Biggest Takeaways from Day 1 at Orlando Summer League 2014
ORLANDO — Saturday marked the first day of Orlando Summer League action from the Amway Center as fans around the league got an initial taste of an exciting crop of rookies and younger players.
It’s hard to take too much out of the Day 1 performances, as one game of summer league is not nearly enough time to get a fair indication about the potential of any player in the league. Instead, it's merely a snapshot of what a guy can do.
We still did learn plenty Saturday as all 10 teams involved in the league were in action. Which players shined? Who had games they would like to forget? Let’s break down a few takeaways.
Nerlens Noel Makes His Long-Awaited Debut
Nerlens Noel started his NBA career with a bang in Orlando.
The Philadelphia 76ers center sat out last year as he recovered from a torn ACL, leading to a highly anticipated debut Saturday. Noel did not take long to make an impact on the floor in the first pro action of his career.
The big man faked out a defender in the post before throwing down a dunk during his first offensive possession of the game, which can be seen here.
It was just the beginning of a productive outing for the 2013 lottery pick, as Noel scored a game-high 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. His performance on the defensive end was stellar as well (four steals, one block), and his court vision impressed too. Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders said Noel made some "unbelievable passes" and "could have a future as a [Joakim] Noah-style operator in the high post."
Sixers fans have plenty to be excited about on Day 1 in Orlando.
Marcus Smart Shines on Defense
Marcus Smart was advertised as one of the most NBA-ready defensive prospects available in the 2014 NBA draft. The hybrid guard lived up to those expectations in his debut for the Celtics on Saturday.
The No. 6 overall pick posted a game-high five steals, helping the Celtics limit the Heat to 32 percent shooting from the field in a 85-77 victory. The impression that Smart has already left on his summer league coach Jay Larranaga with his defense should turn some heads.
"He was a big part of why we played so well as a team on both ends of the floor," Larranaga told reporters. "He had some great help defensive plays you wouldn't expect a 20-year-old to be able to do, but he has a really good idea of team basketball, which is really exciting for us."
Shabazz Napier Starts Slowly
Most college guards have a tough adjustment period when they transition to the NBA. Shabazz Napier served as a great example of that Saturday against the Celtics.
Facing a challenging matchup against fellow rookie Marcus Smart, Napier was awful shooting the ball (0-of-10 from the field) and handling the rock (eight turnovers) over the first three quarters. He also got a taste of the NBA game when Phil Pressey turned him the wrong way on a beautiful crossover.
The point guard bounced back to go 3-of-5 on his shot attempts in the fourth quarter of the Heat's 85-77 defeat, but Napier's overall effort made for a forgettable debut.
Point guards like Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams also struggled like Napier in their summer league play last year, so it's important not to make too much out of this. Seeing how he responds to the performance will be telling.
Aaron Gordon Shows off His Athleticism
It didn't take long for power forward Aaron Gordon to show the world why he jumped up draft boards in late June to the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
The athletic 18-year-old grabbed a shot out of the air in the fourth quarter of the Magic's game against the Sixers that sent shockwaves throughout the Amway Center.
The thrilling play lost some luster when Gordon turned the ball over on the ensuing possession after trying to take on two defenders, but that effort was indicative of an up-and-down day for the former Arizona star.
Gordon finished with just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor, but his all-around skills on display (passing, ball-handling and defense) balanced out the offensive woes.
Bad Luck Hits Pierre Jackson
Philadelphia 76ers guard Pierre Jackson scored seven points in just seven minutes Saturday before his summer league season came to a crashing halt.
Jackson went down with a right Achilles injury as he attempted to take a handoff from teammate Nerlens Noel at the end of the first quarter. After being carried off the floor, the team confirmed after the game that Jackson had suffered a ruptured right Achilles, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
He could miss the entire regular season.
It's a brutal situation for the 5'10" guard who shined in the D-League for the Idaho Stampede last year and appeared poised to break out for the Sixers this season. Philadelphia had re-acquired Jackson in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans on June 27.
Kelly Olynyk Picks Up Where He Left Off
Kelly Olynyk wasted no time showing off a versatile offensive game that continued his reign of summer league domination dating back to last year. He scored a game-high 20 points against Miami and added a team-high eight rebounds.
"I wouldn't say it comes easier," Olynyk said of his play in year two, "because now everyone knows you and everyone is keying on you. I think you are more comfortable, you know what's going to happen since you've been there before."
Olynyk stood out on the offensive end, but he also showed he still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the floor to keep up with quicker big men.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Gets Aggressive
New Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was in attendance Saturday to watch an aggressive version of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in action.
The guard stood out with a game-high 26 points on 8-of-19 shooting, a far cry from the tentative performance that the shooting guard put together in a week's worth of games last year in the summer league.
Caldwell-Pope did a little bit of everything in his team's 95-89 win over the Rockets. He knocked down shots from three-point range and mid-range, and he had some strong takes to the rim that got him to the free-throw line an impressive nine times.
As Van Gundy tries to retool a lackluster Detroit offense from last season, he can't help but be encouraged by the growth Caldwell-Pope showed in his game on Day 1 in Orlando.