<
>

Picking the summer's best in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As summer leagues go, the 2003 version in Orlando will likely forever remain the gold standard. Having players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Darko Milicic and T.J. Ford making their professional debuts tends to help matters.

The 2006 version wrapped up Friday in Orlando, and while it certainly didn't pack the same sort of punch as the one three years earlier, it will remain memorable because of the depth of talent among the youngsters.

The summer camp featured six first-round draft picks -- seven if you want to figure in Magic rookie J.J. Redick, who was reduced to watching because of his lingering lower back injury.

Adam Morrison (Bobcats), Tyrus Thomas (Bulls) and Marcus Williams (Nets) showed flashes of greatness throughout the week, while fellow first-rounders Shawne Williams (Pacers), Thabo Sefolosha (Bulls) and Josh Boone (Nets) proved themselves to be more than capable.

"All I have to do is look down at this logo and know that I'm in the NBA now,'' said Thomas, who averaged 16.2 points and seven rebounds in five games for Chicago. "I think this week will be the perfect springboard into training camp."

Before the looking ahead to training camp starts, let's take a look back at this summer league. Veterans Sean May (Bobcats), Earl Barron (Heat), Danny Granger (Pacers) and Antoine Wright (Nets) made huge strides, matching their rookie counterparts.

Here's one writer's all-tournament team from the past week:

Small forward -- Adam Morrison, Bobcats: Sure, he averaged a camp-best 24.6 points per game, but it was the sophistication with how he scored that was the most impressive. When he wasn't raining in deep jumpers from the perimeter, he was burying floaters in the lane or scoring on nifty post-up spins. Far more athletic than many want to give him credit, Morrison was also able to consistently beat defenders off the dribble and get to the basket. That helped him get to the line a whopping 53 times in the five games (49 makes).

Morrison admitted he's been pleasantly surprised with the respect he's gotten from NBA officials. "I like it because they don't let guys just mug you away from the ball," Morrison said. "In college, they would hold and smack me every night because of some of the things I did. In the NBA, they at least protect you somewhat.''

Power forward -- Sean May, Bobcats: When May went down in a heap Friday it looked for an instant that Charlotte's worst fears had come true. May had his rookie season ruined by a knee injury, and had to hobble off the court Friday against Indiana.

As it turns out, it was little more than a mild ankle sprain. And that injury could hardly overshadow the 6-foot-9 forward's impressive week. On a stage where it's often hard for big men to thrive because of the sloppy nature of the games, May poured in 18.6 points a game on 60.5 percent shooting. And by Friday it was hard to tell which was more impressive -- May showing no signs of rust from being out most of last season or that he had added a perimeter shot to his offensive arsenal?

Center -- Earl Barron, Heat: Who knew a Miami Heat center could actually shoot 88.7 percent from the foul line? Maybe the 7-foot, 245-pound Barron's first assignment upon getting back to South Florida should be to work with Shaq at the charity stripe.
Barron gave the rest of the league a look at why the Heat are so high on him with several impressive showings. Miami already knew he had the ability to bury 15-foot jumpers in pick-and-pop plays, but the mild-mannered Barron also displayed some grit on the low block this week.

After Barron averaged 22 points and 7.2 rebounds, it's a near certainty the Heat will pick up the option on his contract and have him in camp in October. And if Alonzo Mourning leaves the Heat via free agency or retirement, don't be surprised to see Barron playing big minutes alongside of Shaq come next season.

Small forward/power forward/shooting guard -- Tyrus Thomas, Bulls: He was arguably the best pure athlete in Orlando this week with his ability to soar high into the air and snatch rebounds and block shots from the weak side. But still, there are lingering questions as to what position Thomas will play for the Scott Skiles this season.
At 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, he's not nearly big enough to withstand the punishment of guarding NBA-caliber power forwards on the low block. And with his jump shot still a work in progress, some wonder how he'll do as a wing player in the NBA.

But because he is a gritty defender and an athletic specimen, few doubt that Skiles will have trouble getting Thomas on the floor for significant minutes.

"My main thing is to just do whatever it takes to get on the court and not worry about what position I'm playing,'' Thomas said. "At LSU, I could shoot the ball, but I didn't really get the chance to in games. I think I shot it pretty well this week. I'll keep working at it and make myself a better shooter.''

Point guard -- Travis Diener, Magic: Somewhat unsure about Diener after a shaky rookie season rattled his confidence, Orlando invited former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara to this camp to challenge Diener. But by the end of the week, this was no contest, with Diener being the clear winner.

(It should be noted that McNamara was playing with a groin injury and it showed in his rocky play).

Morrison was the clear-cut star of the camp and New Jersey's Marcus Williams redeemed himself after falling to the 22nd pick on draft night. But it was the 6-foot, 175-pound Diener who played the role of giant-killer for the Magic.

His 34-point, five-assist, four-rebound demolition of Chicago was the week's best single-game effort. And by turning the ball over just four times -- ball security is a must in Brian Hill's offense -- Diener likely played his way back onto the Magic's regular-season roster next season.

"This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,'' said a relieved Diener, who shaved his scraggly beard off before Friday's finale. "My confidence is really high. I can go back home now and just get myself ready for training camp.''

John Denton covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.