Former Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was back in Lawrence on Friday, conducting the third and final day of the Kansas tour of his annual summer camp.
With the help of former K-State guard Will Spradling, Mason ran through drills, showed off his skills and interacted with the 30 or so campers who showed up at Rock Chalk Park to see the former Jayhawk.
“This is always fun,” Mason said Friday. “I love being around the kids. I love giving back and just love helping them, helping them become better young men and better basketball players.”
The Lawrence camp — which followed similar sessions in Wichita and Olathe on Wednesday and Thursday — was supposed to be the start of an all-Mason type of weekend. His annual charity softball game was scheduled for this weekend in Kansas City, Kan.
But Mason’s professional obligations, which now include adjusting to a new team and new surroundings, proved to be too much for the softball game to carry on. Mason said he planned to bring the game back in the future, but wanted to spend the rest of the summer getting settled in with the Milwaukee Bucks, who recently signed him to a two-way deal, which will allow him to split time between the Bucks in the NBA and the Wisconsin Herd in the G League.
It also will allow Mason to play with reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, with whom Mason actually has a brief history.
“I got a chance to work out with him and play one-on-one with him in Las Vegas during Summer League,” Mason said of the man they call The Greek Freak. “It was pretty big time. We did a lot of one-on-one, a lot of skill work, and also worked out with (fellow Bucks) Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton and it was a good time. We all got better and just watching him live and watching his work ethic was unbelievable. I’m just excited to be a part of the team and to get to play with a guy like that.”
Asked what he liked about Antetokounmpo’s game, Mason did not hesitate to answer.
“Everything, man,” he said. “He’s a 7-foot bully on the court. He’s unstoppable in transition, he’s almost automatic around the rim, he super coachable and he’s humble. I’m excited to play with him and he should make my job a lot easier.”
As for Mason’s new NBA home, his representation, newly certified NBPA agent Isaiah Garrett, said the Bucks represented a fresh start for the former NCAA national player of the year.
“It’s just a great organization, obviously, with Giannis and them making it to the playoffs the last couple of yeas and they have a great chance of winning a championship,” Garrett said. “They were only missing a few pieces, some backup pieces, and I think they feel like Frank could fit in with what they need.”
One other aspect of the move that has Mason and Garrett excited is the looming KU connection, with former Kansas walk-on Chase Buford recently being named the head coach of the Herd.
“That’s a great connection,” Garrett said. “I know Frank has a really good relationship with Chase and is really looking forward to working with him... Frank noticed that when he first heard that the Bucks were interested.
“Frank’s always been hungry," Garrett said. "I don’t think he ever lost that. Sacramento just wasn’t the right fit. The opportunities weren’t there for him. We have a great relationship with Sacramento. They have a great organization and it was a blessing for them to go ahead and waive Frank as early as they did so he could find a new home. He’ll continue to work hard and make the best of his situation with Milwaukee.”
Quick, think for a second about the one current or former NBA player who you would hire to help mentor and tutor former KU forward Dedric Lawson as he starts his NBA journey.
How about Tim Duncan?
The Big Fundamental, who recently retired from a Hall of Fame career with the San Antonio Spurs seems like the perfect choice to help facilitate Lawson’s development from sleepy smooth college star to legitimate NBA player.
And now it appears as if Lawson will get that opportunity.
After playing limited minutes with the Golden State Warriors’ summer league squad in Las Vegas, Lawson evidently has agreed to a contract with San Antonio.
Several reports about Lawson’s deal popped up on Twitter Monday night and when you combine that news with the recent news that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was hiring Duncan to be his newest assistant coach, it sure seems like the stars are aligning pretty perfectly for Lawson right about now.
Undrafted in June after an All-American season at Kansas in 2018-19, Lawson reportedly has agreed to an Exhibit 10 contract with the Spurs. This is different than a two-way deal in which a player splits time between the NBA club and its G League affiliate and, in some ways, is better.
Exhibit 10 contracts are basically non-guaranteed, one-year deals worth the league minimum. That number, for a player with 0 years of experience last season was $838,000. Not bad.
The good news there is that as long as you remain a valuable asset in the eyes of the team, you’ll be on the NBA roster, cashing legitimate paychecks and learning the game and life from people at the highest level. The bad news is if at any point they decide you no longer have any value, you can be cut without compensation.
Still, for Lawson, who has proven to be incredibly coachable and has a bunch of skills that could be groomed into a long NBA career, the opportunity to play for Popovich, in the Spurs organization and with Tim Duncan helping you out is about as close to hitting the lottery as any player can get.
Now it’s up to Lawson to make the most of it and show the Spurs that he’s worth their time and investment.
In other NBA news today, former KU guard and one-time Sacramento Kings lottery pick Ben McLemore has agreed to a partially guaranteed, two-year contract with the Houston Rockets, per The Athletic NBA writer Shams Charania.
Talk about Christmas in July for McLemore. To go from unemployed and wondering where your next gig might take you to suddenly joining James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston. That's a much, much better scenario than anything the former KU star has experienced in his brief NBA career, even if the money and playing time aren't quite as high as the others.
McLemore still has a lot to offer any team, both in terms of shooting and scoring and as an athlete. This fit — from the way the Rockets play on both offense and defense to what his role might be — seems to be about as good as McLemore could've found in today's NBA.
Former Kansas point guard Frank Mason has found a new NBA home.
A little more than two weeks after being waived by Sacramento, the team that drafted him with the No. 34 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Mason agreed to a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a weekend report from Shams Charania, NBA writer for The Athletic.
Mason later confirmed the news on Twitter, saying, “Proud to be a part of a championship caliber organization. Ready to get to work #Bucks #FearTheDeer”
The deal pairs Mason with reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and, according to those who cover the Bucks, could wind up being a great opportunity for Mason to further establish his NBA career.
As luck would have it, Mason will find at least one familiar face when he arrives in Milwaukee.
“Mason proves to be a nice pickup for the Bucks, especially since they’re only carrying two point guards on their roster at this point between Eric Bledsoe and Mason’s former Kings teammate, George Hill,” wrote BehindTheBuckPass.com.
It’s worth remembering that the deal is officially a two-way contract, which means Mason will spend the bulk of his time this season with the Bucks’ G League affiliate the Wisconsin Herd.
According to the G League website, players on two-way contracts spend most of their season in the G League and their time on NBA rosters is capped at 45 days. The trend, which has been prominent in the National Hockey League for years, was new to the NBA for the 2017-18 season.
It also comes with salary incentives. During the 2017-18 season, players earned $75,000 per season for their time in the G League but could earn up to $204,000 more if they reached the maximum number of 45 days on an NBA roster.
During his first two NBA seasons with Sacramento, Mason averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game over 90 career appearances.
As the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas draws to a close, it’s time for one final look at how a few former Jayhawks fared.
For the past two weeks, nearly a dozen players who once suited up for Bill Self tried to put their best feet forward to catch the eye of NBA teams in time to earn a spot on one of the league’s 30 rosters heading into the 2019-20 season.
Some of them, like Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham and Detroit’s Svi Mykhailiuk were basically locks to be on an opening-night roster because of their contract situations and performance during their rookie seasons.
Others, like recent KU forward Dedric Lawson (Golden State) and past Kansas greats Thomas Robinson (San Antonio), Malik Newman (Cleveland), Frank Mason III (Sacramento) and Jeff Withey (Washington) were fighting for their NBA lives.
And while putting up points and flashing confidence are key elements of making a roster, there’s much more to these Summer League auditions than scoring.
In a recent interview with Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin, Robinson explained as much while talking about his lottery past and hopes for his future.
“I’m not 30, man,” Robinson told Highkin. “I’m only 28. I’m not no old, retired player. I can still play. I can jump just as high as these young guys. I can run just as fast. I can play with anybody. I'm just trying to get back and show teams that I'm ready to return.”
Doing that, after two years overseas, is about much more than displaying the physical dominance that made Robinson and All-American at Kansas and a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
It takes savvy and smarts, too. In fact, that might be the most important part for Robinson, who told Highkin that one NBA GM recently told him that his lack of basketball IQ would keep him from enjoying a long and lucrative career at basketball’s highest level.
While Robinson admitted that was hard to hear, he also took it to heart.
“Over the course of the last two years, I really locked in on watching certain players,” Robinson told Highkin. “I changed my game from watching Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron (James) to paying attention to Draymond (Green) and Montrezl Harrell, and how they’re finding success in the league. That’s helped make the game so much easier for me.”
While some of that showed up this summer, when Robinson averaged eight points and seven rebounds per game on 57% shooting in helping the Spurs finish 2-3 in Las Vegas, the exact benefits of that approach remain uncertain.
If enough teams saw it and believe that the more cerebral Robinson is what they’ll be getting, that might be enough for them to offer a roster spot. If not, there’s still plenty of money to be made and work to be done overseas for the former Jayhawk.
Here’s a quick look at a few recent highlights and big games from the other Jayhawks who played in Vegas this month.
Malik Newman, Cleveland Cavaliers
Much in the way he did during his lone season at Kansas, Newman went out with a bang with the Cavs’ Summer League squad.
In 31 minutes of a two-point win over Sacramento on Friday night, Newman scored 33 points on 11-of-17 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range with four rebounds and two steals.
Frank Mason III, who was waived by Sacramento on July 4 but retained a roster spot on the Kings’ Summer League team, not only did not play in that game but also did not even appear in the box score as a “DNP,” signaling that the search for his new NBA squad had fully begun.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Detroit Pistons
If you’re on Twitter, you likely saw Mykhailiuk’s cross-over, step-back 3-pointer that made his defender fall down and reminded Kansas fans of just how talented the Ukrainian guard was at KU for four seasons.
While that highlight certainly made the rounds, it was one of just a couple for Mykhailiuk in his final Summer League game with his new squad. In 31 minutes of the Pistons’ 20-point loss to Brooklyn, the second-year pro scored six points on 2-of-12 shooting, with four rebounds, three assists and three turnovers.
In three games last week, Mykhailiuk shot 7 for 25 from the floor and scored 22 points.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
The second-year pro and former KU All-American played in one of three games for the Hornets last week, a clear sign that the franchise has seen enough from its former second-round draft pick to know what they’ve got heading into the 2019-20 season.
In that game, a 75-72 loss to Chicago, Graham scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds and dished seven assists in 29 minutes.
If his career continues to progress at the rate it’s going, that outing could go down as Graham’s last in the Vegas Summer League.
Landen Lucas, Atlanta Hawks
Landen Lucas’s time in the NBA’s Summer League could be winding down, as well. The former KU big man played just one minute in a Hawks win over the Spurs last week and three minutes in a 20-point win over the Pacers a couple of days earlier.
Jeff Withey, Washington Wizards
Withey, who also was included in the recent Bleacher Report article featuring former KU teammate Thomas Robinson, played in just one of four games for the Wizards last week, netting four points, one rebound and two blocks in 13 minutes in his lone appearance.
Withey’s professional future is likely overseas, where he played the 2018-19 season.
“Even if nothing comes about (from 2019 Summer League), I played in the NBA for five years and I got my pension, so I'm good,” said Withey in the Bleacher Report story.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant may have not wanted any part of playing for the New York Knicks. But, believe it or not, there are players out there who are interested in doing just that.
And one of them is a former Kansas Jayhawk.
A few days after agreeing to a two-year, $20 million free agent contract with the San Antonio Spurs, reports surfaced that forward Marcus Morris may have changed his mind and was interested in heading to the Big Apple.
A New York Post report cites sources as saying the Knicks were wildly impressed with Morris’ 2018-19 season with the Boston Celtics, which included averages of 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game to go along with 37.5% shooting from 3-point range.
All three numbers are higher than Morris’ career averages of 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 36% 3-point shooting, and even Morris’ free throw percentage with the Celtics (84.4%) was significantly better than his career mark of 74.7%.
Morris, who will be 30 at the start of the 2019-20 NBA season, is entering his ninth year in the league and has played for four different teams during that time.
According to the Post’s report, the Knicks have offered Morris a one-year deal worth $14.8 million, which not only may be enticing for the per-year salary but also for chance for Morris and his agent, Rich Paul, to get into the New York market.
Morris’ change of heart, however, has ruffled a few feathers in the NBA, with the report making note of the fact that many agents have quietly voiced their displeasure about Morris’ move, both because of what it does to the Spurs today and what it could mean for the future of free agency in the league.
Beyond that, Morris also is putting himself at risk for future negotiations once he becomes a free agent again, which could be as soon as 2020 if he joins the Knicks.
It remains to be seen how it all plays out, but a Thursday report from Ian Begley, of SNY.tv, indicated that the Knicks now believe that obtaining Morris is “a likely scenario.”
Add this to the list of interesting moments regarding the Morris twins. There’s never a dull moment with those two.
Speaking of Morris’ twin, earlier this summer Markieff Morris agreed to a free agent deal with the Detroit Pistons, his fourth team in nine years.
Two years ago, Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was on top of the basketball world, sitting as the reigning college player of the year and just a couple of weeks removed from being drafted into the NBA with the No. 34 overall pick by the Sacramento Kings.
Today, Mason, who has been dealing with a nagging right hip injury, is fighting to find his footing with the Kings’ summer league squad and is in search of a new NBA team to play for during the 2019-20 season after recently being waived by the team that drafted him.
Mason has not appeared in any of the Kings' three Summer League games thus far. Sacramento will look to improve to 3-1 in the Las Vegas league with a 9 p.m. clash with the Clippers tonight.
While big time college hoops fans and Kansas fans who have followed Mason’s career closely — in Lawrence and beyond — are probably not surprised by Mason's current situation, the more casual basketball fan may be a little confused.
How is it that one year a guy can be named the best player in all of college basketball and two years later that same guy can find himself battling to be a role player at the next level?
It’s actually much more common than the college honor might suggest and, in many ways, mirrors the trials and tribulations of many college football Heisman Trophy winners.
Several Heisman winners have gone on to have less-than-stellar pro careers, and that certainly also has been the case with a handful of college basketball’s best over the years, as well.
It’s different, of course, in that nearly half of all Heisman Trophy winners — 34 of 83 — have been quarterbacks, many of whom were drafted to be franchise-saving players, while college basketball’s players of the year have come from all positions and often been drafted onto teams that already had solid and established players at the position.
But you’d still think that if a player was good enough to be the cream of the crop in college basketball — as Mason so clearly was during his senior season at Kansas — he would be able to not only stick with an NBA team but carve out a pretty nice pro career, as well.
Maybe Mason still will. I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. But things are tough these days, with pro prospects getting younger every year and NBA teams constantly searching for ways to upgrade their rosters with youth and talent.
Through two seasons with Sacramento, Mason holds career averages of 6.8 points, 2.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game over 90 career appearances.
So where does that leave Mason in comparison to the other Naismith Award winners during the Bill Self era at Kansas?
Because he’s still so young and still has time to build his career, Mason seems to be in a better shape today than a lot of these guys.
The biggest difference? All but three of the 16 Naismith winners since Self arrived at Kansas went on to become lottery picks in the NBA Draft. Only Mason, Jalen Brunson and Jameer Nelson were picked outside of the lottery.
So in that regard, when weighing expectations versus production, Mason is ahead of the game and may only be able to help himself from this point on.
Here’s a quick look at the pro careers — some finished and others ongoing — of the 15 other Naismith Award winners since 2003-04:
• 2018-19 – Zion Williamson, Duke
The reigning Naismith Award winner and No. 1 pick in last month’s draft, Williamson has all eyes on him along with the potential to be a franchise-changing player.
Heisman comp: Kyler Murray
• 2017-18 – Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Played in 73 games for the Dallas Mavericks during his rookie season, starting 38 and finishing the season with per-game averages of 9.3 points, 3.2 assists and 22 minutes. Brunson was drafted by Dallas with the No. 33 overall pick.
Heisman comp: Marcus Mariota
• 2015-16 – Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
During his first three seasons in the league, the former Oklahoma star has appeared in 244 games and made 149 starts with two franchises, Sacramento and New Orleans. Hield owns NBA averages of 14 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game while playing 27 minutes per night. Hield was a lottery pick of New Orleans in the 2016 NBA Draft, picked No. 6 overall.
Heisman comp: Jameis Winston
• 2014-15 – Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Although he played in 81 games as a rookie, Kaminsky’s first four seasons have been full of inconsistency. Drafted with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Kaminsky has made 23 starts in 282 career games with Charlotte, holding a career scoring average of 9.8 points in 22 minutes per game.
Heisman comp: Sam Bradford
• 2013-14 – Doug McDermott, Creighton
Another former lottery pick (No. 11 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft), McDermott has played for five teams in his five pro seasons and owns career averages of 7.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 341 career games, 14 of them starts.
Heisman comp: Desmond Howard
• 2012-13 – Trey Burke, Michigan
Drafted with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Burke has played in 361 career games with four different franchises and owns career marks of 10.9 points and 3.6 assists in 24 minutes per game.
Heisman comp: Derrick Henry
• 2011-12 – Anthony Davis, Kentucky
One of two bona fide NBA superstars on this list, the newest Los Angeles Laker who has been a fixture on all-defensive teams and at the NBA All-Star Game owns career averages of 24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks per game while playing 35 minutes a night. Davis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: O.J. Simpson
• 2010-11 – Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Drafted in the lottery with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Jimmer played in 235 games during his first five NBA seasons (including just six during the 2015-16 season) before heading overseas for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Back in the NBA a season ago, Fredette played in just six games for Phoenix, bringing his career totals to 7 starts in 241 appearances while averaging 6 points per game on 41% shooting.
Heisman comp: Tim Tebow
• 2009-10 – Evan Turner, Ohio State
Solid but not spectacular, Turner has appeared in 686 games and made 295 starts during his NBA career, averaging 10 points and 5 rebound per game. Turner was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: Vinny Testaverde
• 2008-09 – Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
The next best pro on this list behind Davis and Kevin Durant, the former OU star has racked up career averages of 22 points, 9 rebounds and 4.5 assists while starting all 604 games of his NBA career with the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons.
Heisman comp: Bo Jackson
• 2007-08 – Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
Drafted No. 13 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, the former North Carolina star started double-digit games just once in his seven-year NBA career (29 in 2010-11) and has not played in the NBA since the 2015-16 season. He finished with averages of 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17 minutes a game.
Heisman comp: Robert Griffin III
• 2006-07 – Kevin Durant, Texas
One of the baddest dudes on the planet, Durant has started all 849 games in which he has played and owns career averages of 27 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game with Seattle/Oklahoma City and Golden State. He also has two world championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards and just signed a monster deal with Brooklyn despite injuring his Achille’s tendon during this year’s playoffs. Durant famously was drafted No. 2 overall — behind Greg Oden — in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: Barry Sanders
• 2005-06 – J.J. Redick, Duke
Still going strong after 836 games in 13 NBA seasons, Redick owns career averages of 13 points per game on 41% shooting from 3-point range while playing with four different franchises and recently signing to play for a fifth in Year 14. The former Duke sharp-shooter was drafted as the No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: Tim Brown
• 2004-05 – Andrew Bogut, Utah
Although his contributions in the NBA have slowed to a crawl during the past three seasons, Bogut’s still out there and has racked up 661 career starts in 706 games while averaging 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists in 28 minutes per game. Like Davis in 2012, Bogut was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: Carson Palmer
• 2003-04 – Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph’s
The 2018-19 season was Nelson’s first out of the league and it followed a 14-year career that saw him record 639 starts in 878 games. During that time, the tough-as-nails point guard who stood 6-foot, 190 pounds (Mason is listed at 5-11, 190) averaged 11 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists in 28 minutes per night. Nelson was the No. 20 pick in the the 2004 NBA Draft.
Heisman comp: Mark Ingram
Parting thought: If you’re confused about why I included the “Heisman comp” for each player, join the club. But, hey, it’s July and it seemed like a fun thing to do. Beyond that, I really do think the pro success of Heisman winners and college basketball's MVPs is eerily similar.
Former Kansas Jayhawk Svi Mykhailiuk is at it again out in Las Vegas.
After shining with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Summer League squad in 2018, Mykhailiuk found a similar groove with his new team, the Detroit Pistons, over the weekend.
Showing steady feel and rising confidence, Mykhailiuk proved to be one of the Pistons’ main offensive weapons over the weekend.
In the opener, a 96-80 exhibition-type victory over Croatia, Mykhailiuk tallied 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting and also dished five assists while playing as one of Detroit’s primary ball handlers, able, asked and willing to turn the corner and make plays for others. He hit 2 of 6 from 3-point range and also was hit with six turnovers.
In Game 2, a 93-73 Detroit win over Portland, the man who hit the biggest shot of KU’s Elite Eight win over Duke back in 2018 made his second straight start, scoring 18 points and dishing four assists in six fewer minutes. He hit 4 of 10 from 3-point range in that game and trimmed his turnovers down to two.
“Offensively, he’s done a really good job of making decisions, making good plays,” Pistons assistant coach Sean Sweeney told The Detroit Free Press. “Defensively, I’ve been pretty pleased with his ball pressure. He’s getting down in his stance and competing.”
That first part could be the most crucial, given the potential the coaching staff sees for Mykhailiuk with the Pistons.
Back in March, shortly after landing with the franchise via trade, Detroit News beat writer Rod Beard Tweeted that Pistons coach Dwayne Casey said Mykhailiuk’s future fit with the franchise could come at point guard.
Asked recently by the Free Press what worked last summer and what he planned to do this summer, Mykhailiuk said simply, “I was just playing. It just happened to be good games. Just work hard and don't think about what you’re doing on the court. Just play.”
Svi and the Pistons will look to move to 3-0 at 4 p.m. Monday against Indiana.
Here’s a quick look back at how a few other former Jayhawks fared in Summer League action over the weekend.
• In a battle of former teammates, Devonte’ Graham’s Charlotte Hornets topped Dedric Lawson and the Golden State Warriors, 93-85, in the Summer League opener for both clubs. Graham, who started and played 27 minutes, finished with 21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Lawson, in 10 minutes, matched Graham’s steal total and finished with 2 points and 3 rebounds.
Graham followed up his solid debut with a rough 3-of-13 performance in a loss to San Antonio on Sunday for eight points in 26 minutes. Lawson, meanwhile, grabbed two more steals and scored five points in 15 minutes during Golden State’s bounce-back win over Toronto.
• Frank Mason III, who recently was waived by Sacramento but retained on the Kings’ Summer League roster to allow him to audition for other teams, did not play in the Kings’ Vegas opener.
• After a strong showing of shot making last week in Salt Lake City, shooting guard Malik Newman did not play in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Vegas opener and then started during Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bulls. In 23 minutes, Newman finished with five points, three rebounds and three assists and hit two of nine shots from the floor.
• Attempting to find a spot on an NBA roster after two stints overseas, Thomas Robinson’s run in Vegas is off to a slow start. After putting up better numbers in big minutes last week in Salt Lake City, Robinson scored two points in nine minutes in the Spurs’ opener and did not play in Sunday’s win over Graham’s Hornets.
• Cliff Alexander, who’s also trying to find his way back into the league, scored 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 shooting at the free throw line for the Los Angeles Clippers in a win over the Lakers. LeBron and Anthony Davis versus Kawhi and Paul George it was not, but Alexander added four rebounds in 15 minutes in the Clippers’ Summer League opener.
• Former KU center Jeff Withey started for the Washington Wizards in their Summer League opener, playing 12 minutes and recording three points and a block in a win over New Orleans. Rookie and reigning No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson did not play in the game.
• Former KU big man Landen Lucas did not play in the Atlanta Hawks opener and added one point and three rebounds in eight minutes off the bench in a 24-point Atlanta loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
• Lagerald Vick (Houston) and Andrew White III (New York Knicks) did not appear in the box scores of those teams last weekend. And former Jayhawk and Kansas native Conner Frankamp, who finished his career at Wichita State, received a pair of DNPs (Did Not Play) with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the NBA’s Summer League now under way, it’s time to take a look at the handful of former Kansas Jayhawks competing for various NBA teams this month.
The list includes several well-known names from KU’s recent past and features players in a variety of positions with the teams they’re playing with, from players who already have guaranteed contracts to those who are simply trying to make their break.
While full of dozens of players — recently drafted and otherwise — trying to catch the eye of that one coach or scout who might see enough value in you to go to bat for you with the guys at the top, Summer League is a terrific place to make a name for yourself. But playing well in Summer League does not guarantee much.
Last summer, Svi Mykhailiuk was an absolute assassin during Summer League action, finishing as one of the top five players in the league and lighting up the highlight shows with point explosions and athletic plays.
And while that helped him make a name for himself, it didn’t do much to earn him playing time once the 2018-19 regular season rolled around.
In 39 games with the Los Angeles Lakers — the team that drafted him — Mykhailiuk averaged 10.8 minutes per game before being traded to Detroit, where he appeared in just three games with the Pistons and spent the rest of the season playing with Detroit’s G League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich.
So take that as a precursor to what’s ahead. Yes, Summer League games have started in Salt Lake City and Sacramento, but the Vegas event (July 5-15) features all 30 NBA teams and has long been known as the main attraction, with media coverage and fan interest growing by the year.
Here’s a quick look at the former Jayhawks expected to be playing in Las Vegas starting Friday, with many of them needing good showings to keep their NBA careers alive.
• Dedric Lawson – Golden State Warriors
KU’s most recent All-American is in such an interesting position with the Warriors. As a team loaded with superstars and monster salaries, Golden State will be looking for players who can contribute reliable minutes on cheap contracts. Lawson could fit that description perfectly, but he’ll need to prove it in Summer League games before the Warriors commit to him. After Lawson went undrafted in last month’s draft, KU coach Bill Self said he liked the fit with Golden State because Lawson knows how to play with good players. If he can show a willingness to do things that many other players at the NBA level don’t like to do — pass, rebound and defer — he could find himself in a decent spot heading into the rest of the NBA’s offseason.
• Devonte’ Graham – Charlotte Hornets
Graham is arguably the one player on this list who is sitting in the best shape with his current NBA team. After a strong rookie season that featured him dominating G League games and contributing when called up to play with the Hornets, Graham will be looking to step into a bigger role with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker now headed to Boston. G League competition and Summer League games aren’t exactly the same thing, but Graham should have the confidence to deliver good numbers and further prove he belongs while running the show for the Hornets this month.
• Svi Mykhailiuk – Detroit Pistons
After being traded to Detroit by the Lakers (who drafted him) and then suffering a hand injury that shut him down for the end of the 2018-19 season, Mykhailiuk is facing his first true opportunity to show the Pistons what they got in trading for him. Remember, this is a young, versatile player who Magic Johnson fell in love with last year (and who the current crop of Lakers would probably love to still have), who can shoot it, create off the dribble and play just about any style. There has long been some intrigue about Mykhailiuk’s ability to fill the play maker role — like he often did with the Ukrainian national team — and the Pistons may be looking at that this summer as much as anything. Beyond that, though, Svi is a knock-down shooter and if his shot is on in the next couple of weeks, the outlook for his first full season in Detroit could include some excitement.
• Frank Mason III – Sacramento Kings
Mason said last month after his debut performance at the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic that his first two NBA seasons had not gone like he wanted and that he also hoped to be back with Sacramento for Year 3. On Thursday, the Kings announced that they had waived Mason but would keep him on their summer league roster. Those moves give him an opportunity to keep playing while essentially auditioning for a spot on another roster. Mason is absolutely the same kind of player Kansas fans grew to love, gritty, tough, determined and unafraid of having to overcome obstacles to get where he wants to go. His game has improved a ton since leaving KU, but he’s still trying to prove that a consistent role in an NBA rotation is something worth giving him. KU fans learned a long time ago that it’s never a good idea to bet against Mason, so there’s no need to start now.
• Lagerald Vick – Houston Rockets?
A week or so ago, it was reported that Vick would join the Houston Rockets’ Summer League squad out in Vegas. But when the franchise released its official roster for the next couple of weeks earlier this week, Vick’s name was not on it. It’s possible he still could be added. And even if he’s not, Vick could still work out a deal to play for someone else. But this is not exactly the way anyone wants to start a make-or-break summer session. Vick worked out with Charlotte, Oklahoma City, New York, Chicago and Washington. So if not Houston, maybe one of those teams will pick him up.
• Thomas Robinson – San Antonio Spurs
In an attempt to revitalize his NBA career after a couple of stints overseas, Thomas Robinson has jumped out to a great start with the Spurs. In San Antonio’s first couple of Summer League games in Salt Lake City, Robinson flashed an ability to score, rebound and work while helping lead the Spurs to a couple of victories. Beyond that, he is fulling embracing everything that a chance with San Antonio can provide, including being in absolute awe over Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon when he first saw her at a team workout. A former lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings, Robinson has the ability and experience to make a comeback in the NBA. For him at this point in his career, it’s all about fit. And the next couple of weeks will go a long way toward showing the Spurs whether Robinson fits what they’re looking for.
• Malik Newman – Cleveland Cavaliers
Another former Jayhawk star who has dabbled in the G League and hung since leaving KU, Newman brings an elite skill to the floor every time he suits up — his ability to shoot the ball. If he’s hot this summer, that could go a long way toward helping him catch the eye of the Cavs or some other NBA team looking for more shooting. Newman can flat out shoot the ball and, so far, he has shown an improved ability to get his own shot off the dribble. If that continues, his maturity and mindset, along with his shooting, might be worth taking a chance on.
• Landen Lucas – Atlanta Hawks
Lucas is a perfect Summer League player for any roster because he knows how to play the game, executes whatever is asked and has the size and experience needed to compete with other big men, even those with more size and better skills. While that could keep him employed by an NBA club for the next few summers, it’s probably not going to lead to a full-time roster spot. Lucas has plenty of other things going on in his life, however, to keep him from stressing too much about his chances in the NBA. In addition to playing opportunities overseas and in Japan along with his never-ending work with his Landen Lucas Foundation, which helps create athletic opportunities for young people in Lawrence and Portland, Lucas has dipped his toe into the insurance business with Seeker, a company that aims to provide realistic and reliable quotes from companies throughout the country. Lucas is as smart as they come and knows how to handle his business. Getting a crack with another Summer League squad is likely pure gravy and yet another opportunity to test himself at the highest level while he’s still young.
• Cliff Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers
Although he never made much of a name for himself with the Jayhawks, the former Top 10 prospect out of Chicago has been able to find a little footing in the NBA and G League. And he’s still young enough and intriguing enough to keep taking a look at during settings such as Summer League. Alexander’s size and ability to dominate on the glass and around the rim could catch an eye, but he’s going to have to be more consistent than ever before and show a little versatility to really make a name for himself.
• Jeff Withey – Washington Wizards
After a couple of years in the NBA — including a prominent role on the floor for the Utah Jazz the night Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game — Withey has spent the past couple of seasons playing overseas. But there’s little doubt that his size, timing and shot-blocking ability put him in position to at least be noticed. With the NBA transitioning more and more away from traditional big men, Withey could be a victim of the times. But he’s still young and he’s still getting looks. What he does with them is up to him.
• Andrew White III – New York Knicks
It’s easy to forget White because he went to both Nebraska and Syracuse since starting his career at Kansas. But his blend of size and smarts along with a reliable and dangerous jump shot could make White a player to watch this summer. White, in two seasons in the G League, owns a career points-per-game average of 14.1. He also played 15 games for the Atlanta Hawks during the 2017-18 NBA season.
• Conner Frankamp – Los Angeles Lakers
Another KU player who transferred out, the Wichita native and Wichita State alum is getting his shot with the severely undermanned Lakers this summer. No, LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma won’t be playing. But some of their future teammates might. And they will be watching. The Lakers, like Golden State, are facing a salary situation that will have them looking for quality players who can contribute on the cheap. Frankamp, who also has a high basketball IQ, is a born shooter and it’s easy to see how he could catch a team’s eye if he shoots it well this summer. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably have to go overseas to make his money.
A couple of former Jayhawks were on the move Wednesday afternoon, with one-time lottery picks Josh Jackson and Markieff Morris switching teams.
Jackson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, was traded by Phoenix to Memphis, making the 6-foot-8 wing the latest Jayhawk to join the Grizzlies’ roster.
According to a report from The Athletic, Morris, who, along with his twin brother Marcus, was selected in the lottery of the 2011 NBA Draft — with back-to-back picks, no less — agreed to a contract with the Detroit Pistons, where he will join fellow former Jayhawk Svi Mykhailiuk on the new-look Pistons roster.
Still just 29 years old, Morris played for both the Washington Wizards and Oklahoma City last season, averaging 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 58 games.
The Pistons become the fourth team for Morris, who is entering his ninth season in the league and owns career averages of 11.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 579 contests.
Until last season, Morris had averaged in double figures for eight consecutive seasons, showing improved range from 3-point land in each of the past three seasons.
Like Morris, who was drafted by Phoenix, Jackson will be looking to kickstart his career — and for a fresh start — outside of Arizona.
According to a report from ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, Jackson, along with DeAnthony Melton and a pair of second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, was traded to Memphis for Kyle Korver and Jevon Carter.
In 156 games with the Suns during the past two seasons, Jackson started 64 games and averaged 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while shooting just 45.5% from the floor and 29% from 3-point range.
Jackson’s time with Phoenix also included a couple of off-the-court incidents and the Suns are now moving on while Jackson prepares to team with 2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant and former Michigan State standout Jaren Jackson Jr. in Memphis.
If you follow the NBA at all, whether for the superstars and sensational storylines or the former Jayhawks scattered throughout the league, you surely know by now that some pretty big things went down on Sunday evening.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. Kemba Walker to Boston. Al Horford to Philadelphia. D’Angelo Russell to Golden State. Jimmy Butler to Miami. And a dozen or so more free agent commitments that figure to reshape the immediate future of the NBA as we know it.
While all of those names and moves made headlines because of their star power and potential impact on the 2020 NBA title, one of them had an impact on a former Jayhawk that should be pretty significant by the time the 2019-20 season rolls around.
Walker’s departure from Charlotte opens the door for former KU All-American Devonte’ Graham to step into a much bigger role with the Hornets during his second season in the league.
Graham, you probably recall, spent most of his rookie season bouncing back and forth between Charlotte and the Hornets’ G League affiliate, playing solid but spotty minutes with the big club while absolutely crushing the competition at the G League level every time he went down.
That experience surely helped Graham (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) develop his pro game and also likely boosted his confidence. It’s one thing to drop 30-point-game after 30-point-game in college. It’s something completely different to do that — and more — against professionals.
Graham’s path to big time minutes is not completely clear, however. In response to losing Walker to free agency, the Hornets signed former Boston point guard Terry Rozier to a 3-year, $58 million deal, presumably with the idea of handing Rozier the keys to the Charlotte offense for the 2019-20 season.
Interesting move to be sure. And one that Graham could both benefit from and be hindered by in the months ahead.
Rozier, you might not know, is a fourth-year NBA vet out of Louisville (2015 Draft, No. 16 overall pick) who, like Graham thus far, spent the early days of his professional career bouncing back and forth between the NBA and the G League with Boston.
Last season, as the primary backup to Irving with the Celtics, Rozier (6-1, 190) averaged 9 points, 2.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per game while making just over $3 million for the 2018-19 season.
Those numbers are noteworthy because they’re not all that different from what Graham gave the Hornets if you factor in the money.
Graham, who last season made $988,000 during the first of a three-year, $4 million contract with Charlotte, averaged 4.7 points, 2.6 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game over 46 games.
So here’s where the Hornets sit. Instead of handing the job to Graham after what amounts to less than half a season in the NBA, they went out and paid major money to a guy with more experience.
Right move? Wrong move?
It’s hard to know. And it’s hard to blame them for doing something other than just giving the job to Graham. There’s no doubt that the former Jayhawk has what it takes to play at that level. But to do it as the primary point guard for 82 games with half a season of experience is a big jump for any rookie to make.
At $1.4 million this year, Graham certainly seems like the better value option for the Hornets. But they had to sign someone to handle the job with him.
Maybe they overpaid for Rozier. Maybe Rozier’s a star in the making. Maybe Graham will win the job — eventually — and make Rozier’s monster contract even more of a head-scratcher than it already is.
But that’s too many maybes for an NBA team that’s trying to compete and build itself into a contender.
So don’t look at the Rozier signing as a slight to Graham. Look at Walker’s decision to move on as the break Graham needed.
His minutes should go up this season. And he should have a real chance to crack the rotation on a regular basis. What he does from there is up to him.
But if Rozier’s career path — and its similarities to Graham’s — are any indication of what’s possible, Graham should be completely content with the position he’s in and hungrier than ever.
In two or three more years, that type of contract could be his.