Orlando Magic taking things slowly to build rookies in Summer League

Arkansas' Anthony Black shoots the ball during the NCAA tournament first round vs. Illinois, March 16, 2023, at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Arkansas' Anthony Black shoots the ball during the NCAA tournament first round vs. Illinois, March 16, 2023, at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa. /

The NBA moment has not quite hit either Anthony Black or Jett Howard.

Yes, they are practicing in the still-sterling AdventHealth Training Center with all of its bells and whistles. Yes, they have gone through the NBA Draft, hearing their names called at Barclays Center and going through the press conferences and welcomes to their new team.

Yes, they have even gone through their first set of Summer League practices as they prepare to head to Las Vegas for their first Summer League.

But that welcome to the NBA moment likely is not coming until they put on that Magic Summer League uniform and get back on the court once again. And even that might just be one step closer toward the NBA dream that comes in October.

"“When I score my first bucket, then I can be like, ‘I’m here,'” Jett Howard said after the Magic’s Summer League practice Monday. “It was the same thing as college. You don’t really feel like you are in college until the game.”"

"“The first practice is where it started to sink in,” Anthony Black said after the Magic’s Summer League practice Monday. “The first Summer League game is when it will feel real all the way.”"

The anticipation to see the Magic’s two first-round picks in Saturday’s Summer League opener is certainly growing. That is a moment they are certainly looking forward to as much as the fans to get some sense of who the Magic have selected and where they fit into the bigger picture of this team.

Of course, that is not the real purpose of Summer League, as fun and as interesting as these games are. For the Magic’s two first-round picks, that welcome to the NBA moment is still to come.

The Orlando Magic are slowly welcoming Anthony Black and Jett Howard to the NBA as they go through and prepare for their Summer League debuts this weekend.

Instead, what Orlando is hoping to do with this Summer League is to simplify things for their players and begin building the foundations for the main roster.

They want to slow things down and work on the building blocks for this team so that their rookies will be ready to hit the ground running when training camp begins.

"“They are just soaking everything up that the coaches are teaching,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of Anthony Black and Jett Howard’s adjustment to the team. “The coaches are doing a phenomenal job breaking down things to the slowest level they can adjust to the game the right way.“We are slowing things down for them. They are sponges in what they are asking and how they are trying to learn. I think it is really beneficial to them that we’re actually slowing the pace down so they can adjust to it and see it in real-time. . . . I think it’s a good thing they are willing to sit down and learn and understand it.”"

That is perhaps the bigger challenge that the Magic are working on through Summer League. This is an introduction to the team’s principles and systems. They will run the same things in Summer League that they will run in the regular season.

Summer League represents their first opportunity to coach these young players and integrate them into the team.

Howard said this is the biggest thing he is learning early on through Summer League. And that is what the Magic need these rookies to get out of Summer League more than anything. This is their introduction to everything the Magic do.

So, of course, it needs to go slowly to make sure they get it.

"“It’s been good, we’ve been competing at a high level,” Black said of the first Summer League practices. “Kind of getting familiar with the offensive and defensive schemes. I think the first few practices have been super productive and we’re all going pretty hard. So it’s going pretty well.”"

This is a team for sure, and the Magic have benefited from having instruction beyond the coaching staff.

Players have contributed to the instruction too, helping reinforce what the coaching staff is saying. Mosley said Kevon Harris and Caleb Houstan have pulled the rookies aside to give them guidance on what to expect and what they need to do succeed in Summer League. Both Houstan and Harris were standouts in last year’s Summer League session.

Even a veteran like D.J. Wilson, who has five years of NBA experience under his belt, has been a helpful resource for these young players.

It has not hurt that Howard has the Michigan connection and had met and worked with Houstan and Wilson from his time in Ann Arbor.

"“I mean it’s been great,” Howard said of the veteran presence on the Magic’s Summer League roster. “Those guys are super well-rounded and good players. They are teaching us just like the coaches. When a player is telling the same thing as a coach, it resonates even more with you.”"

Additionally, Jamahl Mosley said Jalen Suggs had worked out with Anthony Black and Jett Howard in the past week with Suggs in town. These have been invaluable resources to get the young players up to speed. Those players are already showing these two young players the work it will take to make it at the NBA level.

There is still a long way for this group to go. And this is just the first step.

Ultimately, Mosley said he wants these players to go out and be themselves. To learn for sure what the coaches are talking about and play within the system, but not to go out and do too much. If they are shooters, they want them to shoot. If they are passers and defenders, pass and defend.

That is the instruction in the end, the rest of the details are being implemented slowly.

"“Really just a little bit of everything, making winning plays, distributing the ball, scoring the ball, defending. Just doing all type of stuff to help us win,” Black said of what he hoped to show in Summer League after Monday’s practice."

"“Honestly just wins,” Howard said of his goals for Summer League. “I feel like when you win, you cover everything. Once you bring home the dub, everybody eats in my opinion.”"

There is always the element of competition and winning matters whenever someone is keeping score.

But overall, this Summer League is about getting to know these young players better and beginning to see how they will fit into the overall team. And so the team wants to take things slowly and make sure the instruction fits and helps these players grow.

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As the team prepares to head up to Las Vegas, the Magic are certainly hopeful these foundations are getting installed. Soon that moment will hit though and the world will see how much they have learned as they prepare for the NBA.