I like this year's group, which should give us a look at as many as four players who may see time in Detroit this year, with Johnson and Dinwiddie as locks, Miller as a probable and Hilliard as a possibility. The remainder of the roster are guys from last year's Grand Rapids Drive roster (Barlow, Thomas, Atkins and PF Kammeon Holsey), veterans who have bounced around the last few years (Harper, Gaines, Baron) and a couple of throw-ins who may or may not earn themselves a roster spot in Grand Rapids for this year (Wear, Gray, Kemp and Washburn).
The highlight on the roster is clearly Stanley Johnson, who will be looking to prove to his newest fans that he was worth selecting over the more-hyped Justise Winslow on draft night. Johnson will go face-to-face with Winslow in the Pistons' third summer league contest. While it would be nice to see Johnson win the head-to-head battle, and look good overall, I'll be more concerned with watching how he adjusts to a faster, more competitive style of play. Make all the jokes you want about the quality of play in summer league basketball, but every single player he'll face up with this week is a professional basketball player. While he faced up with some high level players at Arizona as a freshman, Johnson will have to understand that there are no easy possessions from here on out. It will also be interesting to see how Johnson adjusts to the longer three point line. You have to be careful not to react too far one way or the other based on Johnson's production this week, but it would obviously be nice to see him come out and be aggressive and efficient.
Quincy Miller and Spencer Dinwiddie are the next two players on the roster with the most to prove. Once Brandon Jennings is back to full speed, Dinwiddie should find himself in a battle for the backup PG spot behind Reggie Jackson. Dinwiddie can start making his case by displaying an improved outside shot and decision making this week in Orlando. With the exception of Elfrid Payton, who isn't on the Pistons' schedule this week, you could argue that Dinwiddie is the most established PG in town for the week. You may see Shabazz Napier below and disagree with that, but it's not like he had a world-beating rookie year. Dinwiddie should put his stamp on play this week if he wants to get a head start on Brandon Jennings in the backup PG race.
Miller may not be able to play this week after having his nose broken in a practice last week, but if he does, he'll be looking to cement his spot on the Pistons' roster for the 2015-16 season. An additional $100k of Miller's contract is guaranteed if he's on the roster for opening night, with his full contract being guaranteed if he remains on the team through January 7, 2016. Miller seems like he has an inside track for a roster spot, and he could lock that in with strong play this week and in training camp. He's behind Ilyasova and Tolliver on the PF depth chart, but if he can show that he's anywhere near as productive offensively as Tolliver, the Pistons could choose to make the youth movement at some point during the regular season. That's a long way down the road though. It's important to remember that Miller is younger than quite a few members of the 2015 draft class, including rookie C Kendall Gray, who's on the Pistons' roster in Orlando.
Beyond Miller, Dinwiddie and Johnson, the obvious names to watch in Orlando, I'll also be keeping my eye on Darrun Hilliard and Kendall Gray. Hilliard, the team's 2nd round pick this year, finds himself looking up the depth chart at several players after yesterday's trade for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger. He also figures to be behind KCP and Meeks at SG, making it pretty clear that Hilliard is going to start the year in Grand Rapids. I'll be interested to see if he can maintain his solid shooting efficiency from the longer line, and if he can be an aggressive, physical defender at both wing positions. Gray, who went undrafted, is one of only two true centers on the roster, and should figure to get some minutes in every game. He was far from a touted prospect entering the draft, but he has good size, gets up and down the floor well, and could earn himself a roster spot in Grand Rapids with a solid showing in Orlando.
Jefferson and Brown both showed some promise as role players last season, making them an intriguing watch for the week in Orlando. Hollis-Jefferson was acquired in a draft night trade that sent Mason Plumlee to Portland, so he'll provide some intrigue as well. Cliff Alexander's rapid fall from top HS recruit to afterthought has landed him with Brooklyn as an undrafted free agent. I think he'll make a positive impact this week and earn at least an invitation to training camp, whether it's with Brooklyn or another team.
The Hornets have some intrigue in the starting five with Kaminsky, Hairston and Harrison, but the rest of the roster doesn't offer much in the way of excitement. Williams is an undersized bruiser at PF and C, but there's some doubt about whether his game will travel to the next level. Hornets fans will be hoping that Kaminsky displays the vast offensive repertoire that made him the 9th overall pick.
Much like the Hornets' roster, there's not much to get excited about here. Myles Turner will start making his case to earn legitimate minutes in the Pacers' rotation, and Joe Young could make a good impression. Beyond that, Solomon Hill started at SF for the Pacers last year in Paul George's absence. There's not much upside in the unknowns on their roster.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers might have the most boring roster among Orlando Summer League contestants. No 2015 first round picks, and the recent first rounders they have don't offer much upside. The one reason to watch could be Royce White, whose struggles with anxiety induced by air travel contributed to his early exit from the NBA. This will be the first step for him if he's going to showcase the talent that made him the 16th pick in the 2012 draft. One possible pleasant surprise on the Clippers' team: DJ Newbill.
Adams, Martin and Stokes are all attempting to insert themselves into the Grizzlies' rotation, while Smith is attempting to earn a roster spot. Some people still think that Andrew Harrison could be a good player, but I have my doubts. If it's going to happen, he'll need to show it sooner than later. He was considered the #5 player in the class of 2013 by Rivals, but never panned out at Kentucky. JaMychal Green was also a five start recruit, but way back in 2008. He appeared in 20 games for the Grizzlies last year after averaging 23 PPG and 11 RPG in the D-League.
Juwan Howard Jr.
Justise Winslow is the headliner for the Heat, although they'll also be focusing on seeing some improvement on a mediocre rookie season from Shabazz Napier. Napier shot below 40% in his first year as a pro, and that can't continue if Miami is going to keep giving him minutes. Winslow fell into their laps at #10, and he'll be looking to prove the nine teams who passed on him wrong. He should cherish the chance to face off with Stanley Johnson. Tyler Johnson, James Ennis and Henry Walker all got minutes on the wing for Miami last season, and all three will likely be competing for roster spots come October.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Cameron Payne won't be playing after fracturing a finger during the workout process leading up to the draft. Josh Huestis, a 2014 first round pick, will also be missing after suffering a pectoral injury this summer. The Thunder will have last year's other first round pick, Mitch McGary available though. Beyond McGary, there's not much to get excited about here.
Orlando Magic Blue
I doubt that Magic fans would be too excited to earn this title, but this should be the best team in Orlando this year. They have three lottery picks on the roster, plus Siva and Harvey are quality depth in the backcourt. It will be interesting to see what Aaron Gordon has added to his game for year two, and even if Mario Hezonja only plays in a couple games as rumored, he'll still be exciting to watch. Payton needs to show an improved outside shot, but nonetheless, he should be one of the best players on the court throughout the week. This is easily Orlando's A team.
Orlando Magic White
Glen Rice Jr.
Orlando's B team offers less in the way of excitement. Glen Rice Jr. has some clear talent, but other than that, this is a team full of guys who will almost certainly play overseas or in the D-League next year.
Every game can be watched live, or as a replay, and in HD if you give the NBA $15. That same $15 will also get you access to the games from the Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues, if you're into that kind of thing. The games are also broadcast live on NBATV, if that's a part of your cable package..
Saturday July 4th - 11:00 am - vs. Orlando Magic White
There was some hope that the Pistons would open their slate, and Stanley Johnson's professional career, with a matchup against Mario Hezonja, the 5th pick in this year's draft. Instead, the Pistons will get matched up with Orlando's B team. Glen Rice Jr. and Chris Singleton should provide interesting matchups for Johnson, but it's not the same as lining up against Hezonja. Dinwiddie should feast on the PGs, as none of the three have any legitimate NBA experience. Wins in the summer aren't really that important, but this one should go the Pistons' way.
Sunday, July 5th - 1:00 pm - vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Johnson will match up with a former first round pick in Jordan Hamilton, but outside of that, this matchup doesn't offer much to look forward to. Wolters had a decent rookie year, but has hardly been heard from since. He had a brief stint with the Grand Rapids Drive in their inaugural season, appearing in 12 games and starting 8. The only real intrigue on the Clippers' roster in my eyes comes from the presence of Royce White. Branden Dawson, a Michigan State alum, will start trying to find out what his NBA position is in Orlando.
Monday, July 6th - 5:00 pm - vs. Miami Heat
This is the crown jewel of the Pistons' summer league agenda, as much as you can have a crown jewel on a summer league schedule. The matchup of Johnson against Winslow will be the most basketball excitement we're going to have until opening night. Johnson had strong words about his position in the draft, and Winslow surely didn't take too kindly to falling as far as he did. The matchups between Dinwiddie and Napier, and Hilliard and Miami's variety of young wings should make this an entertaining summer league tilt.
Wednesday, July 8th - 3:00 pm - vs. Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner could be fun to watch, but the Pacers don't have an exciting roster. However, Solomon Hill should give Stanley Johnson a good idea of what an experienced NBA SF looks like. Christian Watford played summer league last year for the Pistons.
Friday, July 10th - TBD - vs. TBD (Championship Day)
Championship Day pits the two teams who finished closest to each other in the standings (10 v. 9, 8 v. 7, etc.) against each other. If I get to pick someone for the Pistons to match up with here, it would have to be Orlando's Blue squad, or a rematch with Justise Winslow and the Heat.
Happy Fourth of July, and check back in throughout the week for updates on the action from the 2015 Orlando Summer League!