Hezonja has solid debut, adds in late heroics
With his team down by two late, Mario Hezonja showed just a glimpse of what he could add to the team. A loose ball fortuitously bounced into Elfrid Payton's hands, with the second-year point guard quickly swinging a pass to fellow second-year man Devyn Marble, who hit Hezonja for the shot on the left wing. The always-confident wing from Croatia calmly knocked down the shot, propelling the Magic into the lead for good.
Outside of his late heroics, however, Hezonja was relatively quiet, finishing the afternoon with 12 points, and two rebounds off the bench. While his stat line might not show it, Hezonja showed flashes of brilliance, dazzling the league executives and media in attendance with needle threading passes and high energy plays diving on the floor for loose balls.
Following the game, Hezonja raved about the chemistry he's already been able to build with his teammates, claiming they're like brothers out there. He also talked about how it's important to "have no fears" out there, especially when the ball ends up in your hands late in tight games. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't [feel comfortable in that situation]," he later said.
While he was able to give the team good minutes, he admitted the game was much, much different to that of the one he played in Spain. "Everything is different," he quipped. "I don't know right now. Pretty much everything is way, way different, but I think I'll adjust [myself], my game. I think I'll adjust everything quickly."
Hezonja had a somewhat underwhelming professional debut, but still managed to show off some of the reasons the Magic took him with the fifth pick in last months draft. He has a great motor, and isn't afraid to shy away from big moments, having supreme confidence in himself at all times. He's going to take some time to adjust to the NBA game despite having played professionally since he was 11, but his first taste in the league is one that should give the Magic hope for the road ahead.
After missing much of his rookie season with a foot injury, Aaron Gordon needed to use this summer as a building block towards his sophomore season. From the opening tip, Gordon was determined, pushing the pace and showing off his improved jumper more and more. When things were all said and done, the high flying wing had tallied up 22 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks.
Gordon showed off not only an improved jumper, but also a higher confidence level with the ball in his hands, bringing the ball down the court on countless trips. Gordon also proved willing to try to take his defenders off the dribble, continually attacking his defenders on almost every trip.
The second-year man said that he felt "real comfortable" out there, adding that it's "fun" out there and that he's "enjoying playing basketball." Gordon was asked if he felt as though the game was beginning to slow down for him, to which he said, "Yeah, it's a long game. I'm still working on slowing down the game throughout the entire game, and I think that's what the great players do. Throughout the entirety of the game, they slow it down, and I still have to work on that. For the most part, I was seeing plays develop out there and just playing my game."
Throughout the whole game, Gordon looked more comfortable on the court. He was consistently attacking the defense, and using his size, strength and athleticism to his advantage.
He's likely going to have to play the power forward spot coming up this season, which with continued work, he should be able to do with relative ease. Gordon still needs to find better consistency with his shot, but his first game of the week was a step in the right direction.
Building an identity
One of the biggest things that plagued the Magic throughout last season was their lack of a true identity. When Scott Skiles was hired in May, he made it clear the team would be focusing on the defensive end, something they continue to do on Saturday.
With defensive guru Adrian Griffin, the teams lead assistant, running the show, the Magic swarmed on the defensive end, talking with each other and trapping seemingly everything. The Magic's energy level was solid, with the team appearing to be turning into a stalwart on the defensive end, thanks in large part to strong play from Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble.
As the game wore on, however, the Magic began to falter some on that end of the floor, allowing players to get into gaps, leading to many east looks close to the basket. The defense ramped back up late, however, with Marble coming up with a key steal late to seal the game for the hosts.
Griffin said he felt as though the team's defense was good early, with the team communicating well. "I thought the start of the game, our intensity was very good," he said. "All five guys tied together, communicating out there. If you're going to play for Scott Skiles, you're going to have to play some defense. I thought [Elfrid] Payton started the game with some great ball pressure that set the tone for us."
The remainder of the week will be highly important for the Magic as they continue their implementation of new schemes on the defensive end of the court. They're going to make their identity on that end of the floor, and summer league is the first of many stepping stones.
Odds and ends
The Magic's "White" team prevailed earlier in the day, beating the Detroit Pistons 87-76. Both Keith Appling and Scottie Wilbekin had strong games running the point, giving the Magic more options to, potentially, add to their roster if they choose to add a third point guard.
Tyler Harvey played backup point guard minutes for the "Blue" team, finishing with six points off the bench. It wasn't all great for Harvey, who struggled with the Clippers on-ball pressure and traps in the pick-and-roll. He's likely a two guard moving forward, but has some potential as a secondary ball handler.
Devyn Marble hit big shots, and made big plays on the defensive end throughout the game. The second-year man finished with 14 points and six steals on the night. He has an unguaranteed contract, so having a big week could go a long way for the former Iowa Hawkeye.