Went to Vegas last weekend with a few bloggers of note - Steve Boese, Lance Haun and Matt Stollak. Our destination had a nerd quality to it - The NBA Summer League, where professional basketball hopefuls convene to prove they have what it takes to be one of 450 players that play in the best hoops league in the world.
Now - you should know that only about 20% of the players who attend and play in the Vegas Summer League are actual NBA players - the rest are draft choices and free agents who are scrapping and doing whatever it takes to impress the teams.
Why go to this event? First, we like hoops. More importantly, I go because there's a huge morality play on talent going on at the Summer League. If NBA veterans are the best 450 players in the world, what we saw is 451-1000, and the differences are pretty small between spots 350 to 450 in the NBA and the better players in the summer league. Who decides? What makes the difference between making a NBA roster and going to Turdistan to play next winter?
As it turns out, the NBA's probably no better at evaluating talent than the rest of us - and there's a lesson in that. He's the story of the weekend as told through my Instagram account (enable pictures if you viewing this in email or just click through).
Snapshot of Vegas #1 - It All Looks Serene From 2,000 Feet
You have a to have a great picture of Vegas in any series like this, right? Well, considering the fact there were two shootings within a half mile of the Trump hotel (where most of us stayed) during our 3 days in Vegas, the safest place to view Vegas is from up high. Steve Boese got the best picture flying out on Sunday. He had to get up and get to the airport at 3:45 am to get it. I was in bed at the Trump when Steve, the hardest working man in HR Tech, snapped this beauty. Thanks SFB!
Snapshot from Vegas #2 - I'm going with the Trendy Choice and Hiring Dante Exum (or someone from Google)
The first thing you need to know about how the NBA evaluates talent is that it wants potential over past performance. Potential means that you have a chance to uncover the next Kevin Garnett. Past performance means that you're drafting proven college stars. The problem with drafting college stars is that after you've played for a couple of years in college, the NBA has had a chance to pick over your game and decide what it doesn't like - as opposed to what it does.
So college stars are undervalued in the NBA draft. Talent that no one has really had a chance to see gets overvalued, because again, the NBA wants the home run when it comes to talent - not the solid hire.
With that, meet Dante Exum below. Dante Exum was drafted 5th overall by the Utah Jazz. He looks like an NBA player, but there's just one little issue - no one has really seen him play much. He played in one international tourney and then returned to Austrailia. He never played in the US. He got drafted that high on potential alone, and because no one ever had a chance to tear him down via the college evaluation process.
Snapshot from Vegas #3 - G-Rondo Was Last Year's Dante Exum, and It Doesn't Feel As Great This Year
Pictured below is Dennis Schroder, a 20 year old drafted in 2013 by the Atlanta Hawks. Dennis is from Germany and was drafted in the first round by the Hawks based largely on a single positive performance in a US tourney/camp. He never played college basketball in the USA. We saw him last year and nicknamed him "G-Rondo" because he's a minuture version of Rajon Rondo of the Celtics.
G-Rondo is what Dante Exum looks like in year two when you're not sure the pick (or hire in your case) is going to work out. He was in the Hawks playing rotation last season until he famously punched a Kings player named Boogie Cousins in the nuts coming off a screen. The new Hawks management, which is basically a bunch of hires from the Spurs and professional in nature, froze him on the bench for the rest of the season.
I love the way he plays, but the Hawks have figured out he can't shoot, which is a problem in the NBA. He's got 2 years to figure it out (length of rookie contract).
Snapshot of Vegas #4 - It's 8pm on a Friday Night in Vegas - Where Are You?
It's 8pm in Vegas on a Friday night, last loser's bracket game of NBA summer league. Guess who the guy at the top of the gym is? Danny Ferry, Hawks GM, Duke legend, former 1st overall pick. Grinding. Looking for a nugget...
I like Ferry. I work in Atlanta a lot, and he's basically trying to create a version of the Spurs organization in the ATL. The NBA Summer League is a huge social scene for the executives and people who work for the teams, and you can tell some things about the way people carry themselves. The Hawks didn't even play on Friday, yet here he is, trying to be alone and watch some meaningless game to see if there's a nugget/undervalued asset he can steal from someone.
Ferry drafted Dennis Schroder, by the way. So it's good to see him looking for value.
Snapsot of Vegas #5 - Four Years in College? That Guy Has to Suck
This picture below is Adrian Payne, recently drafted rookie of the Atlanta Hawks we watched a couple of times at the NBA Summer League.
He stayed at Michigan State for 4 years and saw his draft stock stall or fall because that's what the talent system in the NBA does. If he stays healthy, he'll have a better career than at least half of those drafted before him, most of whom played 1 year in college.
He can shoot the 3, has size (6'10") and seems to get it in all aspects. He was drafted in basically the same position as G-Rondo. Hmmm. Maybe that's Ferry creating a learning organization.
Snapshot of Vegas #6 - We All Hate The New Process
Change is hard for everyone. Even in the NBA.
Two of the Four Knicks pictured here are in the wrong spots. In a league famous for isolation 1-on-1s, the Knicks hired coaching legend Phil Jackson, who believes in an offensive system called The Triangle. This picture is a summary of that transition. If you look closely, you can see the big guy in the middle has his palms up in classic "what the f are you doing?" mode. Except he's in the wrong position, not the guy he's looking at. Change is hard. Fingers are pointed.
The Triangle emphasizes spacing, reads and ball movement. In other words, they're changing their whole culture. It takes time... For more on the triangle, click here.
Best way to get invited to the Knicks' training camp out of the Summer League - show you're smart enough to run this offense and be willing to do it. Unfortunately, most of the players pictured haven't grown up in a system to prepare them for what they experienced with the Knicks in Vegas.
Snapshot of Vegas #7 - Sometimes Nailing "Black Hole Sun" Isn't Enough
All hoops and no play makes KD a dull boy. Thanks to Matt Stollak, we were able to score great seats to Soundgarden/Nine Inch Nails on Saturday night. Video clip below of the intro to "My Wave" from Soundgarden - take a listen.
I'm a huge Soundgarden fan. But they didn't win the contest for best performance Saturday night. Nine Inch Nails secured the victory by understanding that the performance is as important as the music. More on that in a post later this week.