In the minds of many, the NBA summer league is a mere afterthought – a collection of rookies, mysterious foreigners and former college standouts looking to use a glorified open gym setting to find a place in the league. In many respects that viewpoint is spot-on, but the summer league is more than a structured pick-up game – it’s a chance for players to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The challenge is to do so in ways that NBA franchises desire. Efficiency, outside shooting and defensive versatility are championed in today’s NBA, while volume scoring is not necessarily what teams are searching for in a potential training camp invitee. Frankly, if a team is combing the Orlando Summer League for a primary scorer, their fan base is in for a long, long season. Take Josh Selby, the co-MVP of last summer’s Las Vegas Summer League, for example. A 2011 second-round selection of the Grizzlies, Selby averaged a Vegas League-high 27.5 points per game but found himself in the D-League by early December and was traded and subsequently waived in early March. His one elite skill – scoring – may have set him apart in Las Vegas, but it failed to translate against elite competition. Let’s not forget that most summer league teams only have a handful of players with any NBA experience, and even fewer who have played meaningful minutes in the league.
Day four of the 2013 Orlando NBA Summer League wrapped up Wednesday afternoon with only three games on the slate. Still, a number of intriguing rookies and young players were on display once again:
Utah 98 Brooklyn 69
The first game of the day featured a Jazz team led by a pair of talented young guards in Alec Burks and Trey Burke, who in all likelihood will make up the team’s starting backcourt in October. However, Burke sat out Wednesday’s contest (non-injury related), turning the attention toward Burks, former dunk contest camp Jeremy Evans and promising young big man Rudy Gobert, whose 7-foot-9 wingspan set a draft combine record. The game was a blowout from the beginning, as Utah jumped out to a 20-10 first quarter advantage, eventually pushing the lead to 51-29 by halftime. While Gobert played just six minutes, Evans and Burks combined for 29 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Evans also added a game-high nine rebounds. Former Marquette standout Jerel McNeal started alongside Burks in the backcourt and contributed five points, four steals and three assists. Chris Roberts also added 15 points, while Slovenian center Rasid Mahalbasic scored four points and blocked three shots en route to posting a game-high plus/minus of +24.
Things were not quite as positive for Jason Kidd and the Nets, as just two players scored in double-figures and the team dropped to 0-3. Chris Wright led all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Tyshawn Taylor chipped in 10 points and three assists. Brooklyn’s big men struggled mightily, as Tornike Shengelia scored seven points to go along with four turnovers and five fouls in 18 minutes. Rookie Mason Plumlee took just four shots, while pulling down two rebounds and recording a -27 plus/minus rating. The loss drops the Nets into a tie with the idle 76ers for last place, and they will face the 3-0 Houston Rockets on Thursday. Meanwhile, Utah sits at 2-1 and will square off with the 1-2 Indiana Pacers in the first of four Thursday games.
Oklahoma City 74 Philadelphia 62
A mere 24 hours after Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson set the Orlando Summer League scoring record with a brilliant 35-point effort, his own teammate nearly set a new one. With Jackson sitting Wednesday’s contest out, Jeremy Lamb, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, scored 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting (3-5 3Pt, 9-10 FT). Despite committing eight turnovers, Lamb displayed the all-around offensive ability the Thunder coveted when acquiring him from Houston in the James Harden deal. With Oklahoma City losing Kevin Martin and remaining quiet in free agency, Lamb is expected to step in as one of the first guards off the bench. His versatility and size should allow him to see time spelling Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard, as well as – less often – Kevin Durant at small forward. 2013 first-round pick Steven Adams put together a second consecutive solid game for the Thunder, scoring 13 points to go along with five boards and two blocks – though he did commit five fouls and four turnovers. Former Marquette star Dwight Buycks, who scored 13 points off the bench in Tuesday’s win over the Pistons, got the start at point guard in place of Jackson but was held to just two points on 0-of-4 shooting.
While the 76ers attempted 16 more shots than the Thunder, they were limited to 35.9 percent shooting. Former Minnesota star Rodney Williams was the lone double-figure scorer with 12 points in just over 24 minutes. Williams is a jaw-dropping athlete and an elite defender, but he’ll need to show he can shoot with consistency before any teams take a flier on his game. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams continued to struggle shooting the ball, going just 3-for-16 from the field after a dismal 4-for20 performance on Monday. It’s no shock that his jumpshots aren’t falling, as he experienced the same issues at Syracuse, but if he continues to have trouble against inferior competition, his first NBA season could be a major learning experience. Still, Philadelphia drafted him to be their starting point guard of the future, and a couple sub-par summer league games are nothing to be up in arms about. Carter-Williams’ teammate at Syracuse, James Southerland, connected on 1-of-6 three-point attempts and added seven points. Khalif Wyatt led the Sixers with 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting on Monday but was unable to duplicate that effort Wednesday, finishing with just four points on 1-of-3 shooting. Notably absent from Wednesday’s contest were Trevor Mbakwe for Philadelphia and Andre Roberson, Michael Snaer and Daniel Orton for Oklahoma City.
Houston 85 Boston 78
In a downright ugly contest between two squads whose NBA teams are headed in opposite directions, the Rockets prevailed behind a combined 33 points from Terrence Jones and Vander Blue. Though Jones shot just 3-of-13, he converted 10-of-14 free throws en route to a team-high 17 points. Blue also struggled shooting (5-of-15) but was able to knock down two 3-pointers and also grab six rebounds. The Rockets sat James Anderson, Patrick Beverly and Isaiah Cannon – arguably three of their top five players – allowing additional minutes for Blue, Casper Ware and Robert Covington, who recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Boston was led again by first-round pick Kelly Olynyk’s 19 points and 10 rebounds. He’s been the Celtics’ most consistent player by far this summer, utilizing his wide array of creative moves around the basket to clear space and finish in traffic. Olynyk also attempted (and missed) five 3-pointers. While Boston would likely prefer he remains inside of 17 feet, the early confidence in his outside shot is encouraging. Tim Abromaitis chipped in 14 points (6-13 FG, 2-7 3Pt) and five rebounds, while former Missouri point guard Phil Pressey scored six points and added a game-high 10 assists. Given his lack of size and inefficient shooting, Pressey is somewhat of a long shot to make an NBA roster this season. However, he’s an elite distributor who could make some noise in the D-League, should that be where he ends up. Following an impressive 19-point showing on Tuesday, Darius-Johnson Odom sat out Wednesday’s game. The former Marquette star asserted himself as clearly the best player on the floor and will almost certainly get some looks from NBA teams as a deep bench scorer.
Orlando Summer League Standings through Wednesday:
Oklahoma City: 4-0