Actualization: The Texas Legends’ Shift from Concept to Reality

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2010 under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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The Texas Legends are no longer purely conceptual. Beyond the cast of coaches and front office staff that has been in place since last November, there are now actual players populating the roster. Players with strengths, flaws, potential, and limits. Players that will find both success and failure — hopefully more of the former than the latter — under head coach Nancy Lieberman. Between the expansion draft, the D-League draft, and the D’s new allocation rules, the Legends have assembled a promising 15-man roster, and with it, have gained the burden of expectation.

“You can read the press release,” Lieberman said. “I mean seriously, you’re going to put in the press release that we got four former first round picks? I’m like, ‘Dude, I was trying to fly under the radar!’ I mean come on, I’m only a girl. How much can I take?” Lieberman plays the irony perfectly, clearly not overwhelmed by her standing as a pioneer for her gender, her vast responsibilities as a head coach, nor her own anticipation of the season to come.

“Talk about expectations. We have [Antonio] Daniels, Reece Gaines, [Rashad] McCants and Sean Williams,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to get on the court for practice, and we’re going to figure out Sean Williams’ strengths, Reece Gaines’ strengths, Gar Tucker’s strengths. We are smart enough as a staff to start molding the things that we want to do to benefit them.”

That molding, that adjustment, is what the D-League is all about, after all. The D-League is a professional entity in the literal sense, but it’s a stepping stone. It isn’t home to lifers. It’s a landing spot for players with an eye to something bigger, coaches looking for their next opportunity, and general managers looking to try their hand at running an NBA team. The D-League is, by nature, a league of transitions in which coaches like Lieberman, while likely pursuing their own dreams of an NBA job or high-profile college job, adjust in order to best develop and showcase the talent on their roster. “If we’re really who we say we are, we must set our [players] up for success,” Lieberman said. “It really cannot be about us.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but we’re going to get better and each guy is going to have a career year. They’re going to learn more about basketball than they’ve ever learned before. We will make our guys better. I promise you, we will make them better individually. And if they’re better individually, they’ll be better in a team concept.”

Of course, this venture isn’t purely altruistic. The Legends don’t only exist as a facilitator of hoop dreams, but also as a competitive franchise in itself, and, perhaps most importantly from an NBA perspective, a valuable resource for the Mavericks. Direct D-League ownership and the hybrid ownership model have reaped benefits for the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets respectively, and while Donnie Nelson’s co-ownership is based on a different model, the Mavs hope for similar gains.

Part of tapping into those gains is creating a clear organizational structure. The interests of both the Mavericks and Legends need to be in line with the hope that, eventually, the lines between the two franchises will be almost non-existent. Dallas will hopefully be able to call up players to fill either temporary or long-term needs, experiment with sets or schemes in a low-pressure environment, and use the Legends to further evaluate and instruct young players already on the Mavs’ roster. The connection between Dallas and Frisco should be seamless, and from Lieberman’s description, that seems to be the case.

“Think of us as one,” Lieberman said. “Donnie, Rick [Carlisle], the Mavericks, the Legends. Everybody decides what is best for the totality of the organization. We love that. We’re honored that the Mavericks care enough about us and enough about the future to help identify the players that we need to be successful. Everything will be collaborative and really, Donnie spearheads it. Donnie’s done every level: he’s played, he’s coached, he’s been a GM, he’s got the bridge to Europe, he’s always willing to make people around him better, and he really has a wonderful gift of bringing people’s interests together. We’re in really great hands.”

Hands that just so happen to steer the good ship Maverick, as well. That congruence is essential if the Legends are going to be a viable long-term resource.

The most obvious potential benefit to come from that resource is the players themselves. The Legends roster was assembled not only with the intent of creating a competitive D-League roster, but also by gathering prospects of interest for the Mavs. Some are relatively familiar faces — McCants, Williams, Daniels — but others, including the Legends’ first round pick, Matt Rogers, are unknowns to those not well-acquainted with Division II college basketball. Still, Rogers went to training camp with the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Legends will expect a lot from him.

“We targeted Matt Rogers from the first time we saw him at our free agent camp,” Lieberman said. “We were very impressed that, at 6-11, he could shoot, he understood how to play the game, he had good energy. We liked everything about him. We can use him in a lot of different, versatile situations on the court, so we’re excited to have him.”

But Rogers isn’t the only player Lieberman is happy to have in a Legends uniform. “I think in this league, it’s very important to have a veteran point guard,” Lieberman said. “Not that young people can’t excel; there are special players. But that’s why we looked at Antonio Daniels. He’s a veteran. He’s savvy. He’s been around the league. He knows what it takes to win. He’s smart. He’s versatile. That was very important to us, to address the point guard position. We also have Sean Williams, who is 6-11 and very explosive. We wanted to make sure that we covered the inside-out. Then we wanted to make sure we had some slashers, and guys that are combo guards, and guys that want to really defend and are willing to sacrifice and defend, and you put shooters around them. We’re really happy. We’re excited about getting Kelvin Lewis. We’re excited about having Booker Woodfox — the guy is an offensive machine. Some guys are just specialists. Curtis Terry is a lot better than people think.”

I’m not sure the Legends are a “team” in the existential sense until they finally hit the court together as a complete unit, but they have a roster, and by Lieberman’s enthusiasm and description, it seems a rather balanced one. There’s a good mix of youth and experience, bigs and guards, scorers and defenders. No one at this level is a complete player, but the Legends have some intriguing individuals and a notable level of collective talent.

Some of that talent is relatively straightforward in its implementation and utilization; Antonio Daniels is an NBA veteran who could surely benefit from instruction, but has a more established game than some of his fellow Legends. Moussa Seck, on the other hand, needs a fair bit of refinement in his game. Seck, a 7-4 shot-blocker, played for the Mavericks’ Summer League team in Las Vegas both this year and last, and though he’s improved in many respects, his basketball skills are still lacking. But rather than focus on how far Seck has left to go before becoming a fully-functional player, Lieberman sees hope in his progress thus far.

“I’ve known Moussa now for almost a year,” Lieberman said. “Moussa has come so far. He was very raw, but he has something that nobody else has. He has a great heart, he has a wonderful work ethic, he’s learning every day how to be a next level player. That kid was working every day in the spring on his strength, working on his game, working on his power, working on his hands. All you can ask of somebody is to get better.”

“Look at Manute Bol. Look at [Dikembe] Mutombo. Look at the guys who came here and really ended up flourishing. There has to be a level of patience. You almost have to project down the road: What’s Moussa going to look like a year from now? What’s he going to look like two years from now? That becomes our job, to develop him. He has the platform. He has people who care, and we’re going to invest in his development.”

That last statement seems to encapsulate a thematic element of Lieberman’s coaching style, though she’s quick to note her intention to balance that care and that investment with a strong, definite approach.

“We better love our guys because we’re going to work the dog out of our guys,” Lieberman said. “Seriously. All you need to know is my background and where I came from. Again, it’s not about me. I don’t want to make this about me, but they will not roll over me.”

Lieberman is the first female head coach of an NBA-affiliated team, but she’s made a career of destroying that “first female” qualifier. In 1986, Lieberman became the first woman to play in a professional men’s league. When Pat Riley became a coach, Lieberman was his first point guard; she played for the Lakers at Jerry West’s request when L.A. competed in the summer Southern California Pro League. According to Lieberman, Riley tells the story of their shared experience often, and told her: “You taught me how to be fearless. You were never afraid even though you were always overmatched. I never forgot that.”

This is just the kind of thing that Lieberman does.

“This is so normal for me,” Lieberman said. “It’s not normal for you. It’s normal for me. My guys in the office don’t walk around like I’m a chick coaching. We talk like we’re working together, hand-in-hand. We know the judgment. We know the expectation. We know it’s coming.”

It’s almost here. The Legends begin their season on November 18th against the D-League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Lieberman’s D-League coaching debut and the Legends’ commencement are notable for very different reasons, and yet they both represent the actualization of the same plan. At long last, the Texas Legends are ready to tip off. The long-awaited blow of that opening whistle will inaugurate the Legends’ true existence as a basketball franchise and welcome all of the expectations and judgment that come with it.

Raw Materials

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 3, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

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After months of pondering the future of of an empty roster, there are now 15 newly christened members of the Texas Legends. Some of those 15 we know, and some of them we don’t, but with the draft now behind us, the Mavs’ D-League affiliate is beginning to come into focus.

Despite the public hiccup, Rashad McCants may be a Legend after all. His current inclusion on the roster represents more of a possibility than a certainty. Marc Stein reported for ESPN Dallas that McCants intends to pursue every possible NBA lead before reporting to Legends camp, and Percy Miller, McCants’ personal adviser, insists that there is legitimate NBA interest in the Rashad’s services.

Sean Williams is in, though. Absent are Mavs training campers Adam Haluska and Dee Brown, but in their place are a few former NBAers (yes, it’s that Antonio Daniels) and a few familiar faces (yes, it’s that Moussa Seck…as if there are others). Behold, your 2010-2011 Texas Legends:

NameHeightWeightAgeLast Played for
Sean Williams6-1023524Hapoel Jerusalem
Rashad McCants6-421526Sacramento (NBA)
Antonio Daniels6-420535Minnesota (NBA)
Reece Gaines6-619829Bakersfield (D-League)
Matt Rogers6-1022522Southwest Baptist
Justin Dentmon5-11185??Afula Israel
Kelvin Lewis6-419522Houston (NCAA)
Moussa Seck7-422224Mavs' SL
Booker Woodfox6-1185??Creighton
Curtis Terry6-519625Petro Luanda (Angola)
Reece Hampton6-5195??Adams State (NCAA)
Keith Clark6-820323L.A. (D-League)
Dar Tucker6-419322L.A. (D-League)
Pierce Caldwell6-3200??Incarnate Word (NCAA)
Andre Gatlin????????

Only 10 of these Legends will comprise the actual opening day roster; in a rather cursory determination, I’d wager that Pierce Caldwell and Andre Gatlin, both products of the Legends’ open tryouts, are likely to be among the five players cut loose. Otherwise, I see McCants, Williams, Reece Gaines (whom the Legends acquired via trade), Daniels, and Seck as virtual locks to make the final roster, with Dar Tucker and Keith Clark not far behind.

It’s also worth noting that Kelvin Lewis attended the Mavs’ pre-Summer League mini-camp, but did not make Dallas’ or any other NBA team’s Summer League roster. Also, per Marc Stein, Curtis Terry is the Mavs’ own Jason Terry’s brother.

Here are some extra tidbits on the Legends, via the team’s press release:

  • Matt Rogers was the Division II Player of the Year last season.
  • Justin Dentmon, formerly of Washington University, was drafted in the third round. Dentmon spent last season playing for Afula Israel, where he averaged more than 20 points per game. In his senior year for the Huskies, Dentmon made 41.2 percent of his three-point attempts.
  • Kelvin Lewis, who graduated from Houston University in the spring, will join the Legends after winning the Conference USA Tournament MVP during his last few collegiate games. Lewis averaged 15.5 points per game in his final season with the Cougars, and hit 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
  • Booker Woodfox, the sixth round pick and Dallas native, also has D-League experience. After graduating from Creighton in 2009, Woodfox was picked up by the Erie Bayhawks midway through last season. The 6-foot-1 guard is known as a three-point threat, making 47.6 percent of his attempts from deep during his senior season at Creighton.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 1, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • If you’re interested, you can enter a contest to win a date with Shawn Marion via Facebook and Twitter. You’re interested. (via Jeff Weiss, Trey Kerby)
  • Shawn Bradley is on Twitter. (via ShamSports)
  • Dirk Nowitzki might have some bad news about Rodrigue Beaubois’ timetable for return. It’s a guess, but it’s a guess from a guy who’s pretty plugged in, no?
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “A strategic switch was flipped very early in the Mavs’ 99-83 win Sunday afternoon at the Clippers. It’s not the sort of thing the coaching staff will be able to take much credit for, because who is going to ballyhoo a strategic admission to failure? The original plan: Dirk was going to guard “second-year’’ rookie Blake Griffin, the double-double machine. If Nowitzki could survive that, the logic went, the domino effect would allow Dallas to win matchups at the other positions, including Tyson Chandler guarding the dangerous Chris Kaman. Dirk guarding Griffin? It lasted two possessions. The UberMan can do a lot of things, and because Griffin is an untested commodity, there was no way to know for certain whether he can do this. Now we know. After a blow-by and after a rag-dolling, now we know. He can’t. So Rick Carlisle flipped the switch. Quickly and smartly.”
  • Nick Fazekas will be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s D-League draft. Don’t laugh too hard, we may see him back in the NBA pretty soon. Matt Hubert of D-League Digest has the Texas Legends slated to select Tennessee’s Chris Lofton with the No. 4 pick in his mock draft.
  • Kurt Helin credited the Clippers’ poor shooting numbers to user error rather than the Dallas defense at ProBasketballTalk: “The Clippers just missed everything — they started the game 3-17, but they were outworking the Mavericks on the boards and stayed close. In the second half they just kept missing, with the team’s starters shooting 30 percent for the game. Give the Mavericks a little credit for their defense, but the Clips were just cold.”
  • Whut.
  • Tony Parker will be a Spur for the foreseeable future, until trade do they part.
  • Dirk Nowitzki takes a shot at a teammate (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “We talked about making it a priority that our defensive field-goal percentage has to get better. We all know that’s what wins in this league. If you play defense consistent, you give yourself a chance every night. We’ve been working hard at it. Even Jet [Jason Terry] is trying to chase guys, which I haven’t seen in seven years.”
  • Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas prodded Rick Carlisle about the Mavs’ shot distribution: “Caron Butler has led the Mavs in shots attempted in the first two games. That isn’t by design. ‘If he’s open, he should shoot,’ coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘But I don’t expect him to be our leading shot-taker. He’s going to be one of our top three or four obviously and be in the top three most likely. But, look, this is two games out of 82. Come back in two weeks and see where we are.’”

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 28, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

First, in case you didn’t have time to check out all of my season preview work, here’s a quick run-down so you can catch up:

Also, if I may:

  • If you’re following me on Twitter, you probably already know this, but in addition to my work here, at Hardwood Paroxysm, and at ProBasketballTalk, I’ve also joined the New York Times’ Off the Dribble Blog as a contributor. Keep an eye out there for some more of my general NBA work, though I’m sure the Mavs will inevitably pop up from time to time.
  • Matt Moore and I recently launched Voice on the Floor, an NBA audio blog (striving to be an NPR for the NBA, in a way) that has been a blast so far. It primarily consists of extended interviews from Moore, as well as spoken word essays from myself and various contributors. I’m very excited about the project and its potential, so I hope you guys will tag along.

Back to business as usual:

  • Since 2000, no player in the NBA has had more 25 & 10 nights than Dirk Nowitkzi. Not Tim Duncan, not Kevin Garnett, not Shaquille O’Neal. No one.
  • Dirk Nowitzki on Tyson Chandler (via Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com): “He’s just so unbelievably active, I’ve never seen anything like it…He’s got to be the best runner at the 5 position and one of the most athletic 5’s right now in this league…he covers a lot of ground out there and he’s plugging holes for us defensively.”
  • I guess this kind of confirms something Nancy Lieberman hinted at back in July: Moussa Seck seems set to be a Texas Legend.
  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Turnovers were this team’s flaw all last season, and nothing changed in the season-opener. Twenty-one turnovers led to 28 Dallas points. As a tennis guy (no double-fault is good, but some are far worse than others), I buy Larry Brown’s principle that there are acceptable turnovers (daring passes, intended to make for easy baskets, that just don’t work out), and unacceptable turnovers (lazy ballhandling at mid-court that leads to easy opponent scores). Wednesday the vast majority of the turnovers were the ones that scorch you. Especially so with a Jason Kidd pushing the ball for the other team.”
  • Adventures in overstatement: According to Jason Kidd, having Tyson Chandler as a lob option “changes the whole game.” Right. It’s handy, sure, but game-changing? Play-changing, perhaps. It forces opponents to be conscious of him on the roll, but let’s not get carried away.
  • The Mavs committed more money this off-season to free agents than any other team, save the Heat.
  • Charlotte looked like kind of a mess last night, which prompted David Arnott of Rufus on Fire to engage in an interesting exercise: if on were writing Bobcats scouting reports based solely on last night’s game, what would they say? Follow over to RoF an leave your thoughts, but we could do the very same for the Mavs here.
  • Brendan Haywood didn’t start last night, but he’s playing nice so far (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “Sometimes things don’t go the way you plan. You just got to make the best of it.”

Tabula Rasa: Nancy Lieberman and the Texas Legends’ Blank Slate

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 23, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Photo via NBA.com.

Head coaches yearn for hard-working players with eager minds, but Nancy Lieberman doesn’t have a single one. Her team has no depth, and no starters, no leaders and no followers, no talented prospects and no roster filler.

As of right now, the Texas Legends have no players whatsoever, and yet they’ll tip-off with the rest of the D-League in just a few short months. That’s not much time to assemble a team and introduce a culture, but Lieberman remains unphased by the blankness of her roster sheet.

“It’s kind of an interesting scenario,” Lieberman said. “I don’t want to make it sound simplistic, but we know we’re playing in November. We know there’s going to be a draft in November, and those are the things that we target. We can’t worry right now that we don’t have our full schedule and we can’t worry right now that we don’t have any players. So we’re just going to really work with what’s in front of us. We’re going to scout as if every one of these guys [at Vegas Summer League] has the potential to be a Texas Legend.”

Then Lieberman offered a slight clarification, as she watched the Mavs Summer League team go to work at the Cox Pavilion. “I mean…we’ve got Moussa [Seck],” Lieberman said, letting out a slight laugh. “He’s worked out. He’s working hard.” So noted. The Legends don’t have starters or leaders, but they do have a 7-foot-4, hard-working lightning rod. It’s a start, and having at least one player penciled in for the Legends next season is something of a luxury given their situation.

As of now, the Legends themselves are unsure of how (and from where) they will be allowed to draw talent. Earlier rumors pointed to Texas possibly taking over the roster of the now kind-of-defunct Los Angeles D-Fenders (the D-Fenders will phase out for one season before attempting a comeback in 2011-2012), but it would make far more sense for Lieberman, Del Harris, and their crew of coaches and managers in Frisco to cultivate their roster in a more organic fashion.

Regardless, the mechanisms of the team-building process remain very much a mystery, even to Lieberman. “We are waiting on people,” Lieberman said. “It’s not like we have a core group where we need a shooter, we need a defensive specialist, or we need a rebounder. We need everybody. We need veteran point guards, we need somebody who’s going to sacrifice their game for the good of the team, we’re going to need someone who’s an enforcer. We want people who can shoot the ball and spread the floor. We want guys that have great basketball acumen. We want guys that just can make plays when everything breaks down. There are a lot of things that we’re looking at right now. We can’t jump the gun — we just have to make sure that when the league gives us the direction of what we can do that we’re prepared for that moment.”

The uncertainty does have its advantages. Though the staff doesn’t have any actual players to work with – a bizarre situation for a group that specializes in development – having an empty locker room does allow the Legends’ decision-makers to analyze the walls and rules that will govern it.

Success in the D, just like in the big leagues, requires more than just talent. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Austin Toros perfectly showcase the impact of an established, team-wide culture. It’s not so much about what the organization does, but rather what it means. Being a part of those teams – much like being a member of the Spurs or Rockets – means something because of the self-sustaining culture that they’ve created. Lieberman wants that same framework in Frisco, and without an actual team, she has plenty of time to hammer out the details of what that culture will entail.

“A lot of times when you’re building a team and you have players, it requires a lot of time and attention. This is allowing us to meet as a staff, get to know each other and understand each other’s philosophies. It’s giving us a chance to build our infrastructure and our philosophy and once we understand it amongst ourselves, then we can pass that down to the players.” Creating the infrastructure before populating the team is a simple idea, but how many professional basketball coaches are really afforded such a luxury?

It’s not every day that a head coach gets a chance to helm an expansion team on its maiden voyage, and the significance and opportunity of Lieberman’s position are not lost on her. “We’re serious about this,” Lieberman said. “We plan on helping guys become successful, not only in basketball but in life. I mean, we have a chance to put our thumbprint on the history of our franchise, and we’re excited about it.”

It’s hard to blame her for being excited. The Legends already have a pretty incredible staff in place, and with the full support of the mothership Mavs, the D-League’s foray into Frisco has impressive potential. Donnie Nelson is both the President of Basketball Ops for the Mavericks and the Majority Owner for the Legends, but the synergy between the NBA club and its affiliate will go far beyond Nelson.

“I think [collaboration with the Mavs] is very important for us,” Lieberman said. “Not to run everything that the Mavs run because we don’t have the same personnel, but why not have the same type of drills if we agree that that’s the right type of drills for [our] guys? Let’s call [each drill] the same thing so that if, God forbid, a Roddy [Beaubois] ends up on our team, if he comes down for a game or two or a practice, he understands we’re running the same drills. Simplicity.” Lieberman says the word with emphasis as if she’s repeating it. She is, in a sense. Without using it verbatim, simplicity is etched into the core of everything Lieberman aims to do with the Legends.

“We’re going to make the irregular regular,” Lieberman said. “If we can do the things that take no talent — teach these guys to play at max speed, teach them to work hard, teach them to execute — if we can teach guys to do the things as I just said that take no talent and make it [all] matter, then we will be successful.”

That goal is lofty (Who can teach every player on a team to work hard and execute properly?), and yet surprisingly humble, much like Lieberman herself. Being a head coach in the D-League presents a unique challenge. While coaches want to be accommodating to their NBA counterparts and the needs of their affiliates, they also face incredible pressure to prove themselves suitable for bigger coaching jobs. Yet it’s so important that D-League coaches — and players as well – stay within themselves.

“I don’t want to have to go out here and prove that I know how to coach, [or feel] that I have to create everything myself just to ram it down people’s throats that I know what I’m doing,” Lieberman said. “I’ve been in this game for 30 years. I continue to learn and continue to grow. Rick [Carlisle] has some great offenses. He has a tremendous defensive philosophy and we’ll blend it in with what we think fits our players. But we want to work with them.”

Right now, Donnie Nelson and the Mavericks may not have much to work with in terms of an actual affiliate roster, but they do have Nancy Lieberman. They have a terrific staff working alongside her. And they – Lieberman, Nelson, Del Harris, et al — have the full benefit (and a few inconveniences) of etching out their collective D-League destiny on a blank slate.

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume V

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 21, 2010 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.

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume III

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 14, 2010 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?

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.

Adventures in Summer Leaguing, Volume I

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 10, 2010 under Commentary, Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

I wish Summer League lent itself to delicate prose, but unfortunately it’s basketball best consumed in bullet points. There aren’t narratives per se, but the minutiae beg to be absorbed:

  • Rodrigue Beaubois returned to Summer League to refine his point guard skills, but you wouldn’t know it from his first game. Rodrigue put up 16 shots (including nine threes, of which he made none) and was aggressively pursuing shots as the game went on. Dallas actually ran the offense through Dominique Jones and Jeremy Lin a fair bit. Not a crime, but also not indicative of much development.
  • Jones is even stronger than expected. We knew he was a bull of a shooting guard who thrived by getting to the rim at South Florida, but he’s displaying every bit of that ability against his SL competition. It’s not quite the NBA, but it’s a good start. Jones looks quick enough to get around his defender, even if most of his moves were relatively unremarkable straight-line drives. He was very effective, and reasonably efficient: Dominique finished with 19 points on 13 shots, with his low FG% (38.5%) hedged by his frequent trips to the line (12 FTAs). Five turnovers is no good, but at this point that just sees like the sour point of Jones’ game. He does one thing extremely well for a late first rounder, and the rest will have to come along as he goes.
  • Omar Samhan didn’t have a hugely productive night, and he’s not exactly set to dominate against even SL competition. Mobility really didn’t seem to be all that much of an issue, but he didn’t convert on NCAA-caliber post moves. He is doing good work, though. Even though Samhan didn’t put up many attempts, his post game is refined enough to make an impact. He also showed some touch in the face-up game, connecting on a few long two-pointers. Defensive impact: TBD.
  • J.R. Giddens works to hedge his mistakes, but the problem is that he makes entirely too many of them. He’s a decent athlete with a mid-range jumper, but doesn’t seem to know how to put it all together. He abandons his defensive position, works to get the ball offensively but is probably counterproductive in doing so, and isn’t all that versatile. Giddens is good Summer League filler, but not an NBA player.
  • SMU product Mouhammad Faye played well. His 12 points and eight boards were far more fun than I expected we’d get from Faye, but he was just as impressive defensively. He’s 6’9” but a long 6’9”, and looks like he could slide into a niche NBA role as a resident defender/rebounder. Definitely a natural SF, but I suppose he could play PF in a pinch.
  • One of the things that bothered me about Beaubois’ performance was the way in which he surrendered control of the offense. As I mentioned above, there’s nothing wrong with letting Jones or Lin initiate offensive sequences, but Beaubois simply shifted between phases of scoring (or attempting to) and deferring. There was no middle ground, he was either spotting-up while others made plays or created for himself off the dribble.
  • Moussa Seck is obviously a giant, but he doesn’t have the lower body strength or girth to fully utilize his size. Yao Ming isn’t solely a special athlete because of his work ethic and touch. He also has the strength and size necessary to claim position in the low post and box out. Seck doesn’t have that, and he may never.
  • Dominique Jones’ jumper, which has typically been listed as his most glaring weakness, isn’t NBA ready. He doesn’t look comfortable at all when pulling up, and looks to his J only as a last, last, last resort. That jumper will eventually be what separates Dominique from run-of-the-mill specialists, and the more he looks to diversify his offensive abilities (legit NBA three-point range would go a long way), the more undeniable his utility becomes.
  • Jeremy Lin may not get an NBA spot, but he’s going to play somewhere. And he’s going to play very well. He’d make a very good third point guard in the immediate future, and has the potential to be a reliable bench back-up. Not starting material, but he’s an intelligent playmaker, a capable scorer, and a better-than-advertised defender. When in dual-PG sets with Beaubois (or tri-guard sets with Beaubois and Jones), it was actually Lin that the Mavs put on the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson, not Rodrigue. Lawson still had a tidy 11 points while shooting very well from the field, but the assignment says something of Lin’s defense in itself.
  • Underwhelming: DeShawn Sims (who I expect will play a bit better and a bit more in the future), Shan Foster (who I don’t).

New Blood

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 2, 2010 under News | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo.

The Mavs released their official Vegas Summer League roster today, and there are a few surprises:

Name#POSHTWTFROMYRS PRO
Rodrigue Beaubois3G6'2''182Guadeloupe1
J.R. Giddens5G6'5''215New Mexico2
Jeremy Lin7G6'3''200HarvardR
Amara Sy9F6'8''224FranceR
DeShawn Sims10F6'8''235MichiganR
Dominique Jones20G6'4''215South FloridaR
Shan Foster30G6'6''205VanderbiltR
Omar Samhan34C6'11''265St. Mary'sR
Mouhammad Faye35F6'9''215SMUR
Eric Tramiel42F6'7''230North TexasR
Moussa Seck44C7'4''220SenegalR

Mavs’ assistant coaches Monte Mathis and Darrell Armstrong will be the head and assistant coaches of the SL team, respectively.

Here are the prospects who participated in Mavs mini-camp, but didn’t make the Summer League roster: Jermaine Beal (Vanderbilt), Kelvin Lewis (Houston), Jamel White (Texas Wesleyan), Andre Emmett (Texas Tech; drafted by the Sonics in 2004), Tony Crocker (Oklahoma), Dwight Lewis (USC), Larry Owens (Oral Roberts/Tulsa 66ers), Derrick Byars (Drafted by the Blazers in 2007), Roderick Flemings (Hawaii), and Zivonko Buljan (TCU).

Larry Owens is probably the most regrettable omission, but the inclusion of Sy and Giddens makes up for it in my eyes. Sims isn’t a bad addition either, and while he isn’t ready for the pros just yet, he should be good in Vegas. There will be more to come later on the Summer League roster, particularly the new names.