Vegas, Baby! Previewing the 2009 Bucks Summer League

Jim Paschke reports from the final day of pre-Vegas practice

First off, apologies for the predictable and stale title reference (how many Vegas previews have used the same line?).  But this is why I'm not a real writer.  Fortunately, what I lack in creativity I make up for in dedication: I've flown all the way to Vegas just to watch the Bucks this weekend, and I'll be liveblogging the games tonight and Sunday just for you.  Why?  Because I love you.  Check back later tonight for the game preview/thread.

The fine folks at Bucks.com have done a great job of pulling all the vital info together at their Summer League Central, so that's the best place to start for the roster, schedule, etc.  Also check out the Bucks' youtube page for Jim Paschke's reports from this week's practices.  Unfortunately the games won't be streamed for free, but you can watch all the games live and on demand for $15.   Here's the schedule, with our players to watch after the jump.

Friday, July 10 vs. Dallas, 9:00 CT
Sunday, July 12 vs. Cleveland, 9:00 CT
Monday, July 13 vs. Sacramento, 9:30 CT
Wednesday, July 15 vs. Toronto, 5:00 CT
Thursday, July 16 vs. Chicago, 3:00 CT

Overall the Bucks will have one of the more interesting teams to watch in Vegas, if for no other reason than they have so many potential rotation players actually playing here.  The Bucks have six roster players in Vegas : Jennings (though he hasn't signed yet), Jodie Meeks, Joe Alexander, Luc Mbah a Moute, Amir Johnson, and Salim Stoudamire.  That's a ton for Vegas, and should make my job much more entertaining. 

There are also some interesting non-roster free agents along for the ride, including former Florida and T'Wolves big Chris Richard and Polish PF Szymon Szewczyk, a former Bucks second rounder from the Reagan administration (OK fine, 2003).  Unfortunately Dominic James didn't travel with the Bucks after spraining his knee this week in practice, but UAB guard Paul Delaney (an interesting player in his own right) is making the trip instead.  None of those guys have a chance of making the team, so I'm obviously hoping we see less of them and more of the roster guys.  Check out Truman Reed's bios at bucks.com for more on them.

Players to Watch

1. Brandon Jennings

I know, this one's obvious.  But Jennings should be the focal point of Bucks' fans attention in Vegas for a few reasons.  First, Jennings' skillset seems tailor-made for the wide-open, guard-oriented style traditionally seen in Vegas.  Like Jerryd Bayless and Nate Robinson before him, Jennings could put up some big numbers, though I'm guessing his scoring efficiency will probably leave something to be desired (at least if his Euro numbers are at all indicative).  Fortunately, he's also going to have a pretty deep squad around him, so he doesn't have to score a lot for the Bucks to do well in Vegas. Since it's a stage that should suit his skills, we may not learn that much about his ability to contribute immediately in November--in other words, if he plays well in Vegas don't expect it to automatically translate in November.  On the flip side, struggling in this setting would be a bit worrying given the nature of summer league, but in all honesty we shouldn't be expecting him to be great off the bat anyway--the kid's still 19 afterall.

But more than anything I just want to watch the guy play.  Tiny Archibald, Allen Iverson, and Kenny Anderson have all been mentioned as possible comparisons, but there's something about watching point guards...you really have to see them up close to get a feel for their game, don't you?  Amir Johnson compared him to his old teammate Iverson yesterday (see the video up top), which says a lot about Jennings' speed and shot creativity but could also be a bit worrying when you consider Iverson's never been a real PG.  Don't get me wrong, if we just drafted a young Allen Iverson with the 10th pick in a so-so draft, well, I can live with that. 

One thing I do find a bit contradictory is that everyone always alludes to Jennings' true point guard instincts, yet he seems to draw a lot of comparisons to scoring guards.  Ideally he'd be a great distributor who could also take over offensively when needed, but who knows if he will be able to do that at this level.  Still, Jennings will play a lot in the next week and should make things interesting--hopefully in a good way.

2. Joe Alexander

Luc Mbah a Moute is the default starter at small forward right now, but Alexander will be the guy I'm paying attention to more closely in Sin City (and not just because of that sweet mop he's sporting these days).  We've been hearing all summer that he's bigger and putting in lots of time at the Cousins Center, but now we get our first chance to see what he's got to show for his hard work.  Alexander didn't make a big impression in Vegas a year ago, which turned out to be something of a harbinger of things to come.  This time around, Gardner reports that Skiles is hoping a good performance in Vegas can be a stepping stone to bigger things:

"This is a big five games for Joe, really. It's just an opportunity for him to feel good about himself, because he should."

It's hard to tell from the outside how a turbulent rookie season affected Joe's psyche, but he's always struck me as a very self-aware guy who was probably well aware of fan cynicism and the organization's own disappointment in his learning curve.  Early indications suggest he's reacted the right way, and like most Bucks fans I'm rooting for Joe as much as anyone on the team.   

Kelvin Sampson also provided an idea of how he'll be used in Vegas

"We're going to try to run more isos for him when we get to Vegas.

"When he's not scoring it or attacking the basket with the dribble, we want him to get where he can keep balls alive on the offensive glass. And when we're transitioning from defense to offense, 'sprint, rim run,' take advantage of his athletic gifts."

My main hope: sloooooooow down. Aggressiveness is good, but Joe often times seemed so intent on doing something last year that he didn't let the game come to him.  Other times, he was overly deferential and faded into the background.  Hopefully he learns how to better pick his spots, because the physical tools are all there.  Now he needs to get comfortable using them.  Hopefully Salim Stoudamire wasn't just saying nice things when he made this comment yesterday:

"Before he was timid, wasn't aggressive and you could tell he was thinking out there. Now he's just reacting."

3. Amir Johnson

According to Skiles, Johnson may only play a couple games given that he's already done Vegas three times.  Still, extra reps in the Bucks' system will only help and it also offers us a sneak peek at quite possibly the team's starting power forward.  As a guy who's mostly been an athletic garbagman in the regular season, Amir will hopefully get some post looks and an opportunity to show a bit more than we have usually seen from him in regular season action. 

I'm also curious to see where they play Amir.  He's definitely bigger than the 6'9" and 210 pounds that he's been listed at since he was 18, and he regularly got minutes at the 5 in Detroit.  Power forward is probably a better fit in addition to being more convenient fit given the Bucks' personnel, but I'd gladly see him get backup center minutes over Gadzuric and Elson as well.  In Vegas we'll probably see both given there generally aren't many decent big men and the Bucks have only one true center on the roster (former TAU Ceramica big Will McDonald). 

4. Jodie Meeks

Like many, I remember Meeks mostly as the guy who torched Tennessee and a host of other teams last year, so I'm anxious to see if he can bring that same sort of shooting to Vegas.  Given his propensity to bomb away from well beyond the college three point line, I think we can be optimistic on that front.  Presuming that Bruce Bowen's days in Milwaukee are numbered, the Bucks won't have much depth at shooting guard so Meeks should see minutes anytime Redd or Bell are out of the lineup (which has been often the past couple years). 

His rep is that he can't create his own shot, though when he's on it doesn't matter all that much.  Interestingly he did get to the line a fair bit last year (6.5 fta/g, making 90%), which shows he wasn't purely a shooter.  But he doesn't rebound or pass the ball, though a SG who averages 23.7 ppg in the SEC probably doesn't need to in order to be a useful rotation player.

5. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Having Mbah a Moute ranked this low is mostly just a testament to what we've already seen.  We know he can defend and do all the little things, and he's probably the starting SF even if he hasn't progressed much offensively.  Still, he's been working on improving his consistency in the mid-range this summer and hopefully we'll also see him get some iso and post touches (where he showed some flashes).   I think he'll need to add three point range to his game in order to really reach his potential as a small forward, but it doesn't sound like that's been a priority this summer.

6. Salim Stoudamire

Stoudamire's participation is a bit up in the air after suffering a bit of a groin injury this week, but hopefully we'll get a look at his sweet shooting stroke at some point.  He's been out of the league for over a year, largely due to assorted groin injuries, so it's not clear what he can do at this point. 

I'm also still unclear why the Bucks felt the need to sign him at the end of last season and give him a partially guaranteed deal this year. Was there really competition for his services?  Does he really bring something a non-guaranteed D-Leaguer couldn't bring?  He could be cut to save a few hundred grand and make room on the roster for Sessions or Ilyasova, but I'm not sure that's likely given the effort the Bucks made to sign him.  When healthy he projects as the Bucks' third-string PG, and he would provide perimeter shooting that the Bucks are currently lacking.

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