It was a short day of basketball, and it certainly wasn’t the prettiest day of basketball. Nevertheless, there managed to be 10 performers who, in one way or another, managed to stand out among the rest. Here they are, in no particular order.
Jeremy Lamb, Thunder The Thunder’s second-year guard was, without question, Wednesday’s best player. He scored 32 points on just 14 shots, falling just four points shy of tying the Orlando Summer League scoring record set Tuesday by his teammate Reggie Jackson. The game seems to come so easily to Lamb that it often looks as if he’s not trying. While that was the case Wednesday, you could still see that he was being aggressive without forcing the issue, creating for himself and even for others at times. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder don’t need Lamb to score 30 a night, but even two-thirds of this production would be a welcome sight in Oklahoma City.
Arsalan Kazemi, 76ers It was thought that Kazemi’s future in the league would be that of an undersized power forward, forever banging inside, out-hustling taller and stronger opponents for rebounds, and using his surprising quickness to step out on smaller opponents. Instead, Philadelphia has played Kazemi primarily at the three, to very good results. He’s still providing everything he would have as an undersized four -- case in point, his six points and nine rebounds Wednesday -- but his athleticism and aforementioned quickness allow him to play on the perimeter without surrendering much in terms of speed to smaller, more natural wings.
Raul Neto, Jazz This was Neto’s Summer League debut, and the Utah Jazz should be excited by what he showed. Displaying a flair for the dramatic, Neto often tried to make the dazzling pass instead of the simple one. At times, he succeeded, such as with his fastbreak alley-oop to Chris Roberts, while at other times, he failed, as evidenced by his ill-fated attempt at a behind-the-back pass in the lane to a trailing teammate. Neto likely won’t be coming over this year, but Jazz faithful should nonetheless look forward to watching him when he does arrive.
Kelly Olynyk, Celtics I know, I know, Olynyk again. But a list containing the best of the Summer League should contain the Summer League’s best player, and that’s Olynyk. He wasn’t flawless, missing all four of his 3-pointers, fouling seven times and accumulating five turnovers, but he displayed a nice ability to pass the ball, even if a lot of those passes weren’t converted into assists. Olynyk finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Chris Wright, Nets Wright’s story, that of being the only known NBA player with Multiple sclerosis, is well-documented, and he is adding another chapter here in Orlando. He was undoubtedly Brooklyn’s best player, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting for an offense that was otherwise starved for points. He did have four turnovers, but he still ran the show for Brooklyn amicably. Though the Nets look to have their point guard rotation firmly set, Wright is also auditioning for every other team in the NBA, and he’s shown that he can be a contributor at this level.
Phil Pressey, Celtics Pressey orchestrated the offense for Boston as he so often did at the University of Missouri: with complete control. His 10 assists were a team high, and he rarely attempted a pass that exceeded his skill level. However, Wednesday’s performance was a bit of a double-edged sword for Pressey. His passing acumen has never been in doubt; it’s his shooting that always worried scouts. Pressey did little to assuage those fears, shooting just 2-of-9 from the field and 0-for-2 from deep. Like Peyton Siva of the Pistons, Pressey needs to show the ability to consistently knock down the jumper if he’s to stick around.
Chris Roberts, Jazz Offense hasn’t been an easy thing to come by this week for Utah. The Jazz broke out of their slump, due in large part to Roberts. The former Austin Toro showed both his shooting ability -- knocking down two 3-pointers -- and his athleticism, soaring for an alley-oop. He looked very good on defense as well, pressuring the ball when needed and not getting caught watching the ball as many young guards do.
Jeremy Evans, Jazz Like Reggie Jackson, Evans really shouldn’t be playing in Summer League. Yet play he has, with his best game coming Wednesday. All game long, Evans was his usual bouncy self, elevating higher than anyone else for rebounds or dunks and never seeming to run out of energy. You could tell Evans was eager to unleash a dunk, as he tried several times to uncork upon a would-be defender. And while he did finish an alley-oop, it wasn’t of the thunderous variety we’ve come so used to seeing from him. Evans’ line of 15 points and nine rebounds should be encouraging for Jazz fans, yet they shouldn’t read too much into it, as the effort is unlikely to be replicable in the regular season.
Terrence Jones, Rockets This is another “process” highlight, because Jones’ 3-of-12 shooting obviously doesn’t belong on a top 10 list. But Jones went to the line 14 times, knocking down 10 of his attempts. Though Jones was always capable of putting the ball on the floor, it was never really considered a strength of his game. However, as Summer League wears on, Jones continues to show an improved off-the-dribble game, to the point where driving the ball could easily become a staple of his offense. Defensively, Jones displays a versatility that allows him to wreak havoc both inside and out, and that alone should allow him to stay on the floor this year for Houston.
Steven Adams, Thunder Adams moves extremely well defending the pick-and-roll, able to slow and disturb the ball handler enough to throw him out of rhythm. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but his 13 points showed that it’s slowly starting to click for him. Before Wednesday, Adams showed only flashes of promise. Though he played well on defense, on offense the game appeared to move too fast for him, as if he were stuck three seconds in the past compared to every other player on the floor. Against the 76ers, the game looked to have finally slowed down for Adams on both ends.
Steven Freeman/NBAE/GEtty ImagesMost head coaches let their assistants handle summer league, but Jason Kidd will coach the Nets.
On Sunday, basketball will return in its most unfiltered form. That's right, it's time for summer league in Orlando.
This event has long acted as a fix for NBA junkies, but in an effort to create a little more mass appeal, a champion will be crowned on the final day.
While this may be the only time of year fans can say things like “The Orlando Magic are going to win the championship!” and not get laughed at, the pull of summer league has always been the chance to get a first look at future NBA contributors and stars. With that in mind, here are five things to watch in Orlando:
Victor Oladipo and the Great Point Guard Experiment Ever since he was selected with the second pick in the draft, there’s been a little ambiguity added to Victor Oladipo’s future. When asked whether Oladipo was a point guard or shooting guard, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan told the Orlando Sentinel, “We see him as a guard.”
It’s all a little odd, mainly because you rarely see teams create combo guards, both in perception and reality. Of course, it’s also interesting because in no way does Oladipo fit the profile of a natural point guard. In three seasons at Indiana, he totaled more turnovers than assists and often looked like he was dribbling one of those super bouncy balls you get for a quarter.
Still, it’s important to remember that disaster is only temporary in summer league. It’s very well possible that Oladipo struggles to run the point and takes his lumps, but it’s more important for Orlando to get a sense of what their prized pick is capable of in different scenarios. There’s no better time than summer league to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
Follow the leader?
If you had to handicap the rookie of the year race, Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke is probably the early front-runner. When talent meets fit and opportunity, good things tend to happen.
It also doesn’t hurt that six of the last eight rookie of the year winners have been ball-dominant guards. Burke should have the rock an awful lot in Utah, and Orlando will offer a sneak peek at how he uses it. Will Burke look to score every night, or will he focus on facilitating?
Maybe the most appealing part of Burke’s game is his ability to do both in the pick-and-roll, and in Orlando, he’ll have a few very intriguing dance partners.
Remember Jeremy Evans? The guy who jumped over a picture of himself dunking? He’ll be there, and so will rookie big man Rudy Gobert, who might be Mark Eaton reincarnated. Gobert’s standing reach and wingspan were the highest ever recorded in draft history, so Burke will be hard-pressed to miss his roll man as long as he throws the ball up really, really high.
Michael Carter-Williams and Holidays
Many rookies will fill the shoes of veterans, but very few will be asked to step in and take over for 23-year-old All-Stars.
Running a team slapped together of players all trying to stand out can be tricky, but luckily for Carter-Williams, he can lean on a summer league veteran by the name of ... Holiday.
That’s right. Even though Jrue is in New Orleans, his older brother Justin will play with Philadelphia’s summer league team and act as Carter-Williams’ sidekick on the wing.
Some fans may be upset about the cold realties of rebuilding and Jrue Holiday being a casualty of it, but here’s the good news: If Justin makes the team this year and chooses the number 11, the old Philly tradition of using duct tape and a permanent marker to keep a jersey relevant can be skipped over for a year. And hey, Will Bynum is still a free agent …
The Heat double-dip
Would summer league technically count as one of the Miami Heat’s seven championships LeBron James promised upon his arrival? No?
Well, give Miami credit for trying, as the Heat will be the only team in the NBA to play in both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues. The extended look at a few young players like second-round draft pick James Ennis and undrafted guys like Jackie Carmichael and Myck Kabongo could be big for a team that will eventually have to get a little younger. Juwan Howard won’t be around forever – or at least we think he won’t.
After grinding out 82 games a year for 19 seasons, most guys would probably want to take a break from it all. Relax. Maybe go fishing. But after Jason Kidd retired, there was no sleep till Brooklyn.
While other head coaches watch the spectacle from a distance and let their assistants play ringmaster, Kidd will jump right into the fray and coach the Nets in Orlando, using the time as an opportunity to get in all the reps as a head coach that he possibly can.
Summer league is often used as a development tool for players and referees, but for the first time in a long time, we'll get a view of how a high-profile coach might roam the sidelines. Will he stomp his feet at shooters like Vinny Del Negro? Will he use a timeout during the first possession of the game like Jacque Vaughn? Is he a guy who likes to stay seated like Phil Jackson, or is he a nervous towel-biter like Jerry Tarkanian? NBA fans go to know Kidd over nearly two decades, and now they'll get to do it again.
Who fits next to Dwight Howard? The purpose of summer league isn't always to find the best players, but rather to find the best fit. A guy can score 35 points a night (like Josh Selby did in Las Vegas last year), but if he doesn't show that he can slide into a role at the NBA level, the points end up being just as important as they are on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
The objective for the members of Houston's summer league team changed drastically once Dwight Howard decided to become a Rocket. Demonstrating slash-and-kick skills is no longer as important as delivering a solid post entry pass or defending well on the perimeter to insure that Howard doesn't have to be relied on as a one-man defense like he was in Los Angeles.
Returning frontcourt players Greg Smith and Terrence Jones could stand to show off a little range and high-post passing skills, while dynamite guard Patrick Beverley could endear himself to his coaching staff by suffocating ballhandlers. Rookies guards like Isaiah Canaan, B.J. Young and Vander Blue need to show they can consistently knock down the open 3-pointers Howard will undoubtedly create.
For contenders like Miami, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Brooklyn, the objective during the six days in Orlando was always to find a complementary piece to a championship puzzle. With Dwight now on board, the same is true for Houston.