It's a busy (and our favorite) time of year, folks, so I figured the site could use a bit of a boost during the month of July. We're getting a great one, too, as Josh (@almostournytime) from the NBA Prospects blog will be cross-posting Summer League recaps. -- Scott
The 2012 NBA Summer League season officially kicked off on Monday morning in Florida and what a better way to start it then with the Orlando Magic -- the hosting team and the team generating the most buzz around the league thanks to Dwight Howard. Howard is obviously the most notable big man by a long shot in Orlando, but if he ends up being traded, the Magic showed on Monday morning that they have have some young guys eager to take advantage of any extra playing time they might receive in his absence.
New Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan drafted Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn in the recent draft and has another big man, Justin Harper, left over from last season's draft. All three of the players hail from mid-major schools and, starting this week, they're embarking on a great opportunity to showcase their game to those unfamiliar with it.
As fate would have it, the Magic faced off against the Brooklyn Nets -- Howard's top suitor -- to open Orlando action. Though it's already easy to see why every team would love to have Howard, its even more apparent why Howard is so desired by Nets fans when you saw the summer league frontcourt they're trotting. Adam Morrison, Al Thornton, and Jeff Foote made up their frontline - two lottery busts and an undrafted player from last year's draft class (although I'm sure Scott would like me to mention that he was a D-League All-Star!).
If the Magic wanted to see if Harper can play SF (he started the game at the 3 with Nicholson and O'Quinn inside), this game wasn't a good measuring stick. Morrison isn't an NBA-level defender so I wasn't exactly impressed when he took Ammo off the dribble for a spinning lay-up.It was good to see Harper's increased confidence level, though, because that was something that held him back at Richmond until his senior year.
For a big, Harper has a solid handle and good body control, but make sure to keep an emphasis on "for a big." Harper is nowhere near ready to play SF in the league, and Morrison showed why by taking him off the dribble the first two possessions of the game. It's a good thing that the NBA has fully embraced the stretch four position now -- as evidence by Harper's former teammate Ryan Anderson's big new contract -- but by playing Harper at the SF position, the Magic have lost the mismatch potential and instead only create mismatches for yourself.
Orlando has shown in the past that they know exactly how to use a player of Harper's type, though, so it's tough to be too mad at them for experimenting a bit with his position and considering Orlando's only expecting to return return a pair of bigs -- Earl Clark and "Big Baby" Glen Davis -- Harper should get a chance to steal away playing time this season ... and a lot of times, all shooters need is an opportunity and some faith shown in them.
Moving over one position, St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson played the four while being defended by Al Thornton for the majority of the game. Al can be a bit lackadaisical on defense and definitely lacks the size to do battle against NBA power forwards, but it was a good test nonetheless.
Nicholson took full advantage of the former lottery pick's defense, racking up a game high 24 points and 12 rebounds -- Not bad for a Bonnie, eh? The Canadian big man showed off a smooth jumper ranging out to the college 3-point line, great footwork in the post and was even able to hold his position down low. Nicholson isnt a powerful finisher, but he was able to finish through contact to get a couple of and-one chances. We'll need to see how Nicholson fares against NBA size (Thunder, Celtics, Jazz, and Pacers will all be good tests), but the rookie certainly got off to a good start.
The final member of Orlando's young frontline is Norfolk State's own Kyle O'Quinn. The second round pick got off to an immediate hot start, blocking the 7-foot Foote's shot twice and putting the D-League center to great shame (just kidding). O'Quinn didnt stop to admire his blocks, though, as he kept them both in bounds and hauled ass up the court to beat the defense for an easy scoring opportunity. That sequence of events defines what Kyle O'Quinn should and needs to provide the Magic.
O'Quinn has a high motor and when combining that with good athleticism and strength, one can turn himself into a solid NBA role player. O'Quinn needs to add posts moves, but he plays smart and efficiently on the offensive end. He also showed good touch on a 15-foot jumpshot, although he gets a slap in the wrist for missing both of his free throws.
All three of these players figure to make the Magic's roster and I'd expect at least one of them to end up in their rotation. It'll be interesting to see which is able to earn minutes considering they all provide something different -- Harper can provide shooting, Nicholson gives you scoring in the post, and O'Quinn brings the energy and toughness inside -- but we'll likely learn more about them as they face stiffer competition throughout the week.