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Summer League Primer: Magic prospects, new staff look to develop chemistry in Las Vegas

The Magic are set to return to the Las Vegas Summer League for the first time in over a decade

2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, or so I’ve been told.

But for the Orlando Magic organization, what happens over the next ten days or so could very well carry over into the start of next season. At least that’s the plan.

The Magic, along with the 29 other organizations in the NBA, will be playing anywhere from five to eight games in Las Vegas, NV starting tomorrow and going thru July 17th. Each team will play three scheduled games, and then the entire field will be re-seeded for tournament play. This is the first time ever that all 30 NBA franchises will be participating in the same summer league.

Since 2006, the Magic have hosted a summer league that was closed off to the public and played on a practice court. The atmosphere Orlando’s young prospects will experience this time around expects to be very different.

Exhibition games aren’t the only items on Orlando’s agenda in Vegas. The team and coaching staff have been out west since Monday in fact. The Magic are treating this time together (players and coaches) as a mini-camp of sorts.

Orlando has an entirely new coaching staff that has been working all week getting some of the Magic players up to speed on new schemes, systems, etc. Newly hired assistant coach Pat Delany will be serving as Orlando’s head coach during summer league play, but Steve Clifford is there too. Clifford has most likely been running practices this week, and will undoubtedly continue to do so on Orlando’s off-days.

“I think the games are great,” Clifford said earlier this week. “But I would also say that I think the practices are also just as beneficial in many ways.”

According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, the Magic practiced on UNLV’s campus Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

“They’re new to me. I just want to have a chance to be on the floor with them (and coach them),” Clifford said. “I think it will help us, in our coach-player relationships.”


All games will be played on UNLV’s campus, either at the Thomas & Mack Center, or the Cox Pavilion

  • Friday, July 6th vs. Brooklyn (Cox Pavilion, 5PM EST, NBA TV)
  • Sunday, July 8th vs. Memphis (Thomas & Mack Center, 9:30PM EST, ESPN2)
  • Monday, July 9th vs. Phoenix (Thomas & Mack Center, 9:30PM EST, NBA TV)
  • Depending on how the Magic fare, two to five additional tournament games will be played

Who to watch?

Mohamed Bamba

All eyes in Vegas will be on Bamba, the sixth overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft. The New York native with the massive wingspan will be matched-up in back-to-back games against two other big men who were taken in the lottery. Bamba will square off against Jaren Jackson Jr. (taken fourth overall) Sunday night, and then turn around on Monday night and face Deandre Ayton (first overall selection).

“I’m very excited,” Bamba said Thursday night. “I haven’t played since March. It’s been a while and I’m really excited to get out there, especially with the guys that we have here.”

The Magic announced Tuesday that they signed Bamba to his rookie-scale contract.

“This is real. I’d say that was probably like the it moment,” Bamba told reporters. “The draft was also a good, shining moment and an it moment, but signing that contract and seeing all the language, reading it and going through it, it was like, Oh, this is real.”

Jonathan Isaac

You could argue that no one on Orlando’s summer league squad has more to prove than Isaac, who missed 55 games last season due to injuries to both his ankles. Isaac hasn’t played in a game since April 1st. He scored 5.4 points and pulled down 3.7 rebounds in ‘17-’18 (38% FG%), but showed significant defensive potential while on the floor (2.2 STL per/36, 2.0 BLK per/36, DBPM of 3.1).

The organization (and its fans) knows Isaac can play defense. It’s Isaac’s offensive game that will hopefully begin to develop, starting with games this summer in Vegas.

“It’s been fun,” Isaac said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s been great being with all these guys out here - guys that I’ve worked out all this summer with and the new guys. We’ve been working, we’ve been at it. We’ve been working hard and putting in new stuff that we’ve never seen with the new coaching staff. So it’s been fun but challenging.”

Melvin Frazier, Jr.

Frazier was selected in the second round by the Magic a little over two weeks ago (35th overall). He was the first player drafted from Tulane in over twenty years (since Jerald Honeycutt, ‘97).

“It was good coming from Louisiana and coming from a small school. I didn’t really get as much attention as I should,” Frazier said when he was introduced to the media on June 22nd. “But I just went out there and played basketball. I just take pride in my defense and that’s what kinda got me on the grid.”

Frazier will look to remain “on the grid” with a strong showing in Vegas. Since he was drafted in the second round, Frazier isn’t promised a guaranteed contract. The Magic will certainly give him a long look over the next ten days.

Frazier averaged 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.1 steals last year as a junior playing in the American Athletic Conference.

Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch

Iwundu and Birch played in over 100 combined games for the Magic as rookies last season (mostly due to the significant amount of games other players on Orlando’s roster missed because of various injuries).

Both players have guaranteed contracts that will take them through next season with the Magic. However, with executives from the 29 other teams around the league in attendance during the Vegas Summer League, both Iwundu and Birch will still have a lot to play for (as in, a second NBA contract from someone, somewhere).

For me, Iwundu (33rd overall pick in ‘17) is going to have to show in Vegas that he can contribute offensively. As a 23-year old rookie last year, Iwundu averaged 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds (43% FG%, 20% 3PT%).

Birch, who will be returning to where he played in college (UNLV), was a very pleasant surprise last season. The Magic were +6.3 per/100 possessions last year when Birch was on the floor (11.1 PTS per/36, 11.2 REB per/36).

Isaiah Briscoe

Briscoe, a former New Jersey high school standout and Kentucky product, is the newest member of the Magic. He was invited by the Magic to participate in Summer League action and apparently made an immediate (and powerful) impact.

Briscoe, who went undrafted last summer, played basketball over the last calendar year in Estonia for BC Kalev. The 6-3, 215 pound guard (6-9 wingspan) more fully-developed his “lead guard” skills while playing overseas. At Kentucky, Briscoe seemed ill-suited to play a low-usage, off-the-ball role while guards such as Jamal Murray, Malik Monk, and De’Aaron Fox starred.

Briscoe, who was an absolutely miserable shooter at Kentucky (13% 3PT% & 46% FT% as a freshmen, 29% 3PT% & 63% FT% as a sophomore), also developed some respectable touch from the outside while over in Eastern Europe.

Briscoe will still have to prove in Vegas that his improved shot is no fluke against stiffer competition. As you can see from the graphic above, the international three-point line is a bit closer than the NBA’s line. Essentially, he was taking in Estonia what would equate in the NBA to long two-point attempts, one of the worst shots in the game.

He did score 50 points in last year’s Estonia/Latvia All-Star Game (was named MVP of the game). Oh, and he can do this:

So Magic fans, who are you excited to see play in Las Vegas? Comment below with your thoughts, expectations, etc. Enjoy!