TrueHoop: Marcus Smart

Orlando Summer League, Day 5 notables

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
9:49
PM ET
By Tom Westerholm
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 5 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder
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If Oklahoma City’s goal was to build up Lamb’s confidence by having him play his third consecutive Summer League, things could not have gone worse to this point. The lanky guard is averaging 17.3 points per game, but he’s shooting an abysmal 32 percent from the field, including 4-for-23 from 3-point range. He’s very smooth off the dribble, but he hasn’t been able to finish at the rim, and he rarely looks confident when he rises for a jumper. All of the physical tools remain, of course, but his skill set does not appear to translate to being handed the reins of an offense. He was 4-for-17 Wednesday.

Frank Gaines, Indiana Pacers
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Summer League results mean very little, but after an ugly blowout in its first game of the week, Indiana’s team has become extremely entertaining. Wednesday, Gaines caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 11 points in just under two minutes en route to 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Gaines -- who played for the Maine Red Claws of the D-League this past season -- showed a perfect stroke and the ability to set himself and rise in rhythm quickly, both in spot-up situations and off the dribble. He’s small for an NBA two-guard and too much of a scorer to play the point, but it’ll be interesting to see if a team that needs scoring off the bench gives him a shot.

Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Aggressive and energetic, McGary’s game isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but he’s proving effective for Oklahoma City. He scored 15 points Wednesday against Indiana on 5-for-7 shooting. As a high-post big, McGary let the offense run around him, waiting until his defender sagged to knock down midrange jumpers effectively. McGary’s numbers, however, may not be an accurate depiction of his impact. He creates chaos, tipping loose balls and throwing his body around the floor -- an infusion of energy that might impact a regular-season game as the season drags on.

Casper Ware, Philadelphia 76ers
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There are a lot of reasons to like Ware’s Summer League thus far. The tiny guard is averaging 19 points and nearly five assists per game, scoring on floaters, driving and dishing well to bigs in the paint and pressuring ball handlers all the way up the court. He is stretching the floor as well, knocking down 40 percent of his 3-pointers. In Philadelphia’s win over Brooklyn on Wednesday, Ware scored 24 points and dished out eight assists, running the offense relatively effectively throughout. Ware hasn’t shown much proficiency as a drive-and-kick point guard, and his size limits his effectiveness as a passer since -- logically -- it’s difficult to see over people that much bigger, and he’ll likely see a drop in efficiency against NBA defenders. Like Gaines, Ware may be effective as quick offense off the bench.

Jerami Grant, Philadelphia 76ers
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After struggling in his Summer League debut, Grant has put together consecutive strong games. He followed a 4-for-9, 12-point game on Tuesday with another 12-point game Wednesday. Grant showed his range, finishing 2-for-3 from 3-point range, and he played a very effective pick-and-pop game against Brooklyn, working well as the screener with Casper Ware and demonstrating his ability to stretch the floor effectively in a half-court offense. Grant struggled at times defensively with Nets big man Donte Greene, but after disappointing early in the week, Grant appeared much more comfortable and confident Wednesday.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
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Smart’s 14-point performance on Wednesday was hit or miss. He was a relatively inefficient 4-for-13 from the field, and he shot 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Smart passed out of several difficult shots he clearly wanted to take, but he took several tough shots he would have been better off leaving alone. Boston played him with Phil Pressey for much of the game, running both point guards on and off the ball interchangeably, and Smart appeared comfortable both running a pick-and-roll and driving from the wing. He finished with six assists and five rebounds.


Chris Babb, Boston Celtics
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Babb faces another tough climb to make Boston’s roster in 2014-15, and Boston’s impending acquisition of Marcus Thornton didn’t help matters. But Babb took the first steps on Wednesday, defending Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a standstill, making smart rotations and contesting everything. Offensively, Babb -- who is generally just a spot-up shooter -- drove hard to the basket, beating his defender multiple times and scoring efficiently. Babb’s game is still predicated on catch-and-shoot jumpers, but he showed some versatility Wednesday. He finished 5-for-8 with 10 points.

Brian Cook, Detroit Pistons
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The Brian Cook Reunion Tour rolls on. After shooting poorly against Memphis on Sunday, Cook scored 14 points including 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Boston on Wednesday. He’s solely a pick-and-pop big at this point, but he has been very effective in that role, stretching the defense and creating driving lanes for his guards.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
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A Summer League MVP candidate to this point, Caldwell-Pope was mostly ineffective against Boston before exploding late and nearly bringing Detroit back. Caldwell-Pope scored nine points in the final three minutes and missed a shot that would have won the game for Detroit. He struggled against Babb’s tough defense, finishing 8-for-21 and 3-for-9 from 3-point range, but his late push gave him 26 points.

Orlando Summer League: Day 3 notables

July, 7, 2014
7/07/14
10:12
PM ET
By Jordan White
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 3 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Orlando Summer League: Day 1 notables

July, 5, 2014
7/05/14
9:02
PM ET
By Tom Westerholm
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 1 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Aaron Gordon, Magic
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Quizzing Marcus Smart

June, 26, 2014
6/26/14
1:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart steps into the rapid-fire zone.

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