July 13, 2012
By Joe Kotoch
ORLANDO — For one week in July, a small portion of the basketball universe converges upon central Florida to watch and participate in the Summer League. The Orlando event is always outshined by its Las Vegas counterpart, partly because there is no strip and partly because only eight NBA teams participate.
The Orlando summer league is very intimate, and it is very common to see media, agents, and NBA executives conversing. The basketball is very opportunistic as players try to secure a training camp invite or impress their team enough to warrant increased playing time or responsibilities.
Here are my observations from Orlando, along with some buzz from NBA executives and agents.
Whose Stock Went Up?
Kyle O’Quinn – The second-round pick of the Orlando Magic looked polished and played like a veteran this week. O’Quinn’s signature moment may have been the absolute dismantling of Pistons’ lottery pick Andre Drummond, who O’Quinn outworked and out-psyched. During their matchup Pistons PG Brandon Knight was constantly talking to Drummond, trying to keep his confidence up. Drummond became so frustrated that he and O’Quinn were both warned by officials, and Drummond even swung a low blow towards O’Quinn that didn’t connect. O’Quinn looked like a “player” and should help out right away at the 4 or 5.
Kyle Singler – Singler was almost unrecognizable after spending the season in Spain, but the 2011 second-round pick of Detroit looked like arguably the best player in the entire summer league. Singler is not a star, but should be a quality rotation player for a long time in the NBA. In Orlando, Singler showed the ability to knock down shots from all over the court, a quick release, and the ability to create his own shot. One Western Conference executive told me that in his mind Singler “demonstrated the ability to be a Shane Battier or Mike Miller type.”
Miles Plumlee – The Duke big man was a surprise first-round pick but certainly showed on the court why the Pacers had faith in selecting him over Perry Jones, Arnett Moultrie, and others. Plumlee moved extremely well, was very active around the glass and explosive. Plumlee’s signature performance came against Jared Sullinger and the Celtics when he had 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Jared Sullinger – The Ohio State big appeared motivated to prove his naysayers wrong and certainly looked healthy, averaging nearly 14 points and 8.3 rebounds. Sullinger’s post game is very polished and he showed the ability to be a very good rebounder against longer and more athletic bigs. Sullinger always seems to be smiling on the court, and one scout I spoke to said that Sullinger is going to be the next DaJuan Blair — but with a better offensive game.
Lance Stephenson – Stephenson is leading the summer league in scoring and has played very well in Orlando, which is to be expected from a third-year pro. In addition to scoring, Stephenson is averaging over 5 assists a game, which is sure to delight Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard. One Eastern Conference executive said “This is a make or break year for Stephenson in Indiana and the Pacers want to give him every opportunity to succeed.”
Alec Burks – Burks was absolutely brilliant against Philadelphia early this week when he scored 31 points on 10-of-14 shooting and was 10-for-11 from the free throw line. Burks should be in line for a lot more playing time in his second season and is a potential breakout candidate.
Reggie Jackson – In 2011, Jackson was given a draft promise by the Thunder, though the Thunder continue to deny this assertion — even though Jackson only worked out for OKC. On a championship caliber team most rookies won’t seem much playing time, but one OKC official told me that Jackson is going to “wow” people, adding “he has the perfect blend of size, athleticism, and scoring prowess to be a spark off the bench.” In Orlando, Jackson has been solid.
Whose Stock Went Down
Adam Morrison – It’s sad to see how far Morrison has fallen. While playing for Brooklyn, Morrison is averaging 6 ppg on 36% shooting. Neither of those stats will endear you to NBA GMs. While Morrison’s best skill is knocking down open looks, it is hard to see him making a NBA roster this year.
Andre Drummond – As previously mentioned Drummond, looked overwhelmed and one Detroit official told me that he was shocked at how little basketball IQ Drummond had after playing one season at UConn. Drummond is averaging 8 ppg and 6.5 rpg and is shooting 52% from the field while flashing an occasional wow moment to everyone in the audience. However, Drummond is shooting 25% from the free throw line and had one of the ugliest misses I have ever seen, short and to the left. One Italian coach said “Whoever works with him on his free throws must be fired.”
MarShon Brooks – Perhaps Brooks was struggling because of the rampant trade speculation about him or maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to be in the Summer League but either way Brooks looks bad shooting 32% from the field and averaging on 11 ppg. For a player that is seen as a big trade chip Brooks must do more against the competition.
Orlando Johnson – Johnson’s shot selection looks awful as he is shooting 23% from the field, 20% from 3, and 60% from the FT line. Johnson’s poor summer league was highlighted (lowlighted?) by an 0-for-10 performance from the field against the Thunder earlier this week.
Deandre Liggins – The Magic forward has been underwhelming thus far, averaging 6.5 ppg and shooting under 44%. One scout said that Liggins “looks lost and struggles to run and dribble.”
Too Soon To Tell
Andrew Nicholson – The Magic PF is averaging 15 and 7.5, which on its face is great for a rookie, but he looks slender and has deferred a lot to his teammates. One agent said “Nicholson doesn’t look like he has it and looks unathletic.” However, one executive told me that he thought Nicholson would be “a borderline All-Star” and said that Nicholson would be more efficient is he was defended one-on-one.
Tornike Shengelia – Shengelia looks great out there banging down low, crashing the glass, and moves well off screens. Seems like a guy who could be a very good rotation player in Brooklyn, whenever he ends up in the NBA.
Tyshawn Taylor – Taylor looked brilliant at times offensively and distributing the ball, but has also looked awful at times. Taylor had 7 turnovers in one game, which is disturbing in the summer league, and one scout questioned his decision-making, a common knock on Taylor before the draft.
Justin Holiday – Holiday has been great in Orlando and secured a roster spot in Vegas with the Cavs. Jrue’s older brother is longer and a bit of a swiss army knife on the court. There is no denying he can offer NBA teams something, but is he talented enough to stick?
Enes Kanter – Kanter is leading the Summer League is rebounding but his offense leaves something to be desired. He looks solid offensively not dominant, which you would expect from a player with his physical attributes and skills.
Obviously the biggest buzz all week has been about Dwight Howard and whether the Magic center will finally be traded. To this point no deal has been made, but one former colleague of Magic GM Rob Hennigan told me “Rob will do what is best for Orlando and doesn’t give a shit about where Howard wants to go.”
While Brooklyn is a participant in Orlando, Nets GM Billy King has been away focusing on free agency and trades to improve the roster right now. The latest spec is that the Nets are targeting PF Antawn Jamison in a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland.
While the Magic have yet to hire a coach, Mark Price has handled summer league duties but Brian Shaw has been very visible throughout the week. One division rival tells me that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hennigan give Shaw the nod.