Looking Back On Thunder Summer League

By Randy Renner

It can be a little dangerous putting too much stock into what goes on (or doesn’t) in the NBA’s Summer League.

The teams are mostly made up of guys who’ve never played together and may not again. Rookies along with second and third year guys who need some more work and free agents who are hoping to hook on with an NBA team or even one from the D-League are out there on the court.

So with that being said, it’s time to walk out onto a limb and try to read some things into what happened with the Thunder summer squad in Orlando.

First of all, for those of you who might be new to the whole summer league thing, the NBA puts on two of them, one in Orlando and one in Las Vegas.

The Thunder sent teams to both for one season and then started concentrating just on Orlando. Las Vegas has become much more showtime than the Thunder are interested in.

Fans come to games there and there’s much more media presence. Orlando has remained more about getting your work in. Games are held in the Magic’s practice gym and there are no fans at all, not much hype and not as much media as you’ll find in Vegas.

So, knowing the Thunder organization it’s not surprising at all that Orlando is where they’ve chosen to stay for summer league games.

When you look back over the games that were played I think you have to be impressed with what was seen from rookie Mitch McGary and for the most part from young veterans Perry Jones III and Andre Roberson. You might be a bit depressed with Jeremy Lamb’s performance (at least his shooting) and then maybe somewhere in the middle when it comes to rookies Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon.

Lamb actually led the Thunder’s summer team in scoring at 17.3 points per game, which is a good number but it took volume shooting from Lamb to get to that number and that has to be a bit discouraging.

Lamb should have been able to light it up in Orlando, being a third year player, but his shot was off and that was also a problem in the second half of the regular season. In four summer league games Lamb hit just 32.0 percent of his shots overall and a shockingly bad 17.4 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Lamb is being counted on to, at the very least, double that percentage from deep if he’s going to be a serious rotation player. Lamb is much too talented to see the numbers slide as they have so you have to wonder just how serious he took the work in Orlando.

At least his defense showed some signs of improvement, averaging 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals, and that’s what he’s been working on the most so perhaps the Thunder aren’t as concerned about his shot.

Jones was inconsistent but for the most part looked pretty darn good. He underwent what the Thunder describe as a previously scheduled arthroscopic procedure on his right knee Monday morning. Jones is expected to miss the next 4-to-6 weeks of his summer workout routine while he recovers but he should be fine by the time training camp rolls around.

That news was still a big discouraging because Jones has had some nagging health problems during past off-seasons too that required to miss out on some important work.

Jones averaged 12.3 points on 44.7 percent shooting overall and an outstanding 47.4 percent on 3-pointers. He also pulled down 5.3 rebounds a game. The Thunder would love to get numbers somewhere near there from Jones this coming regular season. Jones, Lamb and the newly acquired Anthony Morrow will be counted on to provide punch off the bench and one of those guys could even see starting time as the Thunder shooting guard depending on what the team does with Reggie Jackson and Roberson.

Roberson could very well be the guy for that 2 guard spot. His defense is outstanding and he and the coaches have been reworking his shooting mechanics. He averaged 9.5 points on 48.3 percent shooting overall and 8.3 rebounds in summer league. He still struggles from deep but his percentage showed some improvement (33.3 percent) so there seems to be hope there.

His defense is what will get him the majority of his playing time because he is becoming elite at that end of the floor.

McGary was solid and at times spectacular. It will be fun to see McGary and Steven Adams on the floor together and that will likely happen since Adams is the heir apparent to Kendrick Perkins at center and McGary is expected to take over for Nick Collison at some point.

McGary got a lot of playing time (26 minutes per game) and ended up being the Thunder’s second leading scorer at 14.8 points on 50.0 percent shooting while grabbing 8.3 rebounds a game.

McGary impressed with his activity and hustle, showing no signs the the back surgery that knocked him of most all of his last season at Michigan. He was up and down the court, often times pulling down a rebound and then leading the fast break. 2.8 of those 8.3 rebounds a game were from the offensive glass.

Huestis was not as impressive as McGary and clearly the small forward from Stanford has a lot of work to do on his shot, but his defense was outstanding also. Huestis averaged eight points on 42.9 percent shooting and was terrible on threes (12.5 percent) so that’s something he will have to keep working on if he’s to become a legitimate “3 & D” threat. Roberson is working hard on the same thing.

By the way, Huestis has not signed his rookie contract yet. McGary signed just before summer league began. Last season the Thunder had both Adams and Roberson signed before summer league.

Rookie salaries are slotted but teams can adjust that amount to a certain extent. They can offer players a range of from 80 to 120 percent of the amount that's slotted for that draft pick. Last season Roberson signed for 80 percent of what would have been allowed.

The Thunder may be trying to persuade Huestis to do the same thing but so far he hasn't.

Adams picked up right where he left off last season putting in a solid performance with 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. Most of his boards came off the offensive glass which is also a good sign.

Adams has a lot of work to do at the free throw line though where he managed to shoot just 47.8 percent, we’d hate to see NBA teams start to use the “Hack a Kiwi” tactic.

Christon’s play was one of the pleasant surprises of summer league. The second round pick from Xavier ran the offense fairly well while averaging 11.3 points on 48.5 percent shooting overall and 37.5 percent from deep. Christon was active and showed good quickness averaging 1.3 steals and 2.8 assists per game.

He’ll spend most of his time in Tulsa this season but he will probably be given the opportunity to beat out Sebastian Telfair for the third team point guard spot but this season at least Telfair probably has that job because the Thunder usually like to leave that position in the hands of a veteran.

Telfair only has a one year deal and even that isn’t guaranteed at this point, so if Christon impresses in Tulsa he might have a better shot next season, he definitely seems to be a guy the Thunder can keep an eye on and hope he ends up being a steal.

Overall the Thunder summer team showed some flash but also fell flat in places. 3-point shooting was a problem (31.1 percent) and free throw shooting was too (63.0 percent).

They came out of their shooting woes in that last game, getting hot and also handing out 25 assists. Ball movement helps and it was pretty much not there at all in the early going.

But the fine points really aren’t gonna come together in summer league because you don’t have the practice time and guys don’t know each other.

The important thing was to get some good quality work in and for individuals to continue to see what work needs to be done. When training camp begins in the fall we’ll see how much was accomplished.

Randy RennerComment