The 2017 Orlando Summer League did its best March Madness impersonation this month by producing a Cinderella winner via a game-winning shot.
Said Cinderella was the Dallas Mavericks despite the absence of high-profile rookie Dennis Smith Jr. and other notables. The Mavericks topped off an undefeated run through the bracket with a last-second shot by Johnathan Motley to down the Detroit Pistons.
The Mavericks captured the bit of summer history on Twitter:
Despite what seemed like a depleted roster, the Mavericks ripped off five wins and no losses by the end of the tournament.
Thursday, the Mavericks entered the title game down their top four scorers as key parts of the team left to start playing in the Las Vegas league. No matter—Motley saw himself bumped into the starting lineup, where he posted a gaudy 18 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
Dwight Buycks flanked Motley with 28 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
“This display of effort by our guys was incredible,” Dallas' summer head coach Mike Weinar said, according to NBA.com's Dan Savage. “Coming together as a cohesive unit (in spite of) guys going out left and right.”
None of this is meant to suggest the Pistons didn't put on a show before falling at the hands of a single timely shot.
Luke Kennard, the No. 12 pick in this year's draft, was one of the top stars of the tournament throughout the bracket, including a strong performance in the title game. There, the Duke product led the Pistons with 24 points and scored all seven of the team's points in overtime before what had looked like the shot of the tournament with seconds remaining, nailing an attempt from range to tie the game.
NBA TV captured what, at least for a few seconds, looked like the best shot of the summer:
“He’s clearly a guy with no fear,” Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said, according to NBA.com's Keith Langlois. “I don’t think anything’s going to bother him. He’s going to go out and play, so he’s got that kind of toughness.”
Both title-game participants were poised to walk away from the tournament with positive takeaways regardless of which side emerged the victor.
For the Pistons, though losing at the last second hurts, the progress of Kennard right out of the gates is encouraging. It's what teams have come to expect of high draft selections, but the fact he was able to create his own offense in various ways and even get those around him involved is a good sign if the front office doesn't stop Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from leaving in free agency.
Thanks to the Kennard hype, the play of Henry Ellenson flew under the radar for most of the tournament. The 2016 No. 18 pick dropped 29 points on Wednesday in a win, giving the Pistons hope he can break into the rotation at the 4 with Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer after only being able to average 7.7 minutes per game as a rookie.
NBA TV caught some of his superb floor-spacing ways that would look quite appealing next to Andre Drummond:
As for the Mavericks, the bracket in Orlando was proof of something critical—the existence of quality depth within the organization. While the national narrative focuses on the future of Dirk Nowitzki and whether the front office can retain Nerlens Noel, the addition of depth behind stars like Harrison Barnes has gone unnoticed.
Until now, at least. Motley signing with the Mavericks in June didn't create a splash because he was an undrafted prospect out of Baylor with a shaky injury history thanks to a knee issue. He's got a long, long trip to a final roster, of course, but it's a major step in the right direction.
It's the same theme around Buycks, a 28-year-old guard who hasn't played in the league since 2015. He's going to have a hard time beating out someone like J.J. Barea in training camp, but the fact the Mavericks unearthed someone like him deserves credit.
At the end of the day, the Orlando Summer League performed its function well—the two teams in the final, teams unable to win more than 37 games last year or claw their way out of the bottom of their respective divisions, seem to have rebuild on the right track around key pieces or smart decision-making from the bottom up.
The entertaining basketball and buzzer-beaters were the added bonus atop the appealing week-long package.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.