Monday, July 9, 2012

No Dwight, No Problem for Orlando...In Summer League

Summer league kicked off today, and what a better way to start it then with the Orlando Magic, the hosting team and the team generating the most buzz around the league thanks to Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard may be the most notable big man by a long shot in Orlando, but if he is gone, the Magic do have some young guys that are eager to take advantage of playing time. New GM Rob Hennigan drafted Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn in the recent draft and has another big man, Justin Harper left over from last season's draft. All three of the players hail from mid-major schools and have a great opportunity in summer league to showcase their game to those unfamiliar with it.

As fate would have it, the Magic were slated to take on the Brooklyn Nets, Dwight Howard's top suitor. Even though every team would love to have Howard, its even more apparent why Howard is so desired by Nets fans when you saw the summer league frontcourt they trotted out to the court. Adam Morrison, Al Thornton, and Jeff Foote made up their frontline - two lottery busts and an undrafted player from last year's draft class (although Im sure Scott would like me to mention that he was a D-League all-star!).

Needless to say, if the Magic wanted to see if Harper can play SF (he started the game at the 3 with Nicholson and O'Quinn inside), this game wasn't a good measuring stick. Morrison is not an NBA level defender so excuse me if I wasn't too impressed when he took Ammo off the dribble for a spinning lay-up. It is good to see Harper's increased confidence level, something that held him back at Richmond until his senior year,  with the ball in his hands. For a big guy, he has solid handles and good body control. Emphasis on "for a big guy". Harper is nowhere near ready to play SF in the league, and Morrison showed why by taking him off the dribble the first two possessions of the game. Also, the NBA has fully embraced the stretch four position now, as evidence by Harper's former teammate Ryan Anderson's new contract. By playing Harper at the SF position, you lose the mismatch potential and instead only create mismatches for yourself.

Its a good sign for Harper that Orlando has shown in the past that they know exactly how to use a player of his type. With only Earl Clark and Big Baby Davis expected to come back in terms of big men for Orlando, Harper has a chance to steal away playing time. And a lot of times, all shooters need is an opportunity and some faith shown in them.

Moving over one position at the four was Andrew Nicholson, who saw Al Thornton opposing him for the majority of the game. Al, as we know, can be a bit lackadaisical on defense, and definitely lacks the size to do battle against NBA PFs. Nicholson was able to take full advantage of this, racking up a game high 24 points and 12 rebounds. Not bad for a Bonnie.  He showed off a smooth jumper, ranging out to the college 3-pt line, great footwork in the post, and was able to hold his position down low. Nicholson isnt a powerful finisher, but he was able to finish through contact to get a couple of "and-one" chances. We need to see how Nicholson fares against NBA size (Thunder, Celtics, Jazz, and Pacers will all be good tests), but this rookie certainly got off to a good start.

The final member of this young frontline is Kyle O'Quinn, hailing from Norfolk State. The second round pick got off to an immediate hot start, blocking Jeff Foote's shot twice, thus putting the D-League to great shame. Just kidding. But O'Quinn didnt stop to admire his blocks, he kept them both in bounds and hauled ass up the court to beat the defense for an easy scoring opportunity. That sequence of events defines what Kyle O'Quinn should and needs to provide the Magic. O'Quinn has a high motor and when you combine that with good athleticism and strength, you can turn yourself into a solid NBA role player. O'Quinn needs to add posts moves, but he plays offense smart and efficiently. He showed good touch on a 15 foot jumpshot, although he gets a slap in the wrist for missing both of his free throws.

All three of these players figure to make the Magic's roster and you can expect to see at least one of them in their rotation. Its fair game who earns minutes - Harper can provide shooting, Nicholson gives you scoring in the post, and O'Quinn brings the energy and toughness inside. Let's just not anoint them all stars after playing against an Adam Morrison/Al Thornton/Jeff Foote frontcourt. Even if Foote was a D-League all-star.

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