I really don’t think DeJuan Blair needs to be here. Summer league is designed for players who need to prove something; those barely on a roster, those looking to make it onto one, draft picks trying to prove their worth, and also-rans looking to use the opportunity for good European gigs. But the only thing DeJuan Blair has to prove is the long term health of his knees. And unnecessary playing time is not the answer for that.
Cuffee turned 27 yesterday (happy birthday!), and joins the Spurs for his second summer league stint. He was also with the team in 2008, easily the two highlights of his career. The rest of Cuffee’s CV reads Middle Tennessee State, WBA, Denmark, Finland, USBL, D-League, Lega Due (Italy) Turkey, and then the Lega Due again; last year for UCC Casalpusterlengo, Cuffee averaged 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. Those are rather average numbers from the below average Italian second division, and it’s hard to see what the Spurs see in Cuffee other than his tremendous athleticism (which isn’t worth a lot unless you turn it into production).
I have written before about the Spurs’s constant attempts to keep young players that they are interested in around their roster, if not strictly on it. By doing things such as owning their own D-League affiliate (thereby ensuring generous assignments) giving Curtis Jerrells $75,000 to attend training camp even when he has absolutely no chance of making the team (and subsequently having him assigned to the Toros for that reason), signing Marcus E. Williams at every possible opportunity, and using part of their MLE on signing Alonzo Gee and Garrett Temple when there’s a matter of days left in the season, the Spurs bypass the maximum roster size while keeping an assortment of young players on the fringes. It’s not illicit, but shrewd. And I’m willing to bet that Bryan Davis is the next recipient of this juggling act.
Were he more athletic, Davis would be a surefire NBA player. He is a very skilled post player, with hook shots, up-and-unders and touch around the basket, a good rebounding rate and mistake-free defense. But he’s only 6’8, and definitely an out-and-out post player; Davis doesn’t handle the ball, drive, shoot from the outside or defend the perimeter. He’s also really rather unathletic and slow, which hurts his NBA chances on both ends. If he’s going to be part of the Spurs/Toros shuffle, fair enough, but he could do pretty bloody well in Europe if he wanted to. (And bear in mind that I base my initial assumption on absolutely nothing.)
Dawson is a long time Toro who left the D-League last year to play in Japan. Playing for the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins, Dawson averaged 14.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, while also cranking up two and a half threes a game, hitting 22% of them. This is unusual, since he had no three point attempts in 38 career D-League games. Dawson is an athletic 6’9 power forward formerly of Division 2 Midwestern State with no stand out facets to his game other than the athleticism, albeit no gaping flaws either.
It wasn’t a surprise when Gee went undrafted; he was good at Alabama, but not particularly good at any one thing. But it was a surprise when he then became hot sizzle. Gee went to camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and went to the D-League after being cut. He proceeded to tear the thing up, averaging 21.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, being named an All-Star and winning the rookie of the year award. This first earned him a call-up to the Washington Wizards, for whom he played two ten day contracts and averaged 7.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. For some reason, the Wizards opted not to keep him around after that, so the Spurs dangled a chunk of their MLE – $150,000, to be exact – just for Gee to then not play for them. That’s how those guys roll. They essentially buy your loyalty. Anyone can do it, but only the Spurs do.
James is the Spurs’s forgotten second rounder. While San Antonio love to draft either international steals, international busts, or NCAA players that everyone else overlooked, Gist is none of the above. Gist was a four year player at Maryland, the consummate power forward in a small forward’s body, who needed to develop a jumpshot and ball handling abilities. He has the size and athleticism for an NBA small forward, but still likes to play around the basket, where he’s undersized. Gist spent last year in Russia playing for Lokomotiv Kuban, and barely played at the start of the year, but crescendoed nicely and finished up averaging 25 minutes, 11.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. If Gist were to join the Spurs roster, he’d give them a dimension that they otherwise don’t really have, of an athletic entry-level Damion James-type combo forward that might work out better than Marcus Haislip did. Then again, they don’t really need that.
Like Gee, Jerrells has an unguaranteed contract for next season. So do Garrett Temple and Malik Hairston (who seemingly is beyond the summer league thing now). He was a camp invite and late call-up to the Spurs last year, spending all the time in between with the Toros, where he averaged 20.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. Jerrells didn’t shoot the three much in Austin, which is unusual considering that it’s one of the things he did best at Baylor, yet this clearly did not hold him back any.
Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson
Carldell Johnson, often known by his nickname Squeaky (one which I shared in my youth for reasons best left unspoken) is a long time member of the Austin Toros, the Spurs’s self-owned D-League affiliate. He is a 5’10 pass first point guard formerly of UAB, and also a very good three point shooter. Last year for the Toros, mostly backing up Jerrells, Johnson averaged 6.5 points and 3.0 assists per game, shooting 45% from the floor and 46% from three while committing only 1 turnover per game. He is a solid all-around D-League performer. But a 27 year old 5’10 point guard has to produce a lot more than that to make the NBA. Johnson is here to make up the numbers. That’s not meant pejoratively, even if it looks like it is.
Boy is it ever unexpected that an NBA website would get the opportunity to write about Josh Lomers. But it’s not unwelcome.
Lomers just graduated from Baylor, where he was the starting centre. In his senior season he averaged 6.6ppg, 3.7rpg and 1.1bpg, shooting 70% from the field and 71% from the foul line. His offense consists solely of the easy layup and the simple yet effective art of standing still and letting people run into him (i.e. screening).
That, sadly, is about it. Lomers is a big old boy, standing about 7 feet and 280, with hair you could stitch a tapestry from (not pictured), but he’s not a talent. He is really really really slow, clumsy, even less athletic than Bryan Davis (who routinely owned him in Big 12 play), and whatever the opposite of fluid is when used in a basketball sense. He’s somehow still a good shotblocker in spite of his inability to jump over invisible dustmites, yet he doesn’t score, rebound, dribble, catch, shoot, run without falling over, or do much of anything other than stand in the middle and hit you if you come near him. And in the NBA, that’s just going to lead to a lot of posters.
So you can see why I wasn’t expecting to see him here.
Former La Salle and Towson guard Gary Neal is a surprising inclusion on this list, mainly because it’s his first time on such a thing. The 26 year old guard has long had NBA talent, yet this is his first attempt at the NBA in any form. Neal has been playing at the upper echelons of European basketball, spending a year and a half at Benetton Treviso and moving to Euroleague team Unicaja Malaga for the stretch run. (There was a reason for his departure from Benetton, however, one which involves former Pistons guard Alex Acker.) The 6’4 guard is a scoring machine, and led SerieA in points per game last season (19.4) whilst also ranking second in the Eurocup (19.3). He can shoot, drive and create off the bounce, and also chips in with some athleticism and rebounding. But he won’t defend.
Gary Neal fact: Gary Neal was kicked out of La Salle for violating the school’s “morality rules”. Neal and a team mate were alleged to have had sex with a girl who was puking in the sink at a party; the woman later accused them of rape. The two were acquitted, but were kicked out of school; the school believed that what was heard in the court testimony was against their every principle. On the plus side, this gave Neal the opportunity to become only the third player in NCAA history to score at least 1000 points at two different schools. The others were Kenny Battle and Jon Manning.
Temple is another benefactor of the Spurs’ roster manipulation thing, although he also played with the Rockets and Kings last season. The guard who never scored more than 8.6ppg in college, and who never shot over 40%, is now a much hankered-after NBA player. It seems strange. But Temple shot the ball from the outside in his first professional season much better than expected, and if he can continue to show he’s not an offensive liability, then he can make it as a defensive specialist. This is particularly true in San Antonio, where all Temple has to do to impress the fans is not be Keith Bogans.
Wilkerson is a recent graduate of Marshall, the benefactor of all the Marshall games teams watched in order to swot up on Hassan Whiteside. He led the team in scoring last year and was second in rebounding only to Whiteside, averaging 14.0ppg, 7.2rpg and 1.0bpg on the season. Any more than that, I’m struggling.