Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 6 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:
After Elfrid Payton torched Phil Pressey on consecutive possessions, the Celtics switched Smart onto Payton, which proved to be extremely effective. Smart moves his feet very quickly on defense, and despite not having elite lateral speed, he makes himself an extremely tough defender by keeping his hands high and defending with his chest. Smart missed most of his jumpers (2-for-9 from 3-point range), but in isolation, he uses his size to his advantage, bodying defenders out of the way. When he gets a head of steam toward the basket, he’s going to either score or draw a foul -- both options are attractive since he’s a solid free throw shooter (7-for-8 on Thursday). Smart finished with 19 points and five assists.
Payton couldn’t beat Smart off the dribble in a matchup of 2014 lottery point guards, but in Payton’s defense, Smart presented a unique challenge: a point guard with equivalent size and strength. For much of the game, Payton controlled the offense. His court vision goes a long way toward making up for his abysmal jump shot -- he had nine assists and ran an effective pick-and-roll. As a scorer, his only real skill is driving at the rim, where he can finish over smaller defenders (such as Boston’s Phil Pressey, who could do very little to stop him) thanks to his strength and length. He’s an incredibly quick defender with lightning-fast reflexes -- a trait that, combined with his length, allows him to recover against shooters.
Yesterday, Mitch McGary showed us how effective a player can be without an aesthetically pleasing skill set. On Thursday, Johnson showed us the opposite -- an entertaining skill set that translates to an effective offensive game. Johnson makes highlight plays within the flow of the offense. He explodes toward the basket off the dribble and leaps out of the gym to both finish and block shots. As a shooting guard, he’s a little undersized, but he showed point guard attributes -- good vision, a sense of how to look off opposing defenders before making a pass and a tight handle. When he pulls up, his jumper is feathery soft and he can finish well around the rim. Johnson was 9-for-14 from the field against Memphis and 2-for-5 from 3-point range for 22 points.
Maarty Leunen, Houston Rockets
Sometimes, NBA players aren’t particularly complicated. Sometimes a very tall man can just shoot the ball. Leunen’s skill is shooting the ball. He spots up effectively, finds empty spots on the floor, and can run a pick-and-pop. When he catches a pass, he squares up quickly and doesn’t appear to be adversely affected by having a hand in his face. But boiled down, Leunen’s game is extremely simple: He’s 6-foot-9, and he’s 9-for-17 from 3-point range at Summer League. Leunen scored 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from behind the arc today.
Jarnell Stokes, Memphis Grizzles
Jarnell Stokes just isn’t very tall. The 35th pick in the 2014 draft, Stokes is generously listed at 6-foot-8. He’s extremely strong and has an excellent wingspan, but on the offensive end, Stokes has shot inefficiently against length. In Memphis’ matchup with Houston, the Rockets matched 6-foot-11 Miro Bilan against Stokes, bothering him into a 3-for-10 day from the floor. Stokes isn’t particularly creative in the post, generally preferring to put his head down and go straight at the basket, but big men often enter the NBA with raw back-to-the-basket games. He isn’t without his strengths, of course. Stokes is already an effective screener -- cutting guards are almost always sufficiently freed to catch the ball coming around his body. He also has good instincts as a rebounder despite his height: He grabbed seven rebounds and tipped out a few others that weren’t counted, but he hasn’t figured out how to overcome his height disadvantage quite yet.
James Nunnally, Indiana Pacers
When trying to name every player on Philadelphia’s roster last season, James Nunnally’s name might be one of the most difficult to place. The 6-foot-7 small forward played just 165 minutes in 13 games for Philly and took 46 shots during the regular season. As a member of Indiana’s Summer League roster Thursday, however, Nunnally found a nice rhythm for his smooth jumper, scoring 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor and 3-for-5 from behind the arc. Nunnally is a very effective spot-up shooter, finding his spot in transition, filling the floor nicely and setting himself quickly coming off screens in half-court sets.
Kevin Jones, Indiana Pacers
Jones is an extremely large man, and he uses that size to his advantage. Against Miami, Jones carved out space for himself in the paint, pulling down 15 rebounds, 10 of which came in the first half. Jones scored 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting and pulled down four offensive rebounds. An NBA squad in need of help on the boards might be willing to take a look at Jones as a contributor off the bench.
Tempered expectations are important in Summer League. The sometimes-ragged games are a chance for players to try things out that they can’t try in regular-season contests. Bigs can try pick-and-pops or corner 3-pointers, guards can attempt floaters and layups around the rim, and poor shooters can see if their offseason work has provided them with a better touch. Napier has had a bad week in Orlando, and Thursday was no exception. He shot 2-for-13, 1-for-6 from 3-point range, and finished with just seven points. There were flashes -- five assists, including a beautiful lob to James Ennis for a big dunk -- that may mean that Miami simply wants to see how Napier can develop as a scoring point guard, but he may also just be struggling. That wouldn’t be uncommon for a point guard at Summer League.