How Songs Are Born

The creative process is like observing an exotic bird from close range in its natural habitat.
At first, you must hold still and focus yourself. No sudden movements or anything that will startle it. 
Then, intermittently, you sneak quick peeks at the bird. Still being conscious of not doing anything drastic, you start to sense its shape, it's movements, and more importantly, it's disposition toward you and the world. 
You settle in, and the bird is conscious of your presence. It then begins to observe you. 
The hope is to be appraised as an artist who is ruthlessly aware and unafraid to dig into the trenches of life. Someone who is open to feel anything. Someone who will venture to the edge of a limb and reach high for ripest fruits of truth. Someone whose intent is to nurture the muse. 
In time, the bird starts to trust you. It allows you to stare and inventory the colors and textures of its feathers, the shape of the beak, and the limit to how long you can stare at it before it becomes uncomfortable. Before it feels like too much attention is being paid on it, and not enough on living in the trenches and sending dispatches to be felt by others.
Do not be void of the requisite gratitude toward the bird for even allowing itself to be viewed from such close range. 
Live. Express. Sit still. Don't stare. Trust that osmosis will create the trust you seek. The amount of time spent feeling each other. 
Please note, the magic resides in what you don’t yet know. The more you think you know, the likelier it is that the bird flies away. Be humble and keep an eye out for each other. 
That's how I write songs, anyway.
At least right now.

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SENTIMENTS OF DEEP GRATITUDE AND SADNESS ON THE PASSING OF COACH, BILL TRUMBO

 Coach left all those he touched a few days ago, and I have since struggled to align my heart, soul, and brain in a way which can artfully articulate my feelings about a man whose contribution to this world reaches galaxies beyond what words can justly describe.  Unless you have experienced the thawing and warmth of your heart when coach would tell you he loved you, or the twist of a smile on your face when he would exert a belly-laugh, or the welling of your eyes when observing him make you or another feel so important – words can ring a bit hollow compared to having felt those overwhelming emotions.  But words are what I have, and words are what I want to find. Words which attempt to explain the immeasurable contribution he made to my life, and words which may inspire one of us to make others feel the way coach made me feel about myself, others, and the world we occupy together.  He was already in the coaching Hall of Fame when he came out of retirement to scratch that itch once again. He had nothing to prove. All he wanted to do was give of himself to others. Those of us who work in sports understand the yearning to be part of the fray. His innate ability to orchestrate creative ways of getting people to come together around a common cause will always blow my mind. He took the most divergent cross-section of people from all over the world and fastened us together as a healthily functioning family – with an ease and common touch which you only see in the movies.  He coached us at the dawn of digital photography. After hearing of his passing, I excavated all of my drawers, closets, boxes, and cases where I thought a picture of us together would reside. I knew I had seen some in the past, whether they be from our time together in Hawaii, Denver, Phoenix, or anywhere throughout California. Alas, I unexpectedly found the picture above. One which illustrates coach’s majestic unselfishness, and his intrinsic motivation to understand the whole person, not just the athlete. Look at him here. Leaned in and still learning. Proud. He was so committed to understanding me deeper.  Coach was perhaps the biggest advocate for me fully embarking on a risky music career which, at times, clashed harshly with my career as an athlete. He showed me how I could use the template he created and laid out for our basketball family of love, commitment, passion, inspiration, and faith, and channel it directly into my evolution as a songwriter.  We clashed at times over certain things. Chiefly, my physical appearance. Especially my proclivity toward not shaving every day. He drew a line and didn’t mince words in communicating what he wanted from me, and how certain core values he possessed were non-negotiable. He was willing to stand by his conviction until hell froze over. His expectation of us adhering to his definition of professionalism was unyielding.  Little did I know at the time of this picture which, I believe, was taken in 2009, that I would rely so heavily on his influence and teachings when leading my own groups of young men as a future head basketball coach. I never even thought about coaching as a profession until I met him.  In closing, I’d be remised to forgo acknowledging the significance and symbolism I find in the correlation between coach’s passing and the passing of our beloved teammate Devougn “Trinny” Lamont three summers ago. Trinny was coach Trumbo’s favorite player. It’s human nature that certain individuals attract others in a more profound and destined way. The irony that these two beautiful souls are the first to have left us, and in sequence, is something that makes me smile, cry, and contemplate the greater forces at work in our universe.  Coach Trumbo had a very moving speech at Trinny’s memorial, and as all of us gathered that hot September day, we promised each other that we would do a better job of staying connected to each other, and that we did not want to only meet up for events such as funerals and memorials. We vowed to band tight as the family that coach Trumbo created for us.  Regardless of whether or not we have done that, I believe that coach would relish the idea of all of us who he has touched and connected through his power and grace to assemble and share the love we have for him and each other – just like Trinny would have gotten a kick out of bringing all us together on that profound September day.  The only things in life you own are the things you love. I love you, coach. I’ll pay it forward.

Coach left all those he touched a few days ago, and I have since struggled to align my heart, soul, and brain in a way which can artfully articulate my feelings about a man whose contribution to this world reaches galaxies beyond what words can justly describe.

Unless you have experienced the thawing and warmth of your heart when coach would tell you he loved you, or the twist of a smile on your face when he would exert a belly-laugh, or the welling of your eyes when observing him make you or another feel so important – words can ring a bit hollow compared to having felt those overwhelming emotions.

But words are what I have, and words are what I want to find. Words which attempt to explain the immeasurable contribution he made to my life, and words which may inspire one of us to make others feel the way coach made me feel about myself, others, and the world we occupy together.

He was already in the coaching Hall of Fame when he came out of retirement to scratch that itch once again. He had nothing to prove. All he wanted to do was give of himself to others. Those of us who work in sports understand the yearning to be part of the fray. His innate ability to orchestrate creative ways of getting people to come together around a common cause will always blow my mind. He took the most divergent cross-section of people from all over the world and fastened us together as a healthily functioning family – with an ease and common touch which you only see in the movies.

He coached us at the dawn of digital photography. After hearing of his passing, I excavated all of my drawers, closets, boxes, and cases where I thought a picture of us together would reside. I knew I had seen some in the past, whether they be from our time together in Hawaii, Denver, Phoenix, or anywhere throughout California. Alas, I unexpectedly found the picture above. One which illustrates coach’s majestic unselfishness, and his intrinsic motivation to understand the whole person, not just the athlete. Look at him here. Leaned in and still learning. Proud. He was so committed to understanding me deeper.

Coach was perhaps the biggest advocate for me fully embarking on a risky music career which, at times, clashed harshly with my career as an athlete. He showed me how I could use the template he created and laid out for our basketball family of love, commitment, passion, inspiration, and faith, and channel it directly into my evolution as a songwriter.

We clashed at times over certain things. Chiefly, my physical appearance. Especially my proclivity toward not shaving every day. He drew a line and didn’t mince words in communicating what he wanted from me, and how certain core values he possessed were non-negotiable. He was willing to stand by his conviction until hell froze over. His expectation of us adhering to his definition of professionalism was unyielding.

Little did I know at the time of this picture which, I believe, was taken in 2009, that I would rely so heavily on his influence and teachings when leading my own groups of young men as a future head basketball coach. I never even thought about coaching as a profession until I met him.

In closing, I’d be remised to forgo acknowledging the significance and symbolism I find in the correlation between coach’s passing and the passing of our beloved teammate Devougn “Trinny” Lamont three summers ago. Trinny was coach Trumbo’s favorite player. It’s human nature that certain individuals attract others in a more profound and destined way. The irony that these two beautiful souls are the first to have left us, and in sequence, is something that makes me smile, cry, and contemplate the greater forces at work in our universe.

Coach Trumbo had a very moving speech at Trinny’s memorial, and as all of us gathered that hot September day, we promised each other that we would do a better job of staying connected to each other, and that we did not want to only meet up for events such as funerals and memorials. We vowed to band tight as the family that coach Trumbo created for us.

Regardless of whether or not we have done that, I believe that coach would relish the idea of all of us who he has touched and connected through his power and grace to assemble and share the love we have for him and each other – just like Trinny would have gotten a kick out of bringing all us together on that profound September day.

The only things in life you own are the things you love. I love you, coach. I’ll pay it forward.

Washington Wizards

Chris Chiozza – Washington:  As a junior at the University of Florida, Chiozza pounced on the national scene when he hit a running three-pointer as time expired in overtime against Wisconsin at Madison Square Garden to send the Gators to the Elite Eight.  I recall having Florida winning that game on my bracket, so my personal affinity for Chiozza grew out of that moment.  As a senior last season, Chiozza had a good year, although there was something fundamentally wrong with the gators which never could really get them off the ground.  Their lack of player movement offensively seemed to be an issue, often a lot of standing on the perimeter while a ball screen was happening, and not much shooting to boot.  Was Chiozza part of the problem?  He can often be ball dominant.  His assist numbers, though often high, prove just how much he is the final decision maker.  Similarly, this summer when playing for the Washington Wizards, he was second in summer league in assists with 7.4 a game, only behind Frank Mason with eight per game. 

            Chiozza has a great feel for the game and can be incredibly proactive with his ball movement too.  He sees plays develop and often delivers the ball at the perfect time for teammates to make their own play.  He has the ability to pass guys open.  His inability to shoot the ball from the perimeter consistently is a problem.  His shot selection is always pretty sound, but his 30% shooting in summer league did not help his case.  His size is an issue defensively, although, by the eye test, he didn’t get exposed in the way one would think.  He is tough, strong, and again, proactive in his ability to feel the game. 

            There is…something about Chiozza’s game which always makes me want to give him another look or give him another chance.  Is his game actually better suited for the NBA?  It very well could be, although that doesn’t mean he will be given the opportunity.  But he is someone worth keeping an eye on, and someone who will undoubtedly be given a contract somewhere in the world.  With an uptick in his shooting capabilities, Chiozza could be a serviceable back-up point guard in the league on day.

Orlando Magic

"Para bailar MO Bamba
Para bailar MO Bamba
Se necessita una poca de gracia" – Ritchie Valens

To dance Mo Bamba

To dance Mo Bamba

It needs a little grace

Mohamed Bamba – Orlando:  Every time I see Mo Bamba play, the famous Ritchie Valens song immediately comes to my head and I sing the opening lines, in a slight variation.  Indeed, in order for Mo Bamba to do the NBA dance, it’s gonna’ take a lot more grace…

            Nowhere else is there more a prime example of drafting based on pure potential than the case of Mo Bamba.  Physically, it’s easy to understand why teams would take a gamble on a kid who was a McDonalds All-American and in flashes at the University of Texas seemed poised to ascend to the highest levels of play.  His 7’10 wingspan is enough to get coaches and GM’s salivating over themselves, along with his height of 7’1 and the fact that he has the ability to run the floor and displays a more than competent overall physical coordination, including soft hands and good feet.

            But it does not take a microscopic analysis of his game to clearly see that strength has not only been an issue for him in college, but especially in the Las Vegas Summer League.  Bamba looked completely out of his element.  Literally like a fish out of water.  The only thing slower than his defensive rotations were his rolls to the basket in ball-screening situations.  He would roll and immediately get caught up in the wash of bodies checking him as he sauntered toward the paint.  Rarely was he in a great position to recieve a post catch after rolling to the basket.  But really, catching it there and scoring it isn't his game yet and, wasn't really his game at Texas either.  He did command double teams in college which helped inform his passing ability out of the post. 

          He was not in shape this summer, not unlike most rookies getting used to NBA level speed.  The NBA game, at this point, is way beyond his reach.  There are shades of Thon Maker early in his rookie year where, you could tell there’s certainly something there, but it’s a way’s off.  As of right now, I don’t see Bamba at the level of an NBA rotation player on any team.

            With that said – his summer league stats weren’t all that bad.  In nearly 20 minutes of action, he averaged nearly nine points and six rebounds, while blacking 2.5 shots.  Those are really good shot blocking numbers per minutes played.  He only attempted 20 shots in summer league, but converted 12 of them, clearly letting the game come to him and attempting shots which are high percentage.

            He is a bright, engaging, magnetic personality who is an ideal teammate.  He possesses many intangibles which make teams better.  He is realistic about the work which needs to be done, and I have confidence he will put in the work to get himself ready to compete at the NBA level.  I’m just very surprised how far off he is from being ready to play on day one of summer league.  He needs to put on 20-30 pounds of muscle, and beyond that, learn how to play with more physicality.  He is so willing to let others push him around.  Attacking the glass to rebound or block shots should be his immediate focus, but in order to do those things, he is going to need to undergo and transformational understanding of how physical and fast the NBA game is. 

            I’m not willing to give up on Bamba, since I suspect he has the intangibles would lend themselves out to gaining deeper clarity on how he will need to adapt his game, but man, for someone picked at #6, one would think it would pass the eye test with much more ease….

Brooklyn Nets

Jordan Mclaughlin – Brooklyn:  This very cerebral point guard ran the Nets summer league team in a very professional way.  As a four-year player at USC, Mclaughlin played with a maturity which was very becoming.  His leadership intangibles connected his teammates, and his ability to score when he has to should not be scoffed at.  The numbers do not tell the story.  He averaged seven points and four assists per game in only 19 minutes of action.  It’s the musicality and the ability to allow a random group of players to function properly is where Mclaughlin excels.  Given that there were other USC players playing well in the summer league, it’s surprising their team didn’t make more of a splash last season the in NCAA.  Nonetheless, Mclaughlin should be able to carve out a nice European career for himself, and perhaps could find an NBA situation down the line, if the timing is right.  He seems more like a player who could contribute in the Turkish league – maybe even within the likes of a Pathotonikos or Fenerbahce size club. 

Theo Pinson – Brooklyn:  This guy is a top-notch person with a well-developed sense of humor and a player who has long ago succumb to the idea that basketball is about connecting to other people.  Pinson has, for years, been one of my favorite college players on a team that I don’t particularly like watching, the University North Carolina.  His feel for the game is just stunning, and he’s so well versed that he can get away with looking like he’s playing nonchalantly.  He is always a step or two ahead of the action.  He never gets sped up and is always looking to connect in his crafty ways and, like Mclaughlin, his contributions go far beyond the numbers.

            In the Las Vegas summer league, Pinson led the Nets in minutes per game with 25, averaging 11 points and four rebounds and two assists per game.  Numbers that won’t set the world on fire.  Although Pinson is not a great shooter, he shot the ball nearly 50% from the field in summer league and made enough three-pointers to at least pose the question of whether or not he can shoot it sustainably.  I am under the impression that in the right situation and with the right confidence, he is capable of producing far beyond whatever talent-ceiling he has been branded with to this point.  He is a winner, who makes winning plays.  If I had to compare him to anybody in the league right now, I would say he is a smaller (6’6) and less athletic Andre Iguodala.  Pinson is the glue which keeps players communicating and connected.  There was something in his energy during the summer league which made me feel as though he may not believe that an NBA opportunity will present itself for him, but I hope it does.  He is a player I am unsure of for European basketball.  His gifts are better served in an American setting, where his knowledge and feel can more easily exploit weaknesses of IQ and feel in his opponents.  I’m not quite sure Europeans will appreciate his intangibles and may look to him to play an outsized scoring or raw data production role.  On a very good NBA team, Pinson’s original gifts would be thrust to the forefront, as would a team’s win total. 

Indian Pacers

Aaron Holiday – Indiana:  This guy could end up being the steal of the draft and immediately become a franchise stabilizer at the point guard position.  His summer league performance was more at ease than any other point guard I observed.  His natural feel for the game and his inherent ability to make others around him better just oozed off the screen.  He plays with an unusual confidence level that, undoubtedly, must have something to do with having two older brothers already playing in the NBA.  His game is not unlike his brother Jrue, but Aaron is more undersized and relies a bit more on proactive ball movement to keep his internal metronome ticking.  His shooting ability and moreover, his ability to create his own shot late in the shot clock is intriguing.  As I’ve mentioned before, I was surprised with his scoring numbers at UCLA.  He has a keen knack for scoring, while continuing to facilitate his team functioning at an optimal level.  Last night I debated with someone whether or not Holiday or Sexton will have better NBA career’s, and I guess it wasn’t much of a debate since we both settled in Holiday.  In closing, there is just an ease to the way he plays which makes everyone around him feel comfortable, including the audience watching the game.  This is a major basketball player who will have an impact for years to come, and a very smart pick by the Indiana Pacers. 

Atlanta Hawks

          Trae Young – Atlanta: It took a long and windy text exchange with my friend Brad Botkin, an ascending sportswriter and television commentator for CBS Sports, to finally take some of the emotion out of my argument against Trae Young.  Brad, who has much more of a macro argument for Young explained, “the kid can shoot and pass like crazy.  That’s the only thing I’m sure of.” 

            So, my final argument is this:  Trae Young’s style is divorced from the ingredients necessary to consistently win basketball games and, maybe more importantly, if Young’s style is not dramatically altered, it will repel teammates and cause friction in the team’s internal dynamics.

            There was a brief moment after three days of the Las Vegas Summer league where the Atlanta Hawks led the league in three statistical categories.  John Collins was leading in points per game with 30.  Young led in assists with 11, and Tyler Dorsey randomly led the league in rebounds and minutes per game. 

            Ironically, for about the past nine months I’ve been harping about how, when Young was at Oklahoma and led the Nation in points and assists per game (which is incredible), Oklahoma could not consistently win basketball games with Young performing in such a communally bankrupt approach.  As maligned as his teammates were by the media (some justified) and as complicit as Lon Kruger was in not finding ways to connect Young’s talent to his teammates, Young was not without blame.  Young could have easily sacrificed 3-5 points per game, and even a few assists per game in order to bring out a higher functionality and connectivity with his teammates.

            Look – I’ve been on Young’s case Hard, and riding him for, what I still believe are Very Specific Reasons – reasons which involve basketball’s inner-secrets and embedded spirituality.  Earlier today, I briefly watched a “Details” segment Kobe Bryant did on Young, where Kobe spent the majority of the segment breaking down a ball-screen scenario Young performed in the Utah summer league.  Although Young made the wrong read on this particular ball-screen, the play was an illustration of what I have felt ever since I began watching Young:  He has the physical ability to be an incredibly effective guard, but he chooses to rather be fed by a pre-existing external narrative about how he should play, or an internal narrative about how he wants to play. Both are misleading, and a lot of his play throughout summer league is consistent with this notion. 

             Overall, based on the shooting numbers, Young was outrageously inefficient – but so are many young players in their first summer league experiences.  Young ended up shooting about 30% (30-99) from the field.  In the first few days of summer league, the only field goal attempts Young was converting were incredibly tough two-point field goals in the paint from isolated dribble penetration.  He showed the ability to finish tough plays, but it also foreshadowed how unsustainable those finishes will be in the league.  From a defensive perspective, that’s what you want to force Young to do.  Make physically difficult two’s in the paint.

            Throughout summer league, Young’s shot selection was consistently questionable at best, and usually divorced from the current flow of the game or possession.  His shooting calculations were seemingly more based how many possessions it had been since the last time he shot it, or whether a certain switch on a matchup played to his ego.  Many of Young’s decisions have nothing to do with what is happening in the moment.  Often times when Young is making the right basketball plays it involves him making a pass – even a simple one. 

            Then, suddenly, he will make a great play – showcasing that he possesses the physical and mental ability to briefly unburden himself and make the plays which the current moment demands.  Without having seen him in person, I’m suspecting those who have would attest to his unusual quickness, lightness on his feet, and how he rarely labors to get past a defender off the dribble. 

            Young biggest issue to date is that he has no genuine interest in connecting with his teammates.  Even in “Details” clip, he showed a complete lack of connection with his teammates.  Toward the end of the clip a teammate came to give him dap and Young, perhaps inadvertently, shrugged him off to gripe about something else affecting Him.  He doesn’t talk on the floor.  He doesn’t engage his teammates and encourage them.  He doesn’t seem to view his teammates as equals.  His entitlement reeks of a young guard who sees his teammates as pawns to help him in his branding endeavors. 

            Young came into the University of Oklahoma with an anointed disposition. His individualized style of play was magnetically so dissonant that he mainly attracted back to himself exactly that, dissonance.  One must admit, there is a false magnetisms and dissonance when a player can lead the NCAA in points and assists, only to lose 12 of their last 16 games and get eliminated in the first round of a tournament where, really, they should not have been granted entrance.

            The one time I have observed Young wanting to connect with his teammates was in their miraculous comeback in the game against Indiana in Las Vegas.  Once he was subbed out midway through the third Atlanta finally started to play as a team.  They quickly evaporated an over 20-point lead, and, to Young’s credit, he became engaged in the game from the bench in a way I had not seen.  He was actually communicating with his teammates for once, cheering them on, and engaged himself in a collective energy which his teammates created.  Once he entered back into the game late in the fourth, he was completely in the flow, made great plays, and Atlanta ended up winning by Young taking them across the finish line in crunch time.

            But with all this said, I also want to address some of the talk in summer league regarding Young.  In the words of the robotically short-circuited Marco Rubio, let us dispel with the notion that Trae Young is the next Steph Curry.  Yeah, they are both undersized guards who can shoot from deep, handle, and have the ability to make thrilling passes.  But aside from that there is Absolutely Nothing which the two have in common, especially energetically, spiritually, and in terms of their relationship with the Karma of the Game.

            Young simply does not make others around him better yet, and I have not been under the impression that his teammates enjoy playing with him.  The End. 

Utah Jazz

         As most people who’ve watched summer league have observed, the Las Vegas session (in particular) was a smashing success by every conceivable metric.  Not only did all 30 teams participate and were guaranteed five games, this allowed for every GM, coach, player and fan to have skin in the game.  Nike accessorized each team with beautiful uniforms – maybe even a bit sleeker than some teams’ customary regular season uniforms, and from a competitive standpoint, the games were filled with players genuinely competing for not only a spot in the NBA, but jobs overseas.  Besides teams deciding to strategically sit certain assets as the tournament wound down for various reasons, each game was played with teams who put players on the floor focused on competing and winning games.

            I would imagine from a financial standpoint the summer league did very well.  I commend the NBA for making summer league much more affordable than regular season games, and providing almost an amusement park setting for basketball fans.  This summer more so than any other, summer league was a place for current NBA players to be seen, enhance their brand, network, and support the players who aspire to make the big club, while having plenty of opportunities to get their own work in during their stay in Las Vegas. The mood was light, joyful, and the true essence of what Adam Silver has been building in his time as leader of the NBA came to fruition.  The spirit of summer league universally attracts everybody to it.

            Over the next few weeks I will post select assessments of teams, players, and general observations from the last few weeks of summer league.

Grayson Allen – UtahAllen impressed throughout summer league.  Utah shut him down on the back end once they realized what they had as an asset.  His competitive edge, and his ability to play with explosiveness and physicality translated to summer league.  He is an old-school competitor, who has the ability to rise to big moments and focus solely on whatever task is at hand.  His arrogance is still a tangible factor but is slowly being channeled the right way.

The element which stuck out the most is Allen’s ability to play the point guard position.  His passing ability even surprised observers who have seen Allen play a lot of basketball at Duke over the years.  His patience in ball-screening, drawing multiple defenders, and continually making the right basketball decisions were evident.  I think once the Utah brass saw him play the point, and how effective he was, they shut him down so not to needlessly expose any more of that facet.  Allen shot the ball well enough, even though his overall percentage in the Utah and Las Vegas summer league was 29% (16-65).  Of course, those numbers are unacceptable, but for a fresh rookie in summer league those types of shooting numbers are not uncommon.  His nearly seven rebounds and six assists per game in 25 minutes of action were encouraging from Utah’s perspective.  With his ability to run the point, Quin Snyder will, at some point, have an interesting decision on whether or not to give those backup point guard minutes to Allen or Daunte Exum.  My suspicion is that there will come a time in Allen’s rookie season where he is a more fruitful option than Exum. Utah also has Neto, the Brazilian point guard.  

Georges Niang – Utah:  Niang has long been a player I admire.  His craftiness and feel for the game are what allow him to even be capable of playing at this level.  His raw athleticism may be the lowest level of any player I observed in summer league.  With that said, he can (pretty much) guard the 3-4 positions, rebounds to the limit of his capabilities, and has acquired a reliable enough three-point shot to space the floor ideally.  His understanding of angles and footwork and anticipation make him a joy to watch.  He has mastered the battle of balance.  He uses opponent’s aggression against them and is constantly in a cat and mouse game of yin and yanging opponents who lean, lunge, or tilt a certain way.  His window of time in the NBA is now, because even a slight deterioration in the slow-footedness and lack of explosiveness he possesses have a short shelf-life – and even a supreme feel for the game will not suffice being as undersized as he is.  Niang was officially signed to a contract by the Jazz during the Las Vegas summer league, but Utah decided to let him play the whole way through, making Niang the only player on the Jazz roster to compete in all eight games, counting the Utah summer league.  This indicates there are certain elements within his game the Jazz are looking for in his development they wanted to give him maximum in-game opportunities to address or, Niang is a high-level competitor who wants to model that approach to younger players.  Maybe Utah wanted to see him expand his game more offensively, but I suspect there are also defensive scenarios and matchups they wanted to see Niang negotiate.  He shot the ball very well from three, and aesthetically, it seems Niang has doubled down on investing in that set-shot.  When he gets his feet the way he likes, he’s a knock down three-point shooter.  His 46% shooting (51- 109) is not bad considering the typical out-of-flow type of shots which are mostly available in the summer league setting.  He will never become a reliable finisher in the paint, and any attempts to drive it in there need to be with the intent of shooting a floater or kicking it out to a perimeter shooter.

NBA Summer League Day One Edition

          As anticipated, Trae Young pranced around during warmups of the Atlanta versus Memphis game, pandered to every camera within range and, once the ball was tipped, continued to display his inability to connect to anything bigger than himself. 

            The play-by-play commentator of tonight’s game claimed that the Hawks coaches have been “impressed” by Young’s passing ability.  Unfortunately for the city of Atlanta and the immediate future of the Hawks franchise, not only did Young’s passing ability not matter in this game –it may not matter in general moving forward. 

            Young went 1-11 from the three-point line, and 4 of 20 overall.  As strange as it feels to write this, those numbers don’t even begin to tell the whole story. 

            Young continues to play to a pre-determined narrative rather than play the game which is unfolding before his legacy motivated eyes.  There is a wide, long, and deep canyon between the way Young feels he should play, what his real talent level is, and what the objective reality is on the floor at the NBA level.    

            Young doesn’t yet grasp how often he was bailed out and even rewarded in college by making the wrong basketball plays.  He would either get fouled, dominate the handle and eventually manufacture an assist opportunity for himself, or create and often make tough shots. 

            In the NBA, the definition of a wrong play does not have any correlation to its result.  The model is grounded in data, individual skill, size and strength, and an understanding of intangibles.  Most NBA coaches understand the importance of consciously involving teammates and hopefully, modeling how important it is to play to the game in a communal way.  At least having an awareness that the true art of the game succumbing yourself to the game in order to get the most out of others.

            None of this has happened yet for Young in his basketball life.  The notion of giving up a little of oneself to get more inspiration out of others has likely never entered his mind before. 

            Pundits will make mention of how egregious the air-balls were on Young’s first two three-point attempts tonight but lost is the fact that both of those shots, regardless of their outcomes, were the wrong basketball plays and they were decisions which alienate people.  Young needs all of these teammates in his corner, especially given the fact that he will struggle mightily throughout his rookie year. 

            I felt bad for the University of Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger this past season.  Young committed to Oklahoma as a native of the state – bringing with his decision much fanfare and personal entitlement having grown up supporting the Sooners.  There was really nothing Kruger could do to keep him in check.  Kruger is responsible for a portion of the blame.  Oklahoma’s exit in the first round of the NCAA playoffs after basically not even qualifying on merit says a lot about the star power the NCAA felt Young possessed, but also the dynamics in which Young enters into the NBA equation.

            Oklahoma was on a relatively talent depleted team, so getting Young to buy-into a team concept didn’t necessarily play into Oklahoma’s best interests.  But by not forcing Young to buy-in and commit to contributing to the team’s deeper connectivity, Oklahoma basically became a four-month public NBA tryout for Young.

            Early in the year, when Young was on an absolute scoring rampage, Oklahoma was winning games, but it was destined and proved to be fool’s gold.  The negative equity in basketball karma which Young racked up historic numbers, were born out of a model completely stripped of musicality and was not connected to anything larger than Trae Young.

            This is an issue he faces today and tomorrow and the next day.  What I observe is that Young has no experience making others around him better and, from what I can tell, has no intrinsic motivation to do so. 

            Even the assists numbers at Oklahoma are misleading.  Yes, of course, averaging 8.7 assists is very “impressive.”  Leading the nation in scoring to boot with over 27 points per game is unbelievable.  Many of his assists show his uncanny ability to read the floor, precise skill with both hands, and the ability to improvise and pass guys open. 

            With all that said, the ego dominant way in which he plays makes it incumbent that HE creates the assist, as opposed to fostering a deeper relationship amongst his teammates.  Yeah, Oklahoma maybe scored the bucket, but little by little the inspiration of all his teammates died a slow death.  Young’s statistics are the epitome of a player who is dominating the basketball experiences of his teammates. 

            Young’s 8.7 assists per game is prolific and could not be done without incredible talent and invention given his size, but there are many assists his teammates could’ve accrued if not for Young’s insistence on completely bogarting the flow of play.  His teammates were not authors of their own stories, nor do they get a chance to contribute to Young’s story.  He dictated what was going to be written, wrote for his teammates, and gave them quick cameos when he felt like it and damn it, they better perform well!  Under this dynamic most players aren’t inspired to perform because to their highest capabilities because they are not in enough control of their own destiny, and player development is stymied when it is authorized by a teammate and not by a coach.  Young’s style of play doesn’t enable his teammates to get a deeper understanding of what basketball is all about.

            Nobody played well for Atlanta tonight apart from Omari Spellman and John Collins, the latter playing like a wily veteran after his rookie campaign last year.  Spellman looked and played bigger than I anticipated and although he didn’t get his three-point shot dialed in, the looks he missed were stiff and justified.  He seemed like he wanted to connect more than anybody else out there, and coming from Villanova’s style of play, having Young as a teammate is going to get old quick.

            Contrast this with the Memphis Grizzlies, who looked very connected and defensively engaged.  Jaren Jackson Jr. hit eight three-pointers on his way to 29 points and did it very assuredly.  Although this type of shooting is not an accurate accounting of his ability, it did foreshadow that he will be a reliable enough shooter to alter floor spacing and warp game plans and scouting reports.  Jackson Jr. was joyous and truly wanted to engage others.  Memphis also seemed to be playing a few decibel levels harder than Atlanta.

            The Warrior game against the Heat tonight didn’t showcase any tangible draft talent since Jacob Evans, the Warriors first round pick, was unable to play due to some kind of stubbed toe.  He is expected to play tomorrow night.  Bam Adebayo looked very good for Miami, and his ball handling ability seems to have drastically improved.  He rebounded the ball physically as well. 

            Jordan Bell looked a bit out of sync without the usual cast of characters around him, and his attempts to go and create offense seemed disjointed and lacked a true conviction.  Given the players surrounding him tonight though, none of which I’d heard of, it’s hard to connect.  Warriors still won. 

            The most intriguing part of tonight was the matchup between the Sacramento Kings and the Lakers – a day after LeBron’s signing.  There was an exuberance in the arena coming from both teams, and the Lakers are all of a sudden now playing for something different than they were when they woke up yesterday morning.  Everything now will be scrutinized and filtered through the lens of LeBron. 

            The Kings have an assortment of players who, when they were in college, were some of my favorites.  Frank Mason is a guard I have always admired.  Fox is another guard who has looked stunning at times.  Add Marvin Bagley and my man from Wisconsin and current Head Advocate of college players getting some sort of financial compensation, Nigel Hayes, and the Kings continue to tug at my heartstrings.  Hayes plays like an old soul and he’s skilled.  He likely won’t do one thing good enough to warrant making an NBA roster, but he does Everything so well and with such grace.  He has unique intelligence and feel.  He is musical. 

            They have the kid from North Carolina, the second-year player…Justin Jackson, although I’ve never been into him or his shot selection.  Harry Giles is an under the radar player who still has never really done anything that hits the mark.  He attempted and missed a three pointer tonight which looked as encouraging as anything I’ve ever seen from him.    

            Just in the last two draft classes the Kings have two Duke players, a North Carolina player (Jackson), a Kentucky player (Fox), and a Kansas player (Mason).  When you add Vince Carter (North Carolina), Skal Labissiere (Kentucky), and Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)…basically Sacramento has an NBA team chocked full of college blue bloods, and yet…

            Bagley is going to provide an excitement in Sacramento.  He yearns to connect and not only plays hard, he looks like he’s playing hard.  He got up and dunked on Wagner tonight authoritatively, the Lakers first round pick, and did it with power and passion.  It was not only a genuine display of Bagley’s athleticism, but also showcased a fearlessness which will only get more validated the more he plays.  Right after the dunk he stepped into a three and hit it.  When he finds his real confidence, he will be their most important player.

            I still don’t see how Sac is going to piece it all together though.  I only half-way tuned into the first half and, yeah, the pieces are sexy on paper and in warmups it all makes sense but, there’s always something missing. 

            Maybe it is lack of a cohesive vision when drafting.  The Buddy Hield pick stands out as one where they could have nabbed someone with much more durability.  It must also be said; the Giles pick needs to be given the opportunity to roost.  Sac is on track to develop a deep and versatile frontcourt of young players.  The guard-play is what will continue to be the question though, particularly at the point.   

            I think some of the Sacramento malaise has been coaching, coupled with the roster each coach had at their disposal.  Mike Malone would have had success with the last few rosters – but even Rick Adelman would have been fired over the last 10 years given some of the roster compositions.   

            A few thoughts on the Lakers:  Wagner will certainly be able to stretch the floor and can get loose from three.  The question will be can he rebound his position well enough and obviously, defend?  He seemed to be making more of a conscious effort to be physical, but he still does not understand how physical the league is.  I think he has the temperament to figure it out, but he might need some tough love.  His quickness seemed to be an issue tonight early in the game.

            The Ukrainian kid from Kansas who I’ve always had an insider affinity for came out and blasted a three right off the get go.  He’ll easily be able to shoot the ball in the NBA.  I think it’s unlikely he makes the roster.  He does have a chance though.  It will be interesting to see how he develops playing against more D-league type of guys.  There were moments tonight where he looked like he was playing in a college game with a bunch of college players on a floor with different dimensions, but I want to see him against older guys.  He’s still young, 20 I think.

            My last shout-out goes to Jonathan Williams – the Gonzaga power forward who is left handed, crafty and skilled, and has an original and still undecipherable personal disposition.  He’s from Memphis and has old man game.  I want to see how much of his NBA three-point ability has been explored.  He had kind of a set-shot from three in college and it looked reliable.  He has defensive intangibles and snatched a rebound tonight that looked big-time NBA.  I really want him to make the roster.  Again, it’s unlikely.  He wasn’t even drafted, and I’m kicking myself for not having him on my draft night list if, for no other reason, I’ve always loved his game.  He will be good in Europe if he ends up over there.   

            In the end, the Lakers have picked up a bunch of players I like which include Wagner and the Ukrainian kid.  Jonathan Williams obviously I love.  They pick up LEBRON which is a good move.  They pick up JaVale McGee which is hard to poo-poo, and the Lance Stephenson pickup for the price tag seems like a shrewd move and something LeBron is likely cool with.  All these players they are signing are on one-year deals, which creates maximum flexibility moving forward. 

            But the Lakers acquisition of Rajon Rondo is a move which troubles even the most unattached basketball observers.  Let’s all get together, those of us who truly love basketball, and raise a couple hundred thousand dollars and commission a well-respected production company to produce a documentary on Rondo’s time in LA titled, “Confessions of an Argumentative and Physically Declining Cynic.”  

NBA Draft Blog

           

           This draft was tame with inconsequential trades and no substantively controversial picks.  The only minor interruptions in the first round were the storylines of Porter Jr. sliding to #14, and the Timberwolves forcing all who were watching to leaf around and reread their draft-lists with the Okogie pick. 

            In the first four picks everybody did well.  Ayton and Bagley were right and just.  Doncic certainly could have gone higher based on his talent, but considering what Phoenix and Sacramento needs, along with Atlanta and Dallas, the results seemed balanced.  For the record damn it, I’m really glad Doncic didn’t go to Atlanta.

            Atlanta drafting Young at #5 is going to be a spiritually punishing and financially costly mistake for the franchise.  The empty promise that keeps on giving.  Along with picking up Huerter and Spellman, conventional wisdom would say the Hawks had a good night, but I’m not buying it.  Young will not pan out.  Spellman could have used one more year, but it’s hard to fault his decision given that most of the Villanova team left and was drafted in the first round.  Huerter intrigues me the most. 

             Sexton going to Cleveland at #8 was a really good pick for Cleveland.  He is going to be memorable – and the Cavs now have some leverage, besides needing a good guard.

            Porter Jr. sliding to #14 is telling.  13 teams before Denver were aware of Porter’s prospective talent. There are questions besides his health which people want to discuss at length and in public.  They want to know how selfish of a guy he really is.  Porter had a good interview after walking across the stage, played it off really well.  But is that one of the questions?  How and why can he pull off not seeming entitled so well while always instinctually spotting a camera to lunge in front of?  Of course, toughness is a question with him.  It must also be said though: a year ago he looked like he could be the #1 pick.  It could still work out for him, big, but my sense is it won’t.  He’ll get sniffed out for being dainty on the requisite work ethic, intangibles, and onions.

            The Okogie pick at #20 really shivered me.  I projected him as a second rounder or, if you really wanted to, you could package a little something and get him later.  But they took him, and his highlight reel looked weird.  Bilas seemed to get choked up and muttered something like “look – the only way he’ll see the floor next year is if he can defend.”  Maybe he’s in the Jimmy Butler mold.  A guy who gets grungy on the boards and can body-check cutters with and without the ball…Not that Butler does that per se, but Okogie seems like he went a little high. 

            Four of the ten players I had on my “watchlist” went within #’s 23-28.  Aaron Holiday went to Indiana at #23, which will likely be a very good starting place for him.  Not a bad team, he can set their pieces into a more harmonious order.  I didn’t realize he put up the numbers he did at UCLA until tonight when they flashed them. 

            The Wagner pick at #25 felt like a planned intervention.  Most thought he would go in the second round.  I like that pick a lot for the Lakers.  A skilled big who can stretch the floor and has been coached well.  He probably has the right personality for LA too.  I’ve gotten over all of the things about Wagner I didn’t like – like how he always has his mouth gaping wide open when he’s yelling or licking his big lips or pulling his saliva-yoked mouth-piece out all the time.  The Ukrainian kid Mykhailiuk from Kansas, who the Lakers took the in second round, felt similarly interventionist.  They took him off the board with assurance.  I have a connection to that kid from u16 European basketball in 2013.  They were playing qualifiers against Denmark.  Back then his athleticism is what set him apart, but he’s now a deceiving 6-8.  As they said tonight though, he has confusingly short arms.  He really shoots it well from college three and likely, NBA three.    

            The Landry Shamet pick at #26 for Philadelphia is maybe my favorite pick of the draft.  A similar intervention type of feel.  Philly knew exactly what they wanted.  This puts the pressure on Fultz.  Shamet is going to be able to play.  I love that fit for him.  Shamet is musical.  He can shoot it, he’s got good size at the point, and he plays to a really steady metronome.  Always in control of his tempo.  I think he’s a competitor who really cares about winning and is capable of handling tough coaching and critics. 

            Just as a side-note – the Boston pick felt a bit strange at #27.  They took the best physical asset off the board in Williams, but he comes with a big bag full of question marks which I’m not sure I’ve seen Danny Ainge volunteer to sort out.  Maybe he was misused at A + M – but hearing all this talk about his “motor” and “desire” and “work ethic” make me surprised about the pick.  Some of his highlights look insane though.  He’s an NBA athlete in the flesh baby. 

            Golden State taking Evans off the board at #28 was great pick.  Evans might be the most musical player in the draft.  He was the single reason I had Cincinnati in the Final Four this year.  He plays with such great feel, always looking to connect, is aggressive but in a very chill way.  He’s going to need to shoot it much better than he does, and he’s a bit undersized, although he plays bigger than 6-5.  I love this guy.  He can get gritty and play D and rebound.  If I’m McCaw I’m wondering about it.

            The guy who I really had my eye on in this draft slipped probably more than any player, Keita Bates-Diop, from Ohio State.  I saw him projected as Jay Bilas did, in the 20’s.  I read an article last night from a Washington D.C newspaper musing about the Wizards taking him with the #15 pick.  He slid to #48 and was swooped up by Minnesota.  Hmm…

            Did Minnesota score a coup on the low?  Maybe not?  Diop is a slow footed mid-range craftsman with a penchant for filling it up a bit.  I think he’s a better three-point shooter than advertised.  In his clips he really did look slow though. 

            Either way, I’ve got to stick with him now for better or worse.  In the end, I might have to talk myself into knowing that Minnesota did some serious things tonight on the low…. But, talk about a big bag full of question marks…Minnesota is chocked full of riddles…I mean you got Wiggins still on the roster… coupled with the unusual concept of everybody still not actually quite sure how exactly Karl Anthony Townes should play or what he is…and the last thing anybody wants to think about is what it’s like to have Jeff Teague run the point for your team…

            A couple players in free agency I like are Rawle-Alkins – the beefy off-guard from Arizona.  I think he’s musical and a winner and I hope the Warriors do the right thing and bring him to summer league or something.  Another guy is Malik Newman from Kansas.  I think he played his way into an NBA situation with that post-season run he had.  I hope he has a good summer league.

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