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Timberwolves Summer League: It Begins

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The Summer Wolves begin action today. Some thoughts.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Iowa State vs Nevada James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Summer Wolves vs. Summer Raptors
5:30 pm CDT
NBA TV

I no longer have to remind myself not to take Summer League seriously; four years of writing at this blog has pounded it into my brain. It’s very difficult to learn anything in this environment, and we’ve seen plenty of guys look great in SL and then never do anything as NBA players, and vice versa. Not getting excited for things like this is generally easy for me....when it comes to Summer League, I’m more or less just here for the jokes.

This year, however, I’m more interested than I have been in some time. Why, you ask?

Two reasons: First, because the Wolves do not have any players with contracts for next season on their SL roster. This strikes me as interesting. Much better to watch a bunch of guys desperate to impress than watch Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn in that environment when I know I’m gonna get to see Jones and Dunn in an actual NBA environment in a few months. One of the goals of most summer league teams is to get their contracted guys reps working on certain things. That’s fine, but for me, not as fun as seeing players who are scrapping for jobs as pro basketball players. I’ll see all the first round rookies in the fall. This is better.

The second reason is the current state of the roster. The Wolves have ten guys under contract as of this writing, meaning there are five spots to fill (if they go with the full compliment of 15) plus two potential spots for two-way contracts. Unlike most years, there are jobs to be had. Whether any of the summer league players get seriously considered for those jobs remains to be seen, but if you are a player in Vegas (whether for the Wolves or any team,) the Wolves have to be a team you want to impress. Empty roster spots are prey.

With that said, a bit more about a few of the players on the Summer Wolves that strike me as interesting. (Caveat: There are reasons all of these guys are free agents.)

Deonte Burton 6’5” Forward from Iowa State

Burton is the most fascinating player on the Wolves roster. He’s a 6’5” combo forward with a massive frame. He’s also a fairly explosive athlete for a guy his size, which resulted in nearly two blocks per 40/PA as a senior at Iowa State. He also piled up some steals, with 2.3 per 40/PA last season, and even more in earlier seasons. He makes up for his lack of height with a wingspan measured at 6’11.5” at the Portsmouth camp. Burton reminds me some of Ruben Patterson, though it remains to be seen if he has Patterson’s overall toughness and defensive chops.

He was a decent three-point shooter in college (about 40 percent for his career) albeit on low volume. His relatively poor free throw shooting (67 percent as a senior) suggests he might not be much of a perimeter shooter at the next level, but he’s not a compete zero on offense. He averaged 20 points per PA/40, and dished 2.4 assists per, not a bad number for a guy his size.

This video shows his array of skills:

Having watched that video again, another guy he reminds me of is Anthony Mason. Mase, who is the spiritual ancestor of Draymond Green, didn’t really catch on until he was 25, in part because he needed to develop, and in part because nobody knew what to do with him. I doubt Burton achieves those sorts of heights, but you can see the similarities.

Amile Jefferson 6’9” Power Forward from Duke

Jefferson is more or less your standard issue, reasonably bouncy, low skill power forward. He was an effective role player at Duke, finishing at a good clip because most of his stuff was wide-open at the rim, rebounding, blocking some shots. I don’t know that he brings much that a dozen other guys don’t, but he spent five years at a very high profile program playing with and against top competition on the regular.

He has no range and isn’t going to be an offensive asset to any real extent. But he’ll work hard, limit his mistakes, and knows how to play a role. In addition, I don’t think there is a Plumlee he didn’t play with. So there’s that.

V.J. Beachem 6’8” Small Forward from Notre Dame

Beachem is a full-sized wing with a good physical profile and reasonable athleticism. He also shot 40 percent from three over his college career at Notre Dame. It’s not impossible that there is an NBA level three-and-D player in there. He’s a fairly fluid guy capable of finishing around the rim. Whether he ever makes it in the NBA will be about whether he can defend well enough—he appears to have the tools to do so, but whether it happens or not remains to be seen.

He doesn’t really do much in the do-shit categories, which is fairly worrying for a four year player and likely a big reason he didn’t get much draft play, though he was invited to the Combine. If he can guard, there might be a job for him somewhere in the league.

Charles Cooke 6’5” Shooting Guard, from Dayton

The requisite four-year mid-major guy. Cooke transferred from James Madison to Dayton after his Sophomore season, and over his last couple of years hit threes at nearly 40 percent on about 4.5 attempts per game. This was a major improvement from the first part of his college career, but his free throw shooting did not improve, hovering just under 70 percent and suggesting he won’t be a knock-down shooter in the pros.

Which is too bad, because that’s probably his ticket. He’s got the size and wingspan (6’11” at Portsmouth) for the NBA, but I’m not sure he’s got the necessary physical gifts otherwise. He was stronger than a lot of his opponents and got some rebounds as a result, but in the NBA it’s not clear he can stay on the floor athletically.

Still, he’s a shooter (we hope) and that’s something always in demand.

Enjoy summer league. Our own John Meyer (@thedailywolf) and Dane Moore (@NikolaPekovic) are out there covering it for us (and getting up to god knows what and I already told them not to call me for bail money) so you should follow them and look for updates on what’s happening here at the site.