9 Takeaways from Day 5 of Orlando Summer League
Paging all basketball-invested people: Day 5 of the NBA's Orlando Summer League was big-time.
Did you expect it to be anything else?
Of course you didn't. You're smart.
While superstar free agents are busy thinking about how to best deliver career-changing decisions, you're interested in flowering talents. They, unlike a few others who are named LeBron James shall remain nameless, won't interrupt your day with news of what color bedspread they purchased and what said bedroom dressings mean for their future.
Summer league is actual basketball. It's young guns getting an opportunity to prove themselves.
It's small-time players delivering big-time performances.
It's Day 5, y'all. It came, it went and it was awesome.
Mitch Finds His Niche
Mitch McGary did work Wednesday.
Working off an 18-point, 13-rebound, two-block performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder wasted little time picking apart Indiana, tallying 15 points on an economical 5-of-7 shooting.
On a day during which the Thunder's offense resembled a bedridden four-year-old with chickenpox, there was McGary, scoring and attacking, drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line, breathing life into a squad that aimlessly wandered through four (abbreviated) quarters of basketball.
Case in point: Watching him was pleasant.
There's still some work to be done on defense. He was a team-worst minus-23 on the floor, with his inability to defend off the dribble, close out shooters or bully down low on full display. The Thunder will want to see their 6'10" wunderkind grab more than two boards in 23 minutes of action as well.
But he's been incredibly fun to watch, offering a preview into what life with Mitch McGary is like when he's on fire, like Welcome To Loud City's Justin Danziger explains:
He was hitting his low post layups and draining his mid-range jump shots, and his smile and facial expressions were a nice indicator of how much he was enjoying his performance. Going into the game, I prepared myself to see poor shooting from the big man. Now I know that when McGary is on....he is on. He finished with 18 points.
Unlike most contending teams, the Thunder have shown a willingness to field inexperienced youngsters during the regular season. This bodes well for McGary—Thunder fans, too.
More of McGary, who has proved to be pure energy, figures to be a very, very (very) good thing.
Donald "I Duck Defenders" Sloan
Donald Sloan is doing everything the regular-season Pacers didn't: scoring.
Through his first two summer-league contests, the combo guard was averaging 17.5 points and 3.0 assists per game. He raised the bar even higher Wednesday during Indiana's 94-71 victory, exploding for 19 points and six assists in just over 24 minutes of action.
Efficiency has been Sloan's biggest issue, yet it was a strength against the Thunder. He drilled 7-of-10 from the floor, catching fire from deep (4-of-5).
There was almost nothing not to like.
Only almost, though.
Sloan still needs to work on his ball control. He tries to do too much off the dribble at times, and he frequently telegraphs his passes. Five turnovers in under 25 minutes is inexcusable, no matter how many points you score.
Other than that, Sloan's Day 5—not unlike his entire summer-league stint—was a success.
"It's tough," he said of summer-league play, per The Indianapolis Star's Phillip B. Wilson, "but at the same time, if you trust in your work, you trust your abilities, everything else will fall into place whether it's here or somewhere else."
Should he keep scoring and passing—and dominating—like this, he's going to end up somewhere.
Even if it's not Indiana.
Jeremy Lamb Is Still Missing
Has anyone seen Jeremy Lamb? If so, please alert the Thunder. They're currently looking for both him and his jump shot.
Lamb's offensive struggles continued against the Pacers on Wednesday. He went for 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting, including a 1-of-9 showing from deep. It wasn't pretty. It was Jabba-the-Hutt-wearing-nothing-save-for-a-codpiece hideous.
That keeps in theme with Lamb's summer-league jaunt. Heading into Wednesday, he was averaging 20 points through two games, but hitting only 36.4 percent of his shots from the floor (21.4 percent from deep). His performance against Indiana was somehow more uneven and unpredictable.
If there's any positive takeaway from his Day 5 efforts—and his summer-league excursion overall—it's this: Lamb clearly isn't shy.
During the regular season, he was often passive when in the game, settling for jump shots instead of attacking the rim. This was the byproduct of very few touches, no doubt, but it's refreshing to see Lamb be more aggressive.
Call his summer-league performance a double-edged sword—a little bit of good with more than a touch of bad. That's how Daily Thunder's Royce Young wisely characterized it leading up to Day 5:
Lamb came out with his shooting boots on, firing up shots just about any time he got an ounce of space. He wasn’t shy, which I guess is good, but Lamb’s issue offensively can sometimes forcing bad shots and not hunting actively enough for the high percentage ones.
Lamb too often resisted attacking the paint last season and never really got a hold on drawing fouls. He did well at that today.
Keep attacking, Jeremy.
Shots will fall eventually.
Casper Blows Up
In four summer-league games, Casper Ware has yet to tally fewer than 16 points.
We’re going to go out on a limb and say he’s gotten himself a training-camp invite.
Ware was straight-up electric in leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 92-86 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of Wednesday’s slate. But it was how Ware got his buckets that was perhaps most impressive. To wit: On a tidy 9-of-17 from the floor (including 3-of-7 from downtown), the second time in the last three games that he has shot at least 50 percent from the field.
Ware, a former standout at Long Beach State University, has been one of the most recognizable names in Orlando—aided, perhaps, by having finished the 2013-14 regular season with a pair of 10-day contracts with the Sixers.
With so many draft picks and D-League holdovers from last year’s squad, Philly’s final roster promises to be ground zero for an epic training-camp slugfest.
If there’s been one unfortunate byproduct of Ware’s gangbusters performance, however, it’s the comparably forgettable production of former Ohio State standout Aaron Craft, who has yet to score more than two points in any of his four runs.
The 60th and final pick of the NBA draft tends to be spent on raw prospects or pick-and-stash Euros with little chance of ever making it stateside.
But few summer-league stalwarts have been steadier than Cory Jefferson, whose draft-night rights the Nets purchased from the San Antonio Spurs. The 6’9” forward from Baylor was solid once again Wednesday afternoon, netting 14 points (on 5-of-7 shooting), eight rebounds and a couple of blocks and steals apiece.
More importantly, Jefferson continued to be a paragon of offensive efficiency; in four runs thus far, the chiseled forward has yet to attempt more than seven shots in a single game or hit fewer than 50 percent from the field.
With Brooklyn’s rotational plan being thrown into flux by the fate of Paul Pierce, there’s certainly a chance for Jefferson to carve out a useful niche—a 10-minute energy guy who can crash the glass, wreak a little havoc on D and generally be a nuisance in the frontcourt. That he’ll be learning the tricks of the trade from one of the greatest to ever play the position (Kevin Garnett) might even accelerate Jefferson’s development.
Oh, he also had the nastiest dunk of the day, which you can see above. Only watch it once, though, lest smoke plumes ascend from your computer.
Noel Hits the Glass
Nerlens Noel’s first four summer-league stints—while intermittently impressive—left many with one, overarching nag: Where’s the rebounding?
Noel answered that call Wednesday, raking in nine boards to go along with 14 points (on 4-of-8 shooting) and five beautiful blocked shots.
Part of the reason Noel hasn’t exactly been Nikola Vucevic on the glass has to do with how much range he exhibits on D: He’s so in tune with everything being filtered around him that he’s often simply out of position. His slight frame—which still needs much bulking up—doesn’t help his cause, either.
After missing the entire 2013-14 season recovering from a knee injury, Noel is certainly making up for unfinished business in Orlando. Carrying it over into a productive, de facto rookie season will be the next, big step.
Noel should eventually develop into a solid rebounder. But if Joel Embiid can fully bounce back and man the glass like many believe he can, maybe his lither, help-focused teammate won’t have to.
Wishing Bertans the Best
We see summer league as these prospects’ first taste of NBA competition. As such, we’ve afforded it something of a carefree air; sure, these guys are ultimately fighting for a limited number of training-camp slots, but the atmosphere is inherently convivial.
Serious things do happen, however.
Late in the third quarter of Wednesday’s day-capping tilt between the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, Dairis Bertans—a 6’4" shooting-guard prospect from Latvia who was passed over in June’s draft—took a nasty, head-first spill into the basket stanchion after a hard foul.
Bertans was down for several minutes and eventually was taken to a local hospital, although he did manage to give the crowd a relief-inducing thumbs-up on his way out. That Bertans was in the midst of authoring a solid performance—seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in just under 12 minutes—only makes it more macabre.
Here’s wishing Bertans a full, speedy recovery. Hopefully we’ll see him soon.
It can be hard to pick out notable performers in a game that features no fewer than 10 players in double figures. And while his efficiency left something to be desired (8-of-22 shooting, including 3-of-10 from deep), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s yeoman work on the glass (nine boards) further strengthened the second-year guard’s summer-league standing.
We’ve peppered past summer-league takeaways with Caldwell-Pope analysis aplenty, but it bears re-mentioning: This guy’s playing like a man on a mission.
What mission, you ask? To dethrone Jodie Meeks—the recent recipient of a three-year, $19.5 million tender (per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press)—from his presumed rank as Detroit’s starting 2 guard.
Last summer, it was Andre Drummond who took Orlando by storm, in the process asserting himself as a legitimate Pistons building block. Caldwell-Pope’s numbers don’t jump off the page with quite the ferocity, but there’s an unmistakable confidence about him that last year seemed—at best—half-serious and fleeting.
You can pooh-pooh the percentages all you want. Fact is, this kid’s leaving Florida with beaucoup momentum and a legitimate shot at usurping a starting spot come late October.
Smart off the Mark
Another day, another terrible shooting performance from Marcus Smart, the No. 6 overall pick of the Boston Celtics.
The good news: Smart is looking more comfortable running the offense with each and every game. The bad news: He committed four more turnovers and shot just 4-of-13 from the field to finish with 14 points.
At the very least, though, Smart is carrying himself like someone who knows he should be dominating—even if he hasn’t quite hit that stride yet.
Much has been made about how Smart will pair with veteran ace Rajon Rondo, why with both of them being, how shall we say, jump-shot-averse. It could well be that Boston intends on either dealing Rondo or eventually letting him loose in free agency. If that’s the case, though, Smart had better soak up as much heady manna as he can before his mentor gets shipped out.
Smart’s toughness, drive and athleticism are NBA-ready. Now it’s about finding a pace that includes more than just fifth gear and working on ways—any way—to score efficiently.