Victor Oladipo remembers the feeling his first Summer League game.
That moment of excitement over the first time stepping onto the court of a professional game — even if it was just Summer League. The increase in speed and the feeling that you had to go a million miles a second to keep up. The pressure of an NBA defense trapping you. It did not go away after Summer League. The game just had to slow down with experience and composure.
Oladipo seemed like he had found that after one year in his return to the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League. Here was a guy who a year ago had no point guard experience and now seemed like a poised veteran on the ball. He waited for the defense to react on screens before attacking the spots left open. He calmly found the shots and passes he wanted. He hounded the opponent on the defensive end, setting the tone for the rest of the team.
Yes, there were still mistakes. But Oladipo looked like a different player than he did a year ago.
Rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton will surely have that epiphany at some point too. They will continue to improve and get better in much the same way Oladipo did in the last year. Their first game was filled with some of the same hurried mistakes you would expect from rookies nervous about their first game and getting used to the speed of a new, higher level of play.
“It has definitely slowed down a lot [for me],” Oladipo said. “I just have to keep getting better. Definitely help the young guys. It was their first time playing. And trust me, I know how it feels. There is going to be a lot of jitters and stuff like that. I told them i’ts all a process. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. That might sound old fashioned, but it’s not going to come overnight. They’ve just got to take their time.”
Oladipo led the way, as the Magic wanted for the long run. He scored 18 points in the Magic’s 83-76 win over the Sixers in their opening game at the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League at Amway Center on Saturday. He was calm and composed, every bit the runner-up for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.
Gordon and Payton struggled some, clearly nervous over their first game. Gordon had seven points, five rebounds and four turnovers. Payton scored two points to go with five assists and four turnovers. But they had their moments.
Gordon recorded two fantastic athletic plays. He dunked the ball for his first points of the game on a fast break pass from Oladipo. Then in the fourth quarter, he skied to block a K.J. McDaniels lay in by simply grabbing it before it hit the backboard or rim. It was an impressive feat of athleticism.
Maybe more impressive was how Gordon scored a key basket in the post by slowing things down and waiting for his opportunity to attack. He caught the ball in the low post dribbled in to meet with shot-blocking phenom Nerlens Noel. He pump faked to get Noel off his feet and out of the way before laying it in. They were two key points that showed tremendous patience in a game that was played maybe a bit too fast.
Gordon said he played just “OK” saying he felt he missed his shots, but he took the right shots and contributed on the defensive end. The win was pretty important too.
“It’s just reading the pace, playing at my own pace,” Gordon said. “I want to play fast, but sometimes the game isn’t needed to play fast. Sometimes you do need to slow down. I guess it’s just experience. Each game, I’m going to get more experience under my belt and I’m going to be good.”
Oladipo said it is all a process for the young players. The game will slow down for them just as it slowed down for him. And they showed some momentary flashes of the players they will be when that happens. It might still be a few games away and, as rookies, they will certainly have those games where they struggle.
What is important is that they continue to grow and continue to see the improvements of comfort and experience. Obviously it will be a process. A long one for many of these players.
Orlando saw a solid mix from everyone on the roster.
Romero Osby looked solid and confident with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting. Especially early on, he was comfortable putting the ball on the floor and getting his shot. He was confident in his jumper.
So too was second-round pick Roy Devyn Marble. Marble was confident with his shot too and made an impact with his play. He scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting for the Magic.
Orlando had the usual Summer League problems of turnovers and fouls that one would expect. The defense though was solid, holding Philadelphia to 36.6 percent shooting and forcing 20 turnovers for the game. The Magic are setting their tone defensively and that was pretty clear early on too.
Nerlens Noel was the big headliner, playing his first game in more than a year after tearing his ACL. Noel had 19 points, four steals and one block for the Sixers. He made his presence known defensively.
The Magic though will count this as a win. Not only because they actually won the game, but because their young players were able to get their feet wet and get things going. They got the nerves out for sure. They focused on defense and stayed true to the gameplan.
It was a day of learning.
“It’s not going to come overnight. Just keep chopping at it and get better each and every day,” Payton said. “[Defense] is what I was brought here to do. You are going to have bad offensive nights. Defense is what you can control. Ultimately defense wins championships anyway. I am just going to try to keep my focus on defense all the time.”
There will be plenty of time to grow and experience will only make them better. Just as it has done for Oladipo heading into his sophomore year.