With Summer League wrapped and free agency mostly the same, we have a pretty good idea of where the Thunder’s roster stands. We know who’s likely to be on the team, and we have a pretty good sense of what a lot of the roles will be.
Summer League was pretty successful for the Thunder — CHAMPS Y’ALL — but it’s just Summer League. Until you drop 32 on 10-14 against the Grizzlies in February, you haven’t done anything. The Thunder sent seven roster guys to Orlando (except Perry Jones didn’t play because of a recent minor surgery), so we got a pretty good look at a lot of the new depth this team will be relying on.
So how about a little post-Summer League roster ranking and maybe a little brief glimpse into how next season’s rotation might look.
1. Kevin Durant
I’m picturing KD sitting at home, watching the NBA Finals, watching the Heat look vulnerable, watching the way the Spurs defended LeBron and watching the way that series went. Then I’m picturing him immediately getting up to go to the gym to shoot four million jumpers and run two million sprints.
KD’s going to be a man possessed next year. I’m actually a little scared.
2. Russell Westbrook
He still may only have one leg currently, but Russell Westbrook on one leg is better than most of the NBA. Let’s not forget he played basically the entire second half with a torn meniscus and score 20 points with a handful of assists and rebounds.
3. Serge Ibaka
Word was that Ibaka was going to work with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer, though I haven’t heard about that happening yet. A lot of people clamor for the Thunder to have a back-to-the-basket option, and I really think Ibaka has the potential to be that option. He’s got solid feet, and a pretty good feel around the basket. I think dribbling and decision-making are the biggest hangups for him. What’s he do if he gets doubled? Can he make the right pass? Can he put the ball on the floor more than two times and still make a move?
Ibaka is somewhat of a mechanical offense player. Get him in his spots and he can execute his job. He can splash mid-range jumpers, he can make corner 3s. But make him think, react and execute, and I think that’s where things can get complicated.
One other though: I’ve seen some scoff a bit at the money Ibaka got last summer (four years, $48 million), using his postseason performance as reason that he wasn’t worth it. Putting aside the fact that James Harden was a complete disaster in the Finals and still obviously worth every penny of a max to the Rockets, check some of the recent deals players have gotten this summer. Al Jefferson got $41 million over three years. Andre Iguodala got four and $48 million. Who would you rather have? Ibaka or Iguodala at that money (taking into the fact you’re the Thunder)? Obviously Ibaka, right? I think over the next couple of years, it’ll be agreed upon that Ibaka’s deal is one of the best contracts in the NBA.
4. Reggie Jackson
Well, it’s clear now: He’s the Thunder’s sixth man. A lot of people are looking at Jeremy Lamb, but it’s Reggie Jackson who the Thunder will be leaning on heavy of their bench this season. And as his 35-point explosion in Orlando demonstrated, there’s a chance that betting on Reggie could be an incredibly smart play.
The biggest key to all of this is going to be how he’s used in his role. Scott Brooks said last season that he viewed Jackson as a backup point guard. That can’t be the case this season. Jackson can’t simply be a 15-20 minute a night backup to Westbrook. He needs to be a player that essentially is used in the same manner Harden was. Run the second unit, play alongside Westbrook and fit in elsewhere.
Jackson’s offensive potential is massive. He can beat almost anyone off the dribble and he’s a tremendous finisher inside. He needs to increase his free throw rate, and develop a more consistent jumper. The most encouraging play I saw from him in Orlando came during that 23-point fourth quarter outburst when he accepted a high screen from Steven Adams, stopped, elevated and popped a jumper from the free throw line (it’s at the 18-second mark of this video). Jackson’s issue with his mid-range game was mostly that he’s somewhat of a set-shooter. He doesn’t really get much lift on his jumper and therefore, doesn’t have that Westbrook-like ability to get that shot off over back-peddling defenders. But he showed there that he can. He got a solid foot off the floor when he shot it. And hit it with great rhythm.
One other thought on Jackson in relation to the Thunder’s future: Ever consider that maybe the reason the Thunder aren’t spending any money right now might be because they’re thinking about saving room to re-sign Jackson? The Thunder can offer him an extension after next season and depending on how this year goes, they might face that same old problem of one of their young players getting a little too good and therefore requiring a little too much money.
5. Nick Collison
He posted this picture on his Instagram today. Locked him up for a top five summer power ranking slot. Also, looks like he’s clearly been working on his vertical.
6. Thabo Sefolosha
It’s not being talked about much, but Thabo is about to turn 30 and he’s heading into a contract year. Could his name come up at the trade deadline in a few talks? What if Jeremy Lamb is playing really well? What if DeAndre Liggins looks like a legit defensive stopper? What if Andre Roberson is actually good? We know that Presti has a history of not letting assets walk away for nothing and Thabo could be a decent deadline piece as part of a bigger deal.
I don’t think the Thunder would trade Thabo, because I would imagine they’ll make an attempt to re-sign him. He fits the organization great, plays his role superbly well and as soon as you let a guy like Thabo go, you’re just looking for another player exactly like him to replace him.
7. Jeremy Lamb
Lamb’s numbers from Orlando aren’t all that eye-popping: 18.8 points on 39.1 percent shooting, 27.3 percent from 3, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals. He did most of his work statistically in that 32-point effort against the whoever it was, which really saved him from an ugly week, percentage wise.
But I do think he showed his potential as a utility scorer. In his expected role as a supplementary bench scorer, Lamb’s going to be asked to knock down open looks and take highly efficient shots. He’s not going to be carrying a prime scoring load, but more looking to probably put up something like 8-10 points on six or seven shots in 20-25 minutes. At least that’s what I’m guessing.
The Thunder have a lot of faith in Lamb. They’re risking a little bit of their sparkling reputation on him. If he’s a flop, if he can’t contribute, if he fizzles, Presti’s glow is going to get washed off significantly for not just circling him as the centerpiece in the Harden deal, but also in expecting him to be ready this season for a contender while watching other good shooting guards get scooped up all over the league.
Personally, I’m excited about the Jeremy Lamb era. I think he could be a special defender — THOSE ARMS — and his stroke is pure. Put him alongside Westbrook, Durant, Jackson, Ibaka or whatever rotation he’s in and I think he could be an efficient scorer with the potential to drop 16-20 any given night. Question is if he’s going to be reliable in big postseason spots. But really, how do we know J.J. Redick or O.J. Mayo or whoever would’ve been either?
8. Kendrick Perkins
The further we get away from the season, the more tarnished and destroyed Perk’s reputation becomes. After Steven Adams put up 10-9 in Summer League, I had tons of jokesters tweeting me that Perk could never do that… in Summer League. How easily we forget that Perk dropped 17 on the Suns last season. Seventeen! That’s like a hundred for anyone else.
Look, I know Perk is a polarizing figure and there’s really no reason hashing this conversation out anymore. But let me add this to the amnesty discussion: I’ve seen a lot of people counter the fact that it makes no (reasonable) sense to amnesty Perk by saying that could shave $9 million off the books, allow OKC to use its mid-level exception and still avoid the tax. That’s very true.
But here’s the thing: The Thunder aren’t afraid of the luxury tax. At least not in a sense where they’d waive a player just to simply avoid it. Let’s not forget the Thunder were going about $10 million deep into it to re-sign Harden. What the Thunder fear most is the repeater tax, so the fewer years they pay, the better. And this season, they didn’t feel any player warranted breaking into the tax to sign, which means they avoid tacking on a season of being in the tax and thus bringing on the repeater in the future.
9. Steven Adams
10. Hasheem Thabeet
11. Daniel Orton
Right now, who’s your preferred backup center? And who would be your third-stringer?
With the Thunder drafting Adams, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to carry four centers on the roster, which would appear to leave Orton as the odd man out. But after a pretty impressive week in Orlando, I think that decision should take a little bit more thinking. Would you rather have Orton, or Thabeet? Again, considering you’re viewing Adams as hopefully your future at the position. I don’t think it’s all that clear cut right now.
And to answer the first question: Thabeet’s entering training camp as the backup, but I think Adams showed in Orlando that the job is still possibly up for grabs. I didn’t think there was any way he’d see anything other than Tulsa and the end of the Thunder bench this season, but it’s obvious that Adams is a pretty quick learner and has the chance to develop rapidly. Now, I’m not going to flip out over a decent week in Summer League, but Adams certainly looked like he could be ready for real NBA minutes. He was disciplined, smart and steady. With his size and athleticism, you’ve got to at least consider giving him a shot, right?
One other note on Adams: Cole Aldrich’s 2012 Summer League stats: four games, 5.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 40 percent shooting, 23.5 minutes. Adams’ stats last week: four games, 9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 60 percent shooting, 27.0 minutes. And that was Aldrich as a second-year player. Point is, after watching Adams, it’s just not fair to compare him to Aldrich. Adams seems to actually know what he’s doing. He’s not jumper for the sake of it. He uses his energy with purpose, and seems to actually employ his brain on the basketball court.
12. DeAndre Liggins
It would appear he’s going to hang around for another season, and if so, I’m all for it. I think Liggins could be a future consistent contributor. He’s almost the kind of player that might not find any playing time on your team, but you don’t want him to get picked up by anyone else and come back to haunt you.
13. Perry Jones III
Maybe it’s because he didn’t play in Summer League, but it kind of feels like he’s going to be the odd man out, doesn’t it?
14. Andre Roberson
I have no idea what to make of this guy. His athleticism, energy and length are incredibly impressive. But he doesn’t appear to have a shred of offensive refinement.
15. Derek Fisher
He’s coming back. I just know it.