On Wednesday I covered the four best takeaways from summer league basketball play. Today, let's take a look at the things that we didn't like.
1. Jahlil Okafor's Conditioning
Everything about the 76ers top draft pick is evaluated as if he's playing under a microscope while everyone else isn't as deeply analyzed. So it's natural to pick apart his game, both the good and the bad. While his free throw shooting was bad, it's not exactly surprising. But his lack of energy at the end of games to a degree was surprising.
While his trainer lauded his conditioning when talking to our own Jake Pavorsky, Jahlil Okafor still was not ready to play effective extended minutes at the NBA's pace during either summer league. Part of it is timing - many players work their way into shape during training camp, for which summer league doesn't have an extended, month-long waiting period. Utah in particular is a tough place to play when not in peak conditioning. While it doesn't have the reputation of Denver, the Mile High City, Salt Lake City's elevation is only about a 1,000 feet lower than Denver.
But even in Las Vegas Okafor was exhausted at the end of his average 30-minute game. The shorter shot clock means more running on average than a college game, and he was being asked to do more defensively than ever before.
Okafor in general needs to speed up in almost every facet of the game for his post dominance to translate from college to the pros. His individual moves are already there. The next step is to get him to run the floor and establish post position faster. One reason so many of his post plays started so far away from the rim in summer league was because he didn't get into position quickly enough. And that's largely because he's not in great physical shape. Better for now isn't good enough if he wants to be dominant.
And that conditioning will help on both ends. At his best, Okafor will have a tremendous amount of both offensive and defensive responsibility. While slow-footed, Okafor showed he can execute the basics on defense early in games. With a little less carrying weight and more energy, he can do it consistently. Consistently executing the basics will make Okafor good enough given his size to not be a defensive liability.
As is the trend with this franchise, injuries put something of a damper on what otherwise was a good experience for players and fans. Nik Stauskas missed summer league recovering from a preexisting ankle injury, robbing us of the potential floor-spacing vision that we have for Sauce Castillo while surrounding Jahlil Okafor and getting his feet wet with a new franchise.
Maybe the most crushing in-the-moment injury begat Richaun Holmes. The 37th overall pick played well during the Utah Jazz League until his arm injury in the final game. The initial diagnosis of a broken elbow looked to keep him out for months. However, per Liberty Ballers' own and SI writer Jake Fischer, the injury was reexamined and determined to not be as significant, and he should be cleared for on-court activities well before camp.
Still: other than Okafor's sweet post moves, Holmes showed the most flashes and garnered maybe the most excitement of any SummerSixer. Holmes displayed clear NBA skills - shooting range, offensive rebounding, and defensive hops - which should make him a fun fit in the Sixers' system.
Interestingly the Sixers have not yet signed the rookie to a contract. Holmes figures to start the season sixth among rotation big men, behind Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Furkan Aldemir, Jason Thompson, and Carl Landry. Holmes is expected to be given a shot to make the team, but given the injury and the competition at the position, it's still unclear where the rookie fits.
3. Jordan McRae's Ranking On The Lou Williams Hate Advisory Index
Jordan McRae got named to the All-NBA Las Vegas Summer League team in 2014. That team is a real thing, and Jordan McRae deserved that recognition. Don't laugh! He averaged over 21 points per game and, along with Nerlens Noel, kept the Sixers competitive.
The late second-round pick spent most of the 2014-15 season playing in Australia after a roster crunch left him on the outside looking in after the Thaddeus Young trade last summer. He averaged 19.9 points per game as a rookie in the NBL and 18 points per game during a brief D-League stint with the 87ers. McRae scores in bunches, but as he showed in college, and overseas, and in Delaware, he tends to do so without discretion.
Better put: Jordan McRae is a gunner. In a city familiar with similar basketball players, we all know the positives and negatives. And because McRae was dealing with an injury, his lack of discretion ultimately hurt the team whenever he played. He did not live up to last year's performance, and given the glut of players again on the roster now, it's hard to see McRae signing this season.
4. JaKarr Sampson's Stagnation
The Sixers keep JaKarr Sampson around because they see a player with his skills and imagine upon what he could become with coaching and experience. He's 6'9" with a good handle despite playing power forward during his college days. He works hard and is a good teammate. But without showing meaningful improvement, he won't be around for long.
Except for a strong final game between two teams uninterested in playing defense, Sampson underwhelmed. Notably, he was cast as an offensive go-to wing, which he is the furthest thing from right now. But his jumper looks the same. It still takes too long for him to get his feet set. It still doesn't look like a fluid shot. There's not been enough progress since the season ended.
Let's wait until training camp until we even start to consider closing a book on SpongeBob's #1 fan. But it would be nice to see more progress at that point.