Summer League can be an overwhelming experience.
NBA teams put their groups together and give them about a week of practice before they ship off to Las Vegas and play in actual games. The results can look very sloppy — Summer League is often mocked for the number of fouls (you get 10 before you foul out!) and turnovers in the games.
Of course, while everybody wants to win, the results of these games are not the main course.
What teams are looking for is how players respond and adjust to coaching and how they improve over the course of the week. They are looking to see their rookies and bring them along through their first run through the NBA.
It can all be a bit of chaos. So the Magic are looking for some calm and poise.
The Orlando Magic are navigating the chaos of Summer League and leaning on experienced players to provide some poise and calm through it all.
That might explain why the team is sticking with more experienced players during the early part of Summer League. They are seeking poise and composure to help their young players grow and develop.
And for that, they are turning once again to the Summer League vets.
"“It’s really amazing what a year of experience in Summer League will do for you,” Magic Summer League coach Dylan Murphy said after practice Sunday. “I just thought they both had a poise and confidence about them leading the group. Obviously, Kevon [Harris] wasn’t with us, but Caleb [Houstan] now kind of being the Summer League vet for us and we have had a few other guys too who have been in Summer League a few times. Everyone is having a good experience and being able to learn and grow from it.”"
Certainly, the discussion coming from the Orlando Magic’s Summer League opening loss to the Detroit Pistons was the burst from Anthony Black in the fourth quarter and his play throughout the game. He was certainly extremely promising throughout.
Fans could also see the promise from Jett Howard. Even though he struggled with his shot throughout the game, his potential to create shots off the dribble and even some of his playmaking ability.
But it all really started with how well the Magic’s two roster players in Caleb Houstan and Kevon Harris played. Houstan hit the first two shots of the game, draining threes off passes from Black. And Harris led the team in scoring with 21 points and six rebounds.
Harris’ energy was noticeable throughout the game as he dug in for rebounds and played with tons of energy. He got himself mixed up on the interior throughout the game. It was impressive and Harris looked like the leader on the team as the young players got more comfortable.
All of that was done to try to keep everyone’s energy up. It is how Harris has looked like a leader on the floor.
But for both of those players — and perhaps even D.J. Wilson, despite his somewhat meager statistics — their calm early in the game was critical for the team. It was critical throughout to help everyone get their legs under them.
"“A lot more comfortable just having the year under my belt kind of knowing the offensive and defensive concepts,” Houstan said after practice Sunday. “It makes it a lot easier and more comfortable for sure.”"
Houstan still had his own struggles, of course. He scored 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting and 4-for-10 shooting from deep. These are still players that have a lot to work on. And Houstan contribute to a few of Black’s turnovers, as he corralled his kick-ahead passes out of bounds along the sideline.
That is something the team still needs to work out. There are still plenty of edges to smooth that come from playing together. Part of Summer League is seeing the progression and players improve game over game — at least for however long they play.
So much of what is happening in these early games for the team is about presenting calm and composure through the thrown-together chaos that is Summer League. And so these players are key to presenting that calm and, indeed, lead by example.
"“His demeanor, he’s very calm, poised, doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low,” Murphy said after practice Sunday about Houstan. “I think other guys just feed off that and the way they feel him on the floor. He hits a bunch of shots early, he isn’t celebrating. He does his little thing, but he’s not celebrating too much. He gets back on defense, pulls over for the low man. Even if he misses a couple of shots, he does the right things. Not being too high, not being too low, I think everyone can learn from the way he carries himself, myself included.”"
All that calm is valuable for the team at this moment. There is a lot going on. and the team is likely to try out different combinations and use some of the players who did not play in Saturday’s game as the week goes on.
Summer League is about learning from this chaos and weathering through it. And so having players who can keep their cool through it all and perform is vital. Having leaders doing that is even more important.
The play from Houstan early and Harris throughout led the team to the place where Black could have the kind of finish that he had. That is what the team is hoping will continue to spread as the team continues to evolve.
And certainly, the Magic hope to see continued growth from the other players on the roster.