The champagne may still be sticking to the AT&T Center floor in San Antonio, but yesterday marked the dawn of the 2014-15 NBA season with the opening day of the Summer League schedule in Orlando. Rookies Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Napier both had noteworthy debuts for the 76ers and Heat, respectively, although the reasons for their making headlines were decidedly different.
First, Noel. After sitting out all of last season as he recovered from a torn ACL, the former Kentucky center had an outstanding debut for the 76ers. He played 26 minutes and put up 19 points, two rebounds, three assists, four steals and one block.
Things got off to a great start, as the first play of Noel’s NBA career saw him rise up and throw down a big dunk not even 20 seconds into the game. He even showed off a little trickery later on, hitting a ridiculous circus shot in traffic.
For those worried about his ability to elevate and still be the springy, athletic center that many thought would be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, this should put your minds at ease:
Just going to watch this Nerlens Noel breakaway jam GIF for the rest of the day. http://t.co/n0jwEpuz1y
— Dan McQuade (@dhm) July 5, 2014
Napier, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. The first round pick of the Miami Heat struggled badly, turning the ball over on his first possession and eight times overall, missing his first 10 shots from the field, and perhaps worst of all being on the receiving end of a “Sportscenter Top 10″ moment.
The Heat’s loss to the Celtics was pretty secondary compared with Napier’s struggles. The man LeBron James requested got a nice “welcome to the NBA” moment courtesy of the Celtics’ Phil Pressey, who put the rookie on skates with a lightning-quick crossover. We’re guessing that wasn’t what Pat Riley had in mind when selecting Napier with the 24th pick in the NBA Draft. The former UConn Husky finished 3-for-15 overall with 12 points, certainly leaving room for improvement after an inauspicious debut.
However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that Summer League struggles do not always equate with regular season failure. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams floundered badly in Orlando, but by the time the regular season got going he found his way just fine. There’s plenty for all these guys to learn as they face full-speed NBA competition for the first time, and there are inevitably going to be bumps along the way. There’s no chance that Napier is this bad, and likewise there’s no way things will always go so smoothly for Noel.