Darius Morris wasn't quite sure who I was talking about when I asked him how he thought Julian Khazzouh played against the Clippers a couple of days ago. It took a physical description of the six-foot-10 Australian big man as well as the declaration that he "had an accent" to jog Morris' memory.
"Oh!" he said, the light bulb going on in his head. "We call him Jules!"
Such is the nature of NBA Summer League, where bus loads of D-League and overseas ballers get placed alongside a handful of guys with guaranteed contracts and are given the arduous task of fitting in while also showcasing their abilities. How well those without guaranteed contracts blur the line between necessarily selfish and willingly selfless can alter the course of their NBA and actual lives. A strong showing in Summer League could mean the difference between playing anonymously overseas and being an injury away from an NBA call-up.
Here, it's best to pair faces with nicknames.
Khazzouh was nearly one of the unfortunate souls to not even receive a chance to show their abilities with NBA personnel around, but Chuck Person and his staff decided to give him a large chunk of minutes for the final two minutes of Summer League. Jules' first lengthy run came against the Spurs on Tuesday where he had a nondescript eight points on eight shots. It wasn't until Los Angeles' final Summer League game when Khazzouh finally broke out, showcasing his NBA skill: his three-point shot.
As Morris and other Laker guards compromised the Clippers' defense with dribble penetration, Jules patiently waited on the wings, ready to fire whenever the ball landed in his hands. Khazzouh showed a very quick release, getting off his shot with perfect form, even as the defense closed out on him. Clearly not the focal point of the offense, Khazzouh acted as a tremendous complementary player, one whose niche meshed perfectly with the spacing and agenda of Los Angeles' offense.
Khazzouh finished that game with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including four threes on five attempts, acting as an efficient outlet whose presence was only felt as the defense turned it's head back towards him as he launched a three. Such a player can have tremendous value on a team that values floor spacing and how to properly mitigate slow footed defenders.
Jules has had a very small cup of coffee with an NBA team before, accepting a Golden State Warriors camp in December, which was very brief because of the lockout. Khazzouh was cut but he continued his career in his home country with the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League in Australia. Khazzouh figures to be entering into the prime of his career now, as he's been named to two straight all-NBL teams and saw his numbers reach career highs last season.
Ironically, Khazzouh's calling cards in the NBL are his strong rebounding (he led the league in rebounds last year with 10.8 per game) and post play, two things he didn't do much of in Vegas, while he only shot eight threes all of last season for the Kings (he shot eight 3's in three games with the Lakers). Jules admits that his game is probably a mix of the things he showed in the NBL and what he showed against the Clippers but he thinks his fit in the NBA is as a stretch big.
"I'm more of an outside guy than an inside guy," Khazzouh said. "You guys have some massive bodies here so I'll stay on the three point line and shoot the ball if it's my shot. If it's not, I'll pass the ball and set a screen and do whatever I need to do."
Khazzouh used Pau Gasol, who Jules noted has a scruffy beard like himself, as an example of someone who plays a rough interior game in international play but prefers to let his skills shine when facing off against the athletic competition that the NBA offers.
"Here it's a track meet," Jules said, noting what he called a "massive" difference in style of play between the NBA and NBL. "Whoever can run the fastest and jump the highest is usually one of the better players. In saying that there is also an extremely high level of skill here as well. I think it's the total package, the NBA game."
He may not be the freak of nature that most of the athletes in the NBA are, but Khazzouh definitely appears to have the skill to find himself in an NBA rotation. Specifically within a Steve Nash centric offense (boy does that feel fun to type), Khazzouh could find himself doing a lot of the things that Channing Frye does for Phoenix. Of course, with Gasol, Andrew Bynum (or Dwight Howard), Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison, playing time will be hard to come by. But if the fifth big man spot was going to go to either Khazzouh or, say, Robert Sacre, whose play style is similar to Hill, I'm not so sure I wouldn't give the spot to the more skilled player. And that's Khazzouh.
It's not likely to make a huge difference, but having Jules at the end of the bench does provide the potential for his emergence as a legit NBA rotation player and if that came to fruition, he'd be a very good fit for the Lakers.
Khazzouh now awaits a call for the Lakers, hopefully one informing him that he's been invited to training camp. If Jules is lucky enough to get that call, he's already pictured what it would be like.
"I can only imagine the first day. Walking in, seeing Kobe, Steve Nash, maybe Dwight," Khazzouh said. "That would be the best experience you could have as a basketball player."