By the end of the run at Summer League, Tommy Kuhse had become a cult favorite among Orlando Magic fans.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Saint Mary’s was all energy all the time in the three games he played. He probed into the lane with his constant motion, kicking out to shooters or hitting scoop shots around the defense. He was a constant going for steals even if he was smaller than many of the players he defended.
There were plenty of other players who became just as endearing.
Orlando got to see a lot of things to like from players throughout the roster.
The most important thing, of course, they saw a week ago when Paolo Banchero not only filled up the score sheet with points and free throws but made the winning plays with a game-saving block in double overtime and the game-winning assist to Emmanuel Terry to defeat the Sacramento Kings.
Just as there was much to consider and adjust before the team gets to the main roster. There were things that were encouraging just as there are things the team will clearly need to work on and refine with the main roster. Just as there was plenty that was meaningless.
What will carry over and what will be important? What were the big takeaways from the Magic’s time in Las Vegas?
The Orlando Magic’s Summer League run had plenty of impressive moments and showed how ingrained the team’s culture is. The team also showed its potential as they build toward training camp.
The potential the team showed both in how Banchero started to take the league by storm before the team shut him down certainly stood out. It is hard to contain the excitement the entire organization has for the top overall pick. He left fans wanting more after the team (frustratingly perhaps) shut him down after two stellar games.
Beyond that, Orlando started to preview who it wants to be. They took a lot of threes — a lot of threes — switched on defense and played with a ton of energy.
The Magic saw everything they wanted to see in many ways. The culture and togetherness that made their 2022 season so enjoyable came through again and carried through to this Summer League setting.
For Orlando, it was a good week of learning and playing.
"“So pleased as an organization,” Magic Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said after Saturday’s 102-86 loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Summer League finale. “[Lakeland Magic general manager Adetunji Adepipe] and the front office did a really good putting a really good group of human beings together. As far as professionalism and playing the style of play we want to play with effort, energy, sharing the basketball and playing the right way, they all fit right into our culture. They really did a great job.”"
There were a lot of players who found their moments to shine individually.
Kuhse, as mentioned before, came on strong in the final three games when he got his opportunity, providing a spark and some energy to the team. He scored 25 points in Thursday’s loss to the New York Knicks and finished Saturday’s finale with 13 points and three steals (albeit on 4-for-11 shooting).
Zavier Simpson entered the summer camp with the reputation of his famous hook shot. He put that on display. But in five games with the Magic’s Summer League team, he became a bulldog, going headlong into the paint. He was going to play among the trees and he was determined to score.
Simpson scored 10 points to go with five rebounds and five assists in his summer finale against the Pistons.
There was the hard-working and boundless energy that came from Emmanuel Terry, the starting center for all five of the Magic’s Summer League games. He closed Saturday with seven points.
There was steady scoring off the bench from Justin James. James was the most NBA-experienced of the Magic’s non-roster players. He showed it by largely playing within himself and waiting for his opportunity.
He saved his best game for last with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, pacing the Magic’s early offensive efforts.
Each one — and many more players on the Magic’s roster — left a good impression for the Lakeland Magic to consider or for some other team anywhere in the world to look at.
"“Looking back, I’m happy about me making the most of my opportunities,” James said after Saturday’s loss. “Obviously looking back you want to correct some things. But I’m happy with the way I played and I’m excited for the future.”"
The Magic’s Summer League ended with a bit of a thud, unfortunately.
The team raced out to an early lead only to give it away with some ragged play and some struggles to hit from the outside. Orlando, reliant as much as any team in this Summer League on its three-point shooting especially after Banchero stepped out of the lineup, made only 7 of 31 from beyond the arc.
The Pistons raced ahead in the fourth quarter, turning a close game into a comfortable win as Charlie Moore scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, making from all over the court. In the end, the Magic’s lack of size in the backcourt continually killed them, something that will not be a problem with the guards the Magic regularly feature.
There is a lot of that going on in the things the Magic struggled with. They insisted on switching defensively even without the personnel to do it. Orlando will have that personnel when the season starts.
But one thing that seemed consistent and carried over was the effort and energy. The Magic may not have had a perfect team or all the tools they needed to compete after Banchero sat out but they played hard. There was never any questioning their effort or engagement.
That goes for the whole roster. Everyone who remained in Vegas embodied the culture and effort the Magic are trying to instill in their young team.
That is central to this team and its development.
That can take a team pretty far. The Magic gave themselves real chances to win all three games they lost on that effort. But it did not get them all the way.
But it will take more.
Banchero showed just how much more it will take. Having him and continued growth throughout the roster will help the team take that important next step and make winning more of a focus.
This is just Summer League. Ultimately heroes like Kuhse, James and Simpson are fighting for spots on the Lakeland Magic and maybe a two-way contract. All of those players will help Lakeland be a successful team and this experience will help them integrate with that team if that is where they end up.
The strategies the Magic executed and tried in Summer League were seeking proof of concept for implementation when the team gets to training camp. They may have found that with how the team played with its main group early in Summer League.
Orlando will still be testing things out and figuring things out when they reconvene for camp. Summer League showed hints of it all.
It showed the team’s culture is deeply ingrained and that there is a lot of potential to cultivate.
Now everyone waits for the next steps in the fall.