Rise and Shine: Future Stars Come Out in the Orlando Summer League
While the Dwight Howard saga continues to hold the Orlando Magic hostage, the city, and the rest of the NBA, were able to take a well-deserved break when the teams that made up this year’s Orlando Summer League made their way to town. Eight teams took part in this year’s weeklong tryout in an effort to decide what players should earn spots on next year’s roster.
Here is an assessment of all eight teams, each team’s drafted players, veterans that excelled or otherwise and other players you may want to keep your eyes on.
No player selected had more questions about them going into this year’s Orlando Summer League than Boston forward Jared Sullinger and to put it plainly, he answered all of them. A slimmed-down version of the Ohio State big man showed up for the Celtics and put to rest any doubts about whether or not his game translates to the next level. Sullinger was effective getting his own shot from the perimeter and occasionally down low. He was able to rebound effectively and had the appearance of an already polished NBA player. While the pre-draft concerns about Sullinger’s back issues may not have subsided, the concerns about his game have slimmed down as well. Sullinger garnered Second Team All-League at the Orlando event.
Center Fab Melo came in and played about to expectations. While his offensive game is still a ways away, Melo was able to provide solid defense throughout the week. In all likelihood the Celtics can’t wait to get Melo exposed to future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett and let him whip the youngster into shape. Melo is a considerable project but there is immense potential still to be mined out of this kid. Throughout the week, Melo had his moments of brilliance, only to be followed by moments of disaster. A brilliant pass followed by a worse turnover. Melo needs to become more consistent before putting in requests to coach Doc Rivers for significant minutes.
Second rounder Kris Joseph played with the appearance of someone who should have been drafted higher. He played under control and showed great composure throughout. He knocked down shots when he was open. Joseph is a player who is capable of getting meaningful minutes off the bench in his first year.
Among the Celtics holdovers, E’Twaun Moore had the best week. Moore seemed very attack minded throughout and could possibly have his eyes on the minutes that the departure of “Big Three” guard Ray Allen vacated. Moore’s effort was good enough to warrant Honorable Mention consideration for the Orlando Summer League.
Former Temple Owl guard Dionte Christmas played very smart throughout the week. Although he never had a truly breakout game, every time the game finished, Christmas’ stat line was crammed full. There is no reason to believe that the Celtics won’t invite Christmas to their training camp with the chance to earn a roster spot.
Coming into the Orlando Summer League, University of Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor was a bit of an enigma. After Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets have some hope for him as long as he can stay clean of the off court issues that plagued him throughout his college carrer.
Unfortunately for Taylor, he short-armed a go-ahead lay-up against the Thunder but he proved his value as an above average athlete/possible defender throughout the week. Taylor ultimately found himself with Honorable Mention consideration for his week’s work.
Forward Tornike Shengalia came on late in the Summer League to provide some good moments but Shengalia will need to put in some work to become a more rounded player but his offense is pretty close. Shengalia lacks athleticism but he slashes to the rim well and is able to penetrate off the dribble very well for a player his size. Whether he spends another year overseas or stays in Nets camp, Shengalia just needs to play in the midst of better players to make his game more NBA ready.
Nets guard MarShon Brooks was terrible in the opening game, steady over the next couple and then blew up in the team’s finale. After going 0 for 10 in the opener, Brooks closed out his summer league with a league-high 34 points. Whether or not Brooks was distracted by all of the trade rumors surrounding him, it really doesn’t matter. Brooks knows how to play and after a sub-par week, it finally showed.
Summer League invite Al Thornton is another player who has done it in the league before. For whatever reason, sometimes players who know how to play just fall off the map. That is clearly the case with Thornton. Thornton was relentless in crashing the glass throughout the week and was a beast when attacking on offense. What more can the Nets ask? If the Nets are short of players at the start of the season, there is no reason that they shouldn’t keep Thornton around.
Center Andre Drummond came into the Orlando Summer League with a mountain of expectations. It’s safe to say that he met some and fell way short on others. Drummond’s athleticism is mind blowing, it’s superior to any big man that has come into the league since Dwight Howard. Right now, he just doesn’t know what to do with it. The last thing that Drummond should do is to listen to his doubters. Drummond is explosive and he gets lower on defense when guarding the perimeter than any current big man in the league. He truly needs the complimentary “4” at this point, which Greg Monroe will offer, in order to make him comfortable playing at the next level. His shooting is so-so and he doesn’t respond well to contact. He appeared to drift away from the hoop too often to get his shot off. His free throw shooting is repugnant but his form is not horrible, so it can be corrected. That having been said, Drummond will need almost the entire length of his rookie contract at this point to discover the player he could be, and that player could be amazing. For Drummond, being a well-rounded NBA center is too much to ask at the present time. However, it’s not to say that by the end of his first season, Drummond hasn’t begun to figure things out.
Second round guard Kim English seemed pretty comfortable throughout the week. He never seemed rushed. He hit open shots and played solid defense all week. The best part about Kim English is that he acted the part. He wasn’t flashy but he never played outside of his capabilities. He should fit in nicely with the young nucleus that the Pistons currently have.
Pistons forward Austin Daye and guard Brandon Knight both thrived in their summer league appearances. At times, Daye couldn’t miss and at times, Knight could not be stopped. Knight seems ready-to-go. Daye is more like “Where have you been?”. Knight can go into this season knowing he’s entrenched as the starter. Daye needs to continue the success he had in summer league onto the floor when it really counts.
Former Duke forward Kyle Singler spent his time in last season’s driver’s seat on the right hand side of the car. After playing last season for Spain’s Real Madrid, Singler returned to the Detroit’s Orlando Summer League team and ultimately cashed in with a three-year contract. Singler is a steady shooter who should immediately help with the Pistons’ depth.
Center Miles Plumlee impressed for the Pacers during the week. He was one of two rookies to earn first team honors for their play. The athleticism he displayed during the NBA combine showed up all over the Orlando Summer League. Plumlee showed a nice shooting touch from just about anywhere inside the arc. He rebounded the ball well and was smart with the basketball. Every time you turned around, Plumlee was throwing one down. Plumlee played throughout the week like a polished NBA big. He played more like a “4” throughout the week so he could be used as such for the Pacers when called upon. While Plumlee may be a ways down on the Pacers depth chart to start the season, he did enough in Orlando to get noticed and potentially get some playing time.
Shooting guard Orlando Johnson came out of the chute and put on a show in his first game in the Orlando Summer League. After that, Johnson’s shooting touch could only be seen on the back of a milk carton. Still Johnson looked like a player who could be developed. He showed the ability to get to the basket and defend his position well. Johnson had a big problem this week with overdribbling the ball and getting caught up in double and triple teams. He needs to find a way to use his dribble more effectively. Johnson won’t get minutes right away with the Pacers but he’s a capable young player who has ability so he should be around awhile.
Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson was in attack mode all week. He was the unquestioned leader of the Pacers every time he got on the floor. Stephenson had repeated success breaking down his defender in isolation and either knocking down shots from the perimeter or getting to the basket. At times, Stephenson looked like the most impossible player to guard in the league. However, Stephenson’s temperament was on the verge of disruptive. While at times his antics would frustrate the opposition, other times he would find himself in trouble. To become a more relied upon teammate, Stephenson needs to learn how to play with emotion without losing his composure.
The invitee that stood out for the Pacers was Miami (OH) University power forward Julian Mavunga. Mavunga made a name for himself with his tireless energy. Mavunga fought extremely hard on the offensive glass and showed the ability to take his defender off the dribble. Although undersized for his position, Mavunga’s tenacity made up for it. He played with both force and finesse and understood his role at both ends of the floor. If Mavunga does not solidify a roster spot with the Pacers, he at least put on a show all week long that got him noticed.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Perry Jones III was easily one of the most talented players in all of college basketball last season. A stretch “4” with a soft outside jumper, Jones could never seem to be the model of consistency during his two seasons at Baylor. In Orlando, Jones appeared to be playing with just a little more confidence when his summer league was cut short due to an ankle injury. That having been said, in the short time he was on the court, Jones showed why teams were so enamored with him a year ago. He appeared poised and comfortable shooting the ball. His size and athleticism blended together and he played like the lottery pick so many teams saw him to be a year ago.
Among the Thunder’s other contributors, guards Garrett Temple and Reggie Jackson and forward Lazar Hayward really stood out. Temple was steady throughout the week, providing reliable offense and rebounding well from his guard position. Jackson appeared comfortable running the offense and was able to tangle in the trees to score some points. Hayward looked like a player wanting to get some meaningful playing time this year. He played with terrific energy and just appeared anxious to prove himself.
Point guard Dwight Buycks was high octane when on the court and was able to do some nice things. Center Gary McGhee has an NBA frame and was able to clear the glass nicely for the Thunder. On the flip side, former Kansas Jayhawks center Cole Aldrich still seems lost when he gets on the court, even amongst the summer leaguers.
The two-headed frontcourt monster of forward Andrew Nicholson and center Kyle O’Quinn should have Orlando Magic fans feeling pretty comfortable about the future, regardless of what happens with Dwight Howard.
Both players came in with similar concerns about each of them, respectively. How would the small school players’ games carry over to the next level? In the entire week at Orlando, neither draft pick seemed out of place. Nicholson, who was perceived to be a stretch “4” by a lot of pundits, proved he can do damage on the interior as well. He was able to score from all angles, rebound the basketball and scare opposing players to death with his freakishly long arms. While Nicholson’s athleticism isn’t top shelf, it appears that his basketball I.Q. is. The Magic should plan for this youngster to play a lot of minutes this season.
O’Quinn carries with him a man’s game. His wide-bodied frame consistently moved opposing players at will and he knows how to defend well without fouling. Throughout the week, he was the perfect compliment to Nicholson. He plays the game relaxed, which simply seems to be his demeanor if you’ve ever seen him interviewed. Regardless if Orlando trades Dwight Howard or holds onto him, it is apparent that O’Quinn will get his minutes at some point very quickly.
One other rookie that really stood out was former Villanova point guard Malik Wayns. Wayns was only with the Magic for a short stint, opting to join Golden State’s team in the Vegas Summer League, but he impressed greatly during his time in Orlando. He managed 10 assists in the opening game and it was apparent in other games as well that he knew how to distribute the ball. Though he played in just over half of the team’s games, Wayns still managed to receive Honorable Mention accolades at the Orlando Summer League.
As for current Magic players, guard DeAndre Liggins and forward Justin Harper stood out. Liggins’ play was not anything spectacular on the offensive end, but his defense and his willingness to defend the other team’s best perimeter player makes him invaluable. For that reason alone, Liggins should see an increase in minutes. Harper was able to provide steady offense, posting a 12 points per game average throughout the week.
No team was more snake-bitten by injuries than the Sixers during the Orlando Summer League. Rookie forward Arnett Moultrie was held out of the competition due to a sprained ankle. Forward Nikola Vucevic was also ruled out due to injury. The team’s other draft pick, forward Maurice Harkless, was lost in the team’s opener after aggravating a hip flexor and guard Xavier Silas received a vicious concussion in the team’s finale from an elbow to the head by one of his own.
Even after all that, there were still some bright spots. Harkless did play well in the opener and appeared confident in his outside shot. Justin Holiday, the older brother of current Sixer guard Jrue Holiday, was able to take hold of the team and offer steady production. Holiday was able to punctuate his performance by stepping up big in the latter part of the week, and ultimately, the Orlando Summer League recognized him as Honorable Mention for his efforts.
Former Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen appeared more adept in running the point after being known as a “shoot-first” guard in college. Needless to say, his shooting hasn’t left him either. Pullen was able to nail jumpers with 44 percent accuracy from long range, which is never a bad skill to have.
Second round draft pick, forward Kevin Murphy had a pretty fair camp but showed that he still has a lot to learn. Murphy gave good effort and showed he can score but his game recognition skills are not up to par yet and he’ll need to improve that if he expects minutes to come his way.
The sophomore trio of center Enes Kanter, forward Jeremy Evans and guard Alec Burks all impressed in Orlando, especially Burks. Burks came out red hot in Utah’s opening game and really set the bar for the rest of the league. His shot was effortless up until the team’s final game and he showed that he is capable of running the offense through him. Expect Burks to place more of a scoring point guard role in the upcoming season.
Kanter was aggressive on offense, not only under the basket, but also in transition. He looked like somebody who has really taken it upon himself to work on his game, put in the hours and it showed in Orlando. Kanter led the league in rebounding and appears to be headed to an expanded role for the Utah Jazz.
Evans went out to prove that he was more that just last year’s Slam Dunk champion. After averaging over 10 points and 7 rebounds per game in this year’s summer league, it’s safe so say that his game has more evidence of substance to it.
Of the invitees, forward Tony Gaffney played with a ton of energy and really was a bright spot in the transition game. After spending last season in Germany, Gaffney proved that German engineering, in automobiles or in basketball, is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. Great motor.
Note: Many of the Orlando Summer League participants will represent different teams in the Las Vegas Summer League.