We're two days into NBA summer league; how is everyone feeling? A little weary? Kind of droopy-eyed with your head constantly cocked to the side, as if you're having a conversation with yourself about why this is happening on the television before you? Have you already become re-convinced that Kelly Olynyk is Larry Bird 2.0?
Then welcome to summer league, indeed.
The past two days in Orlando have been the quintessential display. Jokes pile on top of one another when high-profile rookies struggle. Overreaction at the brilliance of players on this stage merely to get a training camp invite runs rampant. The marginalization of the big man continues in earnest.
Summer league is wonderful, assuming you are able to drown out the noise. The games are bad, but that's only because these players are working together for the first time. It's not as if these guys had a month of practice to get ready; most teams confirmed their summer league roster just days before going to Orlando.
Individualism trumps whatever minuscule "team" effort there is. Nearly every possession begins with a high pick-and-roll; you'll never see more dribble handoffs in an NBA-sanctioned game. Summer league is about finding the merits of individual players you may have expected and seeing where some young players need to and have improved their game.
It is—and I know this is crazy to say in the Internet age—fun. And it's only going to get better in Las Vegas, which is the biggest NBA reunion this side of the All-Star break. So do yourself a favor, stop being weird and enjoy having some form of basketball in our lives. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the most impressive performances from the first two days.
|#||Team||Games Played||W||L||Points||Tiebreaker Notes|
|2||Memphis Grizzlies||2||1||1||10||Point differential +18|
|3||Miami Heat||2||1||1||10||Point differential +11|
|5||Boston Celtics||1||1||0||6||Point differential +8|
|6||Orlando Magic||1||1||0||6||Point differential +6|
|7||Brooklyn Nets||2||1||1||6||Point differential +1|
|8||Oklahoma City Thunder||2||0||2||3|
Kelly Olynyk (F-C, Boston Celtics)
Apparently, the Celtics should just reschedule their entire regular season for the first two weeks in July. For the second straight summer, Olynyk came out and looked dominant against his Orlando competition. The 2013 first-rounder scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made four steals in the Celtics' 85-77 win over Miami.
It was largely a carbon copy of what we saw last summer. Olynyk stretched comfortably out to the three-point line, finished around the rim and displayed a nifty aggressiveness on both ends. The Heat's front line was a mess throughout, with Justin Hamilton making only four of 15 shots and Jerrelle Benimon unable to get anything of significance going.
For the Celtics, any positive signs for Olynyk will come with a wide grin. Like many in the 2013 class, Olynyk's rookie season was mostly below average. His ability to stretch the floor—more critically, defenses respecting his ability to do so—was overstated, and his defensive production was largely nonexistent. The Celtics drafted him as an offense-first player, but early indications have been that he's a backup big long term.
If Olynyk can improve enough to become a replacement-level starter, he's a valuable commodity.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Detroit Pistons)
Speaking of disappointing 2013 rookies who made heads turn: Caldwell-Pope slogged through a largely miserable campaign. He shot just 31.9 percent from three-point range, failing to provide the spacing help and scoring punch the Pistons so desperately needed.
Without looking too much into a summer league performance, Caldwell-Pope has looked more comfortable in his skin the past couple of days. He scored 26 points and grabbed six steals in the Pistons' opening game against Houston, flashing perhaps the most aggression I've seen from him since he left Georgia. He got to the line nine times, and his jumper looked smoother and more confident than in the regular season.
And then Caldwell-Pope topped all of that with a 30-point, 12-rebound explosion in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. For the second straight game, the Georgia product looked like a breakout star in the making. He's been unquestionably the most explosive scorer we've seen thus far.
Again, this could be the summer league talking. A talented 21-year-old kid coming off of a full NBA season should look much better in this setting. We're living in a world where Brian Cook—yes, the same Brian Cook from the Shaqobe Lakers—is coming in and draining threes like it's 2005. There is a reason the phrase "temper your excitement" was uttered, and I'm like 98 percent sure its genesis was Orlando summer league. (Note: I MAY be wrong about that.)
The Pistons already went out and splurged on Jodie Meeks and drafted Spencer Dinwiddie. Stan Van Gundy has the clock ticking on Caldwell-Pope's place within the team hierarchy. More games like these in Orlando will get him a little bit of a leash heading into camp. But he's going to have to prove he can score at the adults' table sooner rather than later.
Mason Plumlee (F, Brooklyn Nets)
Sensing a theme here yet? Second-year rookies tend to do pretty, pretty well in summer league.
Plumlee by himself is built for these types of games. He only knows how to play one speed—ridiculously, superhumanly fast—and that allows him to make the types of hustle plays that are often left for games that actually count. The Nets forward-center scrambled his way to 23 points in just 24 minutes on Saturday, pestering his way through Indiana's front line.
Like Orlando's Victor Oladipo, Brooklyn might want to look into how much summer league is actually helping Plumlee. Playing now allows the coaching staff to see areas of improvement, but he's at a different skill level than a majority of the players on the court. Plumlee is going to do Plumlee things forever and always. He's going to play at warp speed, grab rebounds, leap over people and never, ever be the focal point of an offense.
Even against the Pacers, a majority of Plumlee's points came in situations created by others or off of rim runs and rebounds. These are the things we knew he could do at this point a year ago. That he's able to do them with a higher level of proficiency in summer league is good to see, but it changes little in terms of his evaluation.
When we start seeing Plumlee stretching out to the three-point line in these games, then we can talk about the merits of him playing. Until then, he's basically the big sixth grader running court against the third graders during recess.
But, hey, at least we get to see him do Plumlee things.