Summer League Recap: Sixers Loss To Magic Riddled With Positives

USA TODAY Sports

During the one time of year that we actually want the Sixers to win, the Sixers sit winless. Still, Thursday's summer league game left me thinking positive.

In what may be the most important game of the 2013-14 season for the franchises involved, the Magic edged the Sixers 90-89 in a fun, competitive outing (seriously!). For summer league, you won't find much better basketball. The lead changed hands throughout the second half, balancing on Marc Zumoff's proverbial seesaw for much of the fourth quarter. And the game ended on a step-back, Hero Ball 20 foot jumper from Victor Oladipo.

All in all, if you could catch this game on replay or even see some highlights, go ahead and do that. It won't be a waste of time, plus you can realize that this may be one of the last times you root on the Sixers for about a calendar year.

Michael Carter-Williams showed flashes of promise, especially in the fourth quarter, though his final line and overall performance still leave a lot to be desired. He struggled doing anything in halfcourt sets for most of the night, and it's not because the Magic dared him to shoot. It was actually quite the opposite. Oladipo pressured MCW far from the rim, and MCW was often unable to get past him.

Oladipo terrorized MCW on both ends, really. While his defense was tenacious throughout, Oladipo showed off different offensive looks. In the first half, he resembled a bull in a china shop, driving everywhere hard and forcing contact inside. In the second half, he instead used his athleticism to get past the defense and create easy looks for teammates. Summer league stats are mostly meaningless, but Oladipo finished with 24 points. More importantly, he looked the part of a superstar, and often made MCW look bad.

But the fourth quarter showed why Hinkie and others believe in MCW's talent and NBA future. Playing with a semi-coherent offensive squad including the team's two best shooters (Justin Holiday and James Southerland), along with Arsalan Kazemi and Arnett Moultrie, the Big Hyphen (sorry) did a lot of damage. Taking advantage of the floor spacing and a faster game pace, MCW attacked the rim relentlessly, while the shooters shot, Kazemi cut, and Moultrie both shot and cut. It looked like real offense, and more importantly it performed like one. Most of the late game problems came from defensive miscues and simply missing open shots.

Meanwhile my man crush on Kazemi is just reaching unreal levels for a summer league guy. It took 3 defensive possessions to draw a charge. He defended pick-and-roll action almost perfectly. Considering everyone else's defensive failings, Kazemi was pretty much everywhere at once on that end. It actually reminded me of a smaller Andrei Kirilenko, how despite being off the ball he could entirely disrupt an offense. Obviously, he doesn't have Kirilenko's length or athletic ability, but just by knowing where to be he practically held together a fragile Sixers defense.

Notably, Kazemi functioned mostly as a big - the Sixers matched him up with Andrew Nicholson, who overpowered him in the post. The Sixers adjusted by sending help and through fronting the post, but it seems obvious to me that Kazemi just doesn't have the strength to defend big 4s all the time. He's probably better off as a wing - he doesn't have the strength or vertical of an undersized power forward a la Reggie Evans or Kenneth Faried.

One last thing on Kazemi - he knows when to cut to the rim and when not to - something the Sixers bigs last year really seemed to struggle with on the whole. He's so much fun to watch.

Arnett Moultrie finished with a strong 23-12 point-rebound line (including 8 o-boards) mostly due to a strong third quarter. He continued to look lost on defense, but unlike in the previous three games it seemed the Sixers guards could get him the ball in places where he could contribute. And he did. While he took a lot of shots to get his points, most were around the rim. Moultrie also attempted a corner three, because why not?

It seems like Moultrie rushes his decisions - he either shoots, passes, or makes a move right away. It works well when he's right under the rim, but not exactly when launching a contested 15-footer. This could be something that improves with experience, because Moultrie still has very little of it at the NBA level.

Aside from the roster guys, the most impressive player was MCW's college teammate, James Southerland. Southerland hit five jumpers in the first half - two off the dribble on a closeout and three catch-and-shoot opportunities (two of those were three pointers). As I mentioned before, with Southerland and Justin being the only good shooters on the team, he's going to get chances to play. If he hits enough shots, he should get a training camp invite and have a chance at making the team.

The Sixers earned 2 "points" in defeat by outscoring the Magic in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. They slot ninth (ahead of only the Nets) in the Orlando Pro Summer League standings. They'll take on the Nets tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 pm in their final game in Orlando.

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