Monday, July 7, 2014
Orlando Summer League: Day 3 notables
By Jordan White
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 3 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Much like Shabazz Napier on Sunday, Payton was much more comfortable in his second game than his first. On Saturday, Payton struggled even to bring the ball up the court against pressure from even a smaller guard like Casper Ware. Monday, he had a much better command of his dribble, and was miles more confident in taking his man one-on-one. Defensively, Payton used his massive wingspan to bother the likes of Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson, forcing them to initiate the offense farther out than desired or even into taking a timeout. Payton also displayed his impressive vision and passing skills, including one perfectly lofted lead pass to his big man for an easy layup.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Athleticism is a wonderful boon to any NBA hopeful. However, it can carry one only so far. Just as important as that exceptional athleticism is the ability to harness it in such a way that it actually impacts the game. Gordon is a special athlete, and he uses that athleticism to augment his natural defensive and cutting instincts. His cuts to the basket were sharp, precise and perfectly timed. As a ball handler, Gordon is further along than most expected, but he still had a few issues Monday. He brings the ball up too high, has a tendency to dribble without a purpose and can get too fancy. However, once Gordon corrects these issues, something that he should be able to do quickly, he'll be dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Phil Pressey, Boston Celtics
We'll start with where it went wrong for Pressey, because it's the only way to understand where it went right. Near the end of the third quarter, Pressey found himself matched up on defense against the Pacers' Donald Sloan, who crossed over the diminutive guard and sent him skating to the floor (Sloan then knocked down a pull-up jumper, just to add insult to injury). Some players, after suffering such humiliation, have the impulse to forsake the game plan in favor of one-upping the offender. Pressey, however, shook off the Annie Oakley instinct on the Celtics' next offensive possession, with Sloan defending, and calmly got the Celtics into their set. It's a small moment in the grand scheme of things, but it helps to illustrate Pressey's poise and maturity.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
So far, the Celtics' experiment with Smart playing off the ball has yet to yield any sort of promising results. Then again, neither has Smart playing at his normal point guard position. Smart shot just 3-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-5 from deep. While Smart's struggles from deep aren't necessarily surprising, given that it was seen as a weakness before the draft, that a third of his shots came from beyond the arc isn't encouraging for his shot selection. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Celtics try to play Smart exclusively at point as the week goes on, just to see if he gets into a better rhythm at his more natural position.
Willie Reed, Indiana Pacers
In truth, the entire Pacers frontcourt deserves mention for its performance Monday, but Reed gets the nod for his breakout showing. His 18 points came mostly around the rim, both on opportunities he created and ones his guards created for him. He showed a nice ability to move without the ball in the post, flashing to the basket at just the right time. Defensively, he bothered the Celtics' less athletic frontcourt to the tune of four blocked shots and several more altered.
Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder
When you don't get to see a player for an entire year, it's easy to forget what made him so enticing in the first place. Rather than focus on his strengths and weaknesses, or how he's grown in the year, all teams are able to focus on are the lingering doubts regarding injury or character. Through two games, McGary's reminding everyone why he was projected as a lottery pick last year. He's shown no ill effects from the back injury that sidelined him last season at Michigan, bounding up and down the court easily (at times even running the break) and diving for loose balls. While his stance isn't great, he moves his feet on defense very well. Monday, McGary showed flashes of another aspect of his game, hitting his teammates with several nice passes both on the break and in the half court.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Did someone Space Jam Kelly Olynyk's talent? Last year, Olynyk was the best rookie at Summer League, probably even the best non-Andre Drummond player. He was Dirk Nowitzki-lite, hitting jumpers from all over the place and even dominating the boards despite his T-Rex wingspan. Even though there were better athletes than Olynyk, he succeeded despite their advantage. Monday, Olynyk couldn't overcome that superior athleticism, fouling six times, nor could he find a shooting rhythm, evidenced by his 5-of-13 performance from the field. Here's hoping Olynyk rediscovers his lost talent. (An aside: No offense to Olynyk, but if aliens truly did possess the power to steal talent, why would you target Olynyk?)
Tarik Black, Houston Rockets
It's not easy being a big man at summer league, given the guard-dominated play. It's even tougher when you're not a featured big, but rather a lunch-pail, energy guy just fighting for a spot on the team. Yet, in spite of all of these built-in disadvantages, Black has been able to show just what he can bring to a team. He won't wow you with his athleticism, he won't take your breath away with his defense and he should never be allowed to shoot the ball outside of 10 feet. But his motor never stops, he sets good screens and muscles post players while also showing enough athletic ability to stick with more mobile bigs. Summer League is all about finding the non-stars, the end-of-the-bench guys who, at the very least, will always bring the intensity. Black, at least Monday, looked the part.