Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Orlando Summer League: Players to Keep an Eye On Part 1

Alen Omic, a 7'2 center from Slovenia is expected to play for the Nets squad in the Orlando Summer League 

With the NBA Draft now over, it means the next item of NBA-related material to get excited about will center on the NBA Summer League. While the Las Vegas Summer League is the NBA's main event league this summer, Orlando also has proved to be an interesting showcase to pay attention to as of late. Mostly meant for drafted and undrafted rookies, early players who need more development or journeyman vets looking for one last shot in the NBA, Summer League provides the most hardcore NBA fan of an early glimpse of what players could be making a name for themselves in the upcoming season. Some players have used successful Summer League campaigns to launch successful seasons and careers (Reggie Jackson a prime case last year), while others have had good summer league campaigns that proved to be mirages (Anthony Randolph).

So, let's take a glance at who will be some interesting under-the-radar players competing for teams in Oralndo Summer League that people need to keep an eye on in Orlando. They range from undrafted rookies, to second-third year guys trying to break into the league after not making it the previous.

Here is part 1 that looks at Boston, Brooklyn, Houston and Memphis.

Boston Celtics

  • Mike Moser, F, Oregon
  • Devin Oliver, F, Dayton
  • Daniel Coursey, F/C, Mercer
  • Edwin Jackson, G, France
  • Dairis Bertans, G, Latvia

MLH Take:

The rookies are the main attractions for the Celtics' Orlando team, as Marcus Smart and James Yong will be expected to carry this team in Orlando. However, there are some interesting pieces that Boston added. Oliver led the Elite-Eight finishing Flyers in adjusted offensive efficiency at 121.7 a season ago, as he is an excellent inside-outside player, with good shooting touch (59.4 TS%) and excellent rebounding skills for his size (9.0% offensive rebounding rate, 20.9% defensive rebounding rate). Oliver may have been the Flyers' best player last season, and the Celtics could have a sneakily good player on their roster that could have a breakout this summer. Oregon's Mike Moser brings a similar profile as a big, inside-outside forward with a good shooting tough (55.9 TS%) and some rebounding ability as well (24.3% defensive rebounding rate) though he certainly isn't as efficient as Oliver (111.2 adjusted offensive rating).

Coursey is also another player that has a lot of interesting metrics. Though he played on a Mercer team that wasn't probably as good as their upset win over Duke indicated (they still finished 86th in KenPom's final rankings), Coursey was a dominant post threat for the Bears in 2013-2014. He led the team in block rate at 9.7 percent and was dominant on the offensive (10.9 percent) and defensive (20.0 percent) glass. He wasn't a high usage guy, and I wonder how he'll adjust to more athletic competition, but Coursey was a guy who many thought had a chance to be second-round pick material in this last draft.

Jackson and Bertans are a pair of interesting foreign rookie guards who could bring a lot to the table and perhaps some competition for Smart. Jackson, who played for the French National Team in the FIBA 2010 World Championship as a 20 year old, played last season in France for ASVEL Basket, where he averaged 18.0 ppg in 31.9 mpg in French domestic play, and 14.2 ppg in 28.9 mpg in 10 Eurocup games. Bertans is coming off a solid season with Bilbao in the more prestigious Spanish ACB league, as he averaged 10.3 ppg in 23.7 mpg in ACB league play, and 10.8 ppg in 26.3 mpg in 14 Eurocup games. Both Jackson and Bertans are more shoot-first style of guards, but they have good European pedigree, and it'll be interesting to see how they adjust to US play here in the summer league.

Brooklyn Nets
  • Alen Omic, C, Slovenia
  • Kyle Casey, F, Harvard

MLH Take:

From Slovenia, Omic has spent the past years playing for Union Olimpija Ljubljana for the Slovenian-Telemach league. Omic averaged 10.2 ppg and 6.4 rpg for the Slovenian squad in domestic league play, and 9.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 16 Eurocup games. At 7'2, 217 pounds, Omic is a tall center that has gained a lot of experience playing in his native Slovenia. That being said, he is not an overly physical or defensive minded player, as his blocks per 40 were extremely low last season for a player of his size (0.8 in the Slovenian-Telemach league and 1.9 in the Eurocup, very low for a seven-footer). Furthermore, his lack of competition also has kept him under the radar and tempered people's expectations of him since he jumped on the scene in the FIBA U20 World Championship in 2011. In 10 Euroleague games in 2013, Omic only scored 5.0 ppg and nabbed 3.8 rpg in 12.8 mpg. There is a lot of intrigue with Omic, but it'll be interesting to see if this summer will be a gateway for Omic to find a spot on the Nets roster, or will just be a temporary stopping point before he heads back to Europe.

Kyle Casey is one of the more accomplished players in Harvard history, having helped the Crimson to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his four seasons in Cambridge. Casey sat out the 2013 season due to a cheating scandal where he and other Harvard students (including fellow player Brandyn Curry) were implicated in (it was not just a basketball player scandal but a general student cheating scandal they got mixed up in). Casey withdrew from Harvard for a year to preserve eligibility, and was able to return to the squad and help the Crimson reach their 3rd straight tournament berth. However, Casey wasn't quite as effective in his return, as his adjusted offensive rating hovered at 101.5, a career low for him, which wasn't helped by his 47.5 eFG%, which was also a career low. Casey brings interesting athleticism and ability to play above the rim, but he's been in college for over 5 years, and he's not exactly trending in the right direction. It'll be interesting to see how he fits on this Nets squad in Orlando.

Houston Rockets

  • Miro Bilan, C, Croatia
  • Tarik Black, PF/C, Kansas
  • Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State
  • Jabari Brown, SG, Missouri
  • Chris Udofia, SF, Denver

MLH Take:

Bilan is a 24-year-old, 7'0, 245 pound center from Croatia who has spent most of his time in the Adriatic League, playing with KK Cedevita Zagreb. This past season, he was the starting center for a competitive Cedevita team, averaging 13.8 and 6.4 rpg in both Adiratic and Eurocup action. Bilan gained some steam going into the 2011 draft, but didn't get drafted and seems to be a long shot to make the Rockets team. Much like Omic, while skilled, he doesn't provide enough defensive presence to be a NBA post player. On the flip side, Black is sort of the opposite of Bilan. While limited in his offensive game, Black provided a tough physical presence as Joel Embiid's primary backup. Hampered by foul trouble all season (caused 8.3 fouls per 40 minutes), Black was a tough rebounder (11.6 % OR rate, 21.3 % DR rate) who proved to be an efficient scorer when he had the ball in his hands (122.5 adjusted offensive rating). Black compares similarly to a Jeff Adrien type and could surprise in Orlando.

Carson and Brown are prime examples of why players shouldn't leave college early when they're not guaranteed first round draft picks. Carson and Brown had their reasons to leave. Carson was one of the top playmakers in the country at point (29.7 assist rate), and Brown arguably was a more effective player than second-round pick and teammate Jordan Clarkson (Brown had a rating of 119.8 while Clarkson had a rating of 109.8; also, Brown ranked in the top-100 in true shooting at 62.2 percent). But, both didn't play on overly standout squads this season (ASU was 1 and done in the tournament and Mizzou whiffed the tournament completely), and didn't stand out in an exceptionally deep draft class. Maybe last year or next season they could have sneaked in the second round, but this was a year where there was just great talent from top to bottom, and unfortunately, Carson and Brown missed the cut. That being said, both are extremely talented players, and have the potential to turn solid Summers League seasons into perhaps a couple of D-League spots next year.

Udofia was a four-year, small college player at Denver. While he or team didn't stand out much in his four years with the Pioneers (no NCAA Tournament berths), Udofia was rated as No. 83 in the Top-100 seniors according to DraftExpress, just behind Marshall Henderson. Udofia struggles from beyond the arc (22 percent 3pt% last season), but he is an athletic player at 6'6, 200 pounds and is very polished, though lacking in upside.

Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis
  • Scottie Wilbekin, PG, Florida

MLH Take:

Ranked No. 49 and 50 in their senior class respectively by DraftExpress, Jackson and Wilbekin provide some interesting upside as potential point guard sleepers who could breakout this Summer. Jackson came in as a heralded hometown kid to Memphis four seasons ago, but he failed to live up to the hype in his Tiger career (it didn't help that he succeeded Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at the PG position at Memphis). That being said, his 14.4 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 112.3 adjusted offensive rating showed that his career wasn't a total disappointment, and that Jackson shouldn't be blamed for the Tigers being unable to advance to the second round in his Tiger career. As for Wilbekin, he gained a lot of praise for his leadership in helping Florida be the No. 1 team in the country for most of the year, but his numbers don't jump out at you. 13.1 ppg, 3.6 apg and 112.2 offensive rating display Wilbekin as a solid, but unspectacular player who wouldn't seem to stand out in a position that is very deep in the NBA right now. That being said, Wilbekin's intangibles have earned himself a lot of praise as a player, and he showed vast improvement from where he was as a freshman at Florida (97.2 offensive rating his freshman year).

Overall, Jackson and Wilbekin are incredibly similar players, and it's funny to see them on the same squad. They are both polished point guards known for leadership and consistency, but don't seem to have too much upside in terms of development. They are classic high floor, low ceiling guys, with that floor being a NBA backup, and the ceiling being an emergency starter or starter for a rebuilding team. Because of their similarities, both will fight hard for playing time this Summer and it will be interesting if one will emerge this Summer as a candidate for the backup point guard position to Mike Conley on next year's Grizzly roster.

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