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NBA Summer League 2016: Top Takeaways from July 2 in Orlando

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 3, 2016

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 6:  Stanley Johnson #3 of the Detroit Pistons handles the ball against the Miami Heat during the 2015 Orlando Pro Summer League game on July 6, 2015 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE  (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

While most of the NBA's attention remained glued on free agency, a small portion of the hoops world quietly kick-started the new basketball calendar year on Saturday.

The Orlando Summer League opened with a full five-game schedule light on competitive action but nevertheless rich with valuable information.

With just two 2016 first-rounders in action—the Detroit Pistons' Henry Ellenson and the Los Angeles Clippers' Brice Johnson—sophomores, second-rounders and a few roster-hopefuls controlled the day. Some elder statesmen looked like they didn't belong for good reasons, while a few unheralded prospects looked comfortable under the bright-ish lights.

The offensive production was sloppy, as just two teams shot above 45 percent from the field and four finished below 40. While that made some of the slate's more rocky individual performances harder to watch, it also spotlighted the strong ones. Here's all the good, bad and exciting moments that emerged from Day 1 of the 2016 NBA Summer League.

Most Miami Eyes on Justise Winslow, but Not All

The Miami Heat have no greater present nor future priority than Justise Winslow's development. Miami is already down its two starting forwards from the playoffs after Luol Deng (Los Angeles Lakers) and Joe Johnson (Utah Jazz) reached pending agreements with other franchises. Barring Kevin Durant's arrival and Chris Bosh's return, Winslow is almost assuredly earmarked a starting gig for 2016-17.

He's still carving out an offensive niche, and the Heat are trying to accelerate the process. He went 2-of-6 from three and spent ample time on the ball, totaling 21 points, four assists and four turnovers. It wasn't an awe-inspiring effort, but it had its encouraging moments. His release looked more fluid, and as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted, he didn't hesitate to launch:

Ira Winderman @IraHeatBeat

What matters even more than Winslow making a 3-pointers (which he just did), it's about getting into comfortable spots to take them.

But Winslow was far from the only reason Miami sprinted to a 91-71 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, nor the lone source of excitement on South Beach's side.

Sophomore Josh Richardson had 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting and four assists. Former collegiate steals maven Briante Weber had four thefts and a couple of aggressive basket attacks. Stretch big Stefan Jankovic canned two long-range bombs as part of his 17-point, 7-of-10 shooting performance.

The Heat need these youngsters to keep showing signs of growth, as internal development must compensate for the lack of external assistance. Miami did not make a selection in this year's draft and traded away two future firsts in the February 2015 trade for Goran Dragic.

Grooming Session for Cameron Payne

The Oklahoma City Thunder shuffled 2015 lottery pick Cameron Payne through multiple roles as a rookie. He logged both NBA D-League duty and meaningful playoff minutes, ultimately spending the most time near the fringes of head coach Billy Donovan's rotation.

OKC seems to have a bigger vision for Payne this time around. The Thunder unleashed him in an 86-85 win over the Dallas Mavericks, and with a plan. He spent time both on and off the ball, mimicking his potential usage for the 2016-17 campaign.

"The Thunder starting a backcourt with two floor generals is no coincidence, and they're not denying that," wrote Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript. "OSL is all about player development, and one of the things Cameron Payne will have to do if he wants to get more minutes down the line is play next to Russell Westbrook."

For now, Payne is sharing lead-guard duties with Semaj Christon, assist leader of the 2015 Orlando Summer League. That allows Payne to split his focus between setting the table for others and finding his own shot.

He didn't have the most efficient shooting effort (6-of-14), but he led the Thunder with 16 points and saved his only triple for the game-winner with 3.6 seconds remaining. He also corralled seven boards, dished out four assists, snagged a pair of steals and coughed up just one turnover.

He played like someone OKC can trust, which is big since the club seemingly plans to do just that.

Stanley Johnson Has Leap-Year Potential

Stanley Johnson has the confidence of an NBA superstar. He couldn't call out LeBron James without it. Johnson has a superstar's build, too—6'7" with a sculpted 245-pound frame and near-7-foot wingspan. Those are measurements hoops scientists use for lab-created wings.

What Johnson doesn't have yet are superstar skills. He was a volume offensive contributor as a rookie (8.1 points on 37.5 percent shooting) and had a similar stat line Saturday (15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, 1-of-6 from three).

But beneath those numbers were flashes of superstar potential.

Already a tenacious defender, he displayed some of the offensive growth the Detroit Pistons have been waiting to see. Johnson has spent the early part of his summer developing specific skills—namely, shoring up his left hand and three-point form. As Rod Beard of the Detroit News observed, it didn't take Johnson long to show off his new weapons:

Rod Beard @detnewsRodBeard

#Pistons Stanley Johnson goes left for an easy lay-in...summer homework is paying off.

Rod Beard @detnewsRodBeard

Right-wing 3 from #Pistons Stanley Johnson. Form looks much better.

Give Johnson ambidextrous handles or a reliable jumper, and he's a prime offensive option. Give him both, and he's a franchise talent.

"Last year, I felt like I was in elementary school," Johnson said, per Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy. "Now, I feel like a senior in high school."

More growth is needed, and neither Johnson nor the Pistons were tested much during their 81-49 drubbing of the New York Knicks. But Johnson faces an upward trajectory, as does Detroit, which saw its 6'11" first-round pick Henry Ellenson post 12 points, eight rebounds and a pair of threes in 26 minutes.

  

Pacers Rich with Second-Round Rewards

The second-round boasts more than draft-and-stash candidates. Just ask Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, who seems to have snagged two second-round steals and traded for a third over the past two summers.

With Bird envisioning smaller, faster, more perimeter-oriented play, both Joe Young (43rd pick in 2015) and Georges Niang (50th in 2016) could become rotation fixtures. After leading the Orlando circuit in scoring last summer (22.5 ppg), Young picked up where he left off. The 6'2" guard went a human torch-esque 5-of-7 from distance, finishing with a game-high 22 points and Saturday's best poster:

Niang's numbers were even more impressive. The 23-year-old out of Iowa State showcased his versatility in a stat sheet-saturating performance. He grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, led the Pacers with five assists, buried three triples and finished second among all scorers with 17 points. He converted shots from the post and the perimeter and registered a game-best plus-24.

"I'm just a jack-of-all-trades type of guy," Niang said on NBA TV after the outing. "Just going out there and trying to impact the game as much as I can and trying to help my team win."

While Young and Niang supplied the skill and finesse in Indy's 93-66 rout of the Orlando Magic Blue Team, Rakeem Christmas (36th pick in 2015) brought the muscle. The burly 250-pounder flirted with a double-double (10 points and seven rebounds) and notched two of the Pacers' five blocks.

For all of Indiana's offseason movement in trades and free agency, this late-draft success could be a quietly important part of the franchise's transition.

Mitch McGary Is Ready for a Rotation Spot

Since becoming the 21st pick in 2014, Mitch McGary has yet to claim a regular role. Plagued by both injury and conditioning issues, he's averaged just 10.7 minutes over 52 appearances. He has produced when he plays, to the tune of 14.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, but he hasn't played much behind a crowded Thunder frontcourt.

OKC's unloading of Serge Ibaka seemingly helps McGary's chances for minutes, but that's not necessarily the case. As the Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks noted, Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis may well supplant McGary:

That said, McGary looked like a rotation player during the Thunder's win over the Dallas Mavericks. His basketball IQ shined in all facets, as he passed teammates open, exploited cutting lanes and consistently occupied the right place at the right time.

The 6'10", 255-pounder even flashed his point-forward potential by finishing a pick-six with a nimble Eurostep and pushing the ball off his own rebounds. His stat line wasn't overwhelming—13 points, three boards and two steals—but his execution and effort both qualified as such.

If he can stay healthy, he has a productive NBA future ahead of him. It's just unclear whether that opportunity will surface in Oklahoma City. He didn't secure a role for the Thunder on Saturday, but he surely opened the eyes of any team facing a shortage on bigs.

Off-the-Radar Happenings

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Clippers' search for youthful contributors is apparently ongoing. First-round pick Brice Johnson had just six points on six shots. Second-rounders Diamond Stone (eight points on eight attempts) and David Michineau (five on six) didn't fare any better. C.J. Wilcox did not return after a five-minute stint and had his right hand wrapped in a soft cast.

Branden Dawson (the 56th selection in 2015) was L.A.'s lone supplier of consistent energy and production (14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds). But he rarely saw the floor as a rookie (29 minutes over six games) and could continue to face a minutes crunch. The Clippers badly need to fortify their bench, but they didn't uncover any potential options Saturday.


Andre Dawkins' skill set doesn't extend far beyond spot-up shooting and microwave scoring, but he's electric in those two buckets. He needed just 21 minutes and eight field-goal attempts to pace the Mavericks with 16 points, going 5-of-8 from the field and 5-of-5 at the stripe.

The former Duke Blue Devil made four appearances for the Miami Heat and signed a pair of 10-day deals with the Boston Celtics in 2014-15, but he split last season between the D-League and Italy. It's unclear if he possesses NBA versatility, but he could find a suitor in desperate need of perimeter scoring.


If the Charlotte Hornets are counting on contributions from any of their summer-league players, Aaron Harrison would seem to be the guy. He played 21 games for the Hornets last season and averaged 17.6 points per game in the D-League.

But he left Kentucky as a non-shooter and still looks the same. During Charlotte's 79-74 loss to the Orlando Magic White Team, Harrison shot a woeful 2-of-13 from the field and misfired on four of his five long-range looks. Making matters worse, he tallied five fouls, four turnovers and just two assists.

A silver lining may have emerged for the Hornets, though, in the form of Deshaun Thomas. Once a second-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs, the southpaw swingman poured in a game-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, to go along with five boards and three steals. With free agency chipping away at Charlotte's perimeter depth, the 24-year-old might be worth a training camp invite.


Orlando's Stephen Zimmerman showed both his strengths and weaknesses in a choppy summer-league debut. He flew around during his first stint, finishing plays at the rim, sticking a jumper, blocking a couple shots. He basically, looked like a 7-footer with a 7'3" wingspan and enough athleticism for ESPN.com to rank him the 12th-best player in his high school class.

But the 19-year-old's 234-pound frame was pushed around at times. He managed just four rebounds in 23 minutes and didn't record a point or block after the first seven minutes. He's a project worth exploring for Orlando—and admittedly had little help from the Magic's perimeter players—but his body and game both need work.


Hopefully the Knicks aren't planning on their Orlando Summer League roster providing any relief. About the only good news to emerge from Saturday is that it (probably) can't get any worse.

New York produced a paltry 49 points in 40 minutes, shooting 29.9 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from outside and 46.2 percent at the free-throw line. The Knicks had just two double-digit scorers (DaJuan Summers, 12, and Marvelle Harris, 10) and one record multiple assists (Souleyman Diabate, four). Collectively, New York had nearly three times as many turnovers (20) as assists (seven).

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Free-agency information provided by ESPN.com.

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