steph

As the NBA Lockout rolls along, I’ve found myself forgetting exactly what I’m missing at times. After all, once the draft passes in June, we’re all used to a long layoff without much ball news outside of free agency (which is something else we’ve lost this summer, of course). It almost completely went by my radar that this summer we had missed out on the Summer League. And, while the action isn’t always must-see basketball, and a lot of the names immediately return to anonymity, it could have been an important two weeks in July for the Toronto Raptors this year.

After all, the Raptors have only 11 players under contract (10 since Sonny Weems’ departure), and the NBA minimum is 13 for the regular season. Obviously, training camp is a key means of evaluating talent inside the concept of the team system, but the Summer League is also one of the best evaluation tools at the disposal of NBA scouts and GMs. Every year a small handful of players impress enough to secure NBA contracts (probably non-guaranteed, but still), or make headlines trying to do so, like Von Wafer’s infamous 26 shots in 26 minutes (by the way, this is the second best stat from Summer League, just behind Greg Oden’s 10 fouls in 10 minutes).

For the Raptors, Summer League could have provided an opportunity to try out a handful of third point guards and/or big bodies and see how they mesh with young pieces like Jerryd Bayless, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Solomon Alabi, and Ed Davis. While players like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani certainly weren’t going to suit up anyway, the team could still get a feel for which players have a style befitting new coach Dwayne Casey’s vision.

And from a financial perspective, it makes a lot more sense for a rebuilding team to fill out the roster taking low-cost chances on players with potential than signing veteran free agents to more lucrative deals.

Whether these players are undrafted free agents, nobodies from around the globe, or D-League All Stars, the NBA should never show so much hubris as to assume there is no worthy talent outside of its player pool. And thankfully, most teams don’t. Shot-happy point guards and foul-prone big men are the norm at this event, of course, but there are always bound to be Gary Neals looking for jobs and ready to contribute to NBA teams.

With a young, rebuilding squad looking to change it’s identity to more of a blue-collar one, finding young hungry grinders fighting for their NBA lives is a sound strategy to fill out the back end of the roster.

Additionally, the Raptors are a very young team, one that could have used development time against near-NBA caliber competition for it’s building blocks. Ed Davis has played just a few months of competitive basketball over what has now been two calendar years, Solomon Alabi told me (in person at the Raptors Draft Party) that it’s difficult to find other big men to practice with, and DeMar DeRozan needs to try his hopefully-improved shooting range against capable defenses. It wouldn’t hurt any of the young players to shake off some rust against significant talent, talent that I’m sorry, but the Drew League probably isn’t providing (I love the idea of the Drew League, but it would obviously need to grow to provide real developmental value for NBA players).

There’s not really a big takeaway from what I’m saying, of course, but the continued lockout had me thinking about what, specifically, we’re missing out on. A chance for our young players to develop, a chance to mine a diamond in the rough (or just fill out the roster with able bodies), and an outlet to give us our basketball-viewing fix, and we missed out.

The FIBA Americas (August 25) and Euros (August 31) can’t come soon enough.