9 Takeaways from Day 6 of Orlando Summer League
Roughly one week later, the NBA's Orlando Summer League is still going strong.
Like, really strong.
Free agency is still consuming our offseason lives. Breathe, check Twitter, go bonkers on Google, stalk LeBron James' website, then repeat.
It's been madness.
Luckily, the summer league has provided a legitimate reason to put your phone down and not contribute to the crashing of superstars' websites.
Youngsters are getting serious burn this year, offering insight into their futures, lending further merit to the point of summer league play—which is, and shall forever remain, our actual basketball lifeline during this hectic time of year.
Shabazz Napier isn't making LeBron James' free-agency decision any easier.
Calling his efforts in the Miami Heat's 84-74 loss to the Indiana Pacers a nap in the literal sense is wrong. He was out there, running the floor, trying, thinking—too much.
There's this frenetic urgency to his game at this point. It appears he's overthinking everything when the ball is in his hands, hesitating or acting too quickly, attacking and passing at the wrong moments. He capped off Day 6 with seven points on 2-of-13 shooting, including a 1-of-6 showing from deep, a red flag for a Heat team that, as of now, needs its supporting cast to space the floor.
Certain aspects of his playmaking were encouraging, though. Napier sees the floor really well, and his combination of quickness and intermittent aggression really opens up the floor for his teammates. His ball control was also better; he committed just two turnovers.
But his jumper has been unwatchable. He was shooting just 31.6 percent from the floor through his first three games. Save for one strong performance against the Brooklyn Nets, during which he went 6-of-12 from the field, his shot selection has been awful and his jumper flat.
"I can't make all my shots," he said after going 3-of-11 against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, per Fox Sports Florida's Ken Hornack.
Though it would be nice if he could make even close to 40 percent of them.
James Nunnally's summer league performance is lukewarm no more.
The 6'7" forward exploded for 19 points against the Heat on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting, stretching Miami's defense with a godly 3-of-5 display from beyond the arc.
There hasn't been much to Nunnally's summer league stint otherwise. He was averaging just 8.7 points on 26.3 percent shooting through his first three games, failing to distinguish himself as the versatile swingman he was thought to be.
Nunnally is also starting to get the hang of this whole defense thing, which is good, because he's no stranger to comparing himself to notoriously elite defenders.
"As far as what my role would be in the NBA, I'm thinking more of a Bruce Bowen-type player," he told Ridiculous Upside's Keith Schlosser in 2013. "I'm a good defender and I'm continuing to get better."
That's one end of the floor he has shown steady progress on, consistently coming up with steals and contesting shots at the rim and from the perimeter.
Now that the Pacers know he can also score, there's a stronger chance he receives more than insubstantial roster consideration by summer's end.
All Hail James Ennis
Yo, LeBron. Have you been watching James Ennis? Sure hope so. This kid has (summer league) game.
Ennis had another strong outing against the Pacers, registering 17 points, four rebounds and two assists on 6-of-13 shooting. His 2-of-8 clip from downtown reads like an eyesore, but he more than made up for it by staying in constant attack mode.
Perhaps more importantly, Ennis' strong performance came on the heels of a poor one. He went 1-of-6 from the field for four points in his previous game against the Detroit Pistons. He was cruising along until that point, so it was interesting to see how he would respond.
Breaking: He responded well.
The 24-year-old Ennis, who spent last year overseas, has emerged as a go-to scorer and reliable defender. Defense is rarely played during the summer league, but he's blocked the occasional shot and hounded everyone he's up against.
His off-ball movements have been intricate and effective if you watch closely. He's so damn active, never once letting his defender relax. Basically, he's been everything the Heat need him to be—a sleeper, just like they planned more than a year ago, per ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
But if we’re being honest, the Heat didn’t have 2013-14 on their minds when they drafted Ennis...This was a long play and a cheap way -- reminder: second-round picks are not guaranteed -- for the Heat to have Battier/Miller insurance, reel in a player that they liked and, perhaps, stash him overseas like they did with recent draftees Jarvis Varnado and Justin Hamilton.
It’s possible that the Heat heard whispers that Ennis appealed to another team or would’ve picked elsewhere as a free agent where he might see more playing time. But Ennis is under the Heat’s control now, and the Heat are high on him.
That's some foresight. And Ennis is some player.
Miami, it seems, has more than enough reasons to remain high on him.
Smart Steadies the Ship
In his first three summer league games, Marcus Smart was every bit the enigma he was built up to be: strong, athletic and engaged on the one hand, frighteningly streaky on the other.
And while his fourth showing in the Boston Celtics’ 76-67 win over the Orland Magic wasn’t exactly transcendent, Smart took a noticeable leap forward on more than a few fronts.
The Oklahoma State standout finished with 19 points (on 5-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-9 from distance)—10 of which came in Boston’s final-frame comeback—to go along with five assists and three rebounds. He wasn’t exactly approaching LeBron James-level shooting efficiency, but save for a few ill-advised chucks from distance, Smart was mostly reined in.
Most impressive of all, though, was Smart’s aggressiveness, punctuated to a T by the burly point guard’s eight free-throw attempts. Until he develops a reliable jumper (we’re still waiting on Rajon Rondo, remember), this is what Smart has to do: barrel his way into the paint and make the opponent pay at the stripe.
It’s far too early to tell whether Smart can be Boston’s floor general of the future—or even whether he can be a consistent starter in the NBA. But as his Orlando showcase winds down, we’re seeing a little bit more of what made him such an enticing lottery prospect.
Oh, yeah, turns out the other rookie point guard in this game ain’t too shabby, either.
Where Smart’s performance was predicated on controlling the offense, Elfrid Payton ran his, firing up just seven shots (he made three) to finish with eight points and 10 assists.
The bad news: He also tallied a whopping seven turnovers. So…that’ll have to improve.
Still, Magic fans—having bid a formal, final adieu to longtime court marshal Jameer Nelson, per NBA.com's John Denton—have to be pretty pleased with their rookie catch thus far. Like Smart, Payton still has an abandoned train car’s worth of rust to knock off. Once he does, though, his unique combination of size, speed and length is bound to wreak havoc on many an opponent perimeter.
Also: What is it with this crop of top-tier rookie point guards and not being able to make a jump shot? If Smart has the edge over Payton anywhere, it might be here.
Let’s get this out of the way first: By all accounts, Phil Pressey has had himself a fine summer league—solid, efficient, whatever term you want to use.
It just so happens that on Thursday, he saw his overall field-goal percentage plummet by, like, 5,000,000 percentage points.
Pressey put up arguably the single worst shooting performance of anyone this week Thursday afternoon, going 1-of-15 from the field in just 21 minutes of action. That equals one shot roughly every 90 seconds.
Despite playing 75 games for the Celtics last season, with Smart in the equation, Pressey is no doubt fighting for his NBA life—with Boston anyway. Whether that accounts for the panicked chucking is anyone’s guess.
Still, Pressey’s putrid performances underscores an interesting summer league phenomenon: that while these guys certainly want to win games, they’re not necessarily always going to be about making the best possible play, setting up their teammates, etc.
Pressey will get his shot in training camp. But he clearly hears Smart’s footsteps thundering up behind him, distance closing quickly.
Grit and Grind: The Next Generation?
Give credit to the Memphis Grizzlies: They know exactly what they’re looking for in their young prospects.
Cases in point: Jamaal Franklin and Jordan Adams, a pair of two-way youngsters who combined for 36 on 12-of-21 shooting in leading the Grizzlies to an 88-74 win over the Houston Rockets.
Franklin, whom Memphis nabbed with the 41st overall pick in the 2013 draft, made his name as a five-tool, 6’5” small forward at San Diego State University. But despite authoring quite the collegiate career, Franklin was virtually invisible during his rookie campaign, playing sparingly in just 21 games.
Enter Jordan Adams—another wing—who’s had himself a dandy summer league and very nearly tallied 20-plus points for the third time in four games. (He finished with 19.)
It stands to reason Franklin and Adams will be battling for the same piece of real estate come training camp: the right to be Tony Allen’s backup or—if all goes well—his eventual replacement.
Of the two, Adams is the more NBA-ready player in terms of size, strength and ability to finish at the rim. But Franklin is rangier and could be a guy capable of guarding three positions. So long as his offense is serviceable enough to warrant minutes, that is.
Whichever of the two wins out (if either), it’s always fun to see Association hopefuls who fit their team’s ethos to a T.
Doing His Uncle Proud
Looking at Nick Johnson’s bona fides—6’3” with strength and athleticism, Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, an enviable all-around skill set—it’s a wonder he lasted all the way to the Houston Rockets at pick No. 42 of last month's draft.
Johnson is proving as much with his increasingly impressive summer league resume, punctuated by Thursday’s 22-point, six-rebound, six-assist performance. That Johnson shot a crisp 9-of-14 from the field (including 2-of-5 from three-point range) only brightened the luster.
Think of Johnson as a bigger (and potentially better) Jerryd Bayless—the kind of guy teams dream of bringing off the bench as a third-guard spark plug. Of course, actuating that comparison will take more than a few good runs in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Watching Johnson play, it’s impossible not to see flashes of his late uncle, Dennis Johnson, the backcourt backbone of the 1980s Boston Celtics. The size, the strength, the steadiness and headiness—it’s all there in spades with the young one.
It's a Maarty Three Party
During his senior year at the University of Oregon, Maarty Leunen (two As—note it) shot 50 percent from three-point range.
The problem: That was six years ago, during the 2007-08 season. Since then, the 6’9” forward has made his living balling in Italy, bouncing around on a few summer league teams in the interim.
This time around, he may have found his best fit yet.
Leunen (28) finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. All nine of those attempts (and all five of the makes) came beyond the arc, bringing his Orlando total to 9-of-18 from distance.
That’s quite good, and just the kind of skill set the Houston Rockets—in love as they are with the long ball from an analytics perspective—might be looking for. Especially if their frontcourt depth takes a hit with the departure of Chandler Parsons.
Leunen—originally drafted by these same Rockets with the 54th pick back in 2008—is a stretch 4 in the absolute extreme: He’s grabbed just nine rebounds in 75 minutes of action and tends to drift a little too much out on the perimeter.
Then again, if you have one NBA-ready skill, it’s probably wise to showcase it as much as possible on a stage like this, even if it’s to the detriment of the rest of your game.