Foye, Bargnani hoping good play doesn't stay in Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- Monday's four games on the UNLV campus take us just past the halfway point in the Vegas Summer League.
So it's a good time to take stock, then, of what has registered with the Stein Line from a 16-team league with four or five games daily:
My maiden Rookie of the Year nominee: Randy Foye
The Timberwolves are always looking for scorers to put around their unselfish franchise player. Summer league ain't the real thing, of course, but I feel pretty safe after my first few looks at Foye to state that they've found one in the draft to assist Kevin Garnett.
He's going to put up points in the big league someday, perhaps as soon as November. I can see why the draftniks have made the Chauncey Billups comparison; Foye is relentless, explosive, strong and already has a veteran's floater in the lane.
One Western Conference executive told me Foye is a "can't-miss scorer" at the NBA level, which is probably one of the nicest things anyone has said about the Wolves for months. You have to believe, given how much Minnesota is featuring him here and with Rashad McCants sidelined long-term, that Foye will get the minutes to make an immediate ROY push.
I'd like to tell you more about Foye's jumper, but he hasn't really needed it. No one in Vegas can keep him out of the lane.
My favorite marquee name: Amare Stoudemire
It's not easy to bypass one of our favorite interview subjects. Ron Artest normally would have been a lock here ... even though he's played in only one of Sacramento's first three games.
But it's no stretch to say that Amare is an even bigger curiosity than the sight of Artest on the Kings' summer-league team. It was a bold step for Stoudemire to take his rehab public when he's still a step (or three) slow, thereby opening himself up -- as well as the Suns -- to more doomsday forecasts about his future after two knee surgeries in a matter of months.
Focus, if you wish, on the undeniable caution in Stoudemire's game so far, or the lack of spring in his second jump, or the low rebound numbers so far. That's all indisputable.
I simply prefer to note the unquestioned improvements he's made as a shooter, ball-handler and passer while out injured. Now, granted, Amare probably wouldn't be looking to dish as much if he were closer to 100 percent. Yet I'd still say he looks quite good, given training camp is still some 12 weeks away and since he appeared even more spry in the second game of a back-to-back set than he did in his debut.
He looks especially good if you watched that nightmare New Jersey game in March and remember how hauntingly labored his movement was back then.
My choice import: Andrea Bargnani
The stuff about Bargnani's quick first step was in everybody's scouting report. But he's flashing it here against a level of defensive quickness that, even though it's only summer league, is more accelerated than anything he's ever faced.
I repeat what I wrote after Bargnani's debut: It's dangerous to get too excited or discouraged about anything that happens in the summer-league environment. Yet it's nonetheless promising for the Raptors to see so much immediate aggression from Bargnani, who has been attacking the rim and firing away without hesitation and generally making it clear than he's going to try to play his game in the NBA.
I'd still brace for a fairly rocky rookie season in Toronto, because it's a major leap even from Italy to the NBA. Moving his feet defensively, furthermore, looks like it's going to be an issue for a while, given that Bargnani was whistled for 10 personal fouls -- yes, 10, the Vegas league's limit -- in Sunday's loss to the Artest-less Kings. But it's nonetheless been a hopeful start for the 7-footer.
My shooting star: Steve Novak
Good size. Quick release. Underrated off the dribble and on the move.
In this setting, Novak has encountered no trouble getting his shot off and draining 3 after 3.
Casey Jacobsen is another perimeter standout so far, which could land him a full-time return to the NBA with Denver or another team. Rockets free agent Pat Carroll, meanwhile, is a left-hander who's been just as hot as Novak.
Yet that should tell you that there's something special about the Marquette man ... when the Line vote doesn't go to the lefty.
The problem, of course, will be guarding people. If Novak can't check small forwards or power forwards in the NBA -- and it's unclear if he can handle either -- he won't be on the floor to make shots. So it's a little early to say Houston got a certain steal at No. 32.
But I'm getting there faster than anticipated, because every team in today's NBA craves a big forward who can stretch the floor with Novak-type range.
My top underdog: John Lucas III
Top underdog is underselling it, actually.
Lucas, at 5-foot-11, has been the best point guard in Vegas.
He made it into 13 games with the Rockets last season as a January signee, but what he's doing now virtually guarantees that the son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas will be somebody's third point guard next season.
He's an unusually deadly shooter at the point (and at his size) and has clearly learned how to run a team. It's been a pleasure to watch him operate, which is what I hoped I'd be saying about New York's Nate Robinson.
Trouble is, Robinson has seemed more interested in showboating than quarterbacking. Larry Brown's departure might have Robinson feeling too loose and liberated.
My best Knicks story: Renaldo Balkman
I know, I know. You've heard the one about how the Knicks thought they were getting Rolando Blackman at No. 20, not Balkman.
Rolando's not laughing any more than Renaldo.
Turns out Blackman, who's coaching the Dallas Mavericks' summer-league entry, has been a Balkman fan ever since watching him help South Carolina to the first of consecutive NIT titles in 2005. The former Knick predicts Balkman's energy, defense and willingness to scrap will earn him minutes as a rookie, even though the 21-year-old has made a rather quiet start to his Knicks career, apart from one impressive baseline drive and dunk against Cleveland.
"People have called me Renaldo Balkman over the years," Blackman said, insisting that they both have easy names to mangle.
My young vet (on the) move: Kevin Martin
Martin is one of the more experienced names present, after an upbeat sophomore season with the Kings, and has quickly emerged as the Vegas version of Dwyane Wade. He earned 24 trips to the free-throw line Sunday and sank 20 of them in the Kings' 86-79 win over Toronto.
Martin's success in this setting won't surprise anyone who watched him trouble San Antonio occasionally in the first-round of the playoffs, but new Kings coach Eric Musselman is especially pleased.
Musselman told Martin that his No. 1 summer-league project is using his athleticism to get to the rim and learning how to draw fouls more frequently.
Imagine how surprisingly good Sacramento will be if Artest follows instructions this closely.
My Kodak moments: Two submissions while we're still waiting for a Gerald Green-style, YouTube-worthy dunk
1. The sight of two trash-talkers with Pittsburgh ties -- Mavs owner Mark Cuban and former Duquesne guard Mike James -- animatedly engaging in free-agent contract talks in the top corner of UNLV's Cox Pavilion ... and then seeing James relocate to the opposite baseline to corner Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale for a similar meeting.
2. ESPN.com's Paul Shirley guarding Stoudemire for several possessions in a Wolves-Suns game Friday. Not the usual duty for one of our columnists.
From summer-league returnees as touted as these two, against competition like this, you expect domination ... or something close.
You definitely don't expect eight turnovers and 4-for-15 shooting from Livingston in the Clippers' loss Saturday to Golden State.
Nor do you expect Jefferson, after complying with his bosses' wishes and shedding some weight, to total just 19 points in his first two outings and give the impression that he's made no real progress in his game since his first summer league back in 2004.
My prayers go out to: Pape Sow
Regular readers of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings know that the committee (of one) can't resist frequent mentions of Sow, a project forward with the Raps and a fellow Cal State Fullerton alumnus.
But this is strictly a sad story, with Sow forced to undergo surgery to repair a fractured vertebrae after his neck struck a teammate's leg as he fell during a collision in practice before Toronto's summer opener in Vegas.
Sow could miss all of next season as a result and is said to be facing a comeback similar to new teammate T.J. Ford's.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.