An NBA champion will be crowned on Friday in Orlando.
Of course, it's a champion of the Orlando Summer League, where some of the NBA's best, plenty with pro-contract aspirations and high-profile rookies have gathered for a tournament of epic proportions to kick off the path to the next NBA season.
It all comes to a head on Friday at the Orlando Magic's facilities on the aptly named "Championship Day," where 10 teams will partake in contests based on their cumulative record, with the title game going down between two intriguing franchises.
Here is a look at the day's schedule followed by a couple of contests to watch carefully before summer activities switch to Las Vegas.
|1||Orlando Magic vs. Detroit Pistons||8 a.m.|
|2||Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers||10 a.m.|
|3||Philadelphia 76ers vs. Memphis Grizzlies||12 p.m.|
|4||Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat||2 p.m.|
|5||Houston Rockets vs. Brooklyn Nets||4 p.m.|
Matchups to Watch
Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers
For those who have kept up with the tournament so far, it is exciting to see the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers get another shot at each other after previously putting on a show.
NBA.com provided a look at the highlights from that first contest:
Perhaps what is most interesting about the matchup is that the strong talent on display suggests good things in the future for both franchises, at least in terms of depth.
For Boston, a franchise on the mend (like its star point guard Rajon Rondo), the continued development of big man Kelly Olynyk is great news. So far, he has averaged 17 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 steals per contest
Even better, he's a firm believer that rookie Marcus Smart is on the right path, as captured by the Celtics' official Twitter account:
Kelly Olynyk says Marcus Smart has come a long way in the last week and that he'll continue to improve "by leaps and bounds" moving forward.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 10, 2014
It is certainly hard to argue that point. The Oklahoma State product, who we have yet to truly figure out in terms of fit with Rondo, has been one of Boston's bright spots with 13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.30 steals per game to go alone with great defense.
Now contrast that with the Pacers, led by Donald Sloan and his 18 points per game. He has been the rallying point for the young team, as noted by his comments on Twitter:
No matter which side comes out on top, it's clear both franchises have some sound depth to work with in the near future and star rookies are quickly getting into the swing of things as their pro careers begin to blossom.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
In a championship match of the underrated, the real winners are the fans.
The main story when the Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies take the court on Friday to crown a champion is that of Jarnell Stokes, the No. 35 overall pick of this year's class.
Stokes was hailed by many as an unheralded prospect who should not have fallen as far as he did, and now he enters a nurturing situation where he gets to learn from a savvy veteran such as Zach Randolph for a few years.
That hasn't stopped Stokes from dominating as a pro though, considering he rests in third place with nine rebounds per game, which is great when one also considers he is averaging just over 12 points per contest, too.
But he's hardly the only rookie on the rise with Memphis, as Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports is quick to point out:
Jarnell Stokes & Scottie Wilbekin have some really nice chemistry in Summer League. Would've been fun to see them play together in college.— Thomas Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) July 11, 2014
Scottie Wilbekin wound up going undrafted out of Florida, but his average of five assists per contest and strong overall game suggests he has a solid chance at a roster spot.
As for the much-maligned 76ers, one Casper Ware has seized headlines for his second-best average of 19 points per game, but it is the story of Nerlens Noel that has captured the imagination of fans.
The big man who missed his rookie year has been nothing short of dominant on both ends of the court, suggesting that his time off to heal was the right move by the organization—and that there are early signs he can become one of the most imposing big men the league has to offer.
Noel, who averages 13.7 points and 5.7 boards to this point, explained to CSN Philly's Dei Lynam the effort he has put in to improve while sitting on the shelf:
I have worked very hard on my free throws through this past week. Even yesterday, I shot 40 free throws and made 33. I was feeling great coming into today.
I remember (general manager) Sam (Hinkie) saying work on 60 percent. I told Sam I would surpass that. I worked as hard as I could to shoot a lot better than 60 percent. It is going to take time, but working hard helps.
Noel will have to clash with Stokes and Co. on Friday if he is to win his first title, even if it is an exhibition trophy at best.
As it should, the finale will be the ultimate showcase of new talent forcefully making its way into the league. The outcome isn't as important as the journey, so enjoy the ride.