TrueHoop: Jermaine Taylor
Posted by Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell.
Woody Allen likes to tell a joke. A mother and the local priest go to see her son's boxing match. Through the opening rounds the mother is horrified to see her son get clobbered by his opponent, a much more aggressive, skilled fighter. Unable to watch the beating, she turns to her priest with a desperate plea, "Father, Father, please won't you pray for him?" "I'd be happy to pray for him," the priest responds, "but it would help if he landed some punches."
I often think of that joke in relation to college stars trying to find their way into the NBA. As someone who chronicles the Spurs, my appreciation runs deep for players who take an early beating but eventually land enough punches to make a fight of it. It's a lesson in the psychology of a Spurs fan. Call it Bruce Bowen sentimentalism.
Central Florida's Jermaine Taylor signed with the Rockets yesterday. He's landing punches.
Taylor's professional career is in its infancy, but he already knows the hard truth about life as a professional athlete. It's a struggle.
This spring Taylor was on the draft bubble. But he converted a strong showing at Portsmouth into an early second round selection. That early second round selection became an opportunity to register a solid week of play at summer league. After summer league, Jermaine Taylor made good for himself at the annual oasis in the desert that is Tim Grgurich's carefully guarded camp.
Players like Taylor give me reason to cheer.
The construction of an NBA Summer League roster follows a certain blueprint: Start with draft picks and most of the second-year guys under contract. Throw in an undrafted rookie or two, some D-Leaguers, then the journeymen who've been bouncing around or playing overseas.
But how do organizations actually choose among the hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of players who exist in this talent pool?
We sat down with Sam Hinkie, the Rockets' vice president of basketball operations, to better understand how Houston's Summer League roster was put together.
"Gersson Rosas [the Rockets' director of player personnel] handles the heavy lifting in putting the team together," Hinkie said. "The rest of us weigh in heavily, but Gersson does most of the legwork."
The primary goal for a team?
"Figuring out who you want to learn about. Who can be an NBA player? That's the key," Hinkie said. "All of these players have some skill or something that's shown up somewhere that's caused us to say, 'There's a reason that guy can be in the NBA.'"
Winning is way down on the list of goals for the Rockets in Summer League play in Las Vegas.
"We want players who want to win," Hinkie said. "We want players who will lead to winning and they ought to impact winning on this level too, but winning here is the least of our concerns."
With that, we went through the Rockets' Summer League roster name by name, with Hinkie explaining the organization's rationale for each invitation:
|Garrett Temple: Will there be an NBA roster spot in his future? (Fernando Medina/NBA via Getty Images)|
Hinkie: "He's a perfect example. He's a two-position, maybe three-position, defender. He's a massive winner. He's caught between positions."
For a big, combo guard like Temple who didn't work in the most generous system for his talents at LSU, Summer League offers the perfect laboratory to see what he can do at the point.
Hinkie: "It might take him a month. It might take him a few years in Europe. But if he can make that transition, he's an NBA player."
Wherever Temple ends us next year, the Rockets will continue to watch him.
Hinkie: "He's killed in the D-League. That gets you a look. Guys who kill in the D-League end up on the Rockets' radar."
The Rockets drafted Taylor with the 32nd pick in this year's NBA draft out of Central Florida. The Rockets are curious to see what he can do against superior competition.
The Rockets' drafted the Aussie swingman with the 54th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Newley has played in Greece each of the past two seasons.
Hinkie: "He's played well and is making big strides. He's one of our properties, so learning about him is important."
Hinkie: "He's important to us. We invested in him last year, and he's got a chance to make our roster this year."
Aside from Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have only three wings at the moment -- Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, and Brent Barry. Given the team's familiarity with White's game and, as Hinkie said, its previous investment in him, White will get a strong look.
|"Who can be an NBA player? That's the key," Sam Hinkie said. (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)|
Hinkie: "A backup one who we've always been interested in. I think he'll be good for us here. Tough guy, winner, can rebound, can draw fouls, can create his own shots, but is also a pure point guard. He's a decent defender and can pressure the ball. Those are qualities we like and he's earned the right to be evaluated in an environment like this."
The Rockets drafted the Arizona forward with the 44th pick in this year's draft.
Hinkie: "He killed in the D-League, and he was a legitimate one in college and is becoming more legitimate by the day. He's backup one ready and a guy who's a logical 10-day call-up."
To that end, Hinkie emphasized that it's important to be familiar with a player before you pick him up mid-season.
"When we put a guy on our roster, I don't want that to be our first look at him," Hinkie said. "Why not be in position where not only our staff weighs in, but our coaching staff can weigh in and say, 'He was good at this, or he struggled at this?' It gives us a chance to perform more due diligence."
The Rockets selected Dorsey 33rd overall in the 2008 draft.
Houston took Leunen with the 54th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He played last season in Turkey.
Hinkie had said that, as a general rule, the younger the player, the better in Summer League. Given that Gaines will be 28 before the year is up, I asked him why the team made an allowance in Gaines' case.
Hinkie: "He earned his way. He played really well in Europe. He came in a make-good Summer League situation. Even though we have a roster of guys with his sorts of skills, he's the kind of player we love -- rebounds his tail off, plays hard, is undersized and doesn't care."
Hinkie's answer sounded uncharacteristically sentimental for a Rockets' organization that bases every decision on empirical fact. I asked him if, in Gaines' case, the Rockets bowed to their love of his grit.
"The only sentimentality to Gaines is that he does the things we know are empirically valuable," Hinkie responded. "He just rolls hard. He just sets good screens. He just bodies guys at the elbow when they come down. He just tries to get every single rebound."
Hinkie draws a comparison between Chuck Hayes and Gaines. Like Hayes, Gaines knows his offensive limitations, so he resists shooting, making him a more efficient player.
"Gaines is a Houston Rocket," Hinkie concluded. " We might not have room for him, but he's earned his way."
With Yao almost certain to miss the entire 2009-10 season, the Rockets are in need of size.
Hinkie: "He fits that need. He's young and getting better -- and we want to see how much better, and how quickly."