In case you weren't getting enough of the NBA's silly season, real, live actual basketball gets back underway this weekend in Orlando, Florida.
A day after we stuff our faces with bratwurst and drink gallons of domesticated adult beverages, some of the game's most promising young talent descends to Florida for the opening of the 2014 NBA Summer League season.
Orlando is the first and typically the more low-key of the two leagues. Teams that feature two summer league squads typically send their so-called A-team to Las Vegas and their B-team to Orlando. This isn't without reason.
The Las Vegas proceedings are the NBA's version of a summer camp. Executives from nearly every team use the league as an excuse for a mid-offseason breather in Vegas, during which you catch up with old friends and maybe make some new ones.
Summer league is like All-Star Weekend with one-fourth of the hoopla and pressure. Getting guys away from the day-to-day grind of the regular-season—and even to a certain extent offseason pressures—is conducive to a more relaxed feel.
In Orlando, though, the focus is intently on basketball. If surrounding aesthetics and late-night gambling sprees are your thing, then Vegas is for you. If you enjoy the more low-key and relaxed lifestyle, then Orlando is a perfect summer league to attend.
Even if making a trip to Florida in early July is not feasible, the NBA is doing a great thing by making all the games available on NBATV and its Summer League Live app. No longer will your days have to be filled pretending to like any other sports. With that in mind, let's check out the complete summer league schedule and quickly look at why each team is worth watching.
|2014 Orlando Summer League Schedule|
|Date||Time (ET)||Matchup||TV Info|
|9 a.m.||Brooklyn Nets vs. Indiana Pacers||NBATV|
|11 a.m.||Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics||NBATV|
|1 p.m.||Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers||NBATV|
|3 p.m.||Detroit Pistons vs. Houston Rockets||NBATV|
|5 p.m.||Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||NBATV|
|3 p.m.||Memphis Grizzlies vs. Detroit Pistons||NBATV|
|5 p.m.||Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||NBATV|
|7 p.m.||Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets||NBATV|
|3 p.m.||Indiana Pacers vs. Boston Celtics||NBATV|
|5 p.m.||Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic||NBATV|
|7 p.m.||Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Brooklyn Nets||NBATV|
|3 p.m.||Orlando Magic vs. Memphis Grizzlies||NBATV|
|5 p.m.||Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons||NBATV|
|7 p.m.||Houston Rockets vs. Philadelphia 76ers||NBATV|
|Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||NBATV|
|Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets||NBATV|
|Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons||NBATV|
|Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat||NBATV|
|Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic||NBATV|
|Memphis Grizzlies vs. Houston Rockets||NBATV|
|6th place vs. 5th place||NBATV|
|4th place vs. 3rd place||NBATV|
Notable Faces: Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, James Young, Phil Pressey
Why They're Worth Watching: Because the Celtics could have the two best individual performers in Orlando.
Kelly Olynyk had the entire New England area ready for Larry Bird 2.0 whenever he took over last summer. His actual rookie season left a good amount to be desired, but he's skilled and big enough (7'0", 238 lbs) that he could trip and fall into a double-double.
Marcus Smart's performance could go one of two ways. He could use it as a pulpit to begin proving everyone wrong who allowed him to drop to No. 6 in June's NBA draft. Or it could go the opposite way, with Smart's jumper failing him, and his brand of lockdown defense not standing out as much on a stage where few care all that much. Let's hope it's the former.
(Note: We'd discuss James Young here, but he might not play due to a neck injury he suffered in a predraft car accident.)
Notable Faces: Mason Plumlee, Cory Jefferson, Markel Brown
Why They're Worth Watching: Because Mason Plumlee will do Plumlee things.
The Plumlee family is built to dominate summer league. They only know how to play at one speed—roughly that of a turbo-charged Air Force fighter jet; I did the math—and that runs counter to the relative noncompetitive spirit of most of these games. It remains to be seen how many of these games Plumlee will participate in, but he'll drop double-doubles in any contest he gets significant minutes.
Also: Markel Brown in the open court. Anyone who happened to watch SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays" segment during the college basketball season knows what this means. Brown was among the best handful of athletes in this year's draft class, boasting a co-combine-high 43.5-inch vertical leap. Brown's other skills are a little iffy, but dude can flat-out fly.
Notable Faces: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell, Peyton Siva, Brian Cook
Why They're Worth Watching: Because, yes, it is THAT Brian Cook of which I speak. The one who was on the Lakers when Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were still teammates. The guy who knows firsthand what the Rudy Tomjanovich era was like in Los Angeles. The 33-year-old dude who has not played in an NBA game since April 2012.
He will be participating in Orlando for reasons of which I am not yet sure.
The Pistons' entertainment value will otherwise be reliant on players from their 2013 draft class. Second-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie is still recovering from ACL surgery and cannot participate.
That leaves Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a somewhat important opportunity to remind folks why he was a first-round pick last year. Caldwell-Pope suffered through a miserable rookie campaign, displaying none of the elite shooting ability Detroit had hoped for. He'll need to get on the right track quick with Dinwiddie and Jodie Meeks in the mix.
Like Brown and Aaron Gordon, Tony Mitchell will be around to dunk in people's faces. Looking forward to it.
Notable Faces: Nick Johnson, Jahii Carson, Jabari Brown
Why They're Worth Watching: Because they have two of the best undrafted players from this year's class. It's still unfathomable to me—at least for reasons other than size—why Jahii Carson (5'10") went undrafted. Carson, like the umpteen diminutive but talented guards before him, displayed an innate ability to attack off the rim and a solid long-range jumper.
There is real, mineable talent here that I feel can and will make its way onto an NBA bench someday. He's going to be a breakout star this summer in large part because he needs to be.
Jabari Brown is an athletic, smooth 2-guard who can really stroke from three-point range, as he shot .410 from deep last year. His decision to leave Missouri was a little curious, though understandable given the turmoil in that program. He's going to take double-digit shots in games where he gets significant minutes and has a 30-point breakout performance inside him.
It will be interesting to see if the two undrafted guys play better than the one Houston thought enough of to take in the second round (Nick Johnson).
Notable Faces: Solomon Hill, Lavoy Allen, C.J. Leslie, Donald Sloan
Why They're Worth Watching: Because, umm, I'm struggling here. Perhaps because it's weird that Lavoy Allen is working out with the team despite being a free agent? Or that it will be nice to see C.J. Leslie back on a basketball floor?
Oh, I got it! Solomon Hill. The guy for whom Larry Bird decided to cartwheel out on the tree's thinnest branch for. That guy. You may have forgotten about him because he played exactly one playoff minute last season. Bird sold the public on Hill as a three-and-D guy, someone who could help prop Indiana's perpetually terrible bench unit. The clock is already ticking on that selection.
Notable Faces: Jordan Adams, Jamaal Franklin, Scottie Wilbekin, Jarnell Stokes
Why They're Worth Watching: Because the Grizzlies made two really interesting picks in this year's draft. Neither Jordan Adams nor Jarnell Stokes is the most athletic player at his respective position, but both are damn good basketball players ready to contribute right away.
Adams, the No. 22 overall selection, is a natural-born scorer, able to stretch the defense with his three-point range and create space for himself despite his below-average athleticism.
Stokes was a steal at No. 35. He and Julius Randle were the two best rebounders in this group of players, and Stokes showed in workouts that there was more to his game than meets the eye. Superstardom probably isn't in his destiny, but he'll be a solid bench big for eight to 10 years.
Jamaal Franklin is an interesting piece because he was the Memphis player last year whom everyone thought was a steal. Franklin struggled to get himself off the bench, and his skill-set overlap with Tony Allen makes his path treacherous. I'm curious to see if he's added any offensive wrinkles since the season ended.
Notable Faces: Shabazz Napier, James Ennis, Justin Hamilton
Why They're Worth Watching: Because Shabazz Napier. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player is the only piece on this roster who is going to make people turn their heads even once. The Heat are infinitely more invested in keeping their Big Three together than anything that happens in Orlando or Las Vegas. (They are one of a handful of franchises with teams in both cities.)
Seeing Napier play for the first time since his scintillating NCAA Tournament run makes a moribund roster look, well, less so. Otherwise? Meh.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Notable Faces: Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, Andre Roberson
Why They're Worth Watching: Because, as per usual, the Thunder look like they've assembled a juggernaut. Minutes distribution will obviously play a factor, as it seems unlikely that Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones get significant time. Whether Mitch McGary will be an actual participant or one in name only because of his back injury also remains to be seen.
From a purely on-paper standpoint, Oklahoma City should rampage through to the championship game. When we said the same thing a year ago, the Thunder failed to lose a game and captured the crown in Orlando with a decisive win over the Rockets. This year's crop returns many of the same players, each a year older and (ostensibly) a year better.
It's a matter of how hard the organization wants to push its young guys.
Notable Faces: Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Seth Curry
Why They're Worth Watching: Because I honestly kind of want to see whether the Magic actually play Victor Oladipo. Often players are listed on summer league rosters as a just-in-case gesture. Maybe Oladipo plays one game—at max two—but it seems like an unnecessary risk to have him out there. Getting him and Elfrid Payton a little experience working together is the only positive gained there.
More likely, Orlando's entertainment value comes from the two rookies. Payton and Gordon should run amok in the open court with their combination of quickness and athleticism. If there is not at least one alley-oop from those two, they will have failed America and the proud tradition of the Orlando Summer League.
Do not fail America on this, the weekend of our nation's birth. Dunk hard and dunk long, Mr. Gordon.
Notable Faces: Nerlens Noel, Pierre Jackson, Jerami Grant, Aaron Craft
Why They're Worth Watching: The bright side of the Sixers having roughly six players worthy of being in the NBA is that most of them are young enough to still require summer league seasoning. The dark side to that is Philly is sending players to both Orlando and Vegas—meaning we'll have to see how minutes are divided before getting too excited.
The big deal for most Sixers fans is Nerlens Noel (kind of) making his debut. Noel, the No. 6 pick in last year's draft, sat out all of last season while recovering from an ACL tear. He's been healthy enough to play for a long time, but rust will undoubtedly be a factor for at least the first game.
Philly will also be antagonizing opposing defenses with explosive scorer Pierre Jackson and its own fans by bringing in Aaron Craft. The former Ohio State guard was one of the more polarizing figures in college basketball last season—mostly through no fault of his own. He'll attempt to make an NBA roster after going undrafted last month.
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