It is sometimes far too easy to overthink these Summer League games.
They are, after all, just exhibition games between NBA rookies and young players and players on the fringes of the NBA, trying to scratch out a career, in front of only the most diehard of basketball fans and employees. The results do not really matter. The stats do not matter at all. And conclusions are early at best.
Sometimes it is best to just roll the ball out and keep things simple, avoiding the early preparations for the regular season and early schemes for training camp and just play basketball. That is how you might see the best of the players you have.
After a week, harping on defense and generally seeing it, but also seeing some offensive struggles, particularly from fourth overall selection Aaron Gordon, the ball was rolled out for the 8 a.m. tip off with the Magic dressing just eight players after several players left for their duties with other teams at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas and injuries to Dewayne Dedmon and Romero Osby kept them sidelined for the finale.
And the offensive performance was impressive as everything came together with the Magic shuffling in a lineup that featured four guards at times (out of necessity) and a free-wheeling offense of pick and rolls, drives and Elfrid Payton’s never-ending unselfishness and passing ability.
“It feels good [to finish on a high note],” Payton said. “It gives us a little head of steam and a little momentum going into the rest of the offseason, finally getting on the same page and in rhythm.”
Victor Oladipo ended up leading the way with 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting, taking over with some nice finishes and fouls in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Elfrid Payton was the driving force, however, behind the Magic’s 96-87 win in the Summer League finale.
Payton scored 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting and added eight assists for the game. He will finish as the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League leader in assists and a likely first-team player for the All-Summer League team (which I might have made up). He was able to get into the lane on pick and rolls, find his own shot and set up others on the pick and roll. He got better as the week went on.
Friday’s game saw the real debut of Payton and Oladipo playing together and it wreaked havoc, capitalized by a vicious two-handed alley-oop slam by Oladipo from Payton.
The two together still figure to be a force defensively. Offensively, both need to come along and be efficient. But the Magic certainly saw enough this week to feel good about their backcourt future.
“Defensively, they are going to be a problem,” Magic coach Wes Unseld, Jr. said. “We have to work out some spacing. But when that shooting big gets here, I think it helps everything.”
That “shooting big” is likely Channing Frye, a free agent signee that has yet to be announced.
Unseld said with the team without so many players, he opted to keep things simple. There was almost no preparation for this final game and the team showed up about an hour before tip off to warm up. It was all done very much on the fly with Aaron Gordon playing center at several points in the game.
That lineup certainly hurt the defense as the Pistons could get rebounds, but the Magic dug down and stripped the ball on several occasions and still rotated well. Orlando was tough defensively and had good principles put in place to help and recover. That bodes well moving forward.
So too does the continued improvement from the Magic throughout the week.
Payton continued to get better as the week went on. So too did Seth Curry (10 points on 4-for-9 shooting Friday). Gordon turned in a solid bounce back performance as did Devyn Marble — 16 points, 5 rebounds, 7-for-12 shooting. It was a great way for things to end.
“Very happy, very pleased,” Unseld said about the rookies. “To their credit, they’ve competed the five games and the whole week of practice. That environment never wavered.”
For them, the final game was a bit of a springboard to the rest of the offseason. It is a long two months before training camp starts. The rookies got to dip their toes in and get an idea of what they need to work on for the long-term.
There was, indeed, a lot to be happy about as the week concluded.
The question is whether things will translate to the regular season once it all starts counting and how the new players integrate with the rest of the roster.