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The 15th Man: Timberwolves vs. Heat Summer League Game Three

Sometimes the line between NBA player and out of the league is very thin.

Demetri McCamey is Looking for His Chance
Demetri McCamey is Looking for His Chance
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Wolves continue their summer league in Las Vegas today at 3:00 pm CDT against the Miami Heat, as they look for their first summer victory after two close losses. It appears that this one will be shown on NBA TV live.

The headliners of the Timberwolves summer league team have struggled so far. First round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have not played well; Dieng has looked stiff and a bit slow on his rotations, and has not made the defensive impact we hoped for. Muhammad, to his credit, has looked to pass the ball, but his weaknesses--no right hand, dubious foot speed, have been pretty apparent.

But for those two, it doesn't matter. They have guaranteed contracts for the next two years, and will have plenty of time to practice at the highest level and develop their skills. How long they last in the NBA will be up to them; their abilities and work ethic to hone and improve those abilities will tell the tale on their careers. Their first summer league is not very important in the context of their NBA futures.

More interesting is the battle among the summer league players without contracts. The battle for training camp invitations, and ultimately the battle for the few remaining roster spots around the NBA.

With 14 players on guaranteed contracts, the Wolves have one spot remaining. If they use it, it might be on someone not currently playing with their summer league squad. Or it could go to a player making an impression this week.

Robbie Hummel has been the Wolves best player through the first two games. The 2012 second round draft pick has been shooting lights out from the perimeter as well as showing a nose for rebounds and a high basketball IQ. The questions for him revolve around his athletic ability in the wake of multiple knee surgeries.

He looks like he deserves a camp invite at the very least, but that brings up another issue: accepting an invitation to NBA training camp might foreclose on opportunities for these players to sign guaranteed contracts with European clubs. Those clubs are looking to put their teams together at the same time, and won't always wait to see if a player becomes available. A decision to attend NBA training camp might ultimately limit a player's employment opportunities.

Lorenzo Brown, the Wolves second round pick this year, has been up and down. He's a tall point guard with good ball handling and passing skills, but obviously struggles to shoot it. His non-scoring numbers in college were exellent, and vjl110's model liked him as a late first round pick. There is something there, but will it be enough to make the team given the presence of Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, and Alexey Shved?

The last player I want to mention is Demetri McCamey. A star at the University of Illinois, he was somewhat surprisingly undrafted in 2011. Stop-n-Pop was fairly high on him that year (and you should check that link out for several thousand amazing words about the 2011 draft. Biyombo!). After going undrafted, and with the lockout on, McCamey went to Europe and signed with a couple of different clubs but didn't latch on anywhere. He spent last season with three different D-League teams.

I bring up McCamey for two reasons: first, he's looked pretty good so far. Making some shots, getting into the paint.

Second because he's an example of a guy who, I think, could just as easily be in the NBA as out of it. Especially among point guards, there are probably 50 guys just as good as a dozen or more players who will have contracts in the NBA this year.

The line between in and out of the best basketball league in the world is awfully thin. At the margin, it's about being in the right place at the right time. It's as much about finding an opportunity as it is about talent. Consider Brian Roberts. Undrafted out of Dayton in 2008, Roberts played in second-tier European leagues for a few seasons until he found himself with a camp invite and non-guaranteed contract with the New Orleans Hornets last summer.

With limited competition, Roberts earned a roster spot and wound up being the primary backup to Greivis Vasquez last season.

On the other hand, consider Stefhon Hannah, the D-League select player who dominated the Wolves in the first game in Las Vegas. Now 28 years old, he played in Europe for a couple of years and has spent the last three seasons in the D-League. It's arguable that he is good enough to warrant an NBA roster spot with his defensive skills and ability to run an offense. At his age, though, time is running out for him to get his chance.

Will McCamey get his shot? Probably not this year, and probably not with the Wolves. But he's the guy for whom summer league is important, not the first round picks. Playing well gets players noticed. Noticed for camp invites, and noticed for when, inevitably, NBA teams need a player during the season.

Just as importantly, it gets guys noticed by scouts for teams in foreign leagues who use NBA summer league to find players for their squads. A career in professional basketball, for many, is a constant tryout. Always looking for that next contract, that better opportunity. For many, even those who have enough talent, the NBA doesn't come knocking very often, or ever. But for dozens of players in Las Vegas this week, this is another opportunity.

Much more then the performance of Shabazz Muhammad or Gorgui Dieng, about whose futures summer league tells us very little, it's these players that make Las Vegas interesting.

Enjoy the game, and talk about it here, if you're so inclined.