It seems like only yesterday the San Antonio Spurs were picking apart the Miami Heat on route to their fifth NBA title. In reality it’s been a bit more than that, so it was great to actually have so basketball to watch again over the last few days.
OK, so it was just the NBA Summer League, hardly the pinnacle of this grand sport, but seeing young guys vying to make an impact on the court was a refreshing break from the free agency talk that has dominated the media recently.
Briefly, for those of you who think the Summer League is pointless, you can stop reading now. It is an attitude that has always, and will continue to bug me.
You have a collection of recent draft picks, additional players fighting to make a roster and a couple of players who have played a season or two in the league, and the whole frantic rawness of it all is great to see. For teams looking to make their mark in next season, particularly young ones, the hard work starts here.
Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic is the perfect case in point here. He only played in the first of the Magic’s two games to date, but he was by far and away the best player on the court in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
He looked about 15 pounds lighter, and you could see he was trying harder to be the natural leader that Orlando want him to be. Easier to do with a group of kids around him of course, but still the effort was appreciated.
Oladipo’s appearance and general play was encouraging in itself, but really there has been a lot more to like than just that. Orlando’s two first-round draft picks, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, have both laced up, and there has been much to like.
Payton’s play has been more of a delightful surprise, because the Magic received him on draft night from the 76ers. His first game was awful in truth, four turnovers compared to just two points and four assists. He looked shaky, nervous and tried to force things too much on the court.
The next game against the Houston Rockets, also a win, was much better though, and showed that Payton is a quick learner. Twelve points, nine assists and eight rebounds were his contribution to the hammering of Houston, in what was an assured display.
Again he started off poorly, but bounced back early to lead the team. Watching him play, his ability to get into the paint before finishing plays or kicking out to surrounding shooters will give this Orlando team added dimension next season.
He is not afraid of contact and the way he jumps into the painted area spreads the floor better for his team.
While there was much to like about Payton, fourth pick Aaron Gordon was hardly overshadowed. Like Payton, his first game was dodgy enough, some nerves were evident.
Oladipo was there to make sure things went smoothly though. That being said, however, Gordon did provide the play of the day when plucking a lay-up attempt out of the air.
He put himself about for rebounds, and while we knew his offense needed work when he was drafted, he still managed to get a dunk and some free throws in as well.
Similarly, Gordon’s second game was better too. Nine points and seven rebounds illustrate the balanced play he brought, but what would have had Orlando happiest about the performance was the improved level of offense on display, including hitting a nice 20-footer in the game.
Defensively he is near NBA-ready, but it is nice to see over the course of two games his offense pick up that little bit. Some more work and this guy can be very good indeed.
Other than that, the only real standout has been the play of second round pick Devyn Marble. In Game 1, he had 13 points (two 3-pointers) and three rebounds while Game 2 saw him put up nine points and seven rebounds.
Sure he is playing for his NBA life here, but watching him play there is a lot to like. A shooting guard, he is confident and does a little bit of everything.
In Game 2 against Houston he missed a lot of shots, a lot, and yet he wasn’t afraid to keep trying to hit them. He wasn’t jacking up shots either, he just didn’t let his head drop.
Ben Gordon might be on the roster now, but there is a lot to like about this guy and hopefully he sticks to this team.
Really that is all, on what has been a positive start to the least important part of the NBA season. Orlando won’t mind though, for they have seen already that the draft picks they selected have already contributed in some way, and the organization will be hoping they can get better.
It’s not glamorous, but for Orlando to become relevant again, the hard work really starts here, with next to nobody watching.