Expectations Are Growing as Scorpions Close Camp
- By Michael Miller, Day 1, 2021
LAS VEGAS - As the sun fades over the newly rebranded Sand Palace, the Scorpions are finishing their final practices and preparation to the start of the regular season and their first game against the expansion Dallas Predators. Over the last few weeks, team management watched in earnest as their new players arrived at the facility for their first on-court action in Black and Gold. Overall impressions suggest that Las Vegas should be quite competitive this year, as their key new additions largely came in to camp in shape and ready to take this team on a deep playoff run.
Perhaps the most impressive performer has been Derrick Griffin, who worked with a shooting coach during the off-season and looks like a significantly different and better player than he did in a shortened season with the Lightning last season. Griffin, who was traded twice this past off-season and is in a contract year, appears determined to leave a strong impression with Scorpions management in the upcoming season. Already projecting as an elite defensive player, scouts have been talking more about the strides he has made in improving his offensive game. The team hopes that Griffin can become a strong #3 offensive option behind Lamar Francis and Omar Grant.
Speaking of Francis, he showed up at camp eager to take his game to the next level. "The 1-on-1 matchups between Francis and Griffin have been beyond intense", as new head coach Rowan "Flea" Jamison told the media after a recent practice. "Iron sharpens iron, and those two just bring a different level out of each other . . .I can't wait to see both players take it to other teams on a nightly basis." Francis still shows no significant urgency on defense, and it just may be that he is, at this point, just going to be a player who focuses entirely on his offense. At only 24, however, there is still room for Francis to grow.
Even Omar Grant, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, looks to have met the challenge of an anticipated heavier load on defense based on early impressions at camp. With the trade of Orien Young, Grant will be expected to shoulder most of load defending the post in the upcoming season. As far as camp disappointments, fans should temper their expectations that Quadree Ratliff will be an adequate replacement for Young at power forward. While Ratliff still projects as a solid post defender and rebounder, he has lost some athleticism and may see fewer minutes in a starting role. Ratliff's apparent decline and skill may be offset some by the surprising improvement by Kevan Bailey, who was the 12th man added to the team at the conclusion of free agency. Bailey is still young, appears to have some talent as a body in the post and showed some skill in scrimmages. Indeed, team sources indicate Bailey has leapt over second round pick Reggie Burke to be the #2 PF on the depth chart.
Hilton Phillips also appears a step slower at training camp. It is unclear whether "HP" showed up to camp out of shape out of disappointment for his new anticipated role off the bench as a 6th man, or whether "Father Time" is just catching up to the veteran. He is in a contract year, so the team is hoping that HP will pick up the pace as the season continues and is able to demonstrate All-Star form as a microwave 6th man off the bench.
HP's slipping performance has elevated Daniel Seaborn to PG #2 behind Devante Parker. Seaborn has shown flashes, and has done a solid job running the second string in scrimmages. After signing potentially a $66 million dollar multi-year contract, Parker came to camp and looked half a step slow, but he still connected well with Francis, Griffin and Grant on the first team. There will definitely be a learning period at the start of the season, but with his veteran experience, Flea still feels quite comfortable with Parker as the lead playmaker. "So long as he can get to the rim and generate open shots for HP and Griffin on the perimeter, Parker gives us everything we need as the main ball handler in this offense."
Likely rotations have not been determined, but the team feels comfortable with its depth and talent at guard and wing positions. The most significant question, and likely potential weakness, is that the Scorpions are quite thin as far as their frontcourt rotation but the hope is that Grant's sheer talent will likely neutralize that weakness. Flea has not ruled out playing Griffin at "small-ball" 4 at certain points during the season, especially if Ratliff is a significant minus as a starter at power forward and Burke is just not ready to do anything of substance as a rookie. The team is very high on Burke, but while he put on some muscle during an abbreviated training camp, he looks and has the skills of a rookie.
Not much is expected out of the backend of the roster, nor should it as SG Karsten Barry and SF Jarrett Bryson were really only brought in to bring a veteran presence to a younger locker-room. Jay Jones has developed some nice handshake gestures and will look great waving a towel at the end of the bench as the little used 12th man.
All told, the Scorpions have high expectations for success this season. The team expects to compete for the playoffs, and if they continue developing and can stay healthy, believe they can be a dark horse for the league championship. The Sand Palace is expecting a sellout on Monday to see all of the new talent and whether the coaching staff can have it gel within a new system as quickly as possible.