NBA Summer League: Winners and Losers from Day One in Orlando

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NBA Summer League: Winners and Losers from Day One in Orlando
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Day one of the Orlando Summer League is in the books, and some players have already made lasting impressions.

The first day saw Orlando beat Brooklyn, Boston beat Oklahoma City, Detroit beat Utah and Indiana beat Philadelphia.

But everyone knows the summer league isn't about team results; it's about player evaluation. And on Monday we had a little bit of everything: stars who played like stars, stars who played like scrubs, and no-names who played like NBA-level contributors.

Judgements can be swayed in the subsequent days of competition, but a lot of guys made indelible marks––both good and bad––on their scouting profiles.

Here's a look back at day one in Orlando, and a quick peek at what lies in store on day two.

 

5 Big Names Who Impressed:

1. PG Brandon Knight (DET)

The stats look good enough, but they don't do Knight's performance justice. On a day where seasoned, young veterans––former first-rounders with NBA experience––struggled mightily, Knight did was he was supposed to do: play like the best player on the floor.

Knight only shot 4-11, but finished with 17 points and six assists in a 76-73 victory over Utah. Most importantly, however, he aced the eye-test. It didn't matter what the box score said at the end of the game, everybody in the gym saw that Knight was a step quicker than the other nine guys on the court.

Should Knight finish as a first-team Summer League guard, he'd join the impressive company of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Jrue Holliday. After Monday's performance, he's well on his way to doing just that.

2. PF Jared Sullinger (BOS)

Sully showed no ill-effects from his alleged "back problems," making the Orlando Summer League look like a January Big Ten game.

He racked up 20 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of floor time, scoring in a variety of ways. First there was the patented offensive rebound-hook-shot-putback. Then there was a strong and-one finish in transition. He even knocked in a three-pointer.

It's easy to get wrapped up in combine measurements or (Jay Bilas' favorite) wingspans. But the truth is, some players just know how to score the basketball. Sullinger's game is perfectly tailored to his unique musculature, and he'll always find a way to put up points.

3. PF Andrew Nicholson  (ORL)

Nicholson put up a ho-hum double-double, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds. The scary part? He put up those numbers without having the offense run through him.

Nicholson reminds me a lot of the Kings' Jason Thompson. You'll never see him on SportsCenter, but he'll be putting up good numbers in the league for a long time.

On the biggest possession of the game, the Magic fed Nicholson in the post. Tyshawn Taylor almost stripped him, but he recovered the ball, and fought his way to a go-ahead and-one.

4. SF Kyle Singler (DET)

Singler didn't get the benefit of Summer League in his lockout-shortened rookie offseason, and opted to take his talents to the beaches of Madrid for a year. And after a successful one-year stint in the Spanish league, Singler is poised to make an impact in the NBA next season.

The former Dukie worked beautifully with the aforementioned Knight, spacing the floor in transition, and hitting every open look he got. In the half court, he proved effective off the dribble, and cutting without the ball, too.

He finished with 14 points on 6-8 shooting, numbers that don't do justice to how good he looked.

5. PF Perry Jones III (OKC)

Jones wasn't terribly efficient, shooting 7-17 from the field, but he quieted some of the critics who said he was too soft to play against NBA competition.

His size and length are prodigious, helping him coast to 16 points and eight rebounds, despite disappearing for stretches at a time.

He does need to work on settling for jump shots. Even though he made a few (he's already a better shooter than, say, Serge Ibaka), he's much more effective when he's attacking the rim with all that size.

Even if Jones never improves from where he is right now, he's already a steal at No. 28 overall.

 

5 Big Names Who Disappointed:

1. C Cole Aldrich (OKC)

Day one of the Orlando Summer League was characterized by impressive rookies, but more-so by disappointing young veterans.

And nobody was more disappointing than Oklahoma City's Cole Aldrich.

Sam Presti traded up to grab Aldrich 11th overall in 2010, but since then the ponderous big man has proven to be abnormally stiff. Big things were expected of him this summer, as he has an outside chance of playing time in 2012-13, but he lumbered his way to 1 point on 0-4 shooting.

He also had a game-low -18 plus-minus rating, to boot.

2. SG MarShon Brooks (BKN)

Brooks made a mockery of the league's opening game, shooting 0-10 from the field, and petulantly sulking after each poor play he made.

Brooks is supposed to be the veteran on Brooklyn's squad, but his poor body language, and arrogant cocksure (not to mention terrible play) set a bad example for the young guys. 

3. C Enes Kanter (UTA)

Kanter was supposed to give Andre Drummond a rough welcome to the next level of low-post basketball. But Drummond was able to shut him down after a quick start, holding Kanter to three points on 1-7 shooting.

His one field goal came on a beautiful up-and-under, but that flash of brilliance just makes the rest of his impotence all the more frustrating.

Granted, Andre Drummond is supposedly an NBA-ready post defender, Kanter was still expected to excel in his first summer league game.

4. SG Alec Burks (UTA)

A 2011 lottery pick who scored seven points per game for a playoff team last season? I think it's fair to expect better than we got from Burks.

If not for Deron Washington's late-game surge, Burks would have lead the Jazz in scoring, but his -17 plus-minus speaks greater volumes about his day one performance.

The summer league provides an opportunity for rising sophomores to make the leap from "serviceable" to "productive." Burks still appears to be the former, 

5. SF/PF Maurice Harkless (PHI)

Maurice "Don't Call Me Moe" Harkless wasn't bad, per say, in his summer league debut, but he definitely failed to impress.

He disappeared for long stretches, failing to assert himself while his clearly-less-talented teammates were floundering on offense. He scored nine points on 4-9 shooting, but he needed to take more than nine shots.

I suspect he'll fit in much better when surrounded by legitimate scoring options, but he looked far too passive against Indiana.

 

5 Longshots Who Impressed:

1. PG Maalik Wayns (ORL)

Wayns stole the show at times in the day's opening game, leading the Magic to an impressive victory over Brooklyn. He finished with a double-double (11 points, 10 assists), and made a couple of crucial steals down the stretch, when the Nets had all but vanquished Orlando's lead.

A former McDonald's All-American, Wayns had an up-and-down career at Villanova, but his game is perfectly tailored for the modern-day NBA. He's quick, relentless driving into the lane, and showed great vision distributing to his uber-talented frontcourt.

It's obviously a little premature to make brazen predictions, but there's some serious Isaiah Thomas (the Kings' version) potential here.

2. SG Kim English (DET)

Like a true Missouri Tiger, English was not afraid to shoot in his first professional game. He's a high-volume, high-percentage shooter, who puts up the ball with confidence. And against Utah, he was sizzling.

He piled up a game-high 18 points on only nine shots, including a 3-4 performance from three-point range.

He has good size, a good stroke, and worked well with Pistons' starting point guard Brandon Knight. All of those things should help him crack the roster in 2012-13.

3. - PG Blake Ahearn & Michael Stockton (UTA)

Both guys––Ahearn in particular––would probably be picked last in a summer league pick-up game, but they both looked mighty impressive running the show against Detroit.

Ahearn, the D-League's all-time leading scorer, flashed his effortless three-point range, knocking down both of his deep attempts. Fun fact: last season he made 110 consecutive free throws for the Reno Bighorns.

John Stockton's son, meanwhile, only got 10 minutes of floor time (which was criminal) but he made an impression while he was out there. He played with poise and confidence, probing the lane and finding open teammates. He even flash his three-point range by knocking down his only deep attempt.

4. SF/PF Carleton Scott (BKN)

Scott helped lead Brooklyn back from a seemingly insurmountable hole, flashing the deadly three-point stroke he was famous for at Notre Dame.

He finished with 16 points on 6-9 shooting (3-5 from long range), in only 19 minutes of action. He also proved he wasn't afraid to bang in the paint by collecting six rebounds.

He's kind of a tweener at 6'8", but with some time in an NBA conditioning program he should gain either the quickness to play small forward, or the strength to be a stretch-four. There's always a spot in the league for guys who don't miss threes.

5. SG E'Twaun Moore & Dionte Christmas (BOS)

Both Moore and Christmas had brilliant college careers, being selected to multiple all-conference teams, and leading their schools through the NCAA tournament. Now, they both appear ready to contribute at the next level.

Moore played significant minutes for the Celtics early in the 2011 season, but fell out of favor when Keyon Dooling returned from injury. Moore provides so much more (get it?) than Dooling offensively, however, which could get him some more run in 2012. He scored 16 points against OKC, including a clutch, game-clinching three in the fourth quarter.

Christmas is best known for his deadly three-point shooting, but he showed a newfound toughness and grit in the summer league opener. He had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and added four assists.

Honorable Mentions: C Kyle O'Quinn (ORL); SG Orlando Johnson (IND); SF/PF Deron Washington (UTA)

 

5 Head-to-Head Matchups to Watch on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Knight (DET) vs. Maalik Wayns (ORL)

Wayns was one of the best stories on day one, but now things get a little tougher. Brandon Knight is a much better defender and athlete than Marshon Brooks or Tyshawn Taylor (at least at this point), and should provide a new challenge for the summer league's leading assist-man.

2. Cole Aldrich (OKC) vs. Miles Plumlee (IND)

Aldrich gets a shot at redemption after a stinky day one, while Miles Plumlee gets his first established test on the block. The Sixers used a bunch of castoffs down low against him, and he was good-but-not-great en route to nine points and 10 rebounds. But Aldrich will be much more physical with him, and we'll get to see how the first-rounder responds to being punched in the mouth.

3. Jared Sullinger (BOS) vs. Al Thornton (BKN)

On day one we learned that Sullinger can definitely score against NBA-level talent, and Al Thornton certainly won't prove otherwise. But when Sullinger guards Thornton, it will be his first time defending an athletic, established, scoring threat who plays the stretch-four position. Sullinger will have to learn to guard this position at some point, but there's a chance Thornton could be too quick and bouncy for him on Tuesday. 

4. Kyle Singler (DET) vs. Justin Harper (ORL)

Both guys looked very impressive on day one, and now they get to guard each other on day two. I wrote at-length about Singler above, but Harper deserves some praise as well. He faded in the second half, but still finished with 15 points and four rebounds against Brooklyn. He's got size, quickness and strength on Singler, so it will be interesting to see how the former Dukie defends him.

5. Maurice Harkless (PHI) vs. Demarre Carroll (UTA)

Harkless looked passive at times against the Pacers, but by the end of the game he looked like he realized he's the best player on the Sixers' summer league roster. On Tuesday, he should be more hell-bent on attacking. Carroll, however, is a much stronger, physical defender than anybody he saw against Indiana. If Carroll's physicality makes Harkless passive and timid, that would be a very bad sign for Philly.

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