9 Takeaways from Day 3 of Orlando Summer League

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

9 Takeaways from Day 3 of Orlando Summer League

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    Day 3 of the NBA summer league's a charm.

    The first two days of summer-league action were super informative and paved the way for scalding-hot takes that attempted to chart a youngster's career trajectory after just one or two performances.

    If your name is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, you were being coined a future superstar. If you're Jeremy Lamb, you were leaving mountains of disappointment in your wake.

    Hot takes aren't really what the summer league is all about, though. Devout hoops heads can appreciate what it's truly for—providing a foundation of truth upon which informed, sometimes-makeshift opinions can be built. 

    And if you're into that kind of thing, then boy, are our takeaways from Day 3 for you.

Kelly Olynyk Kicking Butt and Taking Names

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    How does Kelly Olynyk follow up a 20-point, eight-rebound and four-steal performance?

    By doing more of the same, of course.

    Olynyk didn't slow down against the Indiana Pacers on Monday. He scored a Boston Celtics team-high 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting. He continues to make strides as a playmaker, too. He did a good job passing out of double-teams and finding those who were moving without the ball.

    Defense was still an issue, much like it was during his first game of the summer, as Bleacher Report's Brian Robb explained.

    "Olynyk stood out on the offensive end," he wrote, "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."

    If this were the regular season, Olynyk would have fouled out against the Pacers. He committed six personal fouls and proved to be a liability when he found himself guarding or helping with the (spoiler alert) illustrious Willie Reed.

    Stretch forwards and centers tend to struggle while defending in the post, and Olynyk's lanky frame doesn't help his cause. But coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics are building around sturdy defensive sets, so he'll have to get in line.

    Until he does, though, enjoy Olynyk's summertime offense. His points come in bunches, he's dropping dimes with more frequency and his haircut is already in postseason form.

Willie Reed or Willis Reed?

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    This is only the summer league.

    This is only the summer league.

    This is only the summer league.

    If you're like me, you were forced to repeat this to yourself as you watched Willie Reed carve up the Celtics defense. He went for 14 points, six rebounds and two assists in the first half alone, before finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, three assists and four blocks—yes, four—for the game.

    The 6'10", 24-year-old basically looked like Willis Reed for the Pacers—provided Willis Reed was prone to fits of Serge Ibaka-esque explosion and shot-blocking (he wasn't).

    Reed ran the floor well and had his way down low. When he took flight, hopelessness washed over Boston's defense. 

    Indiana really let him loose Monday, too. Reed played only 18 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets in his first summer-league game. He logged a cool 24-plus minutes in this one.

    Two contests into his summer-league junket, we'll stop miles short of calling him David West's—or Roy Hibbert's—eventual replacement. But after two strong outings—one of which was unequivocally dominant—we'll want to get used to the idea of seeing him on an NBA roster.

Marcus Smart Has Some Work to Do

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    Marcus Smart is everything the Celtics could have expected him to be on offense...which isn't especially good.

    The No. 6 pick struggled mightily during the Celtics' meltdown against the Pacers on Monday, shooting just 3-of-15 from the floor in over 27 minutes of action. He had some nifty dimes—four total—but his perimeter-scoring acumen is beyond raw. 

    Just like his first summer-league game, Smart didn't actively avoid the three-point line. While that's good in theory—since he'll have to shoot threes and jump shots in general if he's to play alongside Rajon Rondo—he made just 1-of-5 threes and is now shooting a paltry 10 percent from deep over the course of two games. 

    When he gets into the lane, he goes from zero to determined and explosive in a split second. But then in another split second, his mindset appears to plummet into confusion and hesitancy. The Celtics need him to maintain his offensive aggression, especially considering more of his scoring opportunities will be borne out of effort until he develops a consistent jumper.

    This is unfortunately the second time in two games he's labored through and looked uncomfortable within offensive sets. He shot just 2-of-8 from the floor in 28 minutes of action against the Miami Heat on Saturday.

    “First half, I was a little nervous, a little bit,” Smart said Saturday, per The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. “It was my first pro game with a new group of guys. It was a little nerve-racking.”

    During that game, he was, at least, able to make his presence felt on defense. This time around, he looked out of sync on that end. The aggression was there, but the execution was not and he continued to commit fouls in volume (four).

    Rocky starts are par for the course this early into NBA tenures, so we can't call Smart's early trials red flags. His offensive progression, however, is something to watch. The Celtics have a lot riding on it.

Elfrid Payton: Efficient Scorer?

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    During his inaugural Orlando Summer League outing on Saturday, Elfrid Payton looked every bit the part of a rookie point guard getting his first taste of NBA burn—a little shaky, albeit imbued with palpable, seemingly boundless energy.

    What a difference a game makes.

    Starting in place of Victor Oladipo (his summer-league stint was, predictably, over after one game), Payton’s 12 points and nine assists paced his Orlando Magic to a decisive 87-69 win over the Houston Rockets.

    But it was how Payton scored his buckets that was most impressive: specifically, on 5-of-5 shooting, buoyed all the while by the Louisiana-Lafayette standout’s impressive speed and athleticism.

    Speaking of Oladipo, you can bet last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up was quick to give Payton a bit of insight into the former’s own first run at last year’s summer league, similarly helter-skelter as it was.

    Payton’s scrappy defense and pace-changing playmaking have drawn comparisons to Rajon Rondo. That’s the good news. The bad news: So has Payton’s jump shot—and rightly so.

    Payton is nowhere near ready to run an NBA team on a nightly basis. But if his second summer-league go-round is any kind of bellwether, that prognosis stands a chance of changing mighty quickly as the days and weeks unfold.

Gord-on Schedule

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    Speaking of efficiency, Aaron Gordon also rebounded nicely from a somewhat lackluster Game 1 to tally nine points and seven rebounds in a little less than 22 minutes of action.

    Nuisance: That’s the best way to describe Gordon’s contributions Monday afternoon. Whether it was getting out in transition for an easy bucket, registering a hard chase-down block or banging home a hoop-with-the-harm down low, Orlando’s No. 4 overall pick looked every bit the freak-of-nature athlete that turned heads throughout the college basketball season—not to mention at the NBA combine.

    Gordon’s one pitfall: a miserable 1-of-5 performance from the charity stripe. Gordon’s stroke has long been considered his one glaring offensive weakness, but if there’s a silver lining to be had, it’s that his form isn’t actually that terrible.

    Like Blake Griffin (to whom he’s drawn comparisons aplenty), Gordon must add a somewhat reliable mid-range game if he’s ever going to reach elite-level small-forward status.

Nick Needs Time

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    After dropping 18 points in one of Saturday’s more surprising debut performances, Rockets rookie Nick Johnson—taken with the 42nd pick—came back to earth a bit in Houston’s loss to Orlando, registering just 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

    Give due credit to Elfrid Payton’s pesky D for contributing to Johnson’s struggles. At the same time, Johnson has more to gain—and lose—than most of his summer-league counterparts.

    Why? With the Rockets actively shopping Jeremy Lin (per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle) and Patrick Beverley’s future as a clear-cut starter still uncertain, Johnson has a real chance to assert himself as a viable rotation option.

    As with Beverley, Johnson’s stout perimeter defense could help shore up Houston’s intermittently lackluster performance in that department. Moreover, the latter’s size and strength are formidable enough to give the defense-averse James Harden considerable cover in certain situations.

    In his three years at the University of Arizona, Johnson forged a niche as a tough-nosed leader with an enviable combination of controlled athleticism and heady playmaking. If he can effectively showcase that skill set in the coming days and weeks, there’s no reason to believe he can’t eventually do so when and where it matters most.

Mitch? He Can

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    When NBA scouts were drooling over Mitch McGary’s NBA-ready game following the Michigan freshman’s outstanding performance in the 2013 NCAA tournament, this is the kind of performance they were anticipating: 18 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 98-84 win Monday night.

    Indeed, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a college prospect whose star rose faster and higher than McGary’s during the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    Despite a sky-high stock, McGary decided to return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore season. Unfortunately, after just a handful of games, recurring back problems would sideline the beastly power forward for the remainder of the season.

    In taking McGary with the No. 21 pick, the Thunder may have gotten the steal of the draft—a burly but skilled big tailor-made for today’s versatility-oriented NBA.

    Unlike Steven Adams, OKC’s 2013 lottery pick, McGary’s game is rooted in fundamentals and footwork. And while his jumper needs a bit of fine-tuning, the rudiments of a nasty mid-range game are there.

    As the regular season approaches and eventually unfolds, expect the Thunder to start seeking out suitors for Kendrick Perkins, who’s become something of an offensive liability in recent years.

    McGary’s D has a ways to go before he can reasonably be called a potent rim-protector, but his early summer-league showing proves his overall contributions stand to be valuable indeed.

Free Mason

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    It’s something of a summer-league tradition to see bona fide NBA rotation players—typically guys entering their second or third year—make a two-game cameo, stuffing the box score in limited minutes before donning polo shirts on the sidelines.

    Mason Plumlee might be joining those ranks.

    Plumlee, a backup center for the Brooklyn Nets who filled in nicely for the injured Brook Lopez last season, has been by far his team’s most steady contributor.

    Monday’s performance—13 points, six rebounds and three assists in just 23 minutes of action—was no different.

    During the game’s NBA TV broadcast, Rick Kamla noted how spending a year under the tutelage of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett has paid wonderful dividends for Plumlee’s development.

    Kamla wasn’t lying: Plumlee has become much more than the athletic, tin-attacking center that earned him a consensus second-team All-America selection for the Duke Blue Devils in 2013.

    As things stand, Lopez remains Brooklyn’s center of the future. But if the All-Star’s foot issues prove more than just a bout of bad luck, Plumlee’s speed, strength and athleticism are sure to warrant him increased minutes heading into the season.

Lamb the Lion

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    Let’s be blunt: Jeremy Lamb should pretty much dominate summer league. Such is the expectation when you’re a decorated collegian who stepped into a significant backup role for one of the best teams in the NBA.

    Following a forgettable opening salvo Saturday afternoon, Lamb poured in a game-high 26 points (to go along with eight rebounds and three steals) in OKC’s 98-84 win.

    His efficiency may have left something to be desired (he was just 8-of-21 from the floor), but Lamb’s focus and leadership—albeit in demeanor rather than words—were there in spades.

    For OKC to regain its spot atop the Western Conference mountaintop, getting next-level leaps from the likes of Lamb and Steven Adams will be essential.

    He’ll never be able to replace James Harden as an unparalleled sixth-man scoring dynamo, but Lamb’s combination of length, quickness and range makes him one to keep an eye on as we draw closer to next season.