After suffering through a 28-54 record last season, the Sacramento Kings need all the help they can get.
Including help that comes in the very largest of packages, like rookie Sim Bhullar.
As CBSSports.com's Matt Moore put it, "The Kings just got bigger. Way, way bigger."
NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin remarked that, "The 7’5”, 360-pound center who played his college ball for New Mexico State was part of the Kings’ Summer League team and even around other NBA players he looked huge. He dwarfed DeMarcus Cousins."
The 21-year-old signed a deal to join Sacramento's training camp, and his notoriety extends beyond his imposing body alone.
The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) reports that, "Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to sign a contract with an NBA team."
Sacramento's Vivek Ranadive also happens to be the league's first Indian-born majority owner.
According to the AP's report, Ranadive said, "I've long believed that India is the next great frontier for the NBA, and adding a talented player like Sim only underscores the exponential growth basketball has experienced in that nation."
He added, "While Sim is the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA franchise, he represents one of many that will emerge from that region as the game continues to garner more attention and generate ever-increasing passion among a new generation of Indian fans."
Despite the Indian heritage, Bhullar is actually a native of Toronto.
After two seasons at New Mexico State, he went undrafted in June. From there, however, he competed for the tournament-winning Kings squad that took Las Vegas Summer League by storm.
The AP notes that, "He will compete for a spot in training camp behind center DeMarcus Cousins and could be a candidate to join the franchise's NBA Development League affiliate in Reno, Nevada, where he could have more time to develop his skills."
The road ahead won't be an easy one for Bhullar, even with his hulking physical gifts.
Moore suggests, "It's widely assumed Bhullar was signed to a non-guaranteed rookie-level contract. Whether he makes the roster after camp or not could be a challenge."
Whatever the future holds, Bhullar has successfully turned some heads.
|Sim Bhullar In a Nutshell|
|Birth Date||December 2, 1992|
|Birth Location||Toronto, Canada|
|High Schools Attended||The Kiski School in Saltsburg, Pa. and Huntington Prep in Huntington, W.V.|
|High School Highlights||Averaged 16 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks per game as a junior. Helped Huntington Prep go 22-3 overall record and earn No. 12 national ranking as a senior.|
|College Trivia||Originally committed to play for Xavier.|
|College Attended||New Mexico State|
|Freshman Year Averages||10.1 PPG, 6.7 REB, 2.4 BLK in 24.4|
|Sophomore Year Averages||10.4 PPG, 7.8 REB, 3.4 BLK in 26.3 MPG|
|International Highlight||Tallied 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 2010 FIBA Americans Under-18 Tournament. Also played in 2009-10 Nike Global Challenge and 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championships.|
"In two seasons at New Mexico State, Bhullar averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in 25.3 minutes in 65 games," reports The Sacramento Bee. "He was a two-time Western Athletic Conference Tournament MVP and helped the Aggies make the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2014.'
Bhullar's subsequent summer league debut wasn't quite as impressive as that collegiate production.
He averaged just 2.5 minutes through four games, collecting a combined total of just two points, two rebounds and one block. At one point—somehow—he even lost a jump ball. In other words, the Kings probably recognize this particular prospect still has plenty of work ahead of him.
Helin argues, "He also has a long, long way to go in terms of conditioning and fundamentals to be considered a real NBA prospect," adding, "After watching him for a couple games in Las Vegas I’m not sure he will ever be an NBA player. But he’s not a bad project to take on."
In May, DraftExpress.com's Josh Riddell hinted at a similar trajectory, explaining that Bhullar's ample size also comes with its limitations:
He has a wide frame at 360 pounds (New Mexico State listing), huge hands, and a gigantic wingspan, but hasn't maximized his strength yet, as he's often pushed around inside by smaller players. Bhullar's conditioning-level is a work in progress, as he has a difficult time operating at the same intensity-level in his 26 minutes per game, tending to tire rather easily as you'd expect from a person his size.
But the size certainly has its advantages, as well, leaving the Kings with ample justification for their low-risk gamble.
"Bhullar's biggest strength offensively is his excellent offensive rebounding prowess, pulling in 4.1 offensive boards per 40 minutes pace adjusted, one of the highest rates among players in our Top-100 prospect rankings," Riddell adds.
So there's certainly a chance further development will make the most of Bhullar's stature and instincts.
That said, it probably wouldn't be cynical to highlight the extent to which Bhullar's acquisition is designed in part to make in-roads with India's largely untapped market.
Quartz India's Sharda Ugra writes that the addition, "could be just the push that the NBA has been looking for in trying to find its foothold in India, a large potential market that is big on numbers yet modest in performance when it comes to the sport."
It's probably no coincidence the Kings have also launched a team website in Hindi—a website in which Bhullar is featured quite prominently.
Indeed, a 2011 profile of Bhullar by The New York Times' Pete Thamel saw this coming, proclaiming that, "Asia is ready for its next great basketball ambassador," in the wake of Yao Ming's then-recent retirement.
Thamel predicted that, "Although Bhullar does not yet show the potential to be a top NBA pick, his size, his hands and the need for big bodies make it very likely that he will have a professional career somewhere."
"I think it would be a blessing to be the first from an entire country to go to the NBA and be a role model," Bhullar told Thamel at the time.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Bhullar has become the next step in Ranadive's attempts to reach out to his native country.
Bloomberg Businessweek's Erik Matuszewski put Bhullar's arrival in context, writing, "The Kings, who have eight straight losing campaigns, last season televised more than 20 live games in India, began a website in Hindi, sent players and dancers to Mumbai and signed the team’s first India-based sponsor."
Bhullar just might have another ambassador in the family following in his footsteps.
According to The Times of India's Chidanand Rajghatta, "Sim's younger brother, Tanveer, who stands at 7 feet 3 inches (221 cm), is also said to be a promising basketball prospect. The story goes that their father, who grew up playing kabaddi initially wanted his sons to play cricket, but soon realized that the boys' height would not allow for them to move swiftly on the field."
Could Sim be the tip of India's iceberg?
To be sure, he'll have to work on his own career first. Bhullar is by no means a lock to remain an NBA mainstay, but he's taken a crucial first step.
So too have the Kings.
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