Monday offered a double dip of NBA offseason action, with the third day of Orlando Summer League play giving way to the freshly revived Utah Summer League later in the evening.
Undrafted free agents and journeymen did what they could to catch the attention of their own coaches and the assembled executives. The real stories, though, came from the players with roster spots already secured.
Top-flight rookies and seasoned sophomores stole the show in both locations, which is how it should be.
Myles Turner Is Active
The Indiana Pacers, seemingly prepared to leave behind the plodding, grind-it-out style that has defined them in recent seasons, got an encouraging performance from rookie Myles Turner on Monday.
Indy drafted Turner with the 11th pick, looking past the injury red flags and slight build to see a potential stretch 5. A fluid stroke, exceptional length and strong shot-blocking instincts give Turner a next-generation skill set, which is perfect for a Pacers team that will leave key members of the prior era—David West and Roy Hibbert—behind in 2015-16.
Turner is a major project, but the talent's there. He had 20 points and eight rebounds in the Pacers' summer-league opener Saturday, then followed it up with a high-intensity second effort Monday that impressed head coach Frank Vogel:
With 13 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and eight personal fouls in 27 minutes, Turner showed he could cover ground. He also nailed his lone three-point attempt and turned the ball over just once.
All that activity was too much for Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star to ignore:
Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports was buying Turner stock, too:
As was Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
Indiana lost to the Orlando Magic's White squad by a final of 85-76, but nobody affiliated with the Pacers cares because Turner looked like a potential monster.
Aaron Gordon Doesn't Belong Here
A second straight eye-opening, stat-stuffing effort from Aaron Gordon, last year's fourth overall pick in the draft, proved the developing combo forward may not be summer-league material.
In a good way.
Gordon erupted for 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals on 8-of-11 shooting as part of the Magic's Blue squad, which fell 73-65 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Remarkably, those numbers weren't Gordon's best of the early summer-league slate; he pumped in 22 points and snatched 18 boards in his first contest over the weekend.
Summer league is supposed to be for players searching for roster spots—or at the least for those who need to work out kinks in their games. Gordon doesn't fall into the former category, and it seems the work he did before suiting up this July excludes him from the latter group.
According to Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman and the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins, Gordon has evolved:
It's always best to look skeptically at summer-league performances. Still, Gordon's looking like a changed player—one too good to be messing around with undrafted free agents and end-of-the-bench stragglers.
Mario Hezonja Believes in Himself
Respect? No, I never had respect to anybody on a basketball court. I heard about, "If they smell blood, you get eaten." I'm not like that. I don't care. Whether it's a veteran or a young player standing in front of me I always have the same goal. I want to run over everybody.
Any guesses as to how a player that self-assured might approach summer-league competition?
Yeah, like that.
Not a bad follow-up to the game-winner he hit Saturday.
Hezonja's cockiness is an asset, and as long as it doesn't lead to his taking on any of Smith's less-admirable qualities, the Magic have a real prize.
The Heat and Pistons Have Wing Versatility
Wing versatility was on full display in the Miami Heat's 78-73 win over the Detroit Pistons in Orlando.
Both Detroit and Miami used their lottery picks (eighth and 10th, respectively) on rangy, hybrid forwards. And both saw those picks perform well Monday. Miami's Justise Winslow led his team in scoring with 17 points in 33 minutes, while Detroit got a team-high 14 points from Stanley Johnson.
Winslow's Heat carried the day, but this probably won't be the last meeting between these two, as B/R's Ethan Skolnick observed:
Everybody wants the next Draymond Green, and both Winslow and Johnson look like solid candidates.
Jahlil Okafor Is a Tough Critic
After a debut marked by 20 points, nine rebounds and an ill-timed step out of bounds on a play that could have tied the game or given his team the lead with just seconds remaining, Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor was tough but fair in his self-assessment, per Max Rappaport of Sixers.com:
Okafor flashed his vaunted post game throughout the 74-71 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, particularly in an aggressive second-half surge.
The third-party reviews were markedly higher than the one Okafor gave himself, as the notes from ESPN's Kevin Pelton and the San Antonio Express-News' Dan McCarney indicate:
Not a bad start for one of this year's most celebrated newbies. If the Sixers can stomach a steep learning curve (of course they can) and some defensive growing pains, they may have the offensive anchor they've been missing.
Life as a Sophomore Is Just Better
A couple of second-year point guards got after it in the nightcap from Salt Lake City, as Dante Exum and Marcus Smart showed out in a 100-82 Utah Jazz win.
Smart led the Boston Celtics with 26 points, eight assists and five boards, getting to the foul line 13 times in 30 minutes.
Exum was even more impressive, putting up 20 points, five rebounds and five assists on just 11 shots from the field (Smart needed 20 attempts to get his total). Most importantly, Exum attacked with a vigor he never showed during his rookie season, which prompted plenty of stunned approval from Jazz observers.
B/R's Andy Bailey saw a new version of the Aussie point guard:
And Andy Larsen of Salt City Hoops highlighted Exum's new dimension:
Here's the bad news: Exum suffered a left ankle injury on a late drive—one severe enough that he had to be helped from the court. Assuming it's only a bad sprain, Exum should head into the regular season brimming with confidence.
As overmatched as he was in his first year, Exum is still ridiculously young: He'll turn 20 next week.
Anyone who wrote him off may have made a mistake.