SEARCH’N THE GRASS TALL by Kevin Cahill
This year the young prospects are aplenty and the huge bridge of talent, expertise and possibility spans terrific lands covering a plethora of intrigue on both sides of the yarn. True, right-now ability to step on the NBA court and fit inside that wayward system is a distinct possibility for several collegiate ballers. Another side of the dream-basically-coming-true is the floating gravity-defying logistics of helping a career along. By using the coaching, medical and athletic staff to caress the cup-now-full, some players may write their personal narratives as they go. The learning curve a mere projected ruse to gather their inside-talent to see the light. Choose your catchphrase for placing microscopic electrical clips on the players’ senses. Stoic or broken, we can clairvoyantly call the years ahead, culling the futuristic minutiae through our thinking-glass vision of statistical projection and giant crossword-filled guesswork.
With my brain now exposed and showing the lights flickering to simple elegant motion response – I will transparently unmask my bias. Using the can’t-miss trusted eye-test, dad-and-mom logic, my diamond-finder set on the needle-stack setting, and pure personality as the final essay question, I will list in a perfectly random order, the players that catch my eyes.
* Part I – Welcome To The Starter’s Minutes
What strikes me as impressive with Thomas Robinson is his ability to fight it out and project his attitude to be a scrapper, an any-means-necessary type bruiser. He can flat out play the low-down way, he’ll grab rebounds and hit his put-backs and can get up more than we originally thought before the combine tests – he packs a Blake-like vertical and has the electric break-the-rim swagger that Blake and Westbrook have. You can’t compare him to Derrick Williams, Robinson is a straight four with an athletic build and surprisingly soft touch. He has a bone to pick and a lot to prove, he could and should be out-of-the-gates fun to watch. How about a LaMarcus Aldridge possibility? A four who can stretch and still be back-down difficult. Throw in the chaos-factor and unfiltered Josh Smith for the showing out. Sacramento Kings, 5th pick.
Here’s your shooter. Bradley Beal, the good athletic body, not overly knock-you-out explosive, but has great moves off the dribble and fakes and can hit his threes and spot up nice-like. Watching him with Florida this past year, mostly in the big dance itself, was a treat, he showed leadership and was their painterly best player, exhibiting both the finishing flurry and big play magnetics at times. Eric Gordon is the most obvious comparison, not Wade, but I see a Joe Johnson vibe but the hopes that maybe his big-minute-attraction will lift him to a Brandon Roy pursuit. Roy wasn’t the most athletic man on the court, but fuck a duck, he could run with the lions. Maybe Beal will find that go-to-town electricity and green-light, his confidence is teeming with the readily righteous; nail meet gun. Washington Wizards, 3rd pick.
Tell me what qualities you like in a player and I bet three out of those five Michael Kidd-Gilchrist possesses. If you said a lights-out three-point specialist you’d nail the one red x, and if you said a masterful creator who can handle the ball purely with a uses-both-hands checkmark you would have the second x. The three green-lights are heart, defense and an intuitive finishing-quality in that order. This man has no limits to his hustle, his motor effortlessly pulsing heartbeat stutters in full epic smile-through-the-pain scariness. His heart will win him ears; teammates and fans alike will love his desire to outwork the opponent. The ugly-styled game of winning by not letting you score. The ugly yet elegant way of lockdown weaponry, in your face. I see Luol Deng when his shot gets corrected, just needs to release a hair earlier than he currently does. The stroke is there, in parts. Charlotte Bobcats, 2nd pick.
Even though he loads the low release cannon, Damian Lillard has an uncanny ability to find his. His shot could use a higher projection and once that becomes veteran-easy his handle and intelligence should fire up his chainsaw simply and with winning-ease. Here’s a very, very smart kid with a wisdom and knack for saying the right things and lighting up the scoreboard, in reverse order. He came from a quiet conference with a small school, Weber State, and I think if he was able to run his point guard puppet show under the big lights things could have played out differently still. Every team needs a fearless climb-the-mountain irrational attitude, and if you discover this silver-lining-ego in the new school youngest-of-young youth movement you’re now out of the lottery. The future projects greatly for this kid too, I could see the Westbrook scoring-machinery and passing-second school of thought slowly evolving, with years and maturity, into the Chris Paul as highest-bow territory, ultimate game-closer seeing the floor in proper slow-motion. Portland, 6th pick.
* Part II – Where You At?
Perry Jones III has to play like the man without a past. With such incredible athletic and firework-exploding cinematic game, he only needs to start his science-fiction career now, minus the lacking stats and somber play. I like that he can ball as a stretch four and thinks like a wing, I don’t love the fear-of-being-hit, especially when you are physically bigger and stronger than most competition – he’s thin but taut and lithe and tricky-strong. Let him run wild in a free-flow push-the-ball offense and he’ll shine bright, brightest. Paul George is a comparison, not for the two and three spot that George plays as Jones III will undoubtedly be a four with three minutes on occasion, but how he can struggle and get quiet yet every team would be ecstatically pound-the-rock proud to have a chance at him. Potential in massive colourful lettering spelling the proverbial what-if. Chris Bosh would be the best elite comparison in my mind’s eye, but more expressive, feather-like (good thing) with more variation-at-hand if he can complete his puzzle. Oklahoma City Thunder, 28th pick.
The game speaks for itself in the old-man-way, the true fundamentals and technique overpowering our fixating high-flying operatives. Jared Sullinger will have a solid career despite his red-flag medically for a back issue – one that any player on any off-night could receive for being banged up. This man has a nice touch, gets great position often on his favouring blocks, and grabs boards in that mechanical part-of-the-game way. I could see flashes of Kevin Love minus that three-point stretching, but for sheer tenacity and brains over brawn. Zach Randolph would be his highest statue to peer at. Hands, positioning, uses his body, good footwork down low, and tough – all great attributes to the rugged old-man-game. If he can duct-tape his body lasting, I see a greying beard and pure dad-strength. Maybe his best fit is outdoor backing down the dunking-athlete and carving the bloody victory in the over-power. Boston Celtics, 21st pick.
Longest arms on that tiny-thin frame, Jeremy Lamb has the looking-forward sleepy smirk of a man who can grow into his body freely and dominantly use his training to up his already-almost-tops athleticism. Equipped with the sweetest of shooting strokes, the coveted soft hands and creation, Lamb could blossom into a seriously threatening shooting guard. He’s passive, quiet and young. What happens when he’s passive, quiet but older? His demeanour defines the sleeper pick, but I think he’s a young man with a never-ending ceiling. His skill is obvious – great shooting touch, hits shots, knows how to create, can play off the ball, and can bring big-time flight and energy when the call is made; I bet three years in and Lamb has impressive go-to trick moves and isolation-tease play and he’s building on his talent-foundation. Think a smarter Jamal Crawford with a highest-part-of-the-ladder defensive and team-play Monta Ellis. Houston Rockets, 12th pick.
Inside-out, can be punishing and troubling in one go, Terrence Jones brings a lot to the basketball-table. With the NBA evolving into a prodigiously top talent athletic showdown (Heat and Thunder Finals with the tigers full-roar) I feel positions can lap against the shore in a less-strict way. The “tweener” logic correctly attributed to most players in-between positions, but with small-ball winning the whole thing, I see a Jones finding his pyramid of trust. He played the four with the Kentucky title-winners but I see him developing into a heavier three bodying the best-in-the-game on defense and using his post-strength and jumper for immaculate results. It took a little longer for him to grow into himself, but with the right mentorship and bosses on-the-ready Jones can flourish into a Gerald Wallace or Shawn Marion good-at-everything, hidden but secure in his getting-it-done. Houston Rockets, 18th pick.
With the NBA Summer League in effect, the grandiose and the embarrassing coalesce as one, anyone can light it up and be lit up, the fruit of labour a lowest-hanging doesn’t-mean-a-damn-thing of fruit. That in mind, the scoreboard a giant ploy to disguise actual basketball as living-breathing, the hoops-as-mixtape philosophy of recreational-pavement-league sportsmanship, eventually we might be able to learn a thing or two, right? Jones III went down with a minor ankle strain after having a very decent first game and for parts of OKC’s second. All of Beal, Robinson and Kidd-Gilchrist look pretty fantastic in these kid games. Houston’s rookie tandem seem eager and ready for business as well. Boston’s Sullinger has everyone saying damn, doing work with the weight of his disses as fuel-for-fire. Lillard went to town, with an obvious coach’s green-light patting his back and ultimately padding his stats, a co-MVP, all said and done.
Feel free to completely throw away the Summer League division of content, more diversion or aversion than real vision, and more a tell-the-whole-story than actual giving-a-damn as the real NBA can’t be cloned.
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to judge these young players as they jack up threes and work on their windmills.
Knock on wood for all of these cats though, best of luck.