AP FILE PHOTO
Published Saturday, July 10, 2010 | 6 p.m.
Updated Sunday, July 11, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Two summers ago, as Sonny Weems was getting set to make his pro debut for the Denver Nuggets at the Thomas & Mack Center in NBA Summer League play, he was introduced to some rookie hazing by veteran guard J.R. Smith.
Smith handed Weems $20 from his seat behind the basket, pointed up the stairs and sent Weems on his way while in full uniform — to fetch him and his father a couple baskets of chicken fingers and fries.
"He kind of caught me off-guard with that one," Weems recalled with a laugh. "Matter of fact, it was like five minutes before the game. I was like 'Man, this dude's got me running around the gym, the coaches are mad at me and everything.'
"It was something I had to do, though."
Nothing helps an NBA player bloom from a collegiate standout into a trustworthy veteran more than experience.
Just as he learned about one of the league's time-honored traditions that night — even getting to keep the $8 change — he soaked in knowledge on the floor as a rookie in 2008-09 with a Denver team that made it to the Western Conference finals.
Flash forward two years and Weems is back at the Summer League with Toronto, which acquired him via trade prior to last season. Pressed into duty early in the season because of injuries to teammates ahead of him on the depth chart, Weems averaged 7.5 points per game and showed promise with his athleticism.
Now comes the next step — being a reliable veteran presence on a Toronto squad that just lost the face of its franchise via free agency and needs leaders on a young roster.
He began proving he could do just that in his 2010 Summer League debut Saturday afternoon, leading Toronto to a 103-69 blowout victory over Phoenix at the Cox Pavilion.
Weems led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
The ability to soar and make plays above the rim — which he was known for at Arkansas before cracking the NBA ranks — was on full display. Weems dropped rim-shaking dunks on almost anyone in sight during a key stretch late in the first half that carried over into the opening minutes following the intermission.
The newest piece in his arsenal, however, is his mid-range jumper, which he casually swished a handful of times with both Toronto coach Jay Triano and general manager Bryan Colangelo in the gym.
"He comes back every night to work on his shooting after everyone said he had to work on his shooting," Triano glowed afterward. "He did so much individual work to get better and it's just taken him to a different level right now. I couldn't be happier for him."
Added Weems: "I had to develop (the mid-range shot) and be able to slow down out there on the court instead of moving at such a fast pace. I'm slowing down and actually thinking more than I was last year.
"I think first coming here, I was rushing things. I was a second-round draft pick and trying to do everything to impress the coaches. Now, I'm settled in with the Toronto Raptors, I'm more comfortable showing my total game and being an energy player. Now I'm trying to show my all-around talents."
Weems went as far as to call his move from Denver to Toronto a "blessing from God," as he's meshed well with the team's other young guns — namely second-year guard DeMar DeRozan, another high-flying wing who was the Raptors' first-round pick in 2008 and scored 16 points Saturday.
The next step for the youthful Raptors will be acclimating this year's top pick to NBA life — former North Carolina standout forward Ed Davis, who left the Tar Heels after his sophomore season.
Davis made his professional debut as a starter Saturday, registering 15 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes.
The son of former NBA player Terry Davis, Ed helped lead UNC to the 2009 NCAA title, but his sophomore campaign was cut short by a broken wrist suffered in February.
Davis's potential, however, helped vault him up to the 13th slot in last month's NBA Draft, and his selection just so happened to fall right around the time it became apparent that Toronto had no chance of retaining star power forward Chris Bosh.
Bosh this week joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as part of a star-studded core for the Miami Heat.
However, the Raptors are in no way looking for Davis to be Chris Bosh's clone from day one. He's already a smooth and strong rebounder and shot-blocker, and that is what the organization looks at as an excellent starting point for morphing the athletic 6-foot-10 kid into a complete player.
"We don't want to put that kind of pressure on the kid," Triano said. "If you want to make comparisons, make comparisons to the way Chris was as a first-year player. Yeah, they're very similar, and what did Chris do? Chris worked on his jump shot to help set up the rest of his game. And we're going to be doing the same thing as Ed."
Added Davis: "I'm myself. I'm not Chris Bosh. I'm not gonna be the next Chris Bosh. I'm gonna be myself."
An outside spotlight won't be adding much pressure, either, as much of the national basketball attention will be glued to the situation that has formed in Miami.
The Raptors, who finished 40-42 last season and missed the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by just one game, plan on growing in the shadows and making the mini-rebuilding effort a quick process.
"We love it; all of the pressure is on them," Weems said. "They just put a bullseye on themselves, with everybody expecting them to win. So when a couple of young guys go in there and we beat them, it's gonna be a problem. So I'm glad everybody's focused on them.
"They're not focused on the Raptors and that's a big advantage for us."
Saturday's other action ...
• The Denver Nuggets improved to 2-0 in Summer League action with a 92-74 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers. Second-year point guard Ty Lawson paced the Nuggets with 18 points and seven assists, while Lakers rookie Devin Ebanks was strong for a second straight day with 24 points in 34 minutes on the floor. Fellow second-round pick Derrick Caracter had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the 0-2 Lakers.
• Also victorious for the second day in a row were the Detroit Pistons, who bounced the Golden State Warriors, 89-69. Second-year Pistons forwards Durrell Summers and Austin Daye combined for 38 points.
• The third team to improve to 2-0 in Summer League play was the Houston Rockets, led by Jermaine Taylor once again in an 87-78 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks. Taylor, a second-year guard out of Central Florida, followed up his 25-point performance in Friday's opener with 21 against the Mavs.
Sunday's game to watch ...
For the casual basketball fan, the 5 p.m. showdown between the Washington Wizards and Golden State is the top draw, as No. 1 overall pick John Wall is expected to make his pro debut. However, don't be surprised if the Wizards decide to rest the former Kentucky point guard, as he tweaked his groin during a practice session earlier in the week. For locals, the Portland Trailblazers' opener at 3 p.m. at the Cox Pavilion might be interesting, as former UNR standouts Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson will make their pro debuts against Houston.