The Vegas Summer League is the perfect opportunity to improve your franchise, and the Sacramento Kings are certainly making the most of it.
The Kings are using the summer league to get an extended look at their rookies, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum.
Sacramento's had key veterans attend summer league games and practices, familiarizing themselves with the new coaching staff and players.
Beyond the players assured of roster spots like McLemore and McCallum, the team's also using the opportunity to evaluate prospects that could be added down the line, and it's increased its ability to retain those prospects by gaining controlling interest of a D-League franchise.
So even though we're right in the middle of the offseason, the Kings have been anything but idle. And with that being the case, there are plenty of angles and storylines to keep up with as the summer league rolls along.
The Play of Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline from the Summer League is the play of rookies McLemore and McCallum. Both players figure to be important pieces in Sacramento from the get-go, so for them, utilizing the summer league is a necessity.
Both players have had their share of ups and downs as the summer league has progressed, but that's to be expected considering it's their first look at NBA action.
Ben McLemore, who Sacramento selected with the No. 7 pick in the draft, was having some real issues getting his shooting stroke and offensive game going. But it wasn't just McLemore, as McCallum also struggled to knock down shots in the summer league opener.
Kings lose their summer league opener 76-73. McLemore shot 4 of 23, 3 of 11 for McCallum.— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) July 14, 2013
Considering it was the duo's first game action in the NBA, an adjustment period was to be expected. For McLemore, who only played one year of college ball, getting over that hump didn't come easily, and he continued to struggle in the second game.
Ben's last two jumpers have been airballs. He's got to keep shooting though. 3/10 today, 0/5 on 3s. Like to see him get to paint, FT line— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) July 16, 2013
McCallum, on the other hand, had three years of college experience to draw from, so he began to find success in his second game.
McCallum: 23 pts 7/10 shooting. McLemore 14 pts, 4/12 shooting.— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) July 16, 2013
Yet all isn't lost for McLemore. While he's certainly struggled to get his offensive game going, he's also played stretches that demonstrate the type of game-changing ability he possesses. Case in point was the game against Toronto, in which McLemore finished with 26 points and absolutely exploded in the second half.
McLemore has 20 points in the second half. This is why they drafted him, I suppose.— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) July 16, 2013
With plenty of time still remaining in the summer league, the key will be for the rookies to gain consistency.
McCallum showed that off in the Golden State game, and McLemore displayed it against the Raptors. Expecting them to do it every game is unrealistic, but seeing how they progress during the remainder of the summer will be one of the key storylines going forward.
The Presence of Key Veterans
With all the change in the Sacramento Kings franchise over the past few months, even some veterans on the team are using the summer league to familiarize themselves with new head coach Mike Malone and his system.
Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, Jason Thompson and Isaiah Thomas all showed up to watch the games. However, the quartet took it even further and joined the team during its morning workouts.
This is a great sign for the Kings. The summer league is generally seen as a developmental tool for rookies and first-year players. Occasionally, you might see more seasoned players if they're coming back from injury, or if they don't have a ton of in-game action, but it's certainly not the norm.
Thompson, Thornton, Fredette and Thomas were all healthy last season, and they all have plenty of game action under their belts. They showed up in Vegas simply to practice with the team and become accustomed to the coaching staff.
Their presence in Vegas will make training camp run that much more smoothly. They'll understand the expectations and have a better rapport with some of the young guns like McLemore and McCallum.
Most importantly, it goes a long way for setting a good example and changing the culture in the locker room, which is a key element if turning the franchise around.
The Evaluation of Young Players Not Currently on the Roster
Beyond evaluating the youngsters already on the roster, the summer league is also about evaluating other players who could help out down the line. Sacramento's using the opportunity to the fullest by filling its team with some under-the-radar players.
One such player is Jorge Gutierrez, who was the 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Gutierrez, who went undrafted out of Cal, played for the Canton Charge of the NBDL last season. And he made his impact immediately, garnering first-team All-Rookie and All-Defensive team honors in the D-League.
Gutierrez is hoping to use his defensive prowess to make the final roster.
"I believe in it, and defense has opened doors for me in a lot of places," Gutierrez said, according to Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. "So I think that might be my ticket."
But it's not just Gutierrez. The Kings have 13 other players on their summer league roster, and many of them are viewed as potential contributors down the line.
Drew Gordon has shown up nice in the three games, averaging 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22.0 minutes of game action.
Trent Lockett, a guard formerly of Marquette University, is putting in 7.7 points on 53.3 percent shooting from the field in 19.3 minutes per game.
There's even the feel-good story of Nick Minnerath, who made it to the summer league after overcoming a drug addiction following high school, spending two years away from the game before getting clean.
Eventually Minnerath made his way to Detroit Mercy, where he played with Ray McCallum and earned first-team All-Horizon League honors last season.
"It's an incredible blessing to be here," Minnerath said, via Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. "This is obviously where I wanted to be, in Vegas at this point. The goal that I had set, and it's a blessing to be here."
Breaking: Sacramento Kings will announce tomorrow they have signed a deal to take over basketball operations of the Reno Bighorns— Tony Bizjak (@TonyBizjak) July 10, 2013
This new opportunity will allow Sacramento to put its fingerprints all over what essentially amounts to its own minor league team.
Kings owner Ranadive says Kings will choose coach, players and system for Bighorns - essentially giving Kings a minor league team— Tony Bizjak (@TonyBizjak) July 10, 2013
While this technically isn't a storyline about the Vegas Summer League, it's certainly related to it. With the agreement to operate the Bighorns, the Kings can now sign many of the players currently on their summer league team.
The agreement certainly gives the Kings better access to talented players, but it does even more than that. Not only will Sacramento be able to familiarize itself with those players, it can also make sure they're running the Kings' system.
Now, whenever the Kings call up a player from the D-League, that player will be familiar with the offense and schemes. This should only hasten their acclimation period to the NBA.
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