By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
The Las Vegas Summer League is a meeting point for the basketball off season and recruiting period. It’s kind of like the NBA’s version of the Major League Baseball winter meetings. And while every NBA teams’ coaches, scouts, and other personnel are in attendance, it’s also a summer meeting place for European and International teams too. Not only do you get a chance to watch hundreds of players live who will probably be playing internationally if not next year then down the road, but there are so many teams and agents in town that it becomes an unparalleled place to talk business. Italy, Spain, Germany, Israel, Korea, China, Australia and many more countries had team GM’s and coaches in attendance.
Vegas Stock Market
Because there are so many agents who represent players and teams that are looking for players in Vegas, the Summer League becomes an information marketplace. Interested in a point guard’s attitude who played D-League last season? You can probably find a coach who coached against him and knows the player well. Is an athletic big man from college going to go till the very end to try to make an NBA team or will he jump at a decent sized contract in Europe? His agent is around and will probably let you know.
With all this information being shared and circulating around the gym, you get an idea of how many teams are after certain players and you can really start to focus in on the final construction of your team. If everyone is after a few college point guards you could aim to sign two combo guards in your backcourt and have them share the playmaking duties. It seemed like every team was after an athletic, rim protecting center. Meaning you can potentially get a deal on a more gravity restricted, offensive minded post player. There are always market inefficiencies to be figured out and taken advantage of and the information found in Vegas is invaluable towards figuring those out.
Or as one European GM put it to me, “we are 20 dogs after the same two bones, you need to be creative.”
D-League Grad Year
A thread among some players is doing one year of service in the D-League before jumping the pond for Europe or other international leagues around the world. From a personal expectations standpoint, most players’ mindsets are that they are good enough to make the NBA. If they do fairly well in their first Summer League and there’s a hint of NBA interest, the D-League can sound like an appealing offer - constant exposure to NBA personnel, making at least some money, and being able to live and play in the US. And just one ten-day contract will almost cement your decision to stay, with a guaranteed offer for the rest of the season from an NBA team being the dream.
A year in the D-League before playing overseas can allow some maturation in your game, body, and dealing with life as a professional. A player might see it as his shot at the NBA but it could also be a year to grow before jumping into an international career they might not be ready for. You have to manage life on around a $20,000 salary and almost everyone you’re playing against is your age or older. As good as college basketball can be talent wise, as a student athlete you still live in a bubble, and the struggles of pro life can be potentially easier to adapt to with your first year being in the US. So while you can question the playing style of the D-League, a year to work out some college-to-pro life kinks that might affect a player from producing right away in Europe makes the D-League grad year a good fit.
Carlon Brown spent a season in Idaho before going over and leading Israel in scoring last season. Jamar Samuels played two pretty good seasons in Austin which led to a really good year in Legadue last year and now a spot in Serie A this season. Tony Taylor parlayed a fairly mediocre season in Tulsa into a contract with PGE Turow in Poland where he ended up winning the league and looking like he’ll be on their Euroleague squad for this season.
The path can be different for different players. Some get a 10-day contract and feel like it’s enough of a reason to stay for another D-League season or two, potentially holding off a successful start to a European career. Some, like Alex Oriakhi and Vander Blue last year, tried to jump right into Europe but never stuck and ended up going back and forth between the D-League and European teams. Whereas just going straight to the D-League may have been a smoother transition, given their season some stability, and helped the momentum of their careers currently.
Guys like DeQuan Jones (who had one NBA year prior too), Romero Osby, and Frank Gaines have already gotten Euro jobs this offseason after a year in the D-League. And while they might not seem as enticing as a guy fresh out of college, they do have more professional experience and you can see that their bodies are more physically mature too. Setting them up for what should be a successful Europe season or career and not one that will be ended abruptly by a player still figuring things out just out of school.
Summer League to Europe Players
DeQuan Jones, Athletic Wing - Cantu (Serie A and Eurocup)
Just a freak athlete, especially from a leaping perspective. Jones can really get up. Not really a guy that will make too many plays with the ball but has a chance to be the star role player type. Great finisher at the rim, a developing but not yet consistent catch and shoot three-point shooter, and he runs really well in transition. At 6’8″ he’s a 3/4 tweener but in a good way, he’s probably too strong for wings at the 3 and too quick for 4’s. He plays more like a 3 but with his height and athletic ability you could see him sliding to the four at times. With a mediocre college career and one decent D-League season under his belt, expect some Euro growing pains from Jones but he was one of the D-League’s most intriguing prospects for Europe this offseason.
Fuquan Edwin, Three and D Wing - Pistoia (Serie A)
Has a feathery but sometimes hesitant offensive game and gobbles up steals on defense. He was fourth in the NCAA at 2.69 steals per game and really it seems only poking at his defensive ability. Most all of Edwin’s game is on the perimeter. Shooting threes on offense and hounding outside passing lanes on defense. His ability to drive, draw fouls, and finish in the paint offensively and rebound better for his position defensively, will be crucial to his pro development. He’s never going to be a great shot creator with the ball but he possesses tons of skills off the ball that make him a potential “Import Rookie of the Year” if Serie A had that sort of award.
Billy Baron, Shooting PG – Lietuvos Rytas (LKL and Eurocup)
From small college player to Rytas starting point guard is a cool and interesting fit. Most everyone in Europe knows his older brother Jimmy who’s been one of the best long distance shooters on the old continent for the past few years. Billy is a great shooter like his brother but differently, he plays on the ball more and functions as a point guard. He’s just a shot maker. Getting buckets is in the Baron bloodlines but Billy’s ability to also run your offense and be a ball handler in the pick and roll make him a really exciting prospect for Europe. He’ll probably get burned defensively but paired with the uber-athletic and strong Travis Leslie in the backcourt, he might not have to worry about that end of the court as much. Really intriguing backcourt in Rytas.
Chris Goulding, 3-PT Shooting Wing - Zaragoza (ACB and Eurocup)
Probably filling in the Michael Roll spot on Zaragoza, Goulding is a perfect shooting wing for Spain. He has decent size, a pretty wiry frame, and runs around trying to get open looks. He was brought on to be an expert long range shooter, anything else is a bonus. Not only is he a good shooter, he hunts for good shots.
Tyler Honeycutt, Versatile Forward - Khimki (VTB and Eurocup)
He was already in Israel last year but Honeycutt is taking a big jump up in play this season. He’s an incredibly long and also versatile player who was a talent probably too good for the BSL last season. Honeycutt was kinda able to just be a forward in Israel and with his unique skills, talent, and athleticism, he didn’t always need to have a defined role. Playing in Khimki, on a better team, in a better league, he’ll be more reliant upon particular skills. With James Augustine still around and Joffrey Lauvergne now on board, seems Honeycutt will stick to being a wing most of the time. He’ll be able to make plays in transition immediately but it will be very interesting to see the role he develops in Khimki’s half court offense.
Carlon Brown, Scoring 2-Guard – Brose Baskets Bamberg (German BBL and Eurocup)
Brown also played last year in Israel but will have much larger expectations in Bamberg this season. His size, strength, and speed at the 2-guard spot turned him into an explosive scorer in Israel last season. He could get by most any defender and is strong enough to really be able to finish well at the rim. Brown was one of the most ready candidates to move up in league level of the off-season and is a great signing for Brose. You either need a lockdown wing defender or a really good rim protecting big to slow Brown down. His numbers won’t be as gaudy as they were in the BSL but expect a big year from Brown and Brose in the BBL and the Eurocup.
Taylor Braun, Playmaking 2/3 - Aalstar (Ethias League and Eurochallenge)
Another really sensible signing and fit. Braun’s stocked seemed to drop a little after an average showing at PIT and a pretty un-noteworthy Summer League campaign. He also suffers from the “Short Wingspan Bias” when his wingspan measured the same as his height at PIT (6’7″). Usually this the kiss of death for the NBA, where Braun become less interesting and lost some of his prospect appeal. Landing in Belgium is a great place for him to start, even though he could have potentially played at a little bit of a higher level.
Braun’s value is in his versatility. He can play, and to an extent guard, positions one, two, and three. One European coach even mentioned to me he thought that he could play some four in certain leagues in Europe. And the value comes not only from his ability to play those positions but that he can be a playmaker from all of them.
Davion Berry, Scoring Combo Guard - Torino (Legadue)
Berry didn’t get much playing time in Vegas but was already a known commodity to European teams because of his great senior year and solid showing at PIT. Berry is fantastic in transition either as the lead ball handler or on the wing. In the half court he’s not as polished a player but is a good shooter off the bounce or on the catch and can play some pick and roll. In Legadue, where he’ll have a distinct athletic advantage, Berry could end up scoring a lot of points.