Which Camp Invitees Can Make an NBA Roster?
You’re on an NBA team’s training camp roster, but they didn’t draft you and haven’t given you a fully guaranteed deal?
That means you’re a training camp invitee, and while that doesn’t sound promising, there’s still a chance of making a team and a difference in the 2012-13 season.
Not all of the following players have opportunities on their current teams, but that’s okay. These players can still get their chance in the league with a good performance in the preseason. Here are a few names to keep an eye on:
Dionte Christmas, guard, Boston Celtics: The former Temple star is big (6’5) and while he isn’t an amazing athlete, he’s not a slouch defensively. Keyon Dooling’s retirement helps his cause, but cracking the Celtics’ rotation seems almost impossible unless there’s a series of injuries. However, Christmas is the type of player who can go all-out in practice and make things very uncomfortable for an established player.
Jonny Flynn, point guard, Detroit Pistons: Flynn is obviously a familiar name, and he’s been a bust as a lottery pick. The good news is that he’s still a good athlete, with good instincts as a point guard. He’s just not very good defensively, which is why his ceiling is more or less a backup role at this point. Flynn actually posted a career-high 34.3 assist rate with the Trail Blazers and Rockets last season and since he’s only 23, there’s still time for him to grow as a player. Can he defend big point guards like Derrick Rose? Probably not, but he can give Brandon Knight a breather.
Damion James, forward, Atlanta Hawks: Leg injuries have prevented James from becoming the player he knows he is, and if he’s ever healthy, there’s little doubt he could find a way to contribute. James has the size (6’7) and athleticism for the position, and because he’s a plus rebounder (he averaged 10.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore and senior at Texas), he can make a difference without scoring. As one of five former New Jersey Nets on the Hawks’ roster, he’ll fit in just fine in Atlanta.
Armon Johnson, point guard, Orlando Magic: Another former Net (eight games!), Johnson is a big point guard who has good potential as a defender (if only Stan Van Gundy still coached the Magic). He posted an impressive assist rate with the Blazers as a rookie (23.2), but he appeared in just 38 games, averaging 7.3 minutes per outing, so it’s not a very good sample size. Okay, he’s not the best distributor on earth, but the Magic are starting from scratch and having someone who can at least defend one position well is a step in the right direction.
Carldell Johnson, point guard, Atlanta Hawks: He’s 5’10 and he’s 29 years old, so Johnson has an uphill battle to say the least. Even his brief stint in the NBA (15 games with the Hornets last season) was completely forgettable, so what’s the catch? Anyone who’s been around Johnson (AKA “Squeak”) says he’s the hardest-working player they know, and he’s supposedly an effective defender, despite his height. Johnson is also from New Orleans, so he’s been compared to current Nets coach Avery Johnson on occasion.
Kevin Jones, power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers: Jones led the Big East in scoring and rebounding in his final season at West Virginia and that still didn’t get him drafted. He’s only 6’8 and not known as a great athlete, but Jones is a coach’s favorite who has a surprisingly diverse offensive game that includes a mid-range jump shot in addition to his post-up skills. Defensively, he’s limited by size and athleticism, so it’s a good thing that everyone likes his motor. Guys like Jones have made it in the league before, but that’s far from a guarantee for him.
Phil Jones, center, Minnesota Timberwolves: He’s already 27, so Jones isn’t offering a lot of upside. However, he is a 6’10 shot blocker who doesn’t shy away from contact, and in a league desperate for centers, that could be enough to earn a few 10-day contracts.
Scott Machado, point guard, Houston Rockets: Machado already has a three-year, partially guaranteed deal, so he’ll definitely be on the Rockets this season. He’s just worth mentioning because he’s improved his conditioning so much in the last year and fans might not know who he is. Machado averaged 9.9 assists per game in his final season at Iona, and if summer league was any indication (5.6 assists in 25.4 minutes per game), that figure wasn’t the product of weak competition.
Hamady Ndiaye, center, Sacramento Kings: The 25-year-old seven-footer has appeared in 19 games over the last two seasons with the Wizards, and if he could add to his 235-pound frame, he’d certainly see more playing time. Ndiaye might end up being like former DePaul center Steven Hunter, who had a couple of productive seasons before moving on to Europe.
John Shurna, forward, New York Knicks: Shurna’s deal is partially guaranteed, so things are looking up for the former Northwestern star. The comparisons to Steve Novak are valid. Shurna is tall (6’9) and hits three-pointers (2.87 per game as a senior). The troubling thing about Shurna’s game is that his rebounding went down (6.4 per game as a sophomore, 5.4 per game as a senior) over time, but that could be a product of his game moving toward the perimeter. Regardless, Shurna is quite capable of cashing in on the NBA’s growing fascination with stretch fours.
Jamar Smith, guard, Boston Celtics: Like Christmas, Smith’s cause was helped by Dooling’s retirement. He was never a stand out at Illinois (2005-06 and 2006-07), but he has good size (6’3) and isn’t a bad athlete. His contract becomes guaranteed on Nov. 15, so he could make the team to start the season, only to be released in the first two weeks.
Henry Sims, center, New York Knicks: He’s 22 years old and 6’11, so Sims has a chance of carving out a role for himself in the NBA. The good news is that Sims might be a late bloomer. After three forgettable seasons with Georgetown, he contributed as a senior, averaging 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in 27.5 minutes per night. Sims isn’t athletically gifted, but he is in decent shape and can hopefully add muscle. Expect him to go to the Knicks’ D-League affiliate in Erie, where he can learn the team’s system and so forth.
Greg Somogyi, center, Los Angeles Lakers: NBA prospects are rarely as tall as they say they are, but this former UC-Santa Barbara center really is 7’3, and that’s a game changer. He didn’t look great in college and things didn’t get much better on the Lakers’ summer league team (1.2 points, 1.6 rebounds per game), but Los Angeles will probably be very patient with him.
Jarvis Varnado, power forward/center, Miami HEAT: Varnado isn’t big (6’9, 230 pounds), but if Dexter Pittman and Mickell Gladness get cut, he’ll be the biggest center on Miami’s roster. The NCAA’s all-time leading shot blocker is still raw, even though he’s 24, and he offers next to nothing offensively. Still, the HEAT drafted him in 2010 for a reason, and this year he might have a better chance at cracking the roster. Miami is desperate for a cheap center, and Varnado fits the bill.
Maalik Wayns, point guard, Philadelphia 76ers: Wayns averaged 17.6 points and 4.6 assists per game in his final season at Villanova, and even though he can’t shoot and isn’t very tall (6’1), the Philadelphia native has the athleticism to make it in the NBA. And seeing as the 76ers lost Lou Williams in the offseason, Wayns is really just battling Royal Ivey for a backup spot behind Jrue Holiday.
Terrence Williams, swingman, Detroit Pistons: He’s already 25 years old, but Williams is a phenomenal athlete with good defensive skills and a point guard’s handle. The best part about Williams’ game is that he can defend three positions and has the passing skills to run an offense. The problem is that Williams is often late to practice and has a reputation for fighting with coaches not named Rick Pitino.
Wesley Witherspoon, small forward, San Antonio Spurs: After playing on the Knicks’ summer league team, Witherspoon has landed in Spurs camp, which is the perfect place for a player with talent, but without direction. There are questions about his toughness, but Gregg Popovich has never had any issue fixing that problem. The good news is that he’s long for a perimeter player (6’9) and has some spring in his step. It may not be enough to win a spot with the Spurs out of camp, but he’s talented enough to keep an eye on.