There is a lot of noise and excitement surrounding the Orlando Magic.
It’s not for their two lottery picks. Not completely anyway.
Everyone has been eagerly waiting for the debut of a national hero. And this is a basketball-starved country eager for their first crack at seeing a native son in the NBA.
We see it in our traffic numbers – both here on Orlando Magic Daily and on Locked On Magic. It’s audible inside the Thomas & Mack Center with chants for the big man sitting on the Magic’s bench.
The Magic’s social media team feels it too — they’re catching some unnecessary heat for promoting the latest social media darling on their Summer League team, only for him not to appear in the first three Summer League games.
Everyone knows who lots of people around the world are eager to see. And everyone felt the frustration of having to wait so long.
However, everyone gets their turn in Las Vegas. Kai Sotto would have his turn.
Kai Sotto made his long-awaited debut for the Orlando Magic. The national hero looked solid in his first game, but there is still a long way to go before he reaches the NBA.
After a much longer wait than expected, Sotto spoke for perhaps the first time with an NBA team Thursday in the Orlando Magic’s 88-71 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. And he filled the box, scoring six points on 3-for-7 shooting with four rebounds (two offensive rebounds) and three blocks.
This was hardly an invisible debut for the long-awaited big man. It just seemed like he needed the opportunity to get comfortable and find his footing.
“It just feels good to finally be out there,” Sotto said after Thursday’s game. “It’s my first time here in the summer league and first time on the pitch. It’s just a lot of excitement. I just wanted to affect the game. Unfortunately we didn’t win. But there is a lot to learn from this game.”
There certainly was for a player like Sotto. So much of Summer League is about getting players that experience and letting them feel what an NBA game is like.
Sotto still has a lot of work to do, but he more than lived up to his standards. If Summer League is more about finding out who can’t play than who can, Sotto showed he could do a few things on the NBA court. At least it is an initial success and something to grow on.
Sotto said he started to feel comfortable after he recorded his first block when he got on a shot near the basket in the second quarter. His second-half stint looked much better than his first, suggesting more improvement to come.
Perhaps his biggest defensive play came when he rotated along the paint and emphatically hit a shot in the fourth quarter. This is a player who uses his 7-foot-3 size to make an impact. The Blazers knew he was hovering around the paint if they weren’t careful.
Offensively, Kai Sotto was wise to be available in the dunking spot, and at one point Tyger Campbell got a good dump-off for a two-handed jam. He showed his agility and offensive potential when he got a post-up and finished with a fadeaway jumper. It missed, but the potential was there.
On top of this, Sotto looked quite comfortable working the ball at the top of the key as a distributor. It’s a key in the Magic’s offense, where they love to drive players away from their center using dribble hand-offs and high-low passes.
No one should jump to conclusions one way or the other based on 13 minutes in a Summer League game. However, Sotto showed that there was something to work with and something to grow at the professional level.
“I thought he did well” Magic Summer League coach Dyland Murphy said. “He protected the rim. He had a couple of great finishes. Credit to him for being ready. Obviously I’m not playing the first few games. I’m definitely proud of his performance. sometimes it can be hard to come in cold and perform, and I thought he did well.”
It was certainly a long time coming for Sotto. It would have been hard to expect Sotto to come in after sitting out for so long — practice time is limited when the team arrives in Las Vegas — and he should improve in his second game as the Orlando Magic wrap up their Summer League Saturday against the Boston Celtics.
Still, Sotto clearly has work to do.
At 7-foot-3, while he has some agility and athleticism, locking it down on the defensive end is still a bit of a challenge. Especially at the speed the NBA game is played.
Perhaps it was initial jitters – this is his first foray into Summer League and playing at the NBA level after playing in Australia and Japan throughout his career – but the game seemed very fast for him.
It is a normal challenge for young players to get their first exposure to the NBA.
“I think the game in the Summer League is more fast-paced,” Sotto said after Thursday’s game. “It’s a lot of young players. Everybody’s trying to prove that they can play in an NBA game and an NBA environment. It’s pretty fast. Everybody’s pretty skilled. Everybody’s pretty hungry to show that they’re worthy of a roster spot. It’s competitive. It’s nice to finally go out there and play.”
Sotto showed off some of his skills. But there is clearly a lot more for him to develop before he reaches an NBA level.
There was one play that seemed instructive when he got into drop coverage and the offensive lineman had him in a tiebreaker before finishing at the rim. Sotto is big and can protect the rim, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to guard in space.
Further, while he had his share of rebounds in short order, he wasn’t exactly chasing the boards either. He got outmuscled on several rebound opportunities and didn’t seem to seek contact at his size.
Some of it just goes back to the speed of the game and how fast everything seemed to move. Sotto just seemed a step slow.
More than anything, seeing him more comfortable and understanding what he will see in front of him will be the key to making his second game that much more successful.
Everyone can clearly see that Sotto has talent. But getting it to NBA speed will be the struggle for him. One that will likely take place in another season away from the NBA — though it seems possible that an offensive-minded league like the G-League could be good for his development.
Regardless of where Sotto ends up this coming season, reaching this point is a big step for a basketball-hungry nation in the Philippines. Sotto has taken some critical first steps — and this year’s FIBA World Cup will continue to expand basketball’s reach on the island nation.
There will definitely be more steps to take for him. And he will have a large fan base. He will have a lot of people outside the Philippines cheering him on.
“It feels good,” Sotto said of the fan support in Las Vegas. “For anybody that plays to have a lot of guys cheering you on, it’s a blessing. It’s just for me to do my thing and give my 100 percent effort every game. Hopefully I make them happy and proud.”
Sotto has come a long way. He has earned his spot and a longer appearance and continued appearance as the 21-year-old continues to develop and grow.
He carries the hope of a nation on his back, which cannot be easy. There is a lot of pressure involved in it.
Sotto has handled it well, though, and now that his opportunity has finally come, he’s showing what he can still develop and how he can still grow.
- Published on 14/07/2023 at 15:16
- Last updated 14/07/2023 at 15:16