Ten thoughts from the first week of the NBA Summer League
The Orlando portion of the 2014 NBA Summer League concluded on Friday afternoon. SI.com's Jeremy Woo recaps the highs and lows of the first leg of this year's action. The Las Vegas portion continues until July 21.
- Considered one of the draft’s biggest sleepers, Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, the 10th overall selection, sure performed like a lottery pick. Averaging 9.2 points, 7 assists (leading the league) and 5.2 rebounds, Payton posted a couple of near triple-doubles and was one of the primary standouts of the week. Though he struggled with turnovers and wasn’t a threat from deep (he made one of his mere two three-point attempts), those are areas of his game that require development, and it’s only the first week. If his early success is an indicator, his transition should be well-worth watching. It looks like Payton was well-worth the gamble.
- Another first-round pick made good on his promise: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit’s 2013 selection, led the league in scoring with 24 points per game to go with 7.4 rebounds. Caldwell-Pope lifted the Pistons to wins in their first three games. Stan Van Gundy’s system favors perimeter guys who can spread the floor, and KCP was a bright spot for a retooling team. The Pistons just signed Jodie Meeks, but Caldwell-Pope could and should make a push for playing time at the two-guard position.
- Philadelphia’s rebuild got a nice shot in the arm as Nerlens Noel, 2013’s sixth overall pick, showed quite well in his first game action since tearing his ACL at Kentucky more than a year ago. Noel was firmly in the conversation to go first overall before his injury, sat out the entire season, and was back to his shot-swatting self for the Sixers. The athletic big man averaged three blocks, more than 12 points and nearly six rebounds in Orlando and probably inspired several of Sam Hinkie’s dreams, with the prospect of a terrifying Noel-Joel Embiid defensive tandem protecting the rim in Philly.
- The learning curve could be a little rougher than some imagined for Marcus Smart, who shot just 29.4% from the field and 25.7% on threes in five games for the Celtics. Smart still averaged 14.8 points on the week while getting to the free throw line consistently (and shot 83.3% from the stripe), but his well-documented shooting troubles certainly showed. He rebounded and distributed the ball well, but will have some big adjustments to make if he hopes to be a consistent offensive threat at the NBA level.
- After adding sharpshooter Anthony Morrow this week, the Oklahoma City Thunder continue to search for pieces to support Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. First-rounder Mitch McGary reportedly looked healthy and a series of encouraging performances was highlighted by an 18-point, 13-rebound line against the Nets. The Thunder will hope McGary can fill a garbage-man type supporting role as they mount another playoff push. However, Jeremy Lamb didn’t quite show the progression they might have liked — although he led the team in scoring posted a 26-point game against Brooklyn, it took him 21 shots to get there and Lamb greatly struggled from three-point range throughout the week (making just 4 of 23). Right now, the Morrow move looks prudent.
- Several players who went undrafted in the past several years made statements. Sixers guard Casper Ware (unselected in 2012 out of Long Beach State) averaged 19 points and 5.2 assists, Pacers forward Kevin Jones (2012, West Virginia) impressed with 12.8 points and 10 rebounds, and his Indiana teammate Donald Sloan (out of Texas A&M in 2010) put up 18.5 points and 5.5 assists (on a side note, the Sixers and Pacers both finished 4-1). Duke product Andre Dawkins, who went undrafted this year, hit seven threes for Miami in his final game of summer league. They may not become the next Jeremy Lin or Udonis Haslem, but teams had to have taken notice of the numbers. Overlooked guys emerge every season —and perhaps one of these guys could be next.
- Mason Plumlee was a pleasant surprise for Brooklyn last season, averaging 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and earning a spot on the All-Rookie team. In three games in Orlando, the 6-11 power forward was his team’s best player, averaging 18 points and 4.7 rebounds in three games. He’s been focusing on improving his jump shot and reportedly showed some progress. Look for him to assume a bigger role next year for the Nets.
- Victor Oladipo reportedly dropped 20 pounds (back to his college weight of 210 at Indiana), and the slimmed-down Magic guard showed well accordingly, averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds in three games. In Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, Orlando has added an impressive collection of athletes in the past two draft lotteries. All three excel on the defensive end, and form an enticing set of building blocks for the Magic if each can work out their respective offensive kinks.
- As a second-rounder, Nick Johnson might have little guaranteed to him with the Rockets, but he provided one of the highlights of the week with this nasty left-handed slam over a defender. We knew Johnson was an NBA-caliber athlete, and with the ability to make plays like this, you hope he’ll stick around. Averaging 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5 assists won’t hurt his case to make the team.
- Lastly, you have to feel for Pierre Jackson, who averaged more than 29 points per game in the D-League last year and suffered a serious achilles injury in the first game of summer league with the Sixers. The former Baylor guard and 2013 second-rounder could miss the entire season. Jackson, who spent two years in junior college before settling in at Baylor, played a short spurt in Turkey at the end of last season and scored 58 points in the D-League earlier this year, looked poised to catch on somewhere. Instead, it’ll be a long way back.