With 3:20 left in the first quarter of a nondescript Summer League game, the Mavericks' second round draft pick checked in. A second round pick seeing his first action in Vegas usually goes unnoticed, as top prospects and lottery picks garner much of the attention. But this was the first Indian-born player ever selected in the draft.
Satnam Singh is an imposing presence. Standing at 7'2, he towers over much of his competition in Las Vegas. Yet at just 19 years old, Singh is also an incredibly raw, albeit groomed, talent. Since he has never played at this level of competition, no one knew what to expect when he entered the game.
Unfortunately, Singh's introduction to NBA-level competition began inauspiciously. His first shot attempt, a jumper from the left baseline, was blocked. New Orleans Pelicans center Jarvis Varnado, a second round draft pick of the Heat in 2010 with a brief NBA career, casually leaped up and swatted it away. It was a moment that encapsulated the difficulties and the level of competition awaiting Singh, and showed why the Mavericks will be patient with him.
"I don't see him playing in the NBA this year," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said of Singh. "We'll give him time to develop."
He then joked, "He'll probably grow another six or seven inches."
It will likely take several years for Singh to be ready for the NBA. If he ever sees actual time with the Mavericks, his experience in Summer League will go a long way to prepare him for the next level. Playing in stretches, Singh showed that he at least deserves a chance to compete with NBA prospects. He's not going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, but for a player of his stature, he runs the floor well (even if his endurance is not on par with many of his peers).
"I thought Satnam played pretty well. He raised a lot of eyes," Cuban said after Singh's first game. "I think people didn't expect him to move as well and be as skilled as he is. I think he comported himself very well."
That shouldn't be surprising. Singh has been training to get to this level since age 15 when he joined IMG Basketball Academy, the Florida-based athletic training institute. There, he competed against preparatory players from across the country and worked with pro-level trainers and players including Daniel Santiago, the former Suns and Bucks player who is a member of the Puerto Rican national team.
Of course, it hasn't all been easy for Singh. Early on, the language barrier was an issue, but it was the cultural transition that took its toll on him. At IMG, Singh experienced considerable weight gain -- topping out over 300 pounds -- thanks to an Americanized diet. The strain on his young body hampered his development. He has his weight under control now thanks to healthier eating.
His years at IMG weren't defined by fast food, though. He learned a number of skills that translate to the pro level. Mavericks Summer League head coach Kaleb Canales isn't hesitant to point out what he is doing well in Las Vegas.
"His communication on defense has been great," Canales said. "He's been aggressive. He's not shy which is a positive I think. He's not afraid to attack on offense. And on defense he's been talking pick and roll coverages but also hitting the boards."
Singh's aggressiveness is something that has developed over time. His physical dominance led to him injuring another player while at IMG. This resulted in Singh playing more restrained, or even timidly, for a while. Even with all of his growth, Singh is still coming to terms with his size and abilities. While his size will translate to the pros, he still has a disadvantage compared to most players in Summer League.
He never played collegiately because he did not meet the eligibility requirements for admission. Rather, he made the jump from IMG directly to the draft. Because of this, Singh was not able to have a few years to develop and play against higher competition. Needless to say, he is adjusting to a steep learning curve in Summer League.
"It's NBA 101," Canales said of where Singh is. "From terminology to system and in terms of concepts and principles, he's learning step by step in this process. It's a long journey for him ahead."
Luckily, everyone with the organization is on the same page about Singh. He isn't ready for the NBA. The Mavericks didn't draft him with the expectation that he would have an impact right away. He's a project player.
Next season he will play for the Texas Legends, the Mavericks' D-League affiliate, so he can continue to develop. Steven Kyler of Basketball Insiders tells Mavs Moneyball that the Legends will bring in former Maverick DeSagana Diop to mentor and work with Singh.
It's too early to know how Singh will develop. However, the Mavericks appear to be genuinely invested in his progress. As for Singh, he already feels that he is up to the challenge.
"I think it's good to work with these guys," he said about his teammates and coaches. "When I was here [in the first game] and we were really close with some D-League [players] I said, ‘Of course I can play with these guys. My body is ready for these guys ... I'm here. I'm ready.'"
Physically, Singh may be ready, but he still has a long way to go if he hopes to make his NBA dreams become a reality.