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Reviewing NBA Orlando Summer League

The Orlando NBA Summer League, closed to the public, concluded on Friday night. (Joey Brander: WFUV Sports)


The NBA Orlando Summer League wrapped up on Friday with a championship game that went to a sudden-death double overtime in which Russ Smith hit a game winning floater to send the Memphis Grizzlies home with the title. 

The Brooklyn Nets found themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum, finishing in last place and leaving Orlando without a victory.

However, the most important facet of the summer is player development, and several players stood out:

Khem Birch: The former UNLV star and native Canadian is an NBA athlete and elite shot blocker who performed well in the NBA Development League last season. Birch left the Nets before their Thursday game en route to the Las Vegas Summer League where he will be playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. Birch could be a nice fit for a team looking for a big man who can run the floor, but needs to develop more nuanced post moves. Should Birch not receive an NBA offer, he is expected to play for Turkish club Sportif this year. 

Ryan Boatright: The former UConn star and 2014 NCAA National Champion showed he can score in bunches over the course of the week. The undersized point guard struggled with inefficiency but has a strong chance of making a Nets’ team that could use his athleticism, quick first step and playmaking ability. 

Markel Brown: Brown, who played in 49 games for the Nets last season, is thought to be competing along with Boatright and forward Cory Jefferson for a final roster spot after the signing of center Willie Reed on Thursday. Brown, a point guard/shooting guard ‘tweener, has been working on his ability to distribute and on his court vision. He has also shown improvement with his outside shot and has developed a significantly deeper range than in his rookie campaign in Brooklyn. 

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: The Nets’ first round pick came out of college known as an elite defender but a sub-par offensive player. Hollis-Jefferson lived up to expectations on the defensive end (playing strong perimeter defense and rebounding exceptionally well for his position) and showed improvement on offense. Hollis-Jefferson used the five game span to work on creating his own shot in a half-court set. In transition, Hollis-Jefferson is NBA-ready, and more practice like he had in Orlando will allow him to be less tentative in the half-court and develop a wider arsenal of dribble moves to create separation. All in all, it was a successful week for the former Arizona Wildcat, and he seems to be adjusting to the pace of the NBA well. 

Ben Vozzola: Though he played sparingly in the Nets’ first four games, Vozzola made the most of his playing time on Friday. Vozzola was the best spot up shooter on the floor and finished with 11 points on 3-6 shooting from long range. Though he is still a long shot to make the team, he is someone who the Nets should keep their eye on.


Standouts Around the NBA:

Keith Appling: Appling, a 2010 McDonalds All American, was one of the top point guards in the country coming out of high school. After a senior season plagued by injuries, Appling went undrafted but has used the Summer League to impress NBA scouts. Appling was impressive on both ends of the floor, leading the second place Orlando Magic White squad in scoring while leading the entire summer league in steals. 

Semaj Christon: The Oklahoma City guard led the summer league in assists and scored a team-high 23 points all in the second half in their final game on Friday, including the game-winning free throw in sudden-death double-overtime.

Stanley Johnson: Johnson turned heads in Orlando with his physicality, athleticism, efficiency, and constant competitiveness. 

Mantas Kalnietis: The Lithuanian veteran made his American debut in Orlando hoping that he would follow in the footsteps of former Pacer (and countryman) Sarunas Jasikevicius in making the Indiana roster. Kalnietis, a 2012 Olympian, put his savvy court vision on display throughout the week. However, he will be returning to Lithuania this year to play for European power Zalgiris. 

The Memphis Frontcourt: Most Summer League teams don’t have the luxury of starting two physically imposing big men at the same time. The Grizzlies’ frontcourt combination of Jarnell Stokes and Michael Holyfield was integral in their championship run. 

The Orlando Big 3: The Orlando Magic unveiled the future of the franchise in their home arena. Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and newly drafted Mario Herzonja were no less than dominant in their two games together. 

Joshua Smith: The former McDonalds All-American never lived up to expectations in a college career that saw him transfer from UCLA to Georgetown. However, Smith, who came in to the Summer League at a whopping 360 pounds, showed impressive touch around the rim and advanced post moves for the Miami Heat. After the Nets’ signing of Willie Reed (who was the starting center on the Heat Summer League team), Smith is now expected to have a chance at making the roster. 

Myles Turner: Turner may have been the most impressive player in the Summer League. Though he played just 3 games, the nineteen year old Pacers’ big man shot over 60% from both the field and behind the arc along with 80% from the free throw line, averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks per game.

With all this in mind, the Nets and 23 other teams head to Las Vegas having improved, but with more still to work on.