Sure, the Sixers lost to the Orlando Magic in their first game of the Orlando Summer League today, but that's even less important than a regular season loss. What mattered was the debut of Nerlens Noel (GIFS HERE) and how he looked after a year and a half off rehabbing his ACL injury. Turned out we had to watch another fun prospect get injured too, as Pierre Jackson went down with either a torn or ruptured Achillies -- brutal.
But aside from that, the game had some nice things and some Summer League-y things and it's great to have basketball back, the fringier the better.
HOW DID NERLENS LOOK?
In short: worth it.
He was far from perfect, but the athleticism and bounce that we saw for half a season at Kentucky is absolutely real. Noel said post-game that he didn't think about his knee once, and that showed. He was not tentative at all. Winded, sure -- it'll take some time for him to get back to game endurance levels -- but not remotely favoring the knee that kept him out for 17 months. That's the best news of all this.
His very first play, he used crafty footwork to get his first professional bucket, an emphatic dunk, which brought down the panties of all men and women wearing Sixers colors today. He also had a number of slick passes -- a skill he doesn't get nearly enough credit for. The idea of him as a more athletic Joakim Noah sends shivers down my spine. Compound that with his knack for getting his hand on the ball (four steals), and he's such a weapon on the defensive end. Only blocked one shot, but affected a ton more.
Let's talk about the jumper for a second. Not... excellent. He releases the ball incredibly high -- no one in the human world will ever block his jumper -- but his touch is that of a straight-edge razor. He'll work on it, he'll get better from ~15 feet out, but today was not a ringing endorsement of a weaponized jumper. ALTHOUGH. He did shoot 7-7 from the foul line, which is a good indicator of things to come. Obviously he worked on that a ton over his long hiatus and I'm confident he'll surpass Hinkie's benchmark for him of 60% at the stripe this season.
Even with the jumper, there's lots to improve on. He could do with getting even stronger (though he's certainly not a twig), as Dedmon and Osby pushed him around a bit on the boards. He'll get there, but two rebounds is two rebounds. He was very loose with the ball, didn't recognize double teams quickly enough, and generally didn't seem confident with the ball in his hands for more than a dribble or two. He's a capable ball-handler, but we won't want to see him doing too much of that in-season anyway, so I'm not that concerned.
Also worth mentioning that maybe with a real point guard, he would've had more opportunities get open looks. He did score 19 points on 11 shots without the services of MCW, so I'm pretty jazzed about the two of them working together this season.
It's important not to take too much out of a Summer League game, his first game in such a long time, but the general consensus of the LB staff is that maybe playing him at the 4 a lot of this season is the move. With his quick hands on the perimeter and supreme speed down the court (as well as the looming figure of Joel Embiid down the road), he might be, like Anthony Davis, better off playing less bulky guys in the paint at least at this point.
For real though: thrilled. He's the best player to come out of the 2013 NBA Draft by a whole lot. We got a good one.
THE EVOLUTION OF HOLLIS THOMPSON
Yeah, Hollis shot 2-12. But it's Summer League -- you're almost not allowed to shoot well in Summer League.
I'll attribute his misfiring jumper to the weight he's put on this offseason. Dude looks FIT. He played much better defense than I've seen from him all last season -- including some nice work on the bigger, stronger, longer, faster Aaron Gordon -- and really looked like a leader out there. I don't say that stuff lightly because it usually comes off as intangible gobbledygook (which I also don't say lightly), but you could tell teammates were looking to him to reset the offense and get the ball where it needs to be.
Statistically: 14 rebounds. Damn, dude. 8 offensive, just from attacking the glass and anticipating bounces on loose balls. He also dished out 5 assists.
I know we tend to exaggerate his Holliswoodness, but a role player that makes smart plays with the ball, attacks the offensive glass, and finds himself in the right places -- not to mention a wonderful catch-and-shoot rate from three -- is absolutely great value. He's gonna keep getting better under Brett Brown and Lloyd Pierce, and the Sixers will continue to pay him minimum wage to do it. There's no reason to think he can't be Danny Green, potentially with more versatility.
FUN K.J. IS FUN
So the Sixers 32nd overall pick in the draft, K.J. McDaniels, was the guy I was looking forward to seeing most outside of the obvious flat topped demon. And outside of two fabulous blocks on the same possession -- on Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, both at the rim -- K.J. seemed timid through the first three quarters. Like someone told him before the game not to play too fast, and he really, really listened to them.
It was only in the 4th when whoever told him that untold it to him and he got fun. He started cutting, dribbled more confidently, threw down a few dunks, and nailed a three -- on far nicer form than the two he had missed earlier -- to the tune of 9 points on 4-8 shooting. And take it for what you will, but the Sixers were +15 with him on the court in his 20 minutes of action. -21 in the other 20.
Didn't get to see too too much of the world class athleticism we've been anticipating, although the blocks and dunks were tasty. Really think he'll be low-key stellar for the Sixers as a shot-blocking, attacking force on the wing with Hollis this season.
-- Really, just this:
-- Jerami Grant was pretty invisible. Didn't look comfortable much at all.
-- Just as I was getting on board with Aaron Craft making the Sixers for #jokes, he turned the ball over twice and missed two foul shots. I think I'd steal be in (#jokes, c'mon), but he's just not good enough at enough things.
-- Travis Bader can do even less things than Aaron Craft.
-- Casper Ware and Victor Oladipo got into it early and often. So much fun to watch Casper piss him off. Ware isn't a good floor general or defender, but he can give you what we hoped Pierre Jackson was going to, to a lesser degree. Instead offense, annoying pressing D, and being named a funny name. Casper should stay.
-- Ronald Roberts, Jr. stood out to me. Kid can jump through the roof of the building next door and looks a lot stronger than I thought he would. A really solid 12 and 9 on six shots in 20 minutes. Didn't notice him doing anything well or unwell on defense though -- I was pretty much just looking at Nerlens the whole time. Interested to see how much he plays next game, that'd be a good gauge as to whether they like him or not.
-- None of the other UDFA guys got my attention -- seems like all of them just kept falling down when Dewayne Dedmon was around. I really hope Melvin Ejim plays tomorrow.
Nerlens will probably sit tomorrow evening as the Summer Sixers take on the Summer Thunder. We will be here to bring you The Casper Ware Experience Part Two.