“The How” matters more as Orlando Magic close their Summer League

The Orlando Magic will continue to look at players like Zavier Simpsons. But the how of their execution matters more late in Summer League. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic will continue to look at players like Zavier Simpsons. But the how of their execution matters more late in Summer League. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

If you have lost some interest in the Orlando Magic’s Summer League run, no one could blame you.

The team has closed shop with Paolo Banchero after an impressive pair of games for the first overall pick from the most recent NBA Draft. He made a deep impression and fans are eager to see more of him, offering plenty of disappointment that his Summer League run was cut a bit short.

The team also shut down R.J. Hampton, the other roster player on the team. While Hampton did not have the strongest showing, the team ended his Summer League run after two games too. Hampton was simply not giving the team the stability it needed from him, but the Magic likely were using him in a different way than they will in the regular season.

Admiral Schofield too got the early hook for Summer League. His training camp invite and two-way contract are likely secured after some solid play as a connector in Summer League.

Caleb Houstan and Devin Cannady played in Monday’s game but are likely nearing their end with both under contract for the upcoming season — Cannady’s deal is non-guaranteed for the next two years while Houstan just signed a reported four-year deal with two years guaranteed.

Both players showed their shooting ability but clearly still have some improvement to go and get a secure spot on the main roster.

There is plenty more for all four players to show and they could each benefit from more reps. But that is not reason enough to play in Summer League. All four have shown they can play at the NBA level and so the next time the team sees them will be in training camp.

The main push of the Orlando Magic’s Summer League is over. As the team evaluates other players in these final two games, they will be looking at the foundations of their play style and team.

Besides, Orlando has a full roster of players to get a look at before Summer League ends. They owe it to them to give them their chance.

Not to mention the Magic have a chance to compete for the Summer League championship with a win Thursday and some help.

Most of what the Magic are reviewing will be about those players and evaluating them for potential training camp invites and to fill out their roster for the Lakeland Magic.

Players like Aleem Ford, Emmanuel Terry, Justin James, Jeremiah Tilmon, Zavier Simpson and Tommy Kuhse have all done impressive enough things to get a longer look in these final two games. There are players to review and watch.

But they are not the most important piece of the puzzle for fans to examine in these final two games. The names on the jerseys are not nearly as important to analyze and break down as the way the Magic are attacking and the things they are focusing on.

Orlando has made it no secret they are working on laying the foundations for how they want to play in the regular season. And so everything the team has done throughout Summer League has been a little preview for what the team will do in the fall.

The Magic certainly seemed to play that way Monday even without their key players. The spirit and energy the team played with to stay in that game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a sign of the buy-in and culture the team is building.

The Magic want to be a team that plays much the same way. And this was a good sign of the team’s culture. Everyone was standing and cheering as the Magic fought and clawed their way back into that game.

But Orlando is still working on other aspects of its game.

The team used the early part of Summer League to experiment with lineups. Banchero got plenty of reps as both the nominal center and as the lead ball-handler and playmaker. The Magic experimented a lot with 5-out lineups. They continued to use dribble hand-offs but exploited pick and rolls with Banchero a lot more.

That continued even in Monday’s game without Banchero. They have given bigs like Terry and Ford the green light to shoot, even though that is not their game to this point.

Further, the team has emphasized switching on defense through all five positions. Working on the communication necessary to execute this kind of defense has been apparent throughout the Summer League.

Imagining having Orlando switch with all of its versatile defenders is easy to see, especially with the size the team could maintain on the back line with Franz Wagner, Jonathan Isaac, Paolo Banchero, Mo Bamba or Wendell Carter providing extra support at the rim.

Orlando continued doing this even with their main roster players out. Switching 1 through 5 was not nearly as effective with Devin Cannady and Zavier Simpson as the two main guards. But the Magic are working on principles that go beyond the personnel they have on the Summer League team.

Orlando made some adjustments as the game went on, but the basics of this defensive system remained.

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And that is all anyone should be looking for as the Summer League concludes. These are the basics of who the Magic will be in the fall.

It is easy to imagine the team employing a switching defense similar to the Boston Celtics with the team’s length and versatility throughout the roster.

This Summer League team is giving up its share of points — thanks to games in the 80s and 90s in both Saturday’s win and Monday’s loss — but there is undoubted competitiveness and toughness to this team. Some of the Magic’s best moments in these three games were when they have had to grind through difficulties and muck up the game with its defense.

Offensively, Orlando continues to show that it will be reliant on the 3-point shot. The Magic are fifth in the Summer League in 3-point attempts per game with 33.0 per game. That may not directly translate to an increase of attempts in the regular season, but Orlando made it clear last year it was not going to be afraid to let it fly.

The 3-point shot will be an important part of the Magic’s attack as they continue to modernize their offense. The team’s success or failure might depend on getting more of these open looks and certainly hitting them — some kudos should go to coach Jesse Mermuys for creative play design to set up a hammer screen for Caleb Houstan’s game-tying 3-point attempt in Monday’s loss.

Orlando is showing its willingness to be creative with its lineups and its players. And the team will take a lot of the things it has surely learned in this Summer League setting to training camp as they apply it to the main roster.

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That will remain the biggest thing left to accomplish. Orlando’s experimenting with its base sets with different personnel to figure out how they want to run things in training camp is still ongoing through these final two Summer League games.