NBA Summer League 2016: Top Takeaways from July 7 in OrlandoJuly 8, 2016
The 2016 NBA Orlando Summer League championship-day schedule is set after Thursday's three-game slate. But let's be honest: That's probably not why you're here. (If you are, it'll be the Detroit Pistons vs. the Orlando White for the OSL crown at 12 p.m. ET Friday.)
These showcases are more about individuals than teams.
Thursday brought some compelling player-driven narratives to the forefront. One sophomore started to see results on a savvy investment, while a first-round rookie hinted at what he'll add sooner than later. A basketball journeyman inked his first NBA contract, while a fringe forward took a step toward extending his own.
With Friday's five-game finale starting bright and early, let's get right to Thursday's top takeaways.
Stanley Johnson's Experiments Are Paying Off
No one packed more physical gifts into their OSL luggage than Pistons sophomore Stanley Johnson. He looks like he was manufactured in a basketball factory, bulky in the right spots, nimble for his size and explosive on the move.
But the mental approach he's taken in these games is far more valuable. Rather than look to obliterate box scores and lesser opponents, Johnson's aim has been about specific strides. Namely, he's trying to shore up his off hand and three-point stroke. His stats have suffered because of it, but this is the time of year to accelerate growing pains.
"I think he's doing exactly what he should be doing here in summer league," Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said, per Lennie King of Piston Powered. "I like his approach and how he's trying to play. When he looks at film, it'll just be another learning experience and a chance for him to move forward."
Johnson's 20-point, nine-rebound performance in Detroit's 71-58 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday was littered with forward progress. His shot stayed true enough to go 7-of-13 from the field and 4-of-4 at the line. He buried two of his first three long-range looks and used his perimeter threat to open driving and cutting lanes.
It was fair to wonder before how much these experiments really helped as his stat sheet dipped so deep in the red. He had four turnovers during each of his first two games and more shots than points in each of the last two. But he didn't deviate from the plan, and now we're seeing why.
The NBA's bright lights didn't bother him as a rookie, and now he'll enter his sophomore season with a deeper, more polished game.
Stephen Zimmerman Looks Like a Rare Breed
Stephen Zimmerman is so far from his NBA ceiling, the world's best crystal ball can't paint a clear picture of what that will entail. About all he's proved over four games with the Orlando Blue is that he's in dire need of lengthy weight-room sessions.
Well, that and he just might possess the unicorn tandem of paint protection and floor spacing.
His 12-point, five-block effort during the Magic Blue's 96-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks made many wonder how he lasted 41 picks in this past draft. He shot 5-of-8 from the field, and three of those makes were effortless jumpers. His five swats only trailed the entire Mavericks team by one.
"He's got great upside, he's only 19 years old and has a great skill set and a unique skill set," head coach Frank Vogel told NBA TV. "Especially in today's NBA, the ability to protect the rim and be a shot-blocker but still have skills offensively on the perimeter to stretch the floor. ... That's only going to improve as he works and develops."
Zimmerman is about as raw as granola from Whole Foods, and the 7-footer has been outmuscled by perimeter players in Orlando. But when he starts mixing low-post scores with perimeter jumpers and blocked shots, it's hard not to get excited about where he's headed—even if we don't know where that is yet.
Brice Johnson Can Play Right Now
Brice Johnson didn't look like a first-round pick during his OSL debut. He sulked his way through 24 minutes, scoring all six of his points in the fourth quarter and failing to record an assist.
He's erased all images of that player during the three games since. His 19 points in the Los Angeles Clippers' 79-69 loss to the Orlando White were his fewest since the opener. And they seemed to fall well short of what he could have provided. Johnson went 6-of-7 from the field and 7-of-8 at the line.
Two things slowed his production—his eight turnovers and L.A.'s ball-stopping backcourt.
When Johnson did finish possessions, he unleashed an array of soft mid-range jumpers and dead-eye turnarounds. None of the bouncy baller's points came around the rim, which is staggering given the aerial assaults he's orchestrated in Orlando.
Save for that almost-silent beginning, Johnson's game hasn't surprised much. But that's a compliment. He has one of the highest profiles in Orlando and the skills to match. After four years at North Carolina, he looks ready to contribute on opening night—which is huge, since it appears the Clippers really need him.
"Johnson, it seems, could be the first rookie to get a real opportunity to contribute since coach Doc Rivers took over in Los Angeles," wrote Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. "With the Clippers nearly out of money to spend in free agency, the team hasn't yet signed a back-up big man."
Johnson's low-maintenance, high-activity game has plug-and-play potential for a top-heavy team that needs some energetic reserves.
Rodney McGruder Is a Fit in Miami
Out with Dwyane Wade, in with Rodney McGruder? That's an extreme way to put it, but sort of.
Wade's stunning exit is just the latest of several hits the Heat have taken on the wings this summer. Joe Johnson and Luol Deng have punched their own tickets out of town, and Miami must pony up $50 million if it wants to keep Tyler Johnson from doing the same.
Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow could handle starting gigs for years to come, and Briante Weber looks like a change-of-pace energizer to spell Goran Dragic. But that still leaves a lot of gaps outside, and one seems to be set aside for Rodney McGruder.
The Heat signed the scoring swingman to a partially guaranteed pact before he notched 14 points and a pair of triples in Thursday's loss.
"It means everything to me, and it's tough to put together words right now because I'm ecstatic," McGruder told Tony Adame of the Wichita Eagle (h/t the Kansas City Star). "It's a lifelong goal (to play in the NBA). For them to think enough of me to even give me an opportunity to keep pursuing, that is everything."
McGruder took the long road to get here. He averaged 11.7 points over four years at Kansas State, then spent the past three seasons in Hungary and the NBA Development League. Last season was his best as a pro, as he tallied 15.8 points per game and 38.4 percent three-point shooting while serving alongside Richardson (briefly) and Weber with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
McGruder turns 25 before the month is over, so his ceiling might be setting soon. But Miami has some rotation openings and a clear need for his long-range shooting. His length, athleticism and defensive makeup will fit well with Miami's feisty young nucleus.
Devyn Marble Has a Pulse
While so many summer leaguers are fighting for a spot on the NBA radar, Devyn Marble is grinding to keep from losing his. He has an established big league background—drafted 56th overall in 2014, deployed for 457 minutes over 44 games the past two seasons with the Magic.
That gives him a leg up on his OSL peers, but that advantage has seemingly dwindled by the day. He shot 33.3 percent over his first three outings. Add that number to his career 30.4 NBA field-goal percentage, and it's hard to see his contract getting guaranteed by the July 15 deadline.
Now, one Orlando summer run is unlikely to transform his foundation from shaky to sturdy, but Marble at least gave Magic officials something to discuss.
Always an active defender, his strong on-ball coverage and five thefts should have earned brownie points with Vogel. And a newfound assertiveness helped Marble post his OSL highs in points (21), field goals (seven), assists (six) and free throws (six).
"Coming into summer league, I just wanted to make sure I showed them that I'm gonna continue to play defense and then work on my offensive aspects," Marble told NBA TV. "... Just keep it simple, get to the basket and then I think as I start to do that and get my teammates involved, my shot will start to fall."
Marble made decisive attacks and struck the right balance between finding his own shots and setting up teammates. The burden he carried made life easier for Nick Johnson (19 points, nine assists) and shots cleaner for Zimmerman.
Despite Marble's rough start to the summer, he should still have a puncher's chance at sticking around. As active as Orlando has been this offseason, there's a wing vacancy behind Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Jodie Meeks. Marble's defense is his best selling point, but a performance like this shows he doesn't have to be a one-skill specialist.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.