as possible, regardless of who’s defending him.

However, as I mentioned in my game-by-game recaps, Jones was just as excellent defensively. It’s still very early, but Dominique looks like a player that could be defensively viable at both guard positions, and his tenacity on that end is beyond impressive. His technique still needs work, and he needs to continue to develop to become a better team defender. However, Jones looked remarkable in showcasing his one-on-one defensive abilities (staying in front of his man, bodying up, contesting shots, etc.).

Jeremy Lin: It’s not easy to walk into a gym where every unheralded prospect is looking to make a name for themselves and do just that, yet Lin earned himself an NBA contract on the strength of his play at Summer League. Jeremy has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, which is pretty remarkable considering the Mavs were Lin’s only Summer League invite.

Lin surprised a lot of people with his ability to keep pace athletically, which was thought to be one of his bigger weaknesses coming into Summer League. It looked like a non-issue, even as Lin was asked to check John Wall. Jeremy looked strong in the open court, but he also impressed with his vision and decision-making in half-court sets. I don’t know of Lin will ever have the talent necessary to be a full-time starting point, but it’s not hard to imagine him providing scoring and playmaking off the bench in a regular capacity.

Jeremy Lin’s journey in Vegas was a gradual unveiling. Initially, he showed an ability to make simple, effective passes and finish in the lane over NBA shot-blockers. Then came a surprising diversity in his drives and moves to the rim, which is essential for long-term success on the perimeter in the NBA. Lin also added a few threes for good measure, giving team officials reason to hesitate before inking his jumper as a weakness on the scouting report. Finally, Lin really showcased his defensive abilities by pressuring ball-handlers and attacking the passing lanes. He’s hardly a finished product, but Lin can do a bit of everything.

Omar Samhan: Dexter Pittman may be a rotation player for the Miami Heat this season, but Omar Samhan couldn’t even secure a spot on an NBA roster. This makes very little sense. Though Pittman is probably the more intriguing athletic specimen (buried underneath his robust exterior is a definite NBA athlete), he clearly doesn’t have the proper understanding of how to use his size to his advantage. Samhan does. Neither player is in optimal NBA shape, but if we’re looking at which prospect has a better understanding of mechanics, spacing, and talent utilization? There’s no debate. Samhan works his way into the low post to drop a baby hook, while Pittman spins and elbows his way into an offensive foul.

Pittman is just one of many. With so many raw center prospects in the NBA that never find actualization, it’s a shame that players like Samhan can’t even get their foot in the door. Omar is a very poor defender if pulled out to the perimeter, not a sure thing in the post against real NBA bigs, and would have his minutes capped by poor conditioning. Still, he was able to score and rebound well against some of the better centers Summer League had to offer, which has to count for something.

For some reason or another, it’s acceptable for a wing player to be an intriguing, one-dimensional scoring talent, but blasphemous for a center or power forward to do the same. Samhan may not be a great NBA rebounder or defender, but would there really be anything so wrong with getting a few free offensive possessions out of him in the low post?

Ian Mahinmi: Ian had an abbreviated Summer League run, but he showed glimpses of what we can expect next season. Mahinmi rebounded very well in fairly limited minutes, and while he wasn’t a dominant offensive force in any particular game, he showed off a few skills that should be helpful in real NBA games. He has a nice mid-range jumper that can keep defenses honest. Mahinmi looks quicker on his feet than any other Maverick big. He’s not afraid to offer help from the weak side. Mahinmi isn’t the strongest finisher, but at least in Summer League he was able to go up strong and draw fouls.

Mahinmi will frustrate some fans with the holes in his game, but provided we stay focused on what he can do (come on, he’s the third center on the roster, after all) rather than what he can’t, I think it’ll be very clear how cool it is to have a guy like this on the team as an insurance policy.

Mouhammad Faye: While Mouhammad Faye didn’t quite have a Jeremy Lin-style explosion, I feel he played pretty well in Vegas. Faye will never be an impact player offensively. His influence on that end will always be strictly complementary, which means that the most important skills he can showcase are the ability to hit open jumpers and finish freebies at the rim. He did both. Faye’s defense could possibly get him a chance with an NBA team some day, as he’s both well-equipped (Faye is listed at 6’9”, but has Stretch Armstrong limbs) and hard-working. It’s very, very difficult to gauge defensive success in the Summer League because of how sensitive those skills translate to a 5-on-5 game with more experienced opponents. Moving from Vegas to the NBA regular season won’t make a made three rim out. It won’t make a smart pass into the wrong move. But a successful individual defender in Summer League could end up flubbing when forced to be part of something more.

For now, that’s where Faye is. He needs three-point range before he’s given a serious NBA shot anyway, but he also needs to prove that he can operate effectively as a team defender. That’s exactly what he’d be able to do in the D-League, if the Mavs choose to make him a part of the Texas Legends’ inaugural run.

Faye is already 25. He’s not going to overhaul his game by the time his career is through. Still, based on the strength he’s shown as a defender, he could be an interesting guy to have on the wing. Faye really needs to bulk up if he’s going to play as a combo forward (he’s a bit slight even to guard NBA 3s at the moment), but he has the makings of a pretty impressive NBA defender.

Shan Foster: Shan Foster is the mythical three-point shooter who can’t shoot. Foster shot 46.9% from three during his last season at Vanderbilt, but he just doesn’t look all that comfortable spotting up at the NBA three-point line. He shot just 25% from beyond the arc in Vegas, and that’s not even close to what it would take to secure Foster a spot on an NBA roster. He’s not a bad defender, but Shan really doesn’t do much offensively except shoot. I wouldn’t call him a black hole, but he certainly doesn’t make plays. He doesn’t drive. He doesn’t post up. He spots up frequently, and misses far more than he should.

J.R. Giddens: I just don’t see it. Giddens plays hard, but he doesn’t seem to have a particularly good grasp of where to be on the court. One could appreciate him solely for his hustle, but too often is he forced to rely on it based on his own mistakes. He seems like a pretty decent positional rebounder, but considering Giddens really failed to show any standout NBA skills aside from his athleticism, I’m not sure he’s cut from the NBA mold. A good player, but unfortunately he just doesn’t seem good enough.

Moussa Seck: Ever the project, Seck’s height is undeniably attractive in an NBA setting, but he has a long way to go before he’s ready to use it. Not only did Seck really only shine offensively when putting in an easy dunk, but his body needs a lot of work before he’s NBA ready.

Consider Yao Ming. The guy is built like a tree, and even with the amount of upper and lower body work he’s done throughout his career, he still has trouble staying healthy. Such is the life of the league’s giants, who have the principles of physics working against them.

Seck could benefit a lot — particularly in the strength and conditioning departments — from playing in the D next season, and I have a sneaking suspicion we may see him in Frisco. But until he puts in the work to make his body NBA-ready, he’s not worth having a particularly serious discussion about. I will say this: Seck may not be all that mobile, but he can surprise people as a shot-blocker for pretty obvious reasons. If Seck could ever bulk up enough to at least put up a fight on the glass, he could find enough minutes to be a difference-maker on the defensive end. Teams simply have to account for him when he’s on the floor, even if Seck lacks a natural feel for the flow of the game.

DeShawn Sims: I was a bit more impressed with Sims’ play in the Orlando Summer League than I was with his performance in Vegas. Sims is a tad small for a natural 4, and his largely face-up game only reinforces that fact. He’s not a great rebounder, but it’s not for lack of effort; Sims puts in the work on the boards, he’s just not all that tall, strong, or athletic. He could be worth an extended look, but Sims doesn’t seem like the kind of talent that would take the jump from Summer League to the NBA all that well.

Amara Sy: Strong, but awkward. Aside from the occasional bizarrely soft jumper, Sy really didn’t look like a basketball player. He got a bucket now and again, but I’m not exactly sure what it is that he’s supposed to do on the court. He’s not a good rebounder (though he really should be, given his strength and athleticism), doesn’t have much touch around the rim at all, and isn’t more than a passable NBA player. Sy seems like a lock to continue in the D-League for a spell before floating back across the Atlantic.

Josh Mayo: Pretty quick, but doesn’t have the blinding speed necessary to make a difference as a 6-foot-flat point guard in the NBA. Mayo didn’t have much of a chance to display his talents behind Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, and Jeremy Lin, but he also played incredibly pedestrian basketball when he did make it to the floor.

Eric Tramiel: If he ends up in Frisco, it will be solely as a ticket draw (Tramiel came out of UNT, which is about a 30 minute drive from the Legends’ new home). Tramiel didn’t play badly per se, but his defense — while competent — wasn’t impressive to make up for his no-show offensively. It’s tough for guys in Tramiel’s position to impress NBA scouts, but there are also reasons why players of his ilk struggle to even find PT in Summer League.

Darryl Watkins: Big body. Not horrible. Disappears, both on the court and from the Summer League roster.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 20, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Dirk officially signed his new contract with the Mavs yesterday, and here are the yearly values, according to Eddie Sefko: $17,278,618/$19,092,873/$20,907,128/$22,721,381.
  • Congrats to Dominique Jones, who made the All-Summer League Team in Vegas. At the beginning of Summer League, we all figured Rodrigue Beaubois would be in thie position, but Jones’ offensive efficiency and defensive excellence weren’t necessarily surprising, but they’re definitely welcome.
  • Something about this picture is just…weird.
  • Omar Samhan on his decision to play professionally in Lithuania next season (via Jeff Caplan): “I didn’t have any offers for guaranteed money [in the NBA]. A lot of people wanted me to come to training camp, but they couldn’t guarantee anything. And, if I did make a team, I wouldn’t get playing time, I wouldn’t get a chance to develop a ton…So, it’s going to give me a chance to go over there for a year or two and really develop as a player. I plan on coming back and being an NBA player for the next 10 years.”
  • Jason Kidd will help out Team USA this summer. He just won’t, y’know, play.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has a featureish piece on Ian Mahinmi for those that aren’t acquainted with his career in Austin and San Antonio.
  • The Chicago Bulls are considering picking up Josh Howard for next season.
  • Shocker: Brandon Bass doesn’t seem all that happy with his role on the Magic. In such situations, I recommend actually learning the playbook and rotations.

UPDATE (10:29 AM CST):

First on the Shopping List

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 19, 2010 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

Until the Texas Legends begin to formulate their roster, they will be more of an amorphous blob than an actual asset. We’re getting closer and closer to something real; Summer League is over, and though final training camp cuts are still a lifetime away, the first whiff of the Legends as we’ll know them has surfaced.

As a guest on ESPN Radio, 103.3 FM in Dallas, Jeremy Lin had the following to say about his choice to play for the Mavs’ Summer League team in Vegas this year:

The biggest reason why I was drawn to the Mavs is because of Donnie Nelson. He sat me down at Portsmouth and we had dinner. He talked about how he liked my game. He thought that I was a year or so away from the NBA and he wanted to recruit me for his D-League team.

Donnie’s really taken care of me. He invited me to play for the Summer League team. Even before the draft had ended, he called me right before it ended and said, “I really want you to play for us.” That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up with how well he’s been treating me and how he pursued me to play for the team. When I got to Dallas, he took care of me there. I’m just glad I was able to get this opportunity.

This is great news. Dallas isn’t the only team interested in signing Jeremy Lin for next season (According to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, the Lakers and at least one Eastern Conference team are also negotiating with Lin), but they do appear to have a decent advantage thanks to Nelson’s legwork. Jeremy wouldn’t be a candidate for playing time on this year’s team with Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, and J.J. Barea all superior options at point guard, but the Mavs could definitely benefit from giving Lin a roster spot while allowing him to thrive in Frisco.

The decision will be Jeremy’s. If he gets a better offer from another NBA team, no one should blame him for taking it. But if the Mavs can make it worth Lin’s while to stay in the Dallas area, we could get an extended look at the third point guard for next season. J.J. Barea will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and while he’s been very useful during his four-year career with the Mavs, Lin could easily make him expendable after a year of D-League seasoning. This isn’t to say that Lin would necessarily be the better player in a year’s time, but he’d undoubtedly be the more cost-efficient of the two.

The D is the best place for Lin right now. Although Jeremy had a strong showing in Vegas, teams won’t be lining up to hand him significant minutes next season. But having the opportunity to run an NBA offense full-time while further adjusting to the speed of the pro game will do wonders for Lin’s long-term chances. With that in mind, Dallas is a perfect fit. Not only could the Mavs offer Lin a chance to fight for a rotation spot in 2011, but he’d also be able to develop in the team’s front pocket. The Legends will run Maverick sets and operate within the same general offensive and defensive systems next season, all while allowing Mav-affiliated coaches to work with Jeremy on aspects of his game as emphasized by the team. Should Lin choose to sign with Dallas, he would be playing for the Mavericks next season, even without technically playing in NBA games.

UPDATE 11:56 PM CST: Per Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, Lin’s agent, Roger Montgomery, has said that there are now new teams in the running.

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume IV

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 16, 2010 under Commentary, Recaps | Read the First Comment

  • Rodrigue Beaubois played a pretty miserable game. In almost sixteen minutes, Beaubois went scoreless, but still managed to pick up five fouls and turn the ball over three times. He suffered a bit of a high ankle sprain during the game, which does help to explain his hesitation and ineffectiveness. However, even with the injury as an alibi, this was a weak performance for Rodrigue.
  • With Beaubois sitting most of the game due to injury, there was an offensive void to be filled. That’s where Dominique Jones came up big, and Jeremy Lin, Omar Samhan, and Ian Mahinmi made notable contributions. Dominique had a high-usage outing (with Beaubois sitting, Jones ran the offense for extended stretches) but sitll a remarkably efficient one: He scored 28 points on 17 shots, shot 53% from the field, and only turned the ball over twice. Typically I’m more of an advocate of evaluating skills in Summer League rather than production, but Jones’ outing was too impressive to ignore.
  • However, Jones’ best work was on the defensive end. Dominique was matched up with the prodigious John Wall, and though Wall finished with a fantastic 21 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds, Jones’ ability to anticipate Wall’s moves was very impressive. The #1 pick may have gotten his, but he shot just 4-of-19 from the field in doing so.
  • Kevin Arnovitz on Dominique Jones: Jones played the point at South Florida and can distribute the ball in traffic, or make use of himself off the ball. He recorded four assists on Thursday and turned the ball over twice, which is a minor miracle for an active, high usage guard in summer league action. ‘I love the point guard position, as people can probably tell the way I work with the ball,’ Jones said. ‘But whatever the Mavericks need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to prepare myself and learn from Jason Terry and Jason Kidd so that when the time comes at either position that I play, I won’t be a liability.’ For an aging Dallas squad, the time might come sooner than later — and Jones seems far more of an asset than a liability.”
  • Jeremy Lin had his best Summer League performance yet. He threaded a long bounce pass through two defenders to a cutter. He picked off a lazy pass and sprinted out for an open court dunk. He sliced to the basket and found an open teammate on the other side of the rim. He unleashed a breathtaking spin on a shot attempt that was unfortunately led to an offensive foul call. He stuck with John Wall on defense. Lin looks every bit an NBA player, and at this point the only thing separating him from that official status is an invite, not skill.
  • Here’s my fellow Hardwood Paroxite, Zach Harper (also of Cowbell Kingdom and Talk Hoops), on Lin’s performance: “Jeremy Lin and John Wall faced off in the fourth quarter of the Wizards-Mavericks game in Vegas and pretty much played each other to a standstill. That’s right. An undrafted Harvard, SMAHRT kid, point guard went toe-to-toe with the number-one pick in the NBA draft and sort-of held his own. The final box score will show John Wall with an impressive 21 points (let’s just forget about the 4/19 shooting), 10 assists and seven rebounds. But it won’t show that the majority of the Lin’s 11 fourth quarter points were the result of him getting the better of the ‘best player in the draft’ for times than Wall will care to remember. Lin and Wall played the equivalent of an iso chess match on the hardwood game board. The kid from the Ivy League refused to back down from the YouTube sensation and while Wall walked away with the highlight reel, Lin walked away as the fan favorite.”
  • Ian Mahinmi looked good in his Maverick debut. He’s confident in his mid-range game, which is good, but he’s also not content to settle. Mahinmi attacked the rim whenever he could, including one impressive drive to the rim from the high post. Ian also rebounded fairly well, although the Mavs’ bigs on the whole did a poor job on the defensive glass. It’s tough to attribute specific blame when the defensive rotations are Summer Leaguerrific (forcing the bigs to step up and contest shots they shouldn’t have to, exposing the soft, chewy center of the defensive unit), but JaVale McGee and John Wall killed it on the offensive glass.
  • Omar Samhan looked strong again in a complementary role, but he’s not long for this NBA world. Samhan has agreed to a two-year contract with Zalgiris, a Lithuanian team, with a team option for a third year. Let’s hope he’ll be back stateside before that. Cheers, Omar.
  • With Ian Mahinmi inserted into the starting lineup, Mouhammad Faye was relegated to reserve duty. He didn’t look as impressive against Washington. Though Faye’s defense was above average, it wasn’t notable, and he didn’t contribute anything offensively.
  • DeShawn Sims had his most productive game as a Mav, but I have a feeling he’ll be picked up elsewhere. Sims is a pretty decent NBA prospect, but the Mavs need an immediate contributor as the back-up 4. Plus, if they’re going to take a flyer on anyone from this roster, Lin seems to be the better find.
  • If I’m not mistaken, Shan Foster had his first drive of Summer League in Game 4. This is not a good thing.

The Ride: Omar Samhan and the Ups and Downs of Summer League

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 14, 2010 under Commentary | 18 Comments to Read

Photos by Kyle Weidie.

Omar Samhan sits folded in the seat next to me, our roller coaster car clearly designed for something less than his 6-foot-11, 275-pound frame. He wears the same goofy grin while joking with the ride’s operator that he does while holding court in a post-game press scrum, and he carries with him an infectious charisma. There’s absolutely no denying the kid within Samhan, and his dynamic personality made him one of the NCAA Tournament’s most captivating stories. Yet layered beneath is a hell of a basketball talent still searching for a home.

Photo by Kyle Weidie.

It’s not hard to see why reporters flock to Samhan at the end of every game. In a sea of athletes who have been trained to say nothing at all, Omar’s candor is beyond refreshing. He’s somehow both larger than life and completely down to Earth. “You know, you get these universal answers [from athletes] that nobody likes reading and nobody likes to hear, but people just say them because they’re uncomfortable,” Samhan said. “They’re scared of what people will think. At the end of the day, the media want you to be honest with them. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta liven up a little.”

That Omar does. So much so that while the St. Mary’s product has become a figure of renown for his sound bites, his game is somehow overshadowed. “After the first two rounds of the tournament, people were like ‘He’s such a good interview,’ he’s this, he’s that,” Samhan said. “Hold on, hold on. I scored more in the first two rounds than anyone in the history of the tournament. I averaged 30 through two games. It was one of those deals where it was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” If only we were. Omar led the Gaels through an insane tournament run, but the national media’s spotlight seemed to focus more on one-liners than drop-steps, unaware that such disregard is a punch line in itself.

Samhan isn’t in Vegas as a sideshow. He’s not here to entertain, even though he does. He — like so many other undrafted players and second round prospects — is fighting for his NBA life in Summer League, close enough to smell the hardwood but far enough from it to bow to uncertainty. “It’s tough to be in the middle ground, and it pisses me off to be honest that I am in the middle ground,” Samhan said, unearthing a bit of the fire normally reserved for the court. “I feel like I’ve done enough to be over the hump at this stage in my career and I’m not. It’s frustrating. For sure. It’s just the reality.” Omar sports self-awareness well.

“The funny thing is that everyone says my game is where it needs to be,” Samhan said. “It’s more my body. Keep working, keep getting in shape. I’ve lost 60 pounds so I wonder what else I have to do. I’ve lost 60 pounds so you know I’m serious. You know if I had an NBA trainer to work with everyday, I could lose another 60. I think [teams] today are looking for athletes. They’re not looking for skill guys anymore.”

Omar’s not wrong. Asking for a legitimate center with a refined post game is exceedingly greedy in today’s NBA. There aren’t enough guys with the size and work ethic to resurrect one of the league’s disappearing trades. Yet Samhan, who has something of an arsenal in his back pocket when positioned on the low block, has a hard time getting a serious look from NBA teams due to his relative lack of athleticism. As a player, he’s certainly not without flaws, but Omar clearly has NBA-caliber skills in a league where potential triumphs over actual basketball erudition.

“It’s a lost art,” Samhan noted. “It’s funny: Guys like [Kevin] McHale are doing our games and I got a chance to listen to some of the stuff he said after the game. He was impressed with my footwork, and he’s a guy I copy all the time because he had great footwork. A lot of these guys that have great footwork like that, they’re coaching now, and they’re recruiting guys that don’t have great footwork. I don’t understand. Why are you signing guys that don’t have great footwork when that’s how you made your money? It’s a lost art. It’s just not as respected as it used to be.”

I asked Omar to take me through a the finer details of a post-up possession. Perimeter players are considered virtuosos for their performances, but even at their best, interior scorers are generally regarded as lumbering and unspectacular. There’s an inherent unfairness to NBA flash, where productive bigs like Samhan are overlooked despite the incredible precision, patience, and technique in their craft. “I have an initial move that I want to do, either to go baseline or go middle,” Samhan said. “After that, it just kind of flows. I like to play with my defender in there, especially since I’m not that athletic. I like to get ‘em jumping and faking back and forth.”

“The thing that really helped my game was that I got a chance to meet Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal. This was last summer, before my senior year. They told me to attack the [defender’s] top foot. If one foot’s higher, attack it, because it’s going to be harder for them to open it up. There are little tips you learn over the years to outsmart people. I did it at the college level, and now I’m learning at the NBA level because guys are bigger and stronger, and you have to outsmart them even more. It’s a process. Once you get position, that’s when the creativity starts flowing.”

Summer League is the perfect place to display that creativity, even if Samhan is in a less-than-ideal position. Despite looking absolutely dominant in the tournament, Samhan was still forced to use the Vegas Summer League as an extended tryout for NBA clubs unconvinced of his professional utility. Omar certainly has holes in his game; he’s not terribly quick on his feet, and in a pro game so reliant on pick-and-roll coverage, that could be damning. Still, prospects have been given a proper shot with far bigger weaknesses, yet Samhan’s deliberate style is a convenient way to discount him. Omar has averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds in about 26 minutes per game in Vegas. Against quasi-NBA opponents. Playing NBA-style basketball. While “overweight,” and “unathletic,” and “unable to defend quicker players,” and evidently undeserving of the opposing draft picks he’s out-playing.

“I’ve definitely held my own and done well,” Samhan said. “I don’t think these guys are better than me. I’m playing against guys like Jordan Hill who was drafted #8 overall, and I’m like ‘This guy’s not better than me.’ I’m even happier in how I played in that sense.” For the record, Omar dropped 17 points on the far more athletic Hill, while shooting 67% from the field. All hail the power of athletic potential.

Samhan is a passionate and fiercely competitive player. Yet off the court, he’s rarely caught being completely serious, even when demonstrating some of his marketable NBA skills (toughness, shooting ability, defense):


Video by Kyle Weidie.

Before Omar and I had contorted our way into the coaster’s car, everything in the loading station came to a grinding halt. The ride was dead, and yet Omar, standing head and shoulders above everyone around him, hadn’t even begun to ride.

Samhan understands his current place on the NBA spectrum, but he’s not thrilled about it. He’s just doing what he can to grab a roster spot, even if Summer League (and the NBA dynamic) presents a bit of a culture shock. “It’s hard,” Samhan said. “It’s definitely hard. People keep moving in Summer League. Already we had a guy come and leave, new guys come, it’s a lot of changes, and it’s not what I’m used to. Especially being at a school like St. Mary’s. If you go to Kentucky, if you go to Kansas, if you go to North Carolina, Duke, you’re playing to play in the NBA. You’re playing for yourself in a sense. Coach K and those guys do a great job getting people to buy in, but at the end of the day those guys are trying to be pro athletes. At St. Mary’s, we were trying to win.”

“A lot of us don’t have a future in basketball, we just have today. It’s a unique chemistry that you can’t get anywhere else, and to go from that extreme to where I am now has been tough.”

It also doesn’t help things that the Dallas Mavericks, the team Omar is playing for in Summer League, have essentially given away his roster spot during his time in Vegas. Dallas signed former Spur Ian Mahinmi and traded for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca on Tuesday, adding three bigs to a frontcourt that’s now looking a bit crowded. “I thought I had a good chance of making the team…” Samhan said,“…until they went out and signed 30 centers.” He doesn’t have many NBA options at this point; Omar’s impressive showing in Vegas has secured him a basketball job for next season (he’s already received an offer to play overseas if an NBA gig doesn’t materialize soon), but it’s not a sweet victory. Omar Samhan is an NBA player, and what’s perhaps a bit worse: He knows it. It just doesn’t seem like many NBA decision-makers do.

So Samhan, who really only stops smiling when faced with the possibility of not living out his dream next season, does the only thing he can do: He continues to work hard in a city that demands he do otherwise. Really, Vegas is the perfect place for Omar to carve out some sort of NBA future. He certainly partakes in the fun and decadence the city has to offer, but dig deeper and he’s still the one trying to get work done in the world’s largest playground. “I think it really tests guys,” Samhan said. “Everyone wants to go out and have fun, and there’s a bunch of women here and everything else. It should be held in Fresno, California or something like that, but it’s good. I mean, you get to see who’s really serious, and who’s going to show up everyday in a hard place to show up everyday.” Even the roller coaster at New York, New York can’t quite seem to pull it off, as we continue to wait and wait while the ride’s operators suss out the technical difficulty.

Luckily, I have pretty good company: An athlete extremely conscious of what the professional sporting sphere really means, and particularly in tune with how the media operates. As a former broadcasting and journalism major at St. Mary’s, Samhan responds as the athlete that he would want to be interviewing. In a sense, he’s an intermediary between journalists and the professional athletic stereotype, and with that in mind, I asked for his help.

Most athletes are, as Samhan noted, afraid of truly speaking their minds. So they turn to canned answers as a media mulligan. The typical post-game interview is riddled with cliché, an indecipherable and unusable code that’s no fun for anybody. Omar was nice enough to provide real translations for some run-of-the-mill athlete clichés:

Both teams played hard? “We suck.”

We’re taking things one game at a time? “I’m lying to you. I just wanna win the championship.”

I’m just happy to be here? Omar laughs. “Well if they say that, then they’re probably not very good.”

Anything for the good of the team? “That’s a lie. Especially in the NBA.”

It’s not about the money? “That’s the biggest lie. It’s all about money for the teams and for the players.”

Omar also understands the growing influence of direct athlete-to-fan interaction, and that regardless of what the media says about his game or personality, he does have some control over how his brand is established and consumed. “I like to put some stuff out there, too, and it just appeals to the fans,” Samhan said. “People joke that I’m the most well-known guy at Summer League, even though I went undrafted. All of that is because I like to be involved with the fans. On my Twitter a few days ago, I put up my BBM — BlackBerry Messenger — just for whoever, for fans to hit me up so we can talk. I talked to a lot of guys about the LeBron trade. There’s probably 400 people that added me on BBM, but it’s cool.”

That incredible accessibility has helped turn Samhan into a people’s champion, and his refusal to put up a front for the media no doubt helps to reinforce his authenticity. Though Omar is undoubtedly a character, he’s not playing a role. There is no show, there’s just Omar. He is who he is: brash but self-deprecating, loose but focused, powerful yet, somehow, powerless.

~~~~~

The first minute and a half of the coaster ride is spent climbing a giant hill for a signature drop. Even the surest riders get a bit anxious, as the attraction’s adrenaline-infused payoff is delayed by the long climb. Being in limbo is kind of cruel in that way, but you know what? It hardly stopped Samhan from being Samhan. Even if he has to make the slow climb before finally starting his NBA ride, it won’t matter in the long run. The rush is coming.

IMG_5640

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume III

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | 7 Comments to Read

  • Mouhammad Faye continues to impress me. He seems a very likely candidate to end up in Frisco next season, and Faye could conceivably grow into a defensive-minded, reserve 3 for the Mavs down the line. His length is already paying dividends, but for now he’s far too lean to be an effective defender against NBA forwards.
  • Moussa Seck has officially developed a cult following. His status as a Summer League novelty was cemented by his string of impact plays in the first half against the Bucks, and the good news is that all of his plays should be replicable. He didn’t luck into a few skyhooks, he simply contested shots on defense, ran at the rim while looking for the feed on offense, and worked hard to rebound. Nothing special, but good progress for Seck.
  • Amara Sy hit a step-back 20-footer. What?
  • Not only does Seck have roughly the same waist size as Rodrigue Beaubois, but he’s also by far the slowest player on the team. To call him ‘lumbering’ doesn’t say the half of it. He’s also not very quick off his feet, which makes him pretty vulnerable defensively, even with his absurd height and length.
  • Jeremy Lin hasn’t demonstrated an ability to execute more difficult drives, but he can definitely finish after contact. Lin had one of the most impressive finishes of the Summer League thus far on an and one over first rounder Larry Sanders.
  • Omar Samhan has had some strong showings, but he’s not great at protecting the rim. Just doesn’t have the athleticism for it. He’s a pretty decent post defender though, and that’s where his size and strength really give him an edge.
  • Good for North Texas product Eric Tramiel, who was able to make the Mavs’ Summer League roster. Unfortunately, this is where the road ends for him. Just doesn’t look the part of an NBA player. Tramiel holds his own on the defensive end, but he’s definitely a limited offensive player, even at this level.
  • Clarification: Dominique Jones’ jumper is shaky, but it’s actually not too shabby within the free throw line extended. It’s when Jones steps outside that his touch starts to go.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois has been picking up a ton of fouls, but he did make up for a pretty inconsistent game by nailing a game-winner in overtime. All’s well that ends well?

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 12, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume II

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 11, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

The journey continues, as the Mavs took on one of the Vegas Summer League’s most talented teams in the Houston Rockets:

  • Rodrigue Beaubois shot himself quietly into that good night during the first Summer League game, but put together quite the follow-up. Beaubois was far more patient in running the Mavs’ sets, but more importantly he looked like himself. Rodrigue hit jumpers spotting up and off the dribble, and made Houston’s defenders look positively silly with his speed. Ish Smith is a speed demon in his own right, but keeping up with Rodrigue in the open court isn’t a job for mere men. 28 points on 60% shooting with four assists — that’ll do.
  • And before you get too upset about Beaubois’ four turnovers, it kind of comes with the territory. Not only is Rodrigue trying to carry the Mavs’ SL squad, but he’s also trying to be extra aggressive in both his scoring and playmaking.
  • Omar Samhan is kind of fantastic. Conditioning is clearly still an issue, but his footwork, touch, and energy are all excellent. He killed it against the more athletic (but defensively limited) Jordan Hill by showing off his face-up J, array of interior moves, and even his ability to attack off the dribble. Samhan’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he uses his technique (whether it’s a shot fake or a drop step) to succeed despite inferior athleticism. He’s good, and while he doesn’t have the defensive seasoning or endurance to play a big role, he could be a reasonably effective bench scorer almost immediately. Summer League defenders aren’t identical to real NBA competition, but Samhan is an intelligent and physical player. He’s a guy you can trust to figure it out.
  • Jon L of Ridiculous Upside listed J.R. Giddens as one of the day’s “Nonstars,” but I was actually pretty impressed. Relative to Giddens’ usual efforts, he was much more in control and certainly more disciplined. He still gambled at times on defense and made his mistakes offensively, but his typically impressive effort level seemed a tad more calculated than usual. Maybe his basketball instincts were just more in tune, but he seemed to play relatively well in the areas which were previously flat.
  • Jeremy Lin was rather terrific again, even if he was completely eclipsed by Beaubois and Samhan’s incredible production. I’m still a little surprised at well he finishes inside, particularly after absorbing contact. His frame doesn’t necessarily suggest that he’s frail, but Lin’s release on floaters and layups is consistently soft and true. He’s also been rebounding pretty well for a point, even if he’s played off the ball at times as well.
  • I don’t see anything particularly interesting in Amara Sy’s game. He’s a big body and seems like a decent enough athlete, but doesn’t seem to have any offensive game. Sy lost the handle on a few possessions and airballed a baseline jumper, which is probably enough of a reason for Dallas to keep the ball out of his hands. If he’s a designated defender, I’m still waiting to be impressed.
  • Mouhammad Faye, on the other hand, I think is already a pretty decent defender. He obviously needs work before his defense is good enough to keep him afloat in the big leagues, but for Summer League purposes he’s a good glue guy. He finishes around the rim, grabs boards, and forces his match-up into tough shots. Dallas could have done far worse in terms of potential wing players.
  • Shan Foster seems to have matured as a player, but he hasn’t showcased any particularly appealing NBA skills. He’s bulked up a little bit and seems to be a bit pickier with his shot selection,but the results still haven’t been all that promising. Foster’s primary NBA utility was supposed to be his shooting ability, but he really hasn’t demonstrated that he can knock down shots from any range consistently in a supporting role.
  • Darryl Watkins made his debut for the Mavs, but he only played about three and a half minutes. He’s a more polished center than Moussa Seck (who can grab boards, but hasn’t shown any basketball moves nor the ability to properly use his incredible height), but also a bit older. Seck could be an interesting Texas Legends candidate, but Watkins hasn’t shown much yet.
  • Rockets guard Jermaine Taylor is a slightly more complete version of Dominique Jones. He shares Jones’ ability to fight to the rim and finish, but Jermaine is undoubtedly the better playmaker at this stage and a better ball handler overall. Taylor is one of my favorite players running in Summer League, and Mavs fans should really watch Jermaine and the Rockets to get a better feel of where Dominique Jones could be in a year or two. Jones is just as much of a natural scorer, but it’s about filling in the gaps.
  • Worth noting that the TrueHoop Network and SB Nation had a 5-on-5 Battle Royale for inter-network supremacy, and the good guys won, 50-47. Yours truly grabbed MVP honors with 32 points and 17 rebounds on 57% shooting, though those four turnovers were killer. Great playing with all of the TrueHoopers and the SBN folks, and hopefully THN can defend the title next time around.