After a week of basketball in Orlando, it’s time to examine which young players appear ready to make a leap this fall and which ones still have work to do. All stats are current through the games of July 8.
TerrenceWilliams of the Nets leads all scorers at 23 PPG while also dishing out six assists per game. Williams excelled as a point forward for Rick Pitino at Louisville, and he has been a prominent part of the Nets’ offense in Orlando. Damion James has also been impressive, averaging just under 19 PPG alongside Williams for New Jersey. James had the league’s single-high of 30 points through Thursday, as he led the Nets to a narrow 94-91 win over Orlando. The two have had to pick up the slack of Derrick Favors, who has underperformed in Orlando. Favors is averaging 8 points and 6 boards per game while also committing 3.8 turnovers per game. He’s shooting under 40% from the field and is averaging over six fouls per game (players do not foul out after their sixth foul). With many of the top free agents off the market (and none so far in New Jersey), the Nets will need Favors to be productive if they want to avoid a repeat of 2009-10.
Joe Crawford of Orlando missed Tuesday’s game against the Jazz, but has been shooting out of his mind in the three games he has played. The 2008 second-rounder out of Kentucky exploded for 29 points against the Nets on 10-13 shooting and followed that with 17 points on 6-11 shooting against the Thunder. Unfortunately, the Magic were winless through their first four games, but Crawford’s 61.3 FG% and 19 PPG game have been an unexpected bright spot. Daniel Orton has averages in Orlando similar to those he posted at Kentucky last year. Unfortunately, that means he’s averaging just 3 points and 2 rebounds a game. Orton needs experience, but the Magic have given him less than 17 minutes per game. Why send your first-rounder to the summer league if you’re not going to play him?
Luke Harangody has banged down low to the tune of 16 points and 6 boards per game and has drawn favorable reviews. The Notre Dame big man is certainly looking better than Tony Gaffney (5 PPG, 2 RPG), who was on the Celtics’ playoff roster last spring, and whom Harangody will compete against for a spot on this year’s Celtics team.
Former Ohio State big men Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens have both looked good in Orlando. Mullens has scored down low and at 7'-0", 275 lbs, can compete with anyone for rebounds. Koufos is the league’s second-leading rebounder and looked good in a 78-73 win over Orlando, grabbing 11 boards to go with 13 points.
Lance Stephenson, and not Paul George, looks to be the best Pacers prospect right now. Stephenson came out on fire, shooting 75% from the field in his first three games, including an 8-10, 21-point performance against the Magic on Monday. George has been solid if unspectacular, but Stephenson’s brilliance has been the biggest news regarding the Pacers in Orlando. Former Duke Blue Devil Josh McRoberts has also looked impressive for Indiana, averaging 14 PPG, including a 21-point outing against the Jazz.
Neither Gordon Hayward nor Evan Turner have looked good so far, especially Turner, who was considered a sure thing at the number two position. Turner was just 2-12 for a total of nine points in losses to the Thunder and Bobcats. Turner is shooting just 31% for the Sixers, and his numbers would look even worse if he wasn’t a perfect 15-15 from the free throw line. Hayward averaged 10 points per game through his first four contests, albeit in about five less minutes per game than Turner. Expectations weren’t as high for Hayward, but he was still a top-10 pick this year. Hayward, though, is shooting quite well (10-16 FG through four games), but is averaging just four attempts per game. He doubtless would have looked a lot better had Utah got him more involved in their offense.
Even when the Thunder’s young talent sits out, they have still looked imposing, as shown by their 80-78 victory over the Magic on Thursday. Despite the fact that James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, and D.J. White all sat out against Orlando, OKC received strong performances from PG Mustafa Shakur and SG Kyle Weaver, both of whom contributed 21 points in the win. Shakur was 6-10 from the field while Weaver dished out nine assists (though his 21 points required 21 shots). With Kevin Durant signing a 5-year extension this week, the Thunder has the youth to contend in the West for a decade.