Players vying to make an NBA roster will have a harder time this year. Teams only have a short amount of time to make important decisions.
Unlike in previous seasons, players will not be able to compete in the annual summer league tournament. This is where many past prospects have stood out because impressive performances on the court are often more convincing than during practices.
There may be fewer training camp battles than one would expect from a typical offseason because there were simply fewer invitations than ever before.
Even further, NBA training camps opened on December 1 and preseason games begin on December 11. With such a short turnaround time to get to know who is who and what is what, it may be even more of a challenge to determine who deserves serious consideration.
However, there are still some interesting battles for roster spots that are on the horizon that will be worth monitoring.
Kenny Wooten, Houston
Big, 6-foot-8, 22 years old
The Houston Rockets claimed Kenny Wooten, currently on a two-way deal with the organization, off the waiver wire.
However, considering that they still have an available roster spot, expect Houston to keep a close eye on Wooten in training camp. There are some serious questions at the five for the Rockets, who signed DeMarcus Cousins during the offseason.
Cousins has some serious injury concerns, however, as he has not seen the floor for NBA action in 18 months. If he does not look like he is the same player he was before the injuries, Houston may have to scramble.
One of the only other options in their frontcourt (outside of projected starters PJ Tucker and Christian Wood) is Bruno Caboclo. But because his deal is guaranteed at a fairly low figure if he is not cut before the first game of the season, he should be considered pretty expendable.
Wooten, meanwhile, earned All-Defensive First-Team in the NBA G League last season. The former Oregon prospect averaged 3.6 blocks per game for the Westchester Knicks. That rate was the second-best among all players in the G League last season.
Charles Matthews, Cleveland
Wing, 6-foot-6, 23 years old
Charles Matthews was a highly-coveted prospect before the 2019 NBA draft. Unfortunately for him, he tore his ACL during a pre-draft workout with the Boston Celtics. But the wing has long been on the radar for scouts and front offices around the league. During high school, Matthews was able to win four consecutive Chicago Catholic League South championships. He played his freshman campaign for Kentucky before transferring to Michigan.
Matthews started every game he played for the Wolverines. As a sophomore, he had the second-most defensive win shares in the Big 10. Then during his junior year, opponents were 66-for-195 (33.8 percent) when they were guarded by Matthews. They averaged just 0.72 points per possession, per Synergy, which put the wing in the 86th percentile among all NCAA players.
Cleveland still has a full roster spot available and if he is fully healthy, his impact as a perimeter defender may warrant a roster spot considering the Cavaliers recorded the worst defensive rating (114.8) in the NBA this past season.
Kaleb Wesson, Golden State
Big, 6-foot-9, 21 years old
During his final collegiate campaign, Kaleb Wesson averaged 14.0 points with 9.3 rebounds, adding one block per game, in 2019-20. He connected on 1.5 shots per game from 3-point range while shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc.
When he spoke to HoopsHype, the former Ohio State star told us about how he has overcome adversity to get where he is today:
“If you’ve seen my career, you’ve seen that I’ve had to grind for almost everything I’ve accomplished. I had to go from 325 pounds to get to 285 pounds to even get a chance to play for Ohio State. You saw that I had to drop even more weight to play at the high level that I play at now. You saw that I to increase my three-point shooting percentage to get where I am now, too. You can just see that I am a hard worker. You also see the leadership. That’s big. For example, if you are not playing at the NBA level and they have you in the G League, are you just going to shut down because you think you’re better than somebody else and just pout? Or are you going to work harder? Are you going to have the self-awareness to know you have to get better and then actually do it?”
Golden State signed second-round pick Nico Mannion to a two-way deal. They have yet to fill their other available roster spot for such a contract and he and Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton are the top candidates.
Sutton may be the favorite at this point but Wesson is a stretch big who has been productive on pick-and-pop possessions and passing out of short roll opportunities. For a team that values shooting as much as the Warriors do, it shouldn’t be a surprise if he earns his spot during training camp.
Paul Eboua, Miami
Forward, 6-foot-8, 20 years old
Paul Eboua, who is originally from Cameroon, was one of the more intriguing international prospects in the 2020 NBA draft.
More often than not, players like Eboua are selected in the second round and considered “draft and stash” candidates. In this scenario, a team would own his rights but would not have to use a coveted roster spot on the player if they were playing overseas.
It is unusual to see an international player come to the United States if they were not picked on draft night. But considering Eboua did not re-sign with the Italian club Victoria Libertas, where he played 18 games last season, he took the gamble to try his luck in the NBA.
Even though he was not selected, he got a training camp invitation with the Miami Heat. Eboua is still very raw from a skills standpoint but he certainly fits the mold of the type of hyper-athletic player willing to work hard in their intense culture.
Eboua has an incredible frame at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3.5 wingspan and his low body fat percentage (3.8 percent) suggests he is abnormally chiseled. Miami still has a two-way roster spot to offer and Eboua should be considered a favorite at this stage.
Tyler Cook, Minnesota
Big, 6-foot-9, 23 years old
Last season, big man Tyler Cook got some run in the NBA, playing 11 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a couple with the Denver Nuggets as well. He even saw the floor for a few minutes in the postseason for Denver.
He was a fairly productive player during his time in the G League, averaging 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes over 22 games with the Canton Charge.
The Minnesota Timberwolves signed undrafted free agent Ashton Hagans to a two-way deal. But guard Jordan McLaughlin, who was on a two-way last year, seems poised to compete for their final roster spot. This leaves Cook an opening to potentially sign their other available second two-way contract or a full roster spot if McLaughlin and Minnesota do not come to an agreement.
Henry Ellenson, Toronto
Big, 6-foot-10, 23 years old
This situation is a bit trickier than the others because the Raptors may waive Terence Davis, who is on a non-guaranteed contract and is currently under investigation for domestic violence.
Until that is decided, Ellenson is currently vying for a spot alongside Matt Thomas, O’Shae Brissett, Yuta Watanabe, Alize Johnson, Paul Watson and Jalen Harris. As of now, Harris and Watson make up the two-way roster spots. Due to high guarantees in their contracts, it seems promising Thomas and Brissett will receive the roster spots as well.
But if the Raptors move on from Davis, there will be another spot available next season. Ellenson, Watanabe and Johnson could are all candidates for the opportunity. Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Blake Murphy listed Ellenson as the player from that group who is most likely to get the official nod after training camp.
Ellenson was on a two-way deal with the Brooklyn Nets last season but he was traded in January 2020. The big man played 17 games with the Raptors’ development squad, Raptors 905, averaging 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He was 46-for-108 (42.6 percent) from 3-point range, connecting on 2.7 shots from beyond the arc per game.