Casper Ware coming up big for the Sixers in Orlando Summer League

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Casper Ware is listed only at 5-10, but the vertically challenged Sixers point guard has been huge during Summer League.

There's the guy who doesn't care about the stat sheet, the unselfish player who might be a little too unselfish at times. There's the foreign-born big man who can barely walk and chew gum, but with a little bit of coaching, morphs into the next Hakeem Olajuwon.

There's the tiny point guard who can't get past arena security because he doesn't look like a member of the team. That's Casper Ware. Besides his sculpted biceps nearly ripping out of his shirt, there's nothing that directly points to Ware being a world-class basketball player if you just saw him walking down the street. Yet on the court, he often uses his small size to his advantage.

"It's actually easier to get around people," Ware said. "Bigger guys, I'm at their knees. They don't want to get that low, so it's an advantage for me. It's sometimes a disadvantage. You know, getting in the paint it's hard to get it over the bigs, so it works both ways."

To combat that adversity in the paint, Ware has introduced a smooth floater this week in Orlando. He's had little trouble finishing over much larger defenders after he's slipped past his man on the perimeter. Ware said he worked with the Sixers' coaching staff since the end of the season and the floater was one of is many areas of focus.

With another offensive weapon in his arsenal, Ware has been one of the standout performers of the Orlando Pro Summer League. He's averaging 19 points, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He's struggled with turnovers, but he's done an overall solid job performing with his insane usage rate. Ware is shooting 44.8% from the field, 40% from three and has only missed one of his 15 free throws.

As unlikely as it might have seemed before the week began, he's looked the part of an NBA guard.

Sixers Point Guard Situation

"Casper has been great. He's been everything for us," Sixers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said. "He's made big shots, we've had to keep the ball in his hands late down the stretch, he's the guy that gets us through. It's very important having a point guard that knows how to run the offense and keep everybody under control."

After finishing the 2013-14 regular season with the Sixers, Ware has had a different look on the floor this week. He admits he entered Philly's locker room in late March shy and nervous. Now, he's become the team's vocal leader, orchestrating both the offense and defense.

"He's always smiling on the floor, he's always in a good mood," Pierce said. 'So, him having a command of the offense and a command of the team is part of his growth. We talk about development as a point guard, you have to have command of the other four guys on the floor, so this is a great opportunity for him and obviously he's doing a great job with it."

Ware jawed back and forth with the much larger Victor Oladipo in the opening game against the Orlando Magic as the two scrappy guards battled on both sides of the floor. Oladipo often swallowed Ware whole on his drives to the basket. But Ware, too, gave Oladipo fits on defense.

Ware said he takes pride in being a "defensive pest." That's a role he's played dating back to his college days at Long Beach State.

"He's a dog, man," said Miami Heat forward James Ennis, Ware's former teammate at The Beach. "The best thing I like about him is he picks up 90 feet, he plays defense all 90 feet."

It's been interesting to see just how effective Ware can be initiating the team's defensive attack far above the top of the key. He said it only takes him one or two plays to pick up and read opposing team's offensive sets before he can alert his teammates what's about to ensue in front of them. His shouts of "back door," "back screen," and "watch that curl," have often come from the right wing while he's screaming about action about to take place all the way in the left corner.

When the Sixers traded Russ Smith to reacquire Pierre Jackson's draft rights, it looked like Ware's time in Philly as the team's third point guard might be up. Instead, after Jackson suffered a ruptured achilles in that opener against the Magic, Ware has a legitimate shot of returning to the Wells Fargo Center this winter.

"Of course I want to make a team and get a signed contract, but other than that, I just want to come out here and play hard and do what I do best," Ware said.

Depending on what happens with the Sixers over the next few weeks in free agency — *ahem* Jeremy Lin *ahem* — Ware could have that opportunity in Philadelphia. No matter what, it's been really fun rooting for an underdog in Orlando, a David who's hit Goliath with a quick crossover and finished up and under him at the rim.

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