So, shocker of shocker, Nerlens Noel didn't go off for 19 points again in his second outing this Summer League.
I woulda bet money he'd score in the single digits in his follow-up performance, and indeed, Nerlens posted eight points on 3-6 shooting on Tuesday night, to go with six rebounds, three blocks, two steals and four turnovers. He played 24 minutes and was clearly gassed by the time he exited halfway through the fourth quarter. It'd be pretty surprising if he played again tomorrow night, though hopefully we'll get to see him at least once more before leaving Orlando.
It was a game where Noel's strenghts and weaknesses were acutely on display, probably moreso than on Saturday night. He was a little better with the rebounding, and a little more restrained holding his ground, though his timing and positioning are still in need of some work. He's an absolute nightmare for opponents if he gets the ball deep in the paint--his short hook is pretty solid, and good luck reaching that thing on D--but he's not really ready to be a reliable low-block threat yet, with no jumper, no dribbling ability and only the most basic of post moves.
But of course, what we really want Noel around for is rim protection, and he certainly showed his ability with that last night. The three blocks were nice--the one where he absolutely swallowed a Tarik Black post-up was particularly satisfying--but more importantly, he altered just about every shot the Rockets took at the bucket with him on the court, forcing sky-scraping floaters, high bankers off class and awkward kickout passes. If this is the only thing Noel contributes to the Sixers in his rookie season (and we have reason to believe he'll do far more), that would be plenty.
Two more notes about the Eraser. One is that we won't really know just how much Noel can contribute on offense until he plays with an actual point guard. For all their Summer League prowess thusfar--the Ballers are 2-1 after beating the Rockets 92-71 last night--they don't have much PG play to speak of, with Casper Ware more a scorer than a playmaker and Aaron Craft not all that much of either. Noel got set up on two lobs on the evening (one was called off on a Ware charge), but there were opportunities for at least a couple more. He could have Andre Drummond-like potential as a finisher once he starts playing with MCW and Tony Wroten.
The second is that Noel is still 100% on free throws in this Summer League. Only took two against Houston, but he made both, making him 9-9 across two games. That could still be a fluke, but it really doesn't look like it so far, and it's just tremendous that he's improved his form so much since barely shooting 50% at the line in Kentucky. Kudos to Brett Brown and company for making sure he put in the work during his injured season, and double-kudos to Noel for actually doing it and making the most of it. (Meanwhile, Aaron Craft is just 1-6 from the stripe. Make of that what you will.)
Anyway, the Sixers' performance was no one-man show last night in Orlando. Noel was still mostly very impressive, but so were a good number of his teammates, particularly our increasingly impressive arsenal of long, springy, shot-blocking forwards. K.J. McDaniels continues to be absolutely ridiculous, hitting on both his three attempts and making the play of the night with a gorgeous spin move in transition to get to the basket, ending with 15 points and five boards. And Jerami Grant came alive for the first time this Summer, scoring 14 with four boards and also connecting on his sole long bomb, looking much more comfortable on both ends than in his first two games.
Just as impressive as our two second-rounders, though, were Ronald Roberts Jr. and Jakarr Sampson. Roberts may be the best athlete of them all--no small feat--and is impressively active (and a little more skilled than I thought) on both sides of the ball, scraping together nine points and four boards. And Sampson really did everything, with 13 points (5-5 FG!), eight boards, two dimes, two blocks and two steals, including one sequence where he scooped up a steal and took it all the way to the other end through traffic for a one-handed lay-in.
It's unlikely all four players make our final roster--it seems like at least one of RRJ and Sampson end up not making the cut, and maybe another one ends up in the D-League. But all four show promise that could extend well beyond July, and have made this team an absolute blast to watch through three games in Orlando. I hope at some point before the week's up, coach Lloyd Price plays all four at once just for history's sake, maybe with Noel as the fifth guy. What else is summer for, anyway?
We also got our first look this SL at Arsalan Kazemi, the Oregon rebounding machine who was our eventual second-round haul last June. In seven minutes, Kazemi just didn't do a whole lot to differentiate himself--he seems a little too small and earthbound to be able to rebound the same way he did in college as a pro, and it's hard to see where else he really contributes to this team. It's still early for Kazemi, and there's obviously no rush for him to produce for this team right away, but his long-term prospects as a Sixer certainly don't look tremendously promising at the moment.
Finally, a quick shoutout to Hollis Thompson--four threes!--and Casper Ware, who ended with a team-high 16. As previously mentioned, Ware's PG bonafides are pretty questionable, but it wouldn't be shocking if he made the team to serve as a sort of poor man's Patty Mills--a diminutive bench sparkplug who can hit some crazy shots and competes his ass off on the other end. The ghost of Maalik Wayns should keep Sixers fans' expectations appropriately low, but I don't think it's unfair to say Ware's earned himself a second look from Philly.
Anyway, as much as Summer League doesn't matter and isn't something to be overreacted to, there's no denying that it's a super-cool thing that we actually get to field an exciting, promising team this summer, one capable of actually winning multiple games for the first time in what feels like several decades. Sixer fans haven't been thrown a ton of bones over the course of their often painful rebuilding process thusfar, but getting to watch a Summer League squad that NBA TV announcer Rick Kamla called "one of the best teams in Orlando, if not *the* best team" is a pretty good one. Enjoy it while you can, for it might very well be the last time you get to watch the Sixers being dominant until next July.