TrueHoop: 2013 Summer League
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Spurs like Aron Baynes had some high-tech gadgetry under their jerseys at Vegas Summer League.
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us ..."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald
It all started with a little green light.
On the first night of the NBA's summer league in Las Vegas, the San Antonio Spurs played the Charlotte Bobcats. As Spurs center Aron Baynes prepared to inbound the ball from the baseline, a small green light was visible, blinking steadily through the white mesh of his jersey.
First question: Is he a cyborg?
Second, more sensible question: Is that the biometric monitoring the Spurs have used in the D-League?
A stroll behind the bench confirmed every Spur had a small bulge, just between the shoulder blades, blinking green.
Fascinating. Mysterious. And as it turns out, loaded with potential: It's part of a system that has led to a huge reductions in injury, and dramatic improvements in performance, in a professional league half a world away.
After the game, the Spurs communications staff opted to "politely decline" the opportunity to talk about the green light.
We learned from 48 Minutes of Hell’s Andrew McNeill that the Austin Toros -- the Spurs’ D-League affiliate -- were trying out some technology made by Catapult Sports.
"It’s a load meter and it’s a new sports science thing," Toros coach Brad Jones explained to McNeill. "It's like a vest you put on underneath [your clothes] and you wear it in practice and it keeps track of the energy you’re burning."
The key term here is "load," the aggregate energy put into and stress placed upon the body during athletic activity. In basketball terms, this may mean -- according to the Catapult Sports site, which confirms the Spurs as clients -- measuring "the speed of a shooting guard coming off a down-screen, the impact force of a center banging on the low block, or the total distance covered by a point guard over the course of a game, week or season."
Was this what the Spurs were wearing? An article on the company by Forbes’ Alex Konrad noted that "[w]earable sensors are still banned in the U.S. during official game play."
Konrad put us in touch with Catapult's Gary McCoy who, it turned out, was in Las Vegas, ready and willing to sit down to talk about what Catapult Sports does.
An Australian company, Catapult Sports first began working with Australian Rules Football, and McCoy makes some impressive claims about the company’s effectiveness there. “Where we’re at with sports science in Australia," he told Lynch, "is that we’ve reduced injury by almost 30 percent, and we’ve increased outputs by almost 25 percent." These numbers come from the extensive injury research the Australian Football League conducts (see, for example, this 2012 report) and from the company’s own measurements of an increase in fourth-quarter speeds and accelerations. The net effect for these athletes has been to "extend and enrich a player’s career. That window is always closing on you, whether you’re a team or a player.”
The way McCoy talks about the company reflects Catapult Sports’ core mission: to maximize athlete effectiveness by minimizing injury and the deleterious effects of exhaustion. “We’re getting questions from one of the biggest profile [NBA] teams that has an aging athlete,” McCoy said. “And one of the questions coming from their training staff was, ‘Can we look at his physiological matrix and what makes up his exertion level and know that we might have to pull him every six minutes or so to sustain his output in the fourth quarter?’”
How to extend an aging athlete’s career is a vital question as teams work with players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, but it can be just as important for younger players to start making the most of their bodies now.
The directions players move have a surprising amount to do with injury prevention. McCoy refers to this as asymmetry, and it’s something most basketball fans know: athletes often move better in one direction than the other. When someone says, “Force him left” or, “Don’t let him catch it on the right block,” this is what they’re talking about.
“It’s just like wheel alignment in a car,” McCoy said. “It impacts return to play [from injury]. We had a very prominent NBA player’s ACL rehabilitation we measured last year. Phenomenal athlete. Left ACL was the rupture." Catapult is constrained from discussing its clients, but a survey of injury reports shows Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Nerlens Noel and Leandro Barbosa to be among those who have torn left ACLs in recent years. Rajon Rondo also suffered a partial tear. "And [the training staff] said 'Based upon strength, we think he’s close to being ready.’ When they actually measured him with a Catapult device, they could see his accelerations to his right were at about a 60 percent deficit off of his left leg compared to what they were to the other side. And you can’t see this stuff with the naked eye.”
Injury rehabilitation has long been a dark art in professional sports, with players assigning whole number percentages to how ready they are based on feeling. Adding a level of precision to the measurement of strength and stress under different conditions isn’t the entire answer, but it’s still a step toward a clearer understanding of each athlete’s unique timetable for recovery. A player might feel 85 percent ready, but with what degree of confidence can that number be trusted?
Catapult can also help indicate when an athlete’s movements simply aren’t that efficient. There are players who expend a lot of energy on the court -- the “hustle guys” -- even if they’re not scoring. But what if they could do their job more efficiently? “I often refer to the Catapult monitor that we place on the athlete as ‘the little orange jockey,’” McCoy wrote in an email. “Take him for a nice ride,” he tells the athletes. “The more that unit is bouncing around -- the less efficient the athlete’s movements are -- the more it’s increasing their individual load.”
McCoy has worked with Toronto Raptors trainer Alex McKechnie and a player like Rudy Gay, whom McCoy cites as one who “appears to glide effortlessly,” gives the monitor a smoother ride. As a result, his total load might be less than another player, but it doesn’t mean he’s working less. He’s just doing his job with greater economy of movement. Of course, the Catapult monitor can’t tell you anything about Gay’s shot selection, but just as analytics confirmed strategies about the value of the 3-pointer or free throws, the system can help bring evidence to what trainers like McKechnie often sense intuitively.
Courtesy of Catapult Sports
The top of a Catapult report from Australian Rules Football. Click here for a bigger image.
Maximum fitness is the product of interlinked systems: the neurological and the physiological, the metabolic, musculoskeletal and nervous systems. So Catapult is gathering everything, from simple measurements like heart rate to more intricate ones like acceleration, direction of movement, stops and starts, and the associated force -- more than 100 data points per second. It's more than most teams can put to use -- for now -- and one of the key tricks is figuring out what, out of all that, matters most.
There are hurdles to this kind of monitoring coming to regular season NBA games. For instance, the players and their agents may have good reason to resist. Although McCoy stresses the data should always be applied to compare a player to himself, it’s not hard to envision teams wielding their findings during contract negotiations or when reducing a player’s minutes when it confirms the perception that he’s dogging it on the court. “It’s CARFAX for the athlete,” he said. A consequence of this system being fully implemented would be teams simply knowing a lot more when it comes to signing players or trading them to other teams.
So the Spurs have more than just their usual Spurs-ian reasons for keeping quiet on this. While four NBA teams are Catapult Sports clients (the Rockets, Knicks and Mavericks being the others), the monitors have generally been used only in practices and scrimmages. The Spurs’ use of the monitors at the Las Vegas Summer League is perhaps the closest the devices have come to actual league competition so far.
This kind of technology -- especially when it’s not well understood -- can be scary, even threatening to the established order of things. It can also dehumanize athletes, on a spreadsheet, a human appears to be an asset to be monitored and controlled from afar. A certain amount of skepticism, a concern for best practices, is well-founded.
But the information, new perspectives and, eventually, results this kind of monitoring can produce can break down resistance. The edge teams constantly look for doesn't always come from the most likely sources. Biometric monitoring isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a logical next step, particularly when it comes to the most human of pursuits: keeping people healthy and functioning at their best. As McCoy said, “What we can measure, we can manage. If you can’t or aren’t measuring it, you can’t manage it. It seems really, really simple.”
Gatsby believed in the green light even though it was something he could never reach, maybe because it was something he could never reach. But that green light on Baynes’ back signals something different: that we can stretch out our arms farther and grasp a better understanding. That tomorrow, we will run faster.
Kyle WeidieSuperfan Brett Salapa: The bard of Las Vegas Summer League.
Some in the crowd wonder if Brett Salapa will ever shut up.
Most accept that he’s part of an eclectic scene in Las Vegas. His sideline antics are met with curious smiles, quizzical looks and, sometimes, annoyed expressions. But the NBA junkies quickly fall in love. A dad tells his son to get a photo with him. "This guy knows everything!"
Salapa has attended every single Las Vegas Summer League since 2004. For most in attendance, summer league is a stop on the line, a step in the process, a window of opportunity. For Salapa, it's the only place where he can truly feel comfortable watching the game he loves, and since the beginning, his act has always been the same.
If he sat quietly, merely observing the action, you wouldn't know Salapa from any other jersey-wearing aficionado. But he’s not quiet at all. Sitting in the first row, he’s the gym’s self-appointed play-by-play guy. Salapa calls the game out loud with vivid accuracy, and is missing only a color analyst by his side.
He announces the result of a referee’s whistle before the call makes its way to the public address system. If points are accidentally assigned to the other team by the scoreboard operator, it doesn’t get past Salapa. A call doesn’t go the way he sees it? He will give his opinion otherwise. But it’s not just the action unfolding in front of his eyes, Salapa has an incredible ability to pull context out of thin air with his encyclopedic knowledge of pro basketball.
Salapa has Asperger's syndrome, which, according to the Mayo Clinic website, is a "developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others," and where the person has "an all-absorbing interest in specific topics."
Imagine you have trouble interacting with people on a social level. Most of us do to some extent. To be quirky is to be human. Because of his condition, Salapa doesn't understand social graces; he isn't aware of nonverbal clues. Everything for him is black and white.
Salapa is 32 years old. His mother, Sharon Foster, takes care of him full time. He is capable of holding down a job, but his condition doesn't make it easy. He worked at a movie theater in Las Vegas at one point.
"Boy, I really hate your team," he once blurted out to a customer wearing a New York Yankees hat at the cinema. That didn't work out so well.
Salapa and his mother have lived outside of Denver for the past three years after residing in Las Vegas for seven. Sharon has yet to find him a job in Colorado. Salapa doesn't really have any friends. Services for those with Asperger's tend to disappear once the person reaches adulthood. Even grouping Salapa with others dealing with his condition isn’t ideal. He can't comprehend how to interact with those less functional.
But once a year in Las Vegas, Salapa is just another basketball addict. He might attract funny looks, but by and large, it’s the one place where Salapa’s passion can be voiced without judgment. Summer league is his safe haven.
“For a few magical days in the summer he can come here,” Foster says. “And he’s not different with all these other people who feel so passionately about that game as he does.”
“The rims in Vegas this year seem a lot more bouncy than in years' past," Salapa observes as shots continue to miss in a certain way. He pulls the names of marginal players out of his head, often mentioning if said player has had so much of a cup of coffee in the NBA and with what team.
“He’s been watching basketball since he was 5 years old, and he would do the same thing, he would watch it and he would call it,” Foster says. “And then he has this amazing memory. ... Kids with Asperger’s have a really remarkable memory, and that’s just one of the things that goes with it.”
Salapa also will watch events such as the NBA draft as a primer for his time in Las Vegas. He remembers obscure biographical details about more recognizable players, the kind of stuff conjured by NBA broadcasters after hours of digging and often with the help of a research staff.
“Waiters really killed my Clippers last year during Cleveland's early trip out West,” he says after a basket by Dion Waiters of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In early November, Waiters dropped 28 points on 7-for-11 3-point shooting against the Clippers at Staples Center.
Prompted by my mentioning of Nick Young’s role in the Clippers’ amazing comeback from a 12-point deficit against the Grizzlies with a little less than three minutes left in a 2012 playoff game, Salapa starts rattling off other great comebacks in NBA history.
“I remember back in 2002, Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between New Jersey and Boston, the Celtics were down like 20-something going into the fourth quarter and they came back and won that game,” Salapa recalled. Paul Pierce scored 19 points in the final period to give Boston a 94-90 win after being down 74-53 after three quarters.
“Then again, they lost the next three and the Nets went on to the Finals, so it really didn’t matter,” he added before going on to mention Reggie Miller’s infamous "eight points in 9 seconds" heroics in 1995, and a 2002 regular-season game when the L.A. Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks after being down 27 points to start the fourth quarter.
Salapa was born in Fullerton, Calif., and grew up loyal to his hometown Lakers and Clippers. The “Showtime” days of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got him hooked on basketball, but it was the voice of former Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn that sparked his passion for calling the game.
Salapa calls Hearn, who passed away in 2002, the greatest in the history of the NBA at his trade. “I learned so much listening to him,” Salapa tells me. “To this day, I miss him dearly.”
As Salapa has gotten older, it’s been harder and harder for him to watch games live. He doesn’t handle losing so well. He can watch or attend a regular-season game under one condition: two of his three teams -- the Lakers, Nuggets or Clippers -- must be playing each other. This way, he knows that at least one of his teams won’t lose. Salapa also sometimes watches hockey and baseball, but the the rule stays the same. He and his mom will go see a Colorado Rockies game, but only if the Los Angeles Dodgers are in town.
“He really doesn’t watch so much anymore because it bothers him so much when his teams lose,” Foster says. “But summer league is such a safe environment for him to watch it in that he’s more comfortable, and he can actually sit through the game, even if it’s his favorite team.”
He tracks games online and will tune in if his team’s winning in a blowout. Otherwise, Salapa will watch replays of games on television or YouTube when the outcome is to his liking. “He’s like a little old man,” his mom says. “He has his whole routine of what he does from the time he gets up, checking ESPN.com, etc., until he goes to bed.”
A large part of dealing with his condition is his inability to handle the variables life throws at him. He can’t see movies at the theater, but if he sees one in the safety of his own home, he’ll watch it over and over again. Salapa’s mom says people ask her why he doesn’t pursue some kind of career for his passion. “He couldn’t handle the social aspect of doing it all the time,” she says. “People don’t see the bad stuff when he falls apart.”
Salapa doesn’t feel as if he’s different, and that’s the thing that most Asperger kids don’t see, his mom tells me. He won’t see why people might laugh at him or talk about him. But ask Salapa why he loves basketball and his answer is the same as anyone else’s.
“It’s amazing the athleticism that the guys show out there,” he tells me. “It’s unbelievable how they get up and down the floor so quickly. The way that they can shoot the ball from the perimeter ... It’s the best athletes in the world.”
With seven games being played on most days, four in the Cox Pavilion and three at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, Salapa has a specific plan. When the buzzer sounds at one game, indicating the end of the first or second half, he scurries off to make the five-minute walk between venues. It’s important to him that he sees all of the teams; it’s part of his need for structure that’s dictated by Asperger’s.
Sharon lets Salapa roam freely from Cox Pavilion, the smaller venue at Thomas & Mack Center, to the main court next door, but isn’t completely comfortable dropping him off at summer league for the day; she often can be found reading a book while Salapa is off by himself in the big gym.
During Salapa's first couple of years at summer league, a few in the surrounding crowd would give him a hard time, tell him he was annoying. Not so much anymore. The staff working the event take extra care to ensure Salapa is comfortable, often stopping by to say hello or getting him extra tickets for a day.
In his first year, his play-by-play calls were noticed by former Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof. After a game, Maloof stopped by and connected with Salapa, later sending him a Kings jersey. Twice in the past several years, Salapa has put on a headset for official duty with NBA TV, getting the thrill of sitting next to Rick Kamla and Steve Smith to call the last few minutes of a summer league game.
As he and his mom leave the gym on their last day of almost a week in Las Vegas, I tell Salapa that I must ask about the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph jersey he’s wearing. Salapa is a Lakers, Clippers (and Nuggets) fan -- he had worn the jerseys of his two Los Angeles teams the previous couple of days.
“Oh, I gotta spread the love around. I have over 150 jerseys at home, and I got two more today!”
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: The team will introduce the Kentucky product at 1 p.m. at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. The organization will want to keep the focus on Noel, the rail-thin 7-foot center who played 24 games at Kentucky before tearing the ACL in his left knee. ,,, But the conversation at some point will turn to the search for a head coach, a position that has been vacant since Doug Collins announced his resignation on April 18, a 3-month span that has included the draft, the beginning of free agency and a five-game run at the Orlando Pro Summer League. … Pulling the carpet out from Curry and company after they've been in place since April seems almost without logic. They've overseen all the predraft workouts; have been involved in draft night; coached rookie Michael Carter-Williams in the summer league. Would management, with just a little over 2 months until training camp begins, bring in a whole new regime?
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: When Derrick Rose's left anterior cruciate ligament snapped in April 2012, his dreams of playing in that summer's London Olympics crumbled as well. Rose played for Team USA when it won gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. He has consistently expressed his desire to play in an Olympics. What's his standing moving forward? "He could factor in very well," USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "It's really up to him. We're waiting for him to come back physically and emotionally and see how he does this year. But we very much consider him a candidate." Colangelo is presiding over a four-day minicamp for younger prospects that began Monday.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins has never wanted to be a player who demands a trade and has no intention of doing so. … "I'm loyal to my city," he said. "That's one thing I am. I'm loyal. That's the biggest thing. I'm not going to give up on it." Following practice Monday at Team USA'sminicamp at UNLV's Mendenhall Center, Cousins spoke in detail to reporters for the first time since Vivek Ranadive became the principal owner of the Kings, Pete D'Alessandro the general manager and Michael Malone the coach. … USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said his comments last year about Cousins being immature were blown out of proportion. So Cousins had no reservations about returning to try to earn a spot on the national team. Cousins also has no reservations saying he wants to play for the Kings next season and beyond. "I do want to be a King," he said. "I do." Cousins says he remains loyal to the Kings even though he hasn't always felt the same loyalty in return. He clashed with Paul Westphal and Keith Smart, coaches he believes didn't have his best interest in mind. So far, the Kings' new management has gone out of its way to build trust with Cousins.
- Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: Nate Robinson agreed to a two-year deal with the Denver Nuggets worth a reported $4 million. He sent out a couple of Twitter messages Monday to say farewell. "Chicago will always have a place in my heart. I'll miss all my teammates. It was a treat playing alongside all of them; all stand-up guys," the message read. "I know the NBA is a business, but when you build friendships with guys on the team, it's hard to say goodbye. Thanks again Chitown. One love." So barring a comeback, Robinson will go down in Bulls history as perhaps the greatest one-hit wonder in franchise history. He averaged 13.1 points last season. Among players who spent just a single season with the Bulls, only George Gervin did better, averaging 16.2 points in 1985-86 while Michael Jordan was out with a broken foot. … The obvious question is why didn't the Bulls bring back Robinson? They decided to spend their limited funds on another 3-point shooter and brought Mike Dunleavy over from Milwaukee. The easy answer is since Robinson essentially played Rose's role last season, he no longer will be needed with the former MVP coming back from knee surgery.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kyrie Irving is excited about the additions made to the Cavaliers roster this summer and said Monday he is happy to be in Cleveland. Irving, who will have the opportunity to sign an extension with the Cavs next summer, dismissed a report last week from a New York-based radio host that he is anxious to get out of Cleveland. “I’m a Cavalier right now, I’m happy to be a Cavalier,” Irving said. “I kind of had a sarcastic approach to [the report] because it was a rumor starter. I don’t think he knows anybody in my camp and I don’t know who the guy is. That type of stuff I don’t pay any attention to. Right now I’m a Cleveland Cavalier and I’m happy to be here.” Irving, along with Cavs teammates Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, is back in Vegas this week for a USA Basketball minicamp. It is just the latest stop on what has been a whirlwind summer for Irving. … The last time Irving spoke with the Cleveland media was immediately following the regular season, when he seemed down over the firing of Byron Scott. Irving went so far as to say he felt like he had lost his basketball father. “I’m over it,” Irving said Friday. “We’re all entitled to have emotions on it. At the time, I was disappointed Coach Scott had left. I’ve turned the next page and I’m looking forward to developing a new relationship with Coach Brown and our coaching staff.”
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: “Trying on the actual USA uniform at my hotel last night was when it hit me that I made it. I had to take a picture of that moment. I was like, 'This is Team USA.'” Those quotes from Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard after the National Team's first practice said it all in regards to how proud he is to be in a position to represent his country. The lightly-recruited high school prospect turned 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year, continues to rack of the accomplishments and accolades in an unusual path. … He admits he still has a chip on his shoulder about being overlooked by bigger schools. But his biggest issue was people not giving him his respect once he felt he had established himself as one of the best collegiate players in the nation. So even after all you've accomplished, you're still bitter? “Definitely, man. It still bothers me,” Lillard told CSNNW.com. “It's not even about not being recruited out of high school, it's about my progress. Every time I did something good, everybody was saying it was because he's at a small school. I want people to see that this is me, man. I better myself each and every year and I can compete with the best. “I belong here.” There's no doubt about that. USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo spoke briefly to CSNNW.com about Lillard's chances with the team and he believes the 23-year old has a bright future.
- Marcus Thompson of The Oakland Tribune: Ian Clark, who dropped 33 on Phoenix on Monday, won the championship game MVP. And Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas won MVP of the Summer League. But Kent Bazemore leaves Las Vegas with the respect he no doubt earned. Now, he said, it’s time to get back to work. “I’m not satisfied at all,” Bazemore said in a phone interview. “It would be easy to relax and feel like I’ve accomplished something – I’ve proven people wrong about me. But I’ve got to keep working. I really feel like I can be a good player in this league and have a great career.” But before he embarks on more hard work, Bazemore gets to enjoy the benefits of the hard work he already put it. Last year at this time, he was ranked by ESPN as No. 499 out of the top 500 NBA players. Now he’s the MVP of Summer League in Las Vegas. He gained his Bay Area fame by cheering enthusiastically for his teammates while glued to the end of the bench. Lately, he’s had people cheering his name. “I’m impressed,” Warriors assistant general manager Kirk Lacob said. “He’s done enough to justify us keeping him on the roster, rspecially how hard he’s worked to get to this point.”
- Eric Koreen of the National Post: D.J. Augustin is now two teams removed from the Bobcats. He spent a year with the Pacers last year, and had his worst professional season yet: his per-36 minute scoring rate and field-goal percentage were the worst of his career. He earned US$3.5-million for the Pacers last season, and will earn US$1.3-million this year, a relative pittance. He will have to fight with the unheralded Dwight Buycks for the minutes behind starter Kyle Lowry. “We feel like this is a good opportunity for [Buycks],” Ujiri said. “[Augustin and Buycks] complement [each other] because Dwight will pick up full court. He’s aggressive. He’s got very good speed. He’s yet to do it on an NBA court. We had to find a little bit of experience and maybe balance it out a little bit.” Translation: Augustin is now playing for his NBA career, just five full seasons after being the ninth-overall pick in the draft. How much did playing for a bad-by-design team hurt Augustin’s career? It is impossible to say. But, as Ujiri said, here Augustin is, still trying “to find his feet in the NBA and find stability.” If he does not re-establish himself as a solid rotation this player, free agency next year will not be any kinder to him.
- Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: Now he (MarShon Brooks) will have a chance to prove himself in a new city after being part of the trade that sent Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn. The Celtics still have some trimming to do with their roster, so Brooks’ spot is not guaranteed, but he can score in bunches off the bench, and he’s still playing on his rookie contract. DeMeo, who recently was named head coach at Northwest Florida State, a junior college in Niceville, Fla., only coached Brooks for one season at Providence, as the Tim Welsh regime was out after the 2007-08 season. But that was enough time for DeMeo to realize Brooks has the ability to shrug off these bumps in the road and move forward at any level. “I think having a change of scenery is going to help him out a lot,” DeMeo said. “The Celtics need a guy who can put the ball in the hole. I haven’t totally followed their roster, but he’s going to get better and stronger and more acclimated to the NBA lifestyle. He’s got a lot more room to grow, no question.”
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Gersson Rosas, who rose from a Rockets intern to executive vice president with a key role in reshaping the roster, will become general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, a person with knowledge of the agreement said. Rosas’ departure will be the third major change in the Rockets’ front office since last season. Sam Hinkie, formerly the Rockets’ executive vice president of basketball operations, became the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Arturas Karnisovas, formerly the Rockets’ director of scouting, became the assistant general manager of the Denver Nuggets. Rosas, who like Hinkie joined the Rockets prior to general manager Daryl Morey’s seven seasons with the team, also had been the general manager of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the team’s NBA Development League affiliate. The Vipers have won two championships and reached a third finals since Rosas became general manager in 2009-10 and was named the league’s development champion last season. Rosas, 35, who moved to the basketball operations side as video coordinator, was central to the Rockets’ scouting and personnel decisions, bringing a mix of a scouting background and an aptitude for the organization’s use of analytics.
- Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Health remains the biggest risk of signing Greg Oden. His last game was against the Houston Rockets Dec. 5, 2009. He fractured his left patella (knee) in the first quarter, beginning a series of setbacks. Oden underwent four surgeries on both knees the next three years before being waived in 2012. The reason an injury-prone center is a hot summer topic is teams are willing to take the chance because the rarity of effective 7-footers. When healthy, Oden showed his potential. He averaged 8.9 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes during the 2008-09 season, the highlight a 24-point, 15-rebound effort against the Milwaukee Bucks. Still, so much is uncertain. … Cleveland Cavaliers guard Shaun Livingston battled a similar struggle as Oden. He suffered a career-altering knee injury that interrupted his breakout season in 2007. He eventually returned but has played with six teams, including the Heat, since the injury. He said dealing with losing a step was tough, but the biggest challenge was constantly thinking about the injury. … Livingston suggested Oden perhaps spend some time in the NBA Development Leaguebefore returning. He said a two-week stint helped him regain confidence. "It will take some time," Livingston said. "He's just going to have to have some patience." Playing in the right situation will also factor into Oden's impact. Grant said playing for a contender such as the Heat or Spurs would ease the burden because of limited expectations.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: This summer, Anthony Davis said, he's more comfortable and more relaxed than he was a year ago as the newbie trying to blend in with the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. "Going in, the first time last year, I hadn't played an NBA game yet and I'm stepping on the floor with LeBron, Kobe, Kevin (Love) and Chris (Paul)," Davis said. "Now, you're on your heels because you don't want to make a mistake. You want to be perfect around those guys. Especially your first time. "Now, I'm just more comfortable, playing my game, being more relaxed." Physically, Davis said he has worked hard on his conditioning this summer, in anticipation of this week's minicamp. And Davis received a stamp of approval from his head coach. "He looks really good," said Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who has been watching Davis work in the gym with other players over the course of the summer. "He's stepped his work ethic up in so may ways. He was already a good worker, and now it's just so diligent about being in the gym and doing all the stuff that we ask him to do and then some. He hasn't put on 20 or 30 pounds like everybody wanted him to do, but we didn't want him to do that. But if you look at his body now, you see a noticeable difference because he's been in the weight room, he's been on the floor. We're at the point now where we think after (this camp) we're just going to tell him he has to take a break for a couple weeks. He's been really going after it."
To the untrained eye, the Phoenix Suns' Markieff and Marcus Morris are impossible to tell apart. Though there are a few subtle differences physically, game speed tends to make the twins difficult to parse. This week in Las Vegas, a popular game on media row is "Which Morris was that?" To date, nobody has answered correctly without first checking a roster to compare jersey numbers. And so we present, in the hopes of illuminating future observers, a unified taxonomy of the Morris twins:
Danny Nowell is a part of the TrueHoop Network. Follow him @dmnowell.
Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesKent Bazemore hopes to be on the receiving end of sideline cheers next season.
Kent Bazemore, the gangly Warriors’ second-year guard, is trying to go from standing out to fitting in.
Bazemore’s outlandish sideline celebrations made him a cult celebrity last season. Rarely are fans introduced to a player’s style before getting introduced to his style of play, but Bazemore’s off-court moves were elite, liable to trump an announcer’s call in hyping a Stephen Curry 3-pointer.
The bench can be a frustrating, even depressing purgatory, but the kid’s telegenic smile conveyed no misery or anxiety -- only charisma. This Warrior is a “Happy Warrior,” a man impervious to the dread and drudgery of the NBA fringe. Even though he didn’t fit into a rotation role last season, Bazemore is optimistic that his distinctive frame and manner can mesh with what Golden State needs.
Not getting drafted in 2012 coming out of Old Dominion was a blessing, because “I ended up on the Warriors.” Not playing as a rookie was even better, because he got to watch and learn first. Otherwise, as he puts it, “I might have played myself out of the league.”
The Warriors designated him as a small forward before his rookie season. Right now, he’s handling point guard duties for Golden State’s summer league squad, running high pick-and-rolls like a Stephen Curry understudy. In between then and now, there’s been a lot of time on the bench, a lot of time to think. At the moment, as he drapes his arms nearly all the way across a perforated table at Starbucks in the Mandalay Bay Shoppes, Bazemore muses on the downside of his own freakish wingspan. He could carve a Greek amphitheater when making a snow angel, but such reach isn’t so helpful for making a jumper.
“Biggest hole is my jump shot. I can run and jump and rebound with the best of them, but I was a liability on the offensive end,” Bazemore laments. “We reconstructed my entire jumper. I got a shorter, quicker release. I mean, I got a 6-11-and-a-half wingspan. So, instead of bringing the ball down and all the way up to extend those long arms, I catch it up already and it’s like a shorter stroke, which has improved my jump shot vastly.”
The longer a player’s arms, the lower the shot tends to start. The lower it starts, the longer the motion, and the greater the margin of error. Not only that, but a lower shot means more opportunities for defenders to block or steal. But the lengthy among us have someone to look up to, someone to emulate.
“Look at Kevin Durant. Look at his release,” Bazemore says. Kevin Durant, despite his considerably long arms, manages to tuck the ball and shoot quickly right up from his chest. “You look at all the great shooters, they catch the ball and it’s all one short motion. They don’t catch it and bring it down. They catch it right into their shooting pocket and let it go.”
Warriors video coordinator Joe Boylan has been working constantly with Bazemore on shortening that form in pursuit of the Kevin Durant ideal. The stretchy shooting guard will never get there, because, well, no one gets to where Durant lives. But getting a little bit closer would all but assure Kent Bazemore a place in this league for a long time.
While he’s working on that jumper, Bazemore has to deal with another peril of length: the temptation to gamble for steals. Finance tycoon Bernard Baruch famously once said, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Bazemore is long and quick, so therefore thousands of defensive plays look like the right time to reach for the ball.
“Oh my god, yeah,” Bazemore exclaims when asked if it’s tough to stop lunging. “That was one of my biggest problems in college. Shoot passing lanes too fast. Reaching. That’s one thing I’ve learned not to do this summer.”
With great defensive potential comes great temptation, apparently. “My first two matchups, Otto Porter and (Ben) McLemore, their handle wasn’t as tight as a lead guy,” Bazemore says. “So I had ample opportunity just to reach. But Coach always says, when you out there, act like you’re in an NBA game.”
Warriors summer league coach and defensive specialist Darren Erman is currently immersing Bazemore in team defensive principles, running the team through repeated “shell drills” where the defense must stay congealed while under duress. All the work has inspired a new philosophy for Bazemore: “Get in the right spots and the ball will come to you.”
To fit in at this level, Bazemore must occasionally resist trying to stand out with a flashy steal. To blend into what the Warriors want, Bazemore must contort his most striking feature -- that hang glider wingspan -- into an accurate catapult from behind the arc.
With the right adjustments, you’ll know Kent Bazemore by his game and not by his cheerleading.
Four of the biggest names of the 2013 draft in Las Vegas officially bowed out for the summer, as their teams wrapped up consolation games as part of this year's event-ending tournament. Our TrueHoop team takes a look back at what we saw from each and what we expect to see moving forward.
CJ McCollum, Trail Blazers
21 PPG, 4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 36.6 FG%, 31 3P%
The good: McCollum proved that he has the skill set to fulfill the team's primary expectation for him, which is to score a ton of points. With one of the quickest triggers in the desert and refined instincts for finding points, McCollum is a genuine threat from most spots on the floor, and led summer league in scoring before hanging it up prior to Friday's game against Minnesota. In a backcourt sorely lacking punch behind starter Damian Lillard, those are qualities the Blazers will surely covet.
The bad: Those points that fans latched onto were the result of McCollum hoisting more shots than any other player in Vegas, making them at just a 36.6 percent rate. What's more, McCollum struggled to free teammates and orchestrate a coherent offense. Nobody really expected slick no-look passes or for McCollum to lead summer league in assists, but the Blazers sometimes hurt for points with the rookie at the helm.
Bottom line: We didn't learn all that much about McCollum. His credentials as a scoring talent remain unquestioned, but the questions about his other talents remain unanswered. In sum, McCollum was probably very much what the Blazers expected, and while fans have every reason to be excited, they should also be prepared for a rookie season that exposes a few current weaknesses.
-- Danny Nowell
Ben McLemore, Kings
15.8 PPG, 5 RPG, 0 APG, 33.3 FG%, 19.4 3P%
The good: McLemore had two strong games at summer league, most recently downing a talented Hawks squad with a 19-point third quarter. When he's on, he moves with uncommon grace and power, both on and off the ball. He's also been a terror in transition because of his ability to outpace defenders and throw down reverberating dunks.
When balanced, McLemore's shot can evoke Ray Allen memories, especially when he sweeps along the baseline, through screens, to get an open look. Because of his athletic prowess, not much room is needed for a clean jumper. The kid rises quickly off the floor, unfurling a rainbow arc that eludes closeouts. Even if his shot hasn't been going in this tournament, the form looks good.
The bad: He hasn't been good at that which he's supposedly good at. For a shooter, McLemore hasn't shot especially well, converting only 33 percent of his attempts. Though the form looks good, his balance appears to be off, to the point where he airballed consecutive jumpers against the Warriors. He's yet to demonstrate an ability to reset his legs and square up when shooting off the dribble.
Shaky as the shot's been, his handle is more concerning. McLemore's dribble is loose, and often stolen. He carries the ball with nearly every dribble, often losing the rock on the way up or down. He's especially bad at dribbling left, which teams have taken advantage in this chaotic setting. Defenses are shading McLemore leftward, daring him to attack open driving lanes.
Bottom line: Despite his glaring flaws, I certainly wouldn't give up on McLemore because his positive qualities are just as striking. He's probably the most powerful dunker in Vegas, and if the college stats are any indication, he'll grow into a sharpshooter from deep.
-- Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
8.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3P%
The good: The fit is there. Muhammad has the build of your everyday athletic, break-you-off-dribble wing scorer, but he thrived at UCLA mostly in situations where he didn't have to dribble -- off the catch, running the break, posting up. And on a team like the Timberwolves, with a scorer/rebounder and ball handler as its two cornerstones, it's those "other" areas where Muhammad will need to do his work.
Despite the lure always present at summer league to isolate everything, Muhammad primarily stuck to that script, floating around the arc and running off screens, and looked right doing so. His rebound numbers in Vegas were ho-hum, but he can be a great wing rebounder with his size, if he puts in the effort. He also shot 41.1 percent from 3, better than his college average (38 percent).
The bad: The production was not there. The 20-year-old (we hope) Muhammad averaged just 8.5 points on 41 percent shooting. Which isn't awful. But when a player who lives off offense can't produce, particularly against inferior competition, the deficiencies in the rest of his game become more noticeable. And in Muhammad's case that's his ambivalence toward passing (five total assists) and mediocre defense despite the tools to be pretty good.
Bottom line: Muhammad has a lot to work with, and you're inclined to dismiss some of the disappointment to playing a defined and limited role, but it's hard to write all that off after a drama-filled freshman season. That age stuff doesn't matter anymore, but can he be happy with an even smaller role in snowy Minnesota than the one he griped about in Los Angeles?
-- Justin Verrier
Otto Porter, Wizards
6.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1 APG, 30 FG%, 0.0 3P%
The good: Porter has length and he can run. Despite knocks against his subpar athleticism, he will get out in transition, as his active arms create deflections. He should also be able to either push the ball himself off changes of possession, or fill the lanes running with John Wall.
Porter's height (6-foot-9) and ability to shoot could also spread the court and create openings for teammates, or the Wizards might run Porter off screening action for mid-range shots over smaller defenders, which they aimed to do in summer league. Sure, Porter will need to extend his range as an NBAer, and he might even need to tweak his form, but if he showed anything at Georgetown, it's the ability to soak knowledge like a sponge and convert that into quick improvement.
The bad: Porter will need to make up for a lack of athleticism by getting stronger -- a lot stronger. Too many times in Vegas he got bumped off course by steady defense, or the ball easily knocked away from his bear-cub paws.
"Assertive" has also been used so much to describe Porter that I had to look it up again. He's not bold, self-assured or confident. Aggressive? I've seen him try his hand at that in Vegas, but not at the right times. Most of the jumpers he took seemed to be forced off the dribble.
Bottom line: The Wizards didn't draft Porter with the idea of him needing to contribute immediately. So, disregard any preseason prognostications penciling him in as the starter at the 3-spot. That position belongs to Martell Webster, and if not him, Trevor Ariza. So, Porter will have the luxury of developing at a comfortable pace, but that doesn't mean expectations won't soon arise for the third overall pick, even if part of a weak draft class that didn't do much to change opinions in Las Vegas.
-- Kyle Weidie