TrueHoop: Royce White

Orlando Summer League: What to watch

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
3:48
PM ET
By D.J. Foster
ESPN.com
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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.

That’s what Michael Carter-Williams is faced with in Philadelphia, as he’ll look to become the new franchise point guard in Jrue Holiday’s stead.

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.

New Kidd
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.

No such thing as a "tweener" anymore

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
1:25
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Kenneth Faried
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Faried doesn't measure up to the likes of Pau Gasol, but he's an effective power forward nonetheless.

“He doesn’t have a position.”

That right there is one of the most common knocks on future NBA players as they enter the draft, and a criticism that can stick with them as they try to find their place in the league. Yet, as Kevin Arnovitz and David Thorpe point out on TrueHoop TV, every year we see players come in without a position who thrive all the same -- a fact that's especially true for players whose games seem to fall somewhere between traditional definitions of small forwards and power forwards.

These "tweeners" are all 6-8 or shorter, and have the following working against them:
  • Smaller than traditional power forwards (example: Kenneth Faried)
  • Have some perimeter skills but not perimeter quickness (Derrick Williams)
  • Or some combination of the two (like Paul Millsap).

What to do with such players? Make them small "fours" or beefed up "threes?" It has long been an NBA conundrum, especially because plenty of quality players fit this rough description.

It's a conundrum, however, to which a clear solution is emerging: In today's NBA, they're all power forwards.

If there is a question as to whether a player is a small or power forward, that player's almost always better playing power forward. That's just the state of the league these days.

Want proof? First consider what small forwards do. A great way to start this exercise is to spend a few minutes watching small forward Andre Iguodala play defense. A typical possession starts with him sprinting through and around screens. Then, his man may end up as the screener in a pick-and-roll with the point guard. Iguodala then must swallow up a point guard, then dig down to stop a pass to the post with his long arms, and then use his quickness to recover to the perimeter. Yes, Iguodala is strong, smart, and long -- but most of all he’s lightning quick and moving all over the place.

Do you really want Paul Millsap attempting all that?

Being notably smaller than your opponent is a hassle. Being notably slower, against a well-run offense, takes you out of the play entirely. Putting an undersized power forward at small forward just because he has a modicum of perimeter skill is a mistake, especially as every position in the NBA becomes more and more perimeter oriented. It's a strategy rooted in the past and destined for failure.

Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett are so effective as centers and Carmelo Anthony was a revelation as a power forward for this very reason. At those positions, they are fast. Being quick instead of big increases team-wide offensive and defensive versatility while also creating individual advantages.

Teams worry about smallish players getting beat up on the boards, but the fact is that, as David Thorpe likes to say, the player who gets to the ball first is the one that wins possession. Being tall helps, but it's really about hunting "out of area" rebounds and securing good position. Shane Battier is a model for how a slightly smaller player can hold his own inside better than he can defend quicker players on the perimeter.

That’s why it was so curious that the Timberwolves, with Kevin Love already in the fold, drafted Derrick Williams with last year’s second overall pick. If Minnesota hoped he would become an effective small forward, it was wishful thinking. In today’s NBA, that position must be able to operate pick-and-rolls both as a screener and ball handler, make the corner 3-pointer and show hyper-versatility on defense. Basically, a small forward is now just a tall shooting guard; Toronto's Terrence Ross is a ready example.

Williams, despite his protestations to the contrary, is simply not cut out to be a small forward, but boy, could he be a nasty face-up four.

These days, being a "tweener" often just means that player has an opportunity to exploit an advantage in quickness.

With few exceptions, there should be no doubt about what position a front court player plays. It's the one that best suits his speed, not his size.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets: Day 6

July, 19, 2012
7/19/12
12:06
AM ET
By Sean Highkin, Hardwood Paroxysm
ESPN.com
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  • Since the days leading up to the draft, Royce White has been one of the more intriguing personalities in this year's rookie class, and this distinction has only been strengthened by his excellent play in Vegas. Jason Friedman of Rockets.com has a must-read feature on White. Among other things, he talks about the need to nurture his interests outside of basketball in order to improve his game: “We could say that a basketball player, a young kid eating, sleeping and breathing the sport, might help that player more basketball-wise, but life-wise it can’t. You can’t tell me that’s healthy for your all-around well being to just eat, breathe and sleep one thing. If you’re not a well-balanced human it’s no different than if your game’s not well balanced; if you just focus on passing and you can’t shoot or dribble, it’s not good. If we’re giving up humanity for basketball then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. At the end of the day, basketball is important but it can’t be at the expense of the bigger picture. I think there is a way to be the best basketball player you can be and have other interests.”
  • Jim Buss stopped by the NBA TV booth during the Lakers' Tuesday Summer League game. As expected, there's a lot of talk about the Steve Nash trade and Dwight Howard rumors, but Buss also spends time giving his thoughts on some of the players on the Lakers' Summer League squad.
  • The Rockets' Scott Machado and the Kings' Jimmer Fredette break down each other's games in a pair of video interviews on Cowbell Kingdom following strong performances on Monday.
  • Brendan Jackson of CelticsHub thinks Dionte Christmas may be worth a roster spot to back up newly signed Jason Terry: "Christmas continues to show that he’s not afraid to shoot the basketball even if it hurts his chances of making this or any NBA roster. Regardless of Summer League shot selection, Christmas displays the type of fearless and aggressive effort you want coming off your bench. He’s almost ignorant of his own abilities and limitations. As if he would continue to attack the basket and shoot if LeBron James or Kobe Bryant were guarding him. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The Celtics’ options for the backup shooting guard position are looking pretty sparse with the Jason Terry signing officially taking up the mid-level exception, and the C’s could do worse than taking a flyer on Christmas."
  • WEEI's Paul Flannery has a more extensive profile of Christmas, detailing the work he's put in to try to make it in the NBA: “'He stuck with John [Hardnett] and worked out every day, worked out in the gym when there wasn’t nobody around but him,' his trainer Chuck Ellis said. 'He always had the will and he always had the determination. Growing up, he got better and got better just by working hard. He’s what you really call a gym rat.'"
  • Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company talks to Nuggets Summer League coach Chad Iske about the play of Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton in Vegas.
  • Several NBA players name their ideal one-on-one opponents.
  • This crossover/no-look pass combo by the Grizzlies' Jeremy Pargo is as impressive as any move you'll see at Summer League.
  • Scott Schroeder takes a look at Milwaukee's Tobias Harris, who didn't play much his rookie season but is trying to make a case for more minutes: "The second-year wing played more minutes than anyone else in the afternoon matchup between the Bucks and Washington Wizards and, in a move that won’t surprise most who have followed his career, he did quite a bit with the time he was given. The 6-foot-8 wing followed up a 19-point performance in his Vegas Summer League game earlier this week with a 24-point, 12-rebound performance in his second game of the exhibition season."
  • Bucksketball's Jon Hartzell was also impressed with Harris: "He seemed superior to everyone else on the court in both talent and size. The Wizards couldn’t stop him in the post, he showed a somewhat unknown touch on his jumper, and he was constantly in the right position for defensive rebounds. If he can continue with this consistent offense throughout Summer League, then hopefully Hammond will stop talking about how it might be hard for Harris to find minutes behind Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Harris has the offense this team needs and he deserves to be on the floor."
  • From Red's Army, a few highlights from Tuesday night's Bulls-Celtics game, in GIF form.
  • Truth About It's Adam McGinnis is buying the hype around third overall pick Bradley Beal: "He nailed jumpers on dribble drives, off spot-ups, finished in transition, and sprinkled in a few floaters. When he attacks the basket, he does so instinctively -- almost effortlessly -- and can draw contact for fouls; this aggressiveness will give him the benefit of the doubt on many whistles in the future. Beal rarely forces play, choosing his spots wisely even if he’s mired in a mini-drought of missed buckets. His calm demeanor masks any frustrations while he finds other ways to positively impact the game. Beal recovers sharply on defense without fouling and has advanced timing on his shot-blocking prowess."
  • In this video interview, Beal names some of his favorite movies and restaurants, among other things.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
2:52
AM ET
Chau By Danny Chau
ESPN.com
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