Saturday, July 5, 2014
Orlando Summer League: Day 1 notables
By Tom Westerholm
Special to ESPN.com
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 1 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:
Aaron Gordon, Magic
Let’s begin here: Gordon grabbed a shot out of the air in the fourth quarter. It was breathtaking in person, the type of play that wakes up everyone watching after nearly six hours of basketball. Then Gordon followed up his highlight-reel play by trying to take two defenders off the dribble down the court and wound up turning it over. The sequence is probably going to be a solid metaphor for Gordon’s first couple of seasons. He will simultaneously thrill and frustrate -- cutting hard back door and rising for a massive slam at one moment, then taking a step-back 3-pointer that comes up well short another. But he is what was advertised: athletic, solid passer, great defender and good ball handler. He finished 3-for-11 from the floor with seven points and five rebounds.
Marcus Smart, Celtics
Playing basketball against Smart does not look fun. The Celtics’ rookie plays brutal on-ball defense and uses his size and his athleticism to bully his offensive opponent. His off-ball defense is somehow tougher -- he picked off two entry passes and seems to have an excellent understanding of passing lanes and where the ball is going. His jumper, which was supposed to have a hitch, looked smooth, though he didn’t shoot particularly well. Smart finished 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from behind the arc, but his shot selection improved as the game went on, and he appears to have a good understanding of how to get to his comfort zones out of the pick-and-roll.
Nerlens Noel, 76ers
Much will be made of the fact that in the first possession of Noel’s NBA career, he faked an opponent into the air, pivoted and slammed home a one-handed dunk. But Noel’s offensive game (6-for-11 from the floor, 7-for-7 from the free throw line) isn’t as exciting for the Sixers as his defense. Noel looks even longer and more athletic than advertised. His arms stretch for miles, break up passing lanes and stop rolling big men in pick-and-rolls. Meanwhile, his incredibly quick feet help him cut off ball-handlers, which makes him an ideal trapping big. Playing within a system takes time, but Noel appears to be an NBA-caliber defender already.
Victor Oladipo, Magic
Orlando started pressing against Philadelphia in the second half, and it was extremely effective, in large part due to Oladipo’s individual defense against Philly’s ball handlers. Oladipo defended like a junkyard dog, aggressive and snarling, and put heavy pressure on whichever unfortunate point guard was trying to bring the ball up the court for the Sixers. Oladipo’s combination of length, size and lateral quickness made him a nearly impossible roadblock to circumvent. He also shot well: 6-for-11 for 18 points and 2-for-4 3-point shooting.
Shabazz Napier, Heat
Napier’s Summer League career started horribly, as an 0-for-10, eight-turnover drought spanned three quarters. Phil Pressey’s pressuring on-ball defense and quickness bothered him off the dribble, and Napier didn’t appear prepared for Smart’s size initially. But in the second half, Napier appeared to find his rhythm and knocked down a pair of threes and a tough spinning layup in transition that almost brought the Heat back into the game. He showed flashes, but much like Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke this past season, Summer League might be a necessary-but-difficult transition period for Napier. He finished 3-for-15 from the floor and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons
This version of KCP looked absolutely nothing like this past season’s tentative version. Caldwell-Pope scored a game-high 26 points on 8-for-19 shooting and was an impressive 8-for-9 from the free throw line. He was never hesitant looking for his shot and knocked down two jumpers from behind the arc, several from midrange and a variety of swooping layups around the basket that also got him to the line. He also made a difference on the defensive end and came away with six steals.
Elfrid Payton, Magic
The learning curve from Louisiana-Lafayette might be a little stiff for Payton, if first impressions are to be believed. Payton struggled in his debut; he turned the ball over four times in 17 minutes and scored just two points on 1-for-4 shooting. He showed plenty of athleticism, however, and dished out a game-high five assists. But he struggled at times to bring the ball up the floor against smaller guards such as Philadelphia’s 5-foot-10 Casper Ware, and Payton never looked particularly comfortable running a half-court offense. Like Napier, we might see an upswing in production from Payton as the week goes on and Orlando’s offense begins to gel.
Kelly Olynyk, Celtics
Olynyk dominated Summer League last year, so it’s not particularly surprising that he picked up where he left off against Miami. Olynyk scored 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He never moves particularly fast, and that can get him in trouble. Defensively, Miami’s Jeff Hamilton found space on the floor frequently, and Olynyk struggled to recover and contest. But defense has never been Olynyk’s specialty, and he moves effectively on offense and utilizes a variety of spin moves and dribble drives to find space and score around the basket.