It’s Summer League time and you know what that means. Basketball, that’s what.
The final score doesn’t matter at all, there’s over-evaluation of players based off of meaningless exhibition games and in a month you won’t remember a single thing about this week, but still… basketball. And really, it’s a developmental opportunity for a couple of potentially key pieces for the Thunder. Oklahoma City has valued summer league games in the past, with Russell Westbrook clearly getting something out of his trip to Orlando a couple years ago.
Here are five things to pay attention to this week:
1. Cole Aldrich. He’s virtually a lock to move into the backup center role, meaning he’s not just a token garbage time human victory cigar anymore. He’s had a lot of time to prepare for this moment, and of any player on the roster, this week in Orlando could be the biggest for him.
He doesn’t need to be dominant or look incredible. He just needs to do his job. Needs to rebound well, defend the paint, score when he has his opportunities and set good screens. Remember: He’s not stepping into some massively elevated role next season. He’s taking over the backup 5 spot, something that will have him playing at most, 15 minutes a game.
I’m pretty convinced everyone’s going to come away impressed with Aldrich after this week. He’s a little more gifted offensively than I think most realize, he’s got really solid offensive rebounding instincts and his length is extremely impressively. He should be a defensive forced in the paint this week, imposing his size. Just has to stay under control and not try and do too much.
2. PJIII. It’s the first look at OKC’s draft pick and there’s certainly a heavy level of anticipation to watch Perry Jones III. What position does he play primarily? How is he used? What kind of NBA skills does he have? Thunder fans are extremely intrigued by Jones’ skillset and talent level, but whether or not he has potential to make a 2012-13 impact might be revealed this week.
3. Reggie Jackson running a team. For a week, Jackson will be the featured player handling the ball and running the show for the Thunder. In a lot of the games, he might be the best player on the floor. He has a big opportunity to build a little confidence as OKC’s third point guard.
Last season when he had to step up and fill in for an injured Eric Maynor, his play was just… unmemorable. He didn’t really impact the game much, instead mostly just serving as Guy That Brings The Ball Up The Court. It would be very nice to see Jackson play with a bit more confidence, in a comfortable role where he’s not out there with direct orders just not to screw anything up. Make some plays, hit some shots, attack the rim, use that athleticism. Give us a glimpse.
4. Latavious Williams. I’ve only seen Williams play in a limited manner, but he kind of strikes me a rough-around-the-edges Perry Jones. He’s a pretty good rebounder, a good athlete and plays hard, but lacks a lot of refined skills around the basket or much touch outside of 10 feet.
But he’s been the ultimate Thunder project, drafted by the 66ers in 2009, then by the Thunder in the second round in 2010. He’s only 23 and still certainly has a potential NBA career ahead of him. This is his first real look outside of the D-League and maybe has a chance to make a good impression.
5. Any non-Thunderers have a chance to impress? The Thunder roster is set at 14 right now once Hasheem Thabeet officially signs. That means a spot is open. It might go to Ryan Reid or Latavious Williams, or maybe even one of the other guys that filled out the team. Mo Almond has been a D-League superstar, Kent Bazemore is a big wing defender and James Mays a rugged interior player.
If the Thunder don’t have any more free agent plans, this could be an open audition for that final spot. The Thunder will likely bring some of them back for training camp and wait to make a decision until then, but a big week could give leg up to Reid, Williams or whoever for that 15th slot.