It was 9:30 PM Friday and I was a little antsy for Orlando Pro Summer League. So I packed up then and took off by car from Kentucky as soon as possible in order to catch the first Orlando Magic game. Turns out, Kentucky and Florida are really far apart, so I showed up to a full Amway Center practice floor a few minutes into the first quarter as the Magic took on the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. Am I exhausted? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes.
Summer league is pretty awesome. The Amway Center practice court is closed to the public, but filled to the brim with NBA executives, agents, scouts and media. It's a fascinating mix. Everyone wants to talk hoops and everyone, for the most part, is willing to talk, which makes for a fun experience.
Anyway, here are some things I took away from Orlando's first game, an 83-77 win over the Sixers:
Victor Oladipo is the undoubted leader
By the time I arrived, the media row was filled. The only seats left were in the corner behind the Magic bench. It made it a little difficult to see both ends of the court, but it also provided an opportunity to watch the dynamic within Orlando's huddle. There's no doubt: Oladipo is this team's leader.
He gave advice to rookie guard Elfrid Payton, explaining that he needs to wait a half second longer for the roll man to open up. He explained to the other guys that they needed to flash to the ball to help Payton on ball traps. He encouraged the team to continue to play defense.
Near the end of the first half, Oladipo yelled, "We get stops, we get easy buckets." As soon as he checked in, he netted a long-range shot. On Philadelphia's next possession, he ripped Casper Ware at mid-court and raced down for an and-one bucket. With Orlando gutting its roster of last year's veterans, this team belongs to Oladipo now, and he seems to really embrace the challenge.
Aaron Gordon is a fantastic athlete with a good handle
Gordon has his faults: he's too thin to properly defend bulkier power forwards and his outside shot isn't reliable enough to be a threat on the perimeter. But watching him in person really gives you an idea of just how freakishly athletic this guy is.
He glides down floor as fast as anyone, bounces off the floor so quickly, and has the ability to make some remarkable plays. He slides his feet so well in the pick-and-roll and can legitimately defend NBA guards. In case you missed it, he did this:
Gordon was asked about that play after the game and said that too many guys try to swat the ball into the stands, even though it's completely "unnecessary." He was, however, mad at himself for trying to dribble up court, as doing so resulted in a turnover.
He also made some very impressive plays with the ball in his hands: The best came in the first half when he drove from the perimeter, jump-stopped, and found an open Oladipo for a long-range bucket. He also made several different impressive dribble moves in the half court.
Elfrid Payton needs time to adjust
Payton struggled the most of all the Magic youngsters. He registered five assists, but shot just 1-of-4 from the floor and turned the ball over four times. He played a little better as the game wore on, but he still looked very uncomfortable handling pressure out top from Sixers guards.
I was expecting Philadelphia to sit back and welcome Payton's outside shot. Instead, they applied heavy pressure on him as soon as he crossed halfcourt. When Payton tried to run pick-and-rolls, Philadelphia trapped hard.
Payton wasn't ready for it. He picked up his dribble in the trap and turned the ball over several times. If he had kept his dribble alive, backed away from the pressure, or zipped the ball around the perimeter more quickly, then he would have been better off. Instead, he kept the ball in his hands too long, feeding into Philadelphia's defense.
Orlando didn't help much either. As previously mentioned, Oladipo begged his teammates to give Payton a passing lane, but for the most part, they left Payton on an island. The Magic could have given him a safety valve of sorts near the high post to help relieve pressure, but it's Summer League and it's tough to add those wrinkles mid-game with a group of guys who haven't played much together.
Don't kill Payton here. It's one game--a Summer League game nonetheless--and he's transitioning from Sun Belt competition to NBA-caliber prospects. But, still, his first showing was unimpressive.
Devyn Marble and Romero Osby are both deserving of roster spots
That Osby didn't make the final roster in 2013 after an impressive Summer League actually makes sense. He's too short to play power forward and not quick enough to defend small forwards. But the dude can hoop.
He can score in a number of ways off the dribble and he's a tough son-of-a-gun around the basket. He was called for an off-the-ball foul on a rebound after he absolutely moved his guy on a block out. It wasn't a foul, but when you're this strong, everything looks like a foul.
Still, he's an improving long-range shooter and if his accuracy from deep (42.2 percent) in the D-League is a real thing, then he's worthy of a roster spot either in Orlando or elsewhere.
Marble was the most impressive Magic rookie against Philly. He scored 13 points on seven shots, including two from deep. He also grabbed five boards, recorded three steals, and dished two assists. He has a silky-smooth long range stroke and an impressive in-between game.
He's more naturally a guard, but he'll be playing mostly at small forward in summer league. He actually has decent size (6-foot-6) and length (6-foot-9 wingspan) for that position, but he's a little thin. Still, he's versatile enough to play small forward in stints and that will help his case moving forward.
Other notes around day one:
- Memphis Grizzlies guard Jordan Adams is really good. I mean, really good. He scored 22 points on 16 shots and recorded four steals, against the Oklahoma City Thunder and their NBA-ready D-League team. He's a silky scorer from deep, crafty inside the arc, and showed off some impressive vision with a few no-look dishes. There's a reason I was really high on him before the draft.
- Marcin Gortat is hilarious; he walked around all day cracking jokes and telling stories. Kyle O`Quinn is great, too. He showed up and chatted up with anyone willing to talk.
- NBA executives are really nice! Maybe it's the setting they're in; this is, of course, a basketball nerd's heaven, with prospects and scouts galore. But seriously, they're willing to have open-ended conversations about basketball. Just a really cool thing.
- Perry Jones III is a freak in real life. He's taller than Steven Adams, as long as a tree, and he hit both of his attempts from behind the arc. He sent home a thunderous one-handed jam in traffic after making a crossover move from the perimeter.
- Andre Drummond is one of the largest human beings I've ever seen. Some dudes look tall on TV, but this guy is a tower in real life. He also has really broad shoulders and a ton of muscle on his frame. It's too bad the Detroit Pistons won't let him run around for a quarter or two.
That's about it. Basketball is back! Sort of...