Scout Sambwich

One man's trash is another man's treasure. That's the premise of practically every antique store, garage sale, consignment shop, and auction, right?
It has occurred to me through the years that the same is surely true of the NBA. For instance, when Jason "White Chocolate" Williams got his big contract years ago, I talked to a respected front office guy who told me that he wouldn't have Williams on his team even if you paid him. (Guess that's a case of one man's treasure being another man's trash, not vice-versa, but you get my point.) The same happens again and again.

It occurred to me that summer league would be the perfect time to test the theory that different basketball experts can watch the same thing and assess it very differently.

Cheikh SambYesterday afternoon, before the Wizards vs. Pistons game, I ran around the arena and enlisted five different scouts to participate in an experiment. I asked them all to keep an eye on a rather randomly selected player: former second-round pick Cheikh Samb, whom the Pistons acquired via trade during last year's draft. (Then after the game, I would run around the arena once more and collect their thoughts, to display side by side. It would be insightful! I could just feel it!)

The basics on Samb are that he is 7-2 and blocks shots. On Wikipedia someone took that information and declared him the next Ben Wallace, but that's simply not rational. He was a total toothpick when he showed up here last year. This year he's a little buffer, but he's still way more like Manute Bol than Ben Wallace.

The goal of the exercise, on some level, was to gain insight into how scouts operate. I learned a lot about that, and not entirely in the manner I expected.

When the game ended, I made my rounds. Amazingly, the first two flatly refused to deliver the goods. Said they hadn't seen him enough. The third was a very nice guy, but he lives in what he described as a slow Midwestern city. As a single man, Las Vegas was a big deal for him. When I stopped by after the game, he was deep in conversation with an attractive woman. He gave me a certain look. I moved on.

That left us with two scouts and, as we were short-handed, a blogger.

The first scout, who insisted on anonymity, said:

Cheikh Samb needs to put on a lot of muscle. He has bulked up some, but he needs to bulk up even more. The way he is right now, everything he gets is a fadeaway, and you can't live on fadeaways.

That said, he has developed a decent jump hook, spinning into the lane.

On defense, when he has to help he gets out to the smaller defenders OK. As he gets stronger, that will presumably get faster. And he recovers OK, too. He has a decent touch, and I'm convinced he has a good basketball IQ.

If he puts on the strength and the bulk that he needs, with that length and his other attributes, I think he is certainly an NBA player. It'll be interesting to see if he can put that together.

My second scout was Joseph Treutlein of DraftExpress.com, who was nice enough to write the following summary that he emailed shortly after the game:

Cheikh Samb has been a pleasant surprise here at the NBA Summer League, showing a developing skillset to go along with his intriguing physical abilities. The 7'2 second-round pick from last year's draft boasts excellent size and length to go along with pretty good coordination, albeit he's pretty slow-footed. He doesn't really lumber up and down the court, moving pretty smoothly, but he lacks in quickness, which is evident at times on the defensive end.

Samb has good hands on the offensive end, catching most entry passes thrown his way, and he exhibits decent touch on his hook shot inside five feet. He's a bit slow with the release on his hook, but his release point is extremely high, making it very difficult to block when he has the time to get it off. Samb's accuracy suffers with the hook when he drifts outside of the painted area, though.

Samb also has the groundwork of a mid-range jumper in place, not possessing the greatest form, but having a high release point and good touch, as he's hit a few shots from the 10-15 foot range here in Vegas, even using the glass on occasion when necessary. Samb has also shown flashes of passing ability, hitting cutters and feeding fellow big men out of both the high and low post.

Defensively, Samb lacks in fundamentals, specifically with his post defense, where he gives up position fairly easily. Samb's very high center of gravity doesn't help in this area either, as it's tough for him to get low to hold position on the block, and he doesn't really like to use his body much there. Samb is a pretty good weakside defender, due to his length and size, though he's sometimes slow to make rotations, and he doesn't recover well on second efforts due to his lack of quickness. On the glass, Samb does a good job consistently pursuing boards with his size, but he doesn't always box out, and he has more potential as a rebounder once he gets his fundamentals down.

All in all, Samb definitely has the potential to play in the NBA in time, though he still looks like he's a few years away from making serious contributions. He'll likely always be a bit slow-footed, but he can do a few things offensively, and if he continues to work on his defensive fundamentals in the post and on his body getting into better shape, he could definitely make contributions in the league eventually. It's tough to say where his ceiling as a player lies, as with good coordination and his size, there's still a lot of things he could improve on or add to his game, but it's not unrealistic to see him as a rotational big in the future.

I know, I have no business acting like I'm a scout, but for what it's worth, during the game I wrote my own thoughts while watching Samb:

You know how Rasheed Wallace essentially has the skills to be the MVP every year, but somehow isn't? It has long seemed to me that he does not like contact anymore. (He used to be mad dunker, though, as you may recall.) Wallace just doesn't beast around in the lane very much these days. He doesn't draw a ton of fouls. Instead, he relies on his high point of release, his length, his speed, his shooter's touch, and his bouquet of lovely moves to create high-percentage shots without encountering all the elbows.

Cheikh Samb is like an even longer Rasheed Wallace, only without the quickness, the array of moves, the stellar shooting touch, and the coordination to play on the perimeter. In short: he's a guy who will have to earn his money in the paint, and I just don't think he likes being there. On offense and defense he gets shoved around mercilessly, and not only is he not strong enough to get where he needs to go, but even worse, to my eye he doesn't seem to be using all of the strength that he does have.

I know, he's young and getting stronger. But I don't think he'll ever get strong enough to earn anything more than mop-up duty in the head-banging world of the NBA. The stereotype that the European league is soft is not strictly true, but there does seem to be more an opporunity there for skilled big men to do things other than be brutes. I think it would be smart for Samb to cater his training to the European style, where he could put together a nice career without having to get banged around quite as much. (Or, if the Pistons or another NBA team are fixated on developing him, they should bring him over to get used to the NBA banging sooner rather than later -- he's unlikely to develop that in Europe.)

So, that leaves us, I'd say, with
three observers who see a lot of the same things (one scout thinks he'll get quicker, another does not, but otherwise, the professionals seem to more or less agree). It's no secret why this guy is a prospect. He's looooooong and looks at home on the basketball court.

But it's a big question whether or not he'll reach his maximum potential. Two professional scouts are guardedly optimistic about everything, while the blogger (that's me) is less so. I hope he proves me wrong. And if Cheikh Samb makes it big in the NBA, Joe Dumars and the Pistons will have a solid reminder why they don't have bloggers on their basketball staff, and they can brag about the great deal they got in the garage sale that is the late second round.

(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)