Assessing NBA Summer League with new Sacramento Kings assistant GM Mike Bratz
It’s been a whirlwind of change for the Sacramento Kings over the last two months. New ownership, new coaches, new front office personnel and new players are flying in the door at a frantic pace. General manager Pete D’Alessandro is running the show, but he brought in Mike Bratz to help balance his new front office.
Before the Kings stepped foot on the floor for their final Summer League game, we caught up with Bratz for a one-on-one assessment of two of the Kings newest players, rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum. There are a lot of arm-chair quarterbacks out there in Kingsland and sometimes you need to bring in an expert to walk you through the player evaluation process.
CK: You’ve had four games to look at your young players, what are your assessments of McLemore and McCallum? What are their weaknesses that you are seeing so far?
MB: Ben’s got a lot of things to work on. He’s very, very gifted athletically. He has a lot of skill, but he just needs to get used to this level of play. I think he’s made some mistakes that he’ll correct eventually, but the pace of the game is a little quicker, the players are a little stronger, they’re a little more skilled and he’s adjusting to that. I expect him to have some growing pains. I’m very pleased with what he’s done. He has a rough night the other night from the field, but he’s going to be a terrific shooter. His mechanics and fundamentals are very good. I don’t have any doubts that he’s going to be able to shoot the ball and score in the league.
CK: He seems to have a non-stop motor. He’s always running around screens, looking for the right spot to pop out – a little bit like a Reggie Miller or a Rip Hamilton. Not that he is in their category of player yet, but he has that ability to seek out a free space on the floor.
MB: He knows how to move without the ball, to get himself open, to look for situations. He just has to read a little bit better, know when he’s open and go ahead and shoot. Take the shot when it’s there and if not, pass it and move it again. But all of that comes with experience. He’s just getting his first taste here and that’s what Summer League is for – to get a little experience.
CK: He came in with a rap that maybe he wasn’t aggressive enough, but that’s not what we’ve seen here. He seems to know that he is here to be the shooter, the scorer of this team. Did you expect that from him?
MB: Yeah, I did. That’s his strength – scoring the ball. I think what he’s got to figure out now is how to get himself into those positions more, to get better shots. The coaches are working with him and it’s a bit of a process, but Ben has the athleticism and the knowledge and he knows how to move without the ball, that he’ll get himself open and I expect him to improve his percentage as we go along.
CK: His shooting doesn’t seem to be the biggest issue that you have with him. The biggest red flag that pops up is that his ball handling is not at an NBA level yet and he also needs a little work with his hands as well.
MB: Yes, he does. But that’s all part of playing against bigger, stronger players. They get their hands on the ball and when they do get it on, they can rip it away or knock it away. And he’s got to make those adjustments.
CK: Let’s switch gears. How impressed are you so far with Ray McCallum, his ability to lead an offense and control the court?
MB: I’ve been following him very closely for the last couple of years. He’s a natural point guard and a natural leader. He’s very skilled. He’s much more athletic than people give him credit for. In fact, he’s very athletic and I think he surprised some people. They won’t be surprised once they get to know him, but I’m not surprised at all with how he’s performed and I think he’s going to be a real quality player.
CK: I’ve heard that you’ve had your eye on him. That you were the guy that singled him out as a prospect, even when you were back in Denver. What was it that caught your eye so early on?
MB: His leadership ability. How he can run an offense, set other players up, keep things organized – all of the things you want a point guard to do. Get good shots for his teammates. He has excellent judgement. All the things you look for.
CK: He seems to go left a lot early on. Is that just an adjustment he needs to make?
MB: I think his opponents have forced him to go a little bit left. He can do that. He can be creative going either way. I think as we get into the season and he starts playing with other members of our team that he’ll figure it out. Both he and Ben will have more growing pains to go through and that’s to be expected. This is just the first step in the process. Ray’s an excellent ball handler and a good passer. Once he gets a little more experience, he’ll stop thinking so much and just play naturally because he is a natural point guard and he has great instincts.
CK: It’s early, but where do you see these guys fitting in? You have six guards on the roster. You are very guard heavy. McCallum is clearly your third point guard right now, but where is McLemore in the pecking order?
MB: Marcus Thornton is a very good player as well. He’s established himself in the league and Ray is an outstanding talent with a lot of potential and there’s going to be good competition there. And you know, they are different types of players. Marcus is a little stronger and uses his body better and Ray uses his athleticism. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but they’re both going to be big contributors for us this year.