Caleb Houstan needs to show growth for Orlando Magic at Summer League

Orlando Magic, Caleb Houstan. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic, Caleb Houstan. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

During the Orlando Magic’s Summer League debut last year, all eyes were on Paolo Banchero.

Of course, they were. And going up against the Houston Rockets, Banchero delivered a performance that previewed his dominance for his rookie year. He did not disappoint.

It was clear very early on in that Summer League run that Banchero was ready for the challenge of the NBA and that he would not get a whole lot from playing much more in Summer League.

That game saw the best of one of the other young players on the Magic. The attention Banchero got was something fellow rookie Caleb Houstan soaked up completely.

He scored 20 points and hit five of nine 3-pointers in that opening game. The Magic saw hints of the shooter they had long sought.

Things did not quite work out that way. Houstan had a rocky finish to his Summer League and then an uneven rookie season. It was a season of learning, as it always is for a rookie.

So now Houstan is set to return to Summer League. After a year spent in the NBA and a year spent gaining experience, Houstan is the veteran of the Summer League team.

But he needs a strong showing too. With a roster that is getting pretty full, second-round picks like Houstan are the ones that tend to get squeezed out first. And Houstan still has a lot to prove.

As the Orlando Magic gear up for Summer League, Caleb Houstan has a lot to prove in this year’s trip to Las Vegas as he tries to make his mark on this young team.

This Summer League is a chance for Houstan to prove himself. No player likely needs that opportunity to show his growth and how he could fit in the growing group of guards with this team more than Houstan.

And Summer League is a perfect place to put all those skills on display. That is what he started to do last year.

His Summer League last year went much like his rookie season. There were some extreme bright spots. But a lot of inconsistency.

He started off with that 20-point game. But the rest of his Summer League showed some more of the flaws from one of the youngest players in his draft class. He averaged 8.5 points per game in four appearances in Summer League. He shot 32.5 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent from beyond the arc.

He struggled especially in the games after Banchero sat out — scoring four points on 2-for-10 shooting in the first game without Banchero and two points on 1-for-8 shooting, including 0-for-6 from deep in the second.

This served as something of a preview for his rocky rookie season.

Houstan appeared in 51 games last year, averaging 3.8 points per game while shooting 33.8 percent from beyond the arc. In the 11 games he played 24 or more minutes, he averaged 8.5 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.

He scored a career-high 21 points, hitting 5 of 11 3-pointers from beyond the arc, in the Magic’s season finale against the Miami Heat. He only had two other games clearing 10 points or more.

In his limited playing time, Houstan showed some solid defensive awareness. He was a great player in help defense and seemed to be in the right position to defend well even if the stats do not fully show it.

His offense was just hit or miss, with Houstan settling in as a 3-point specialist who could never quite find his rhythm from the outside. Playing time was certainly a factor in that.

Houstan averaged 15.5 points per game and made 38.9 percent of his 3-pointers in 11 appearances with the Lakeland Magic.

It was a season of learning for a player like Houstan, who was only 20 years old at the end of the season. The Magic knew he would need some time to get used to the rigors of the NBA.

So that brings him back to Summer League.

For second-year players, Summer League is sort of an affirmation of what they learned in their rookie seasons.

While rookies tend to use Summer League to get used to the NBA game, sophomore players often dominate Summer League, using their first year of experience in the league to become the veterans of their teams. They know what the team is asking of them and know what it is like to be in the NBA.

Houstan has already started to take on the role of veteran on this Summer League team. He and Kevon Harris have been valuable resources for rookies Anthony Black and Jett Howard to this point.

But Houstan has his own goals to accomplish. He needs to be a solid defender and a more consistent offensive option. And as a second-year player on the roster, he needs to look more comfortable and composed in his role for the team.

Houstan needs to look like one of the better players on the floor. He should not be the timid rookie getting his feet under him. He knows the drill with his team, for the NBA and in Summer League.

The reality for Houstan is that he finds himself in a very crowded wing room now. The Magic will have a lot of rotation decisions to sort out before training camp before even getting to Houstan and his potential role.

Among the guards is Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris, Cole Anthony, Anthony Black and Jett Howard. Behind Franz Wagner at small forward, recent reported signee Joe Ingles will compete for minutes with Caleb Houstan, Anthony Black and Jett Howard now.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman promised there would be internal competition for spots on this team. He was not lying.

Houstan has a pathway to minutes with the team’s lack of size at small forward. But it is a narrow one. And he has to take advantage of every opportunity he gets.

That will start with Summer League. And Houstan needs a good one to make his mark and establish his place with the Magic.

Orlando’s rookies will get the allowance rookies typically get in consideration for minutes and playing time. That only increases the mountain Houstan will have to climb. And increase the pressure for him to perform in training camp.

The Magic knew Houstan would need some time. They are not likely to give up on a 20-year-old with his potential so easily. But like with everyone on this roster — time is ticking and the Magic are turning more toward winning sooner and sooner.

Houstan has to start showing more tangible progress.

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Everything starts with his run at Summer League. And no one has to stand out more and make the most of this run than Houstan to establish his spot.