During their recent stint in Vegas, the HQ had an opportunity to set up some time to chat with Raptors' Assistant Coach Eric Hughes, who led Toronto's Summer League squad to a 5-0 record in Sin City...
Summer League may be over but the ramifications of that team's play, and the development of the young prospects that anchored it will likely be felt well into the coming NBA season.
To that extent, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to talk with Eric Hughes, one of the Toronto Raptors' Assistant Coaches and the man responsible for guiding Toronto's Vegas crew to an undefeated record. We touched on all manner of subjects, from the development of DeMar DeRozan to Summer League itself, and I think the following interview sheds some valuable insight into several players who should be key members of the Raptors' future...
RaptorsHQ: Talk to us a little bit about the process of putting together a Summer League roster. Outside of the Raptors own picks and players, what sort of process do you guys go through?
Eric Hughes: Well, I'm not involved in that process per say, it's basically made up by our front office, Jim Kelly and Masai Ujiri kinda head up that team of assembling the Summer League team. And the one thing that's helped us and given us the ability to be good this summer is we have five roster players on our team with DeMar and Sonny and Joey Dorsey and Ed Davis and then Solomon Alabi. Five roster players on your Summer League team is pretty good and we also have a couple of guys who've played in the league, both of our point guards, Bobby Brown and Dee Brown have both played in the league, Bobby Brown has played for probably four or five years now and Dee Brown has been on a couple rosters so we technically have seven NBA guys on our team while most of the Summer League teams are made up of rookies and free agents so that puts us a step ahead of everyone on experience alone.
RHQ: So would you say that's a good portion of the reason you guys have been so successful in Vegas?
EH: Oh there's no question we've been successful because of that. As I said, the majority of teams are made up of their rookies like Ed and Solomon are for us, and then just a bunch of free agents; guys that played in Europe, guys that were in college last year that weren't drafted that are looking for teams...so yeah, we're very fortunate. It's definitely not the coaching that's the reason we're winning, it's the talent. (Laughs). And it makes it a lot easier when you have players like that.
RHQ: What about a player like Bobby Brown? Is this someone that you, or Jim, or Bryan and the front office have had an eye on for a while...or does it come it come down sometimes to these roster guys being favours to an agent etc?
EH: Well I think in Bobby's case, we don't have a third point guard on our team. We have Jarrett and Jose but we don't have a third point guard and I definitely think that's a roster spot we're trying to fill. And I don't know if it will be Bobby Brown, but I definitely think we want to bring in a more experienced guy to take a look at and a guy who's been around the league and Bobby falls into that category. So I think that's the specific reason they brought him and Dee (Brown) in to play on the team.
RHQ: So in terms of Marcus Banks then, will he be viewed as more of a 2 on this roster going forward or not even in the plans?
EH: Well yeah, and Marcus too although I don't know what we're planning on doing with Marcus. He is technically our third point guard now but you know he didn't play much for us last year so, maybe we move Marcus to a scoring guard role. But I know there's been talk of maybe trying to bring in another point guard to the team. Bobby is a veteran guy and who knows, maybe he'll be the guy.
RHQ: And was there any thought given to having Marcus play in Summer League?
EH: No, Marcus came out and practiced with us a bit but I don't think a guy who's now been in the league that long they'd ask to play with the team. So no, Marcus wasn't someone they talked about for Summer League.
RHQ: Ok, so give me some thoughts on the team. What has been successful and what are some of the strategies you've looked to instill with this particular group.
EH: Let me go back one part first, the other thing about Bobby Brown is that he's played some two-guard for us in Summer League as well so Bobby's very versatile, and maybe that's another reason we brought him in; he can play the point and he can play the 2 and with us missing a few roster spots that might be another reason we took a look at him.
As far as the way we want to play (in Vegas), DeMar and Sonny are the focus of the team. They're getting the majority of the touches, they are definitely the focus of the team. We want to get them the ball as much as we can, we're running most of our plays through them, and then I think as far as the priority list goes, we've tried to go to Ed Davis next. But there's no question DeMar and Sonny have the ball in their hands 90% of the time in Summer League and we want them to get the experience of being able to score when we need a basket. With the loss of Chris, we obviously have Andrea, who goes to the top of the pack in terms of probably being our best player on the team, so it's time for Sonny and DeMar to step up. You know DeMar, not having the best of rookie years, maybe not the year he thought he'd have, or we thought he'd have, it's time for DeMar to take that next step and Summer League gives you the opportunity to do that with great competition, with officials, with regulation games...it's a great experience for him.
RHQ: Let's talk a bit about DeMar. I was down in Vegas for a few games taking in the action and it seems like he's really worked on a few things this off-season; obviously he looks a bit bigger and stronger but his mid-range game, getting his body set on those jump shots, that's looked to be a great deal better too to me. Can you talk about his development?
EH: He's still not where I would like him to be nor where I think he can be, but your perception is of him is definitely right. He's definitely gotten better, his body's gotten stronger, he's put in some time here in the off-season and now it's time to go to work even more. He's got next (actually this) week off and then myself or Alvin Williams will pretty much spend every week with him for the rest of the summer. He'll have some time off here and there but again, it's time to develop even further and take his game to another level and do things like not run people over when he gets in the lane, have that pull-up jump-shot like you talked about, and also add some other shots to his game, not just getting the basket and getting lay-ups. He's gotta have that pull-up game, he's gotta develop a little floater in the lane, and hey, he's gotta develop his range too. He's still not very confident from the 3-point line, he still kicks his legs out when he's out in that area, and he doesn't have the confidence he needs to have. So with some more hard work and dedicating himself for the rest of the summer, he can take that next step next year.
RHQ: You mentioned a few things you'd like to see DeMar improve upon, what about skills like ball-handling, that was sort of a knock on him last year...
EH: ...yeah, ball handling is a big emphasis as well. Being able to handle the ball against pressure, being able to not defer, you know every time DeMar had the ball this past year he'd defer to Jose or he'd find Jarrett, and didn't have a lot of confidence handling the basketball. And again, with the departure of Chris it's time for everyone to step up and one way he can step up his game is by becoming a better ball handler and being able to break people down on his own, not just in the open court but in the half court as well.
RHQ: Switching gears a bit, what about Sonny? He's sort of had a little more of that swagger ha ha to begin with, what sort of things have you noticed about him and are maybe looking to see more of etc?
EH: You never have to worry about Sonny's swagger (laughs), he's always got that. But from where Sonny came when we first got him last year, to getting him in that trade with Amir, and really not knowing a lot about him, actually having to make the decision on the last day whether we were even going to keep him or not, and then keeping him and where's come from since the first of the season, he's a true example of what hard work can do. And that's getting extra reps up every day, and coming back at night, and going early before games. Again, with Hedo being gone and another opportunity to step his game up, who knows, maybe it's DeMar and Sonny playing in the back-court next year at beginning of the season. But Sonny needs to put in the same dedication that DeMar needs to in regards to getting his body stronger, working on his ball handling, I think he had 7 turnovers in his last game which obviously is unacceptable, and he needs to learn to control himself better in that way on the floor and handle the ball a little better out there.
RHQ: Watching Sonny in Vegas, it looks like he continues to make the most of the opportunities he's been given, are there any other elements to his game that you think need some work?
EH: Taking care of the ball which we discussed, that would be the first one. He turns the ball over way too much. He knows it, he's hard on himself about it, but he's gotta take better care of the basketball. He's got to develop his mid-range game, I mean his deficiencies are quite similar to those of DeMar, and a lot of them have to do with inexperience and not playing a lot. Instead of just settling for a jump-shot or driving to the basket, he's got to be able to get in that 12 to 15 feet range and pull-up consistently for that J or shoot the little floater over the big man. Both of their (Sonny and DeMar) deficiencies are common for younger players. They've always been bigger and stronger and when they were in college, they simply ran by people and jumped over people, and they didn't have to develop a little more finesse to their game instead of just powering through guys and jumping over them. Sonny was a JUCO All-American and was a great scorer when he was at Arkansas and DeMar played one year of college but when he was in high school it was like men against boys. They never had to develop their jump shots because like I said, they were just bigger and stronger and could go through people. Now, at the NBA level, everybody was like that in high school, they could all go through and jump over people and now it's time for them (Sonny and DeMar) to change their game a little bit.
RHQ: Speaking of power, I think one of the advantages the Raptors had in Summer League play was their bigs. Joey Dorsey was a force down low, can you give us some thoughts on him?
EH: Well Joey's a guy we didn't know a lot about. Initially when we signed Joey our thought was that we were going to send him to our D-League team and then our D-League team did not qualify for the playoffs. So, unfortunately we didn't get to see Joey play. He worked out with our coaching staff a bit, but unfortunately for Joey we did not practice that much at the end of the season. You know 82 games, you get to the end and I think in our last week of play we had two or three back to backs so we didn't have a lot of practice time, and didn't get much of a chance to assess Joey. But Joey's been a very pleasant surprise. I told Joey before he walked onto the court, "the way you're going to make this team is by rebounding and beating people up." "Don't go out there and try to shoot jump shots, don't try to take people from the top of the key, get your ass down on the block and rebound and defend." And (laughs), I think he did that, the first day he had what, 12 rebounds at the half! He's definitely lived up to the expectation of what we want. Last year Reggie had some health issues and you know, he's getting older so you never know. Joey could come in and steal some minutes at the 4. We have so many guys who can score on the team, we don't need another scorer. Joey's gotta find his niche and a lot of guys want to prove they can score the basketball. I told Joey his situation is just the opposite, he's gotta keep things simple; screen, roll, rebound, defend your ass off and beat people up, be our enforcer.
RHQ: What about some quick thoughts on the two newest Raptors, Alabi and Davis?
EH: Well, I think Ed's college career spoke for itself and obviously it was a steal for us to get him at 13, but Solomon is a guy who's maybe having an even more impressive Summer League from where we thought he'd be. Solomon has a great upside. Davis has got to get physically stronger, he's got to do a lot of work this summer and we'll have our coaches just with him as well. Before he takes it to the next level in terms of his overall game, he's gotta get his body stronger first, but you can see the type of impact he can have. He had five blocks in our last game, which I think was actually closer to seven, he can rebound, and runs the floor well for a big guy.
RHQ: Anyone else stand out that you've had on the team, Dupree, Stinson, etc?
EH: Well I think going back to our initial conversation I think the two guys that really helped us out the most other than our roster guys are those two point guards, and you can't beat that experience in Summer League. Both Bobby and Dee have been really good for us to have and despite the fact that we have a talented line-up, they control things. You know you don't have to call many time-outs to talk about things, they know what they're doing and just sort of have a feel for it, so it makes our job a lot easier.
RHQ: Last question, what's up next? You've sort of touched on the work you'll be doing with certain individual players, but when this all concludes (Summer League) do you (the team) make intimations towards any of the players along the lines of players keeping their options open for perhaps your training camp in the fall?
EH: Well, Micah, Alvin and I coach the guys in the summer but as far as where they stand and what their role or future may be with the Raptors, that's our front office who will get in touch with their agents and let them know. It's a good year though for Summer League because we do have some roster spots open. Some years you go into Summer League and you have none and this year there will definitely be opportunities for a bunch of guys on our Vegas team.
RHQ: Great stuff Eric, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!