Sonny Weems – 2009-10 Rotation Player?

The Colorado 14ers are no more, but they did defeat the Utah Flash 2-0 in the D-League finals and I was there.

I will be honest, as cool as it was to watch the 14ers put the cap on a great season and to mill around on the court during the celebration afterwards I was there for one reason, to see Sonny Weems and assess his progress. I observed Weems when he played his first home game as a 14er (complete with a brief postgame interview) and I saw a very raw player. It was his first game action in almost eight months as he recovered from a groin injury and at the time he said his number one goal was simply to build stamina.

Weems posted some very solid stats since that appearance, including leading the team with an average of 22.0 points per game in the playoffs despite the fact the he played only the fifth most minutes per game. Needless to say I was excited to see how he had developed during that short time.

The Flash was a good team to observe Weems against. They had two wing players in J.R. Giddens (Boston) and Morris Almond (Utah) who had been assigned to the Flash by the NBA team who was holding their rights. Giddens is a good athlete who could possibly prove a solid foil as a defender and Almond was a scorer who could test Weems as a defender.

Before we get to Weems’ on the court performance, I have to comment about some of his off the court behavior. In pregame warm-ups he was content to stand under the basket and collect rebounds. With each catch he would fire off a strong and accurate chest passes to teammates. I thought that was interesting because he was the one player on the roster who had an NBA contract. If anyone on the team could big time anyone else it was Weems. What I saw before the game was also verified in my brief conversation with him following the game. He is very humble and the kind of guy everyone would like to have on their team.

Shifting to the action on the court Weems came off the bench as he had been doing for most of his time with the 14ers. When he entered the game for the first time with 5:01 left in the first quarter and the 14ers up 17-14. It did not take him long to adjust to the speed of the game as drives down the middle off a high screen and dropped in a nice left handed layup.

It was a good start and I was pleasantly surprised with the versatility Weems displayed on offense. He was much more than the player who relied on dunks to score his points earlier in the season. He showed the ability to drive with both hands into the lane from anywhere on the floor. He is very comfortable driving to his left, which is great to see in a young player.

He used a variety of finishing shots including straight pull up jumpers, layups with both hands, a spin to a fade away and of course a couple of nice dunks. He even finished a drive into the lane in the first quarter with a little right handed jump hook type effort.

When he collected a defensive rebound he looked to push the pace. If he had room he would race the ball up the floor himself. He did not always make the right decision, but did succeed in putting pressure on the defense, which of course the Nuggets love to do.

The one area of his offensive game that was not up to par was his three point shot. His inconsistent spin that I witnessed several times the first time I watched him play was gone. His spin was pure and consistent. Weems actually spent to terms with the 14ers. In first stint he shot only 7-39, 17.9% from behind the arc. In his second tour heading into the playoffs he was a much better 11-31, good for 35.5%. However, on this night he was a dismal 0-6 and the primary problem I saw was his shot was flat. In the four playoff games he appeared in he only made one of 13 three point attempts. He shows some promise as a solid three point shooter, but he clearly has a lot of work to do in that area. Thanks to his other talents he does not have to rely on the three in order to be effective.

From a passing standpoint Weems is solid. He ended the game with seven assists, and a couple of them were noteworthy. He made a nice entry pass into the post from well behind the three point line resulting in a bucket, he made a nice dump off pass to a big in traffic off a drive and converted a long outlet pass for one of the many dunks the 14ers converted. He even tossed a pretty alley oop that was converted for a crowd pleasing dunk.

It was rare that he received the ball in the post, but it warrants mentioning that he did display a very smooth turnaround jumper that he converted over Giddens. I even thought he could have gone to the line for getting bumped on the way up.

He had a few other offensive plays of note. He apparently picked up the quick jumper on the reach in from Chauncey Billups as he was awarded two free throws by swinging his arms up to shoot through the defender’s arms. He showed the ability to catch and shoot off an inaccurate pass. He runs the floor hard and clearly likes to dunk. In one instance he made a layup running off a make which was good to see.

Defensively Weems made some significant progress from earlier in the season although his defense is far behind his offense at this point. Weems did not get much of a challenge from Giddens as he was not a significant part of the Flash’s offense. There were a few occasions where he was matched up against Almond and he did a good job of staying in front of him.

At this point Weems simply is not a focused defender. He was caught ball watching as many players, young and old alike, are wont to do. The best example was on one occasion when the 14ers were switching screens Weems switched onto the big who set the screen and did not make a move to follow him rolling into the lane. He did realize his mistake and on the shot hustled into the lane and pushed the guy far enough under the hoop that he could not make an attempt at the offensive rebound. It was probably a foul, but showed strength and the desire to make up for his mistake.

Overall Weems does remind me quite a bit of a “young” J.R. Smith although it is strange to think J.R. is only ten months older than Weems is. He does not have the long range shooting ability that Smith does, but he has a very good midrange game and is a willing defender if not a highly competent one. I also have to stress once again how polite and humble he is. Based on the strides he has made he appears to be very coachable.

Weems will probably never be a star, but he absolutely has the talent and physical ability to be a number three scorer at some point in the next two or three years. The key will be whether or not he can raise his defense to the level where he can earn significant minutes.

At this point I can certainly see Weems in the Nuggets rotation as early as next season. There is reported some interest in Dahntay Jones around the league (Zach from Celtics Hub informed me there are reports the Boston might be looking at adding Jones) and if he is offered a contract much larger than the minimum I do not foresee Denver bidding to retain him. Weems is clearly not the defender that Jones is, but should Jones sign elsewhere I expect to see Weems backing up J.R. Smith.

The one thing Weems has going for him is his tiny contract. With the Nuggets are guaranteed to be over the tax level next season Denver will love to keep him on the roster simply to avoid having to play another player more whether he is in the rotation or not.

On the other hand, I would think with the solid play Weems exhibited in the D-League there may be other teams interested in him. It is possible Denver uses him in a trade with the logic that they already have a similar and more polished player on the roster in J.R.

One way or another, whether it is for Denver or another team, I think Weems will play in the NBA next season.

Click here to listen to my postgame one-on-one interview with Sonny. Sadly it was cut short by the call to head to the locker room. And he took my stat sheet (he seemed excited to see he ended up with seven assists). I did not even get to autograph it for him. Other than that it went pretty well.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Schedule

The NBA has announced the schedule for the summer league games held in Los Vegas and the Nuggets will be playing six games.  Games are played at either the Cox Pavilion or the Thomas & Mack Center.  Games begin on Friday July 10, but Denver does not see the court until July 14.  I am guessing the start times are Pacific.

Denver vs. San Antonio – 7:00 PM Tuesday,  July 14 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. Washington – 7:30 PM Wednesday, July 15 – Thomas & Mack

Denver vs. Portland – 7:30 PM Friday, July 17 – Thomas & Mack

NBA D-League Select vs. Denver – 7:00 PM Saturday, July 18 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. New Orleans – 5:30 PM Sunday, July 19 – Thomas & Mack

The Nuggets have had some good talent on their summer league roster in the past, but it is difficult for even a good player to make the jump from summer league standout to earning a spot on the regular season roster.  Last season Dahntay Jones was able to do just that and depending on what Denver does with players like Linas Kleiza, Anthony Carter, Johan Petro, Renaldo Balkman and Jones there could be a chance for someone to follow in Dahntay’s footsteps.

The Denver Nuggets as International Mediators

The NBA will announce today that the Denver Nuggets will be playing the first ever exhibition game in Taipei on October 8, 2009.  The Nuggets will face off against the Indiana Pacers at the Taipei Arena.

There are two things that come to mind when I read this release.  First of all, from a basketball perspective I do not think it is ever good when your team has to travel thousands of miles to play a game.  That is a long trip and it will take time for the Nuggets to recover once they return.  The NBA has played games in Asia in the past and they seem to do a pretty good job of scheduling a long break for any team who is returning from a trip to that part of the world.  I am sure the Nuggets and Pacers will have a week without any additional preseason games once they come back from Taipei, but it will still be a physically draining experience that might impact their ability to practice for a few days after their return to Denver.

The other interesting thing I noticed is that there are two references to Taiwan in the press release.  Taiwan is a country on the island of Formosa off of the coast of China.  The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek fled there after being defeated by the Communist forces of Mao Zedong in 1949 marking an end to the Chinese Civil War.  Communist China has never recognized Taiwan as a legitimate country and they throw a hissy fit whenever someone in the international community refers to Taiwan as Taiwan or the Repulbic of China.

The two governments struck a compromise that would allow Taiwan to participate in international competition as long as they are referred to as Chinese Taipei.

Now, when the NBA says the Nuggets and Pacers will play in Taipei, they are referring to a city in Taiwan and using the term that Communist China prefers.  The NBA press release announcing the game there did not mention where Taipei is thus not mentioning Taiwan. However, in a quote from Tim Chen, the NBA Greater China CEO, has the following quote:

“October 8th will be an historic day for the NBA and for the millions of basketball fans in Taiwan,” said NBA Greater China CEO Tim Chen. “Taiwan fans are very passionate about the game and we are honored to be able to present a matchup of these two great teams for them.”

I find it interesting that in the bulk of the press release the NBA almost goes out of its way to avoid mentioning Taiwan, but then the man who you would expect to be the most sensitive to the issues involving using the name Taiwan says it twice.

I am never as smart as I think I am so I am probably reading something into this that is not there, but I would think Chen’s use of the term Taiwan is intentional.  His use of Taiwan could be a slap in the face of the government of Communist China or it might be no big deal at all.  I tend to think it would be considered the former due to the effort Communist China has gone to prevent Taiwan from being considered Taiwan for decades.

In m y mind it certainly is possible Chen is challenging China by his use of the term Taiwan.  We have seen Ping Pong Diplomacy in China that lead to the normalization of relations between the United States and China in the 1970′s.  Could some roundball diplomacy lead to some normalization of relations between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan?

Hello Draft Prospects, Goodbye Colorado 14ers

I received a couple of intriguing emails today to stir me from my inexcusable blogging slumber. I have a list of players that the Nuggets will be working out on Friday and Saturday and there is very disappointing news regarding the D League champion Colorado 14ers.

First of all the three separate workouts have been scheduled over the next two days.

Group one (Friday, 10:00 AM)

Paul Delaney – 6’2” 200 PG UAB, Ranked 94
Daniel Hackett – 6’5” 205 PG USC, Ranked 87
Lester Hudson – 6’2” 190 SG Tennessee Martin, Ranked 88
Curtis Jerrells – 6’1” 208 PG Baylor, Ranked 57
Tyreese Rice – 6’1” 190 PG Boston College, Ranked 77
Robert Varden – 6’5” 205 SG UAB, Ranked 82

There are some interesting players in this group. The most intriguing prospect is Lester Hudson who was the first player in men’s division one history to record a quadruple double (25 points, 12 rebounds, ten assists and ten steals). The biggest strike against him is his age as he will be 25 when the 2009-10 season starts. Daniel Hackett from USC has proven he can play alongside a scorer like O.J. Mayo and is a stout perimeter defender. He would be a better option as a potential undrafted free agent than a player to be selected at 34. Tyreese Rice had a great career at Boston College and definitely proved to everyone he can light up North Carolina, but Baylor’s Jerrells is the highest ranked player according to ESPN’s top 100 thanks to his quickness and ability to push the pace.

Group two (Friday 12:00 PM)

Anthony Goods – 6’3” 200 SG Stanford, Ranked 92
A.J. Price – 6’2” 193 PG UCONN, Ranked 46
Kyle Spain – 6’5” 209 SG San Diego State, Ranked NR
Raymond Sykes – 6’9” 220 C Clemson, Ranked NR
A.D. Vassallo – 6’6” 216 SF Virginia Tech, Ranked NR

This group is A.J. Price and a bunch of players who were apparently invited as a favor to their agents. You can be unimpressed with Spain during this footage against BYU in the Mountain West semis (he is number 15), Sykes is a center who does not rebound much, Goods is an undersized shooting guard who could not break the 29% mark from the college three point line.

Group three (Saturday 10:00 AM)

Courtney Fells – 6’6” 210 SG North Carolina State, Ranked 72
Jeremy Pargo – 6’2” 210 PG Gonzaga, Ranked 69
Garrett Temple – 6’6” 190 G LSU, Ranked NR
Ben Woodside – 5’11” 185 PG North Dakota State, Ranked 93

I would rather have Jannero than Jeremy Pargo, Fells is supposedly impressing teams on the workout circuit and looking at Temple’s numbers I have no idea why he would even be under consideration for a spot in the summer league in Belize. Woodside is the only intriguing player in this group. You may remember him as the player from North Dakota State who almost single handedly upset Kansas in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.

The Nuggets have taken part in a couple of large scale workouts and have seen a lot of players through those exhibitions (click here to see a list of players from the Golden State workouts and click here to see a list of players from the New Jersey workouts). With the Nuggets drafting at 34 it is nearly impossible to know what players they are interested in might be available, but I think it is safe to say that most of the players they are bringing in on Friday and Saturday are mostly summer league fodder at best.

The other big piece of news is the Colorado 14ers have gone the way of the Denver Dynamite. Both teams won their league championship only to end up sitting out the next season.

According to the NBA the 14ers have been purchased by some Dallas muckity mucks and will be moved to Frisco, TX. That means the Nuggets and Nets are without a D League affiliate for next season.

The interesting thing about the departure of the 14ers was that it was just announced that the Broomfield Events Center was going to be managed by a partnership of Anschutz Entertainment and Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which I thought was a very good sign that the financially troubled 14ers would return to Broomfield for another season.

I was fortunate enough to have attended the 14ers final game to scout Sonny Weems and you can look for a post recapping that experience soon. I promise.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntay Jones – Not Destined to Be Carnival Weight Guessers

Jimmy Kimmel apparently has a segment called the Team Mating Game as a spoof of the Dating Game.   Chris Andersen and Dahntay Jones go up against Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill.  Find out what Dahntay Jones’ favorite television show really is and how good of a teammate Steve Nash really is and what celebrity Grant Hill would love to get in the sack.

Hat tip to Fox 31 News which just so happens to be on before Seinfeld.

Steven Hunter – A Story of Surgery and Salary

No offense to Steven Hunter, but we are going to start off our offseason analysis with him. Hunter is first up partly because his future as a contributor to the Denver Nuggets is tenuous at best and partly because I need to crank out a quick post.

Hunter was acquired in September of 2007 in the trade that ended the Ricky Sanchez era in Denver. Since that day he has played a total of 120 minutes in a Nugget uniform. In 2008-09 Cheikh Samb played 24 more minutes for the Nuggets than Hunter did and Samb only played 24 minutes as a Nugget.

Hunter had surgery on his right knee during the season and has struggled to return. In fact his playing days may be over. I always thought Hunter was a very serviceable big man, but even when he was healthy George Karl clearly had little faith in him.

The reality of the NBA is Hunter is now more valuable for his contract than his talents as a cager. Hunter has a player option for the last year of his contract at a salary of $3,696,000. It is not a large amount, but any expiring contract has value in the current economic state of the NBA. It is currently the only expiring contract the Nuggets have on the payroll for next season, but players like Anthony Carter, Dahntay Jones and Jason Hart are all candidates for one year deals and Linas Kleiza and to a lesser extent Johan Petro could provide sign and trade options that could be combined with Hunters’ expiring deal to bring back an important piece.

There is also a possibility that Hunter’s injury could lead to the Nuggets receiving an injured player exception up to half of his salary. I do not think that route would be very likely due to the fact that the Nuggets would not only be responsible for Hunter’s salary, but also the salary of the player they sign to replace him. However, if Hunter is unable to return it is possible that his salary could be removed from the Nuggets’ books as long as a league doctor verifies that he is physically unable to play.

Hopefully, Hunter can regain his health and return to action, but regardless of whether or not he can return to the court, he provides ever important salary cap flexibility. Healthy or not, do not expect to see Hunter on the court for Denver in 2009-10.

Time to Get Back to Work

OK, I have sloughed off long enough.  By now it would be silly to post anything about game six since it went down eons ago in Internet time.  It was obvious that it was more about the Los Angeles Lakers playing great basketball than anything the Denver Nuggets did or did not do (although they certainly have acquitted themselves better than they did).

Anyway, I apologize for disappearing for the past week, but I tend to be a deadline driven person (i.e. a procrastinator) so without the impetus of another game on the schedule it became a little too easy for me to tell myself I would toss up a post tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow has finally arrived.  You can look forward to some player by player analysis, a little bit of season review and info on any current events that must be commented on all leading up to what the Denver Nuggets need to do next season in order to be the 2010 NBA Champions.

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