Most 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?
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.