Before we begin to make rash judgments about the play of 19- and 20-year-olds after the Miami Heat's 69-59 summer league loss to the Utah Jazz, let's at least remember that these are 19- and 20-year-olds playing in their first-ever game against NBA talent.
Thus, the Heat cannot be too critical about the starts of draft pick James Ennis and another predicted roster occupier in Myck Kabongo.
Ennis struggled early but saw his confidence soar late, finishing with 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, to go along with three rebounds, two steals and an assist in 22 minutes. Meanwhile, Kabongo failed to get anything going and finished with three points on 0-of-4 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Ennis managed to shoot 5-of-6 from the line, while Kabongo struggled to shoot 3-of-8. Kabongo, a former point guard from Texas, was solid on the defensive end, however, helping to limit Trey Burke to eight points on 1-of-12 shooting.
Those were the two whom Heat fans and the organization were most excited to see going into Sunday. They were also predicted to be the two summer league members expected to fill in possibly two roster spots on the Heat bench.
With the likes of Shane Battier and Ray Allen possibly retiring by the end of next season, the Heat have made it a purpose to scout young talent that could be worthwhile to the future.
It probably explains why the Heat possess 24 players on their summer league rosters, including an NBA champion in Jarvis Varnado, who was arguably the most impressive player in a Heat uniform on Sunday. In 31 minutes, Varnado recorded 10 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots, not including two meetings at the summit that were deemed fouls.
However, Varnado was only 4-of-11 from the field and 2-of-6 from the line. It was clear he was not ready to relinquish one of the few open roster spots available on the Heat. Varnado was a member of last year's team but was hardly given a chance to prove himself as he ended up playing only 40 total minutes.
The Heat organization would at least be pleased to recognize that Varnado is nearly a mirror image of Joel Anthony, a possible recipient of an amnesty in the coming weeks. Like Joel, Jarvis can hardly catch-and-finish, but he makes up for it with excellent timing on shot-blocks and athleticism to stay with pick-and-roll ball-handlers and highfliers.
Varnado was a second-round draft choice of Miami's in 2010. He was heralded during his time at Mississippi State for his shot-blocking and defensive skill set, which earned him three SEC Defensive Player of the Year awards. He has since played in Israel and Italy, before making his NBA debut with the Boston Celtics in late December 2012.
He lasted less than two weeks on the team but signed on with the Heat three days after getting waived.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the player with NBA experience was one of the best players for the Heat Sunday. It should come as a surprise, however, that arguably the best player on the floor was an undrafted guard out of Belmont University named Ian Clark.
Only playing 16 minutes, Clark made the most of it with a game-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting overall and 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
The 6'3" Clark spent three seasons at Belmont, but not before having his presence felt with an impeccable shooting stroke. In his final year with the Bruins, Clark was converting 46 percent of his nearly seven three-point attempts per game, dropping over three makes per contest.
He was quite the threat, as was Ennis. Both ended up combining for all five of the Heat's makes in the loss, with few other Heat players making an impression in terms of shooting or anywhere else for that matter. It was clear that the players signed up for this year's Heat summer league did not have exemplary offensive repertoires coming in.
However, there was a great deal of length and athleticism to go around. Although the Heat have two key shooters set to retire at the end of the season, Miami is still largely in the market for players who can hold their own on the defensive end and around the rim. Throughout the day, it became obvious the organization made it a point to employ players with athleticism and length.
Although the Heat were held to only 59 points on 32 percent shooting, the Jazz, supported by legitimate NBA talent in the likes of Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans and lottery-pick Trey Burke, were held to only 37 percent shooting overall.
Miami also sent back a total of 10 shots as a team, four from Varnado and two apiece from fellow bigs in former Campbell forward Eric Griffin and Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael.
But, again, please don't be the type to put a great deal of merit into what goes on in the summer league. This glorified tryout stage is used more to see who can't play rather than who can. If a guy like Ian Clark or Jarvis Varnado can thrive against opponents who are hopeful of a D-League tryout soon, then it only says he can beat up on lesser competition.
The only way to tell if a player can play against NBA talent is with actual experience of playing in the NBA. There's a wide disparity in the talent level of the summer league and the NBA. If a player can make it in the summer league, he's barely a few steps above a trip to the D-League.
For even one of these players to make an impact worth noting in the next three seasons would be more than what could be thought of at the moment. If James Ennis, or whoever else, becomes a rotation player within the next few seasons, it would be a gigantic victory for the Heat's scouting team.
The Heat are trying to get a bead more on what player could potentially help most, rather than what type of player they need. They have the athletic bigs they need and are looking for in free agency, such as Greg Oden, but they also have swingmen in the likes of Ennis and shooters in Clark and Scotty Hopson.
One of the main stories out of this year's summer league is going to be just who can emerge from a pack of players with no clear standout. Only two, Varnado and Travis Leslie, out of the 24 players signed up to play with the Heat's summer league team have NBA experience, leaving the other 22 up in the air as to how high their potential could possibly reach.
The final Heat roster spots are completely up for grabs. Not even Miami's sole draft pick of the 2013 draft is guaranteed a spot. For all we know, somebody like an Ian Clark or a Jackie Carmichael could come from out of nowhere and take the spot that we all thought was intended for Ennis.
There's a great deal of attention being paid to Miami's summer league more than ever before because of the state of the current roster. Besides Battier and Allen possibly being out by the end of the next season, there are other aging veterans in the 35-year-old Chris Andersen, 33-year-old Udonis Haslem and 33-year-old Mike Miller.
This Miami Heat team is extremely dependent on players who are within a few years of retirement. Of course, we won't say or notice anything now because of the Heat being back-to-back champions with relatively the same roster, but there's also an unpredictable future that lies ahead for Miami—one that's going to include every member of the "Big Three" opting out next summer.
To keep the likes of LeBron James and Chris Bosh around, there needs to be faith in the organization of something worth keeping them around. Having Pat Riley and his ability to get future Hall of Famers take pay cuts in order to win titles helps tremendously, but there is also an obvious need for youthful talent, considering there are only five players under the age of 30 on this team.
Two of those players are James and Bosh. The other three are Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Varnado. Miami doesn't have 24 players on its summer league roster just so the Heat can choose one lucky player to ride the bench and win a title. They have that many players because they're starting to become serious about adding on a young player who could possibly provide something.
Miami has three summer league teams because it wants to find the player who's going to be capable of providing something down the road. It's not looking for another Dexter Pittman. It's looking for someone who can end up providing legitimate and significant minutes, and it believes one player is in this bunch of 24, possibly two.
Speaking of Pittman, the guy the Heat acquired when trading him to the Memphis Grizzlies will also make an appearance. Ricky Sanchez, a 7-footer out of Puerto Rico, was actually a draft pick of Portland's in 2005 but has yet to play in the NBA. However, he does have experience playing in the D-League, where he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc in 2008.
Like everyone else on this summer league roster, he's currently just one out of 24 players contending for a roster spot.
That's why a pack of 24 unknown and unpredictable players will headline the Heat's summer league. There's no clear-cut favorite, not even the former NBA talent, and the best player, rather than the best positional player, is going to end up making it onto the roster.
Plus, Miami could use all the cheap talent it can get. With the CBA's new luxury-tax penalties soon to take effect, the Heat need as much cost-efficient players on their roster as they can get. It would be possible for the team to go out into the free-agency pool and possibly woo a player, but it's easier, for the moment, for it to sign on a young talent who will play for as low as a $1 million per year.
It won't be until after the upcoming amnesty period that you'll see the Heat actually begin to make some moves in free agency. Not until the Heat make decisions on the expiring contracts of Joel Anthony and Mike Miller will you see the team actually begin to talk and attempt to convince free agents to join at a cheaper price and a heightened chance of winning a title.
It's a lot easier said than done, however, to convince a player to win rather than take money. As many Shane Battiers and Ray Allens are out there, there are also just as many Samuel Dalemberts and Al Jeffersons who will happily take the money over winning with a close-knit group of players solely powered by the thought of championship glory.
Miami doesn't need that, which is why it's risky even to shop for a veteran. The Heat are fortunate to have the group of players they have now, because it would only take one frustrated veteran clamoring for minutes to spoil the whole thing.
You won't get that kind of trouble with a rookie who's only looking to earn minutes through any chance he gets.
It's only a positive situation for the Heat to use a 14th or 15th roster spot on a young player who can develop, rather than using it on an Eddy Curry or Juwan Howard who's only going to sit on the bench and has no potential left.
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