Summer League wrap: Thunder 88, “Magic” 77

BOX SCORE

One thing to point out before we get started “breaking down” this game, is that these games are about as important as your cousin’s ultimate frisbee tournaments. The final score doesn’t matter (OKC WON 88-77: CHAMPIONSHIP!!!) and the players are rusty from not having played in two months. AND IT’S JUST THE SUMMER LEAGUE. But there are few things to take with you from this game because after all, the purpose of these leagues are for players to get better and management to evaluate players.

Keep in mind this is the summer league and the competition isn’t exactly top notch (as perfectly illustrated by Orlando’s rag-tag bunch). So keep all this in perspective.

  • The Thunder’s roster was basically made up of actual roster players. The Magic had a lot of scrub type guys, but OKC was playing guys that are actually going to be on the team this fall. That should show you just how young this team is. Also, no non-Thunder player made it into the game. DeVon Hardin saw just a few minutes of action, but basically the entire game was played by guys tied to Oklahoma City’s roster.
  • One thing we definitely learned about Serge Ibaka: He is not a myth. He actually exists. And he was much better than I anticipated in every way. I expected a raw, athletic talent with hardly any refined skills. His offensive game was much more polished and crisp than I expected (13 points on 6 of 8 shooting). I figured he’d be a “score by dunk only” kind of player. But the first bucket was scored by Serge on a nice drop step post move. He was really solid in the post. He’s also much quicker than I thought. A couple of times he caught the ball at the free throw line and was able to take two dribbles and get around his man en route to the basket. He also had a little jumper, which was something I didn’t see coming as he swished a nice 12-footer. He turned the ball over some, but honestly, that was to be expected. It’s his first game over here and I’m sure he was pressing some, but I was very impressed.
  • James Harden is a serious player (17 points in 21 minutes). Forget Summer League perspective, the dude can play. His slashing ability is outstanding. He can create shots for teammates at will. He looks so smooth and so intelligent on the court. He hs such a feel for the game and his court vision is incredible. He may already actually be the best passer on this team. His mid-range jumper was off a little in the first half, but that’s no biggie because we know he can shoot. He didn’t force anything and took all solid shots. He knocked down a couple open threes off Russell Westbrook penetration and also hit a sweet 22-footer off a pick set by Ibaka. The first thing Harden did when he entered was drop a slick little backdoor bounce pass to Westbrook to which Russ was fouled and made both free throws. I’m excited.
  • Probably the most surprising thing was how polished B.J. Mullens looked offensively. I never imagined him having college three-point range, but he was confident in that shot and knocked it down multiple times. His form was good and he even displayed a nice back-t0-the-basket turnaround jumper. He was a little weak on the glass, a bit turnover prone and Greg Oden-like in in his fouling, but again, first game against professional opponents. He was very weak on help defense though. A guy his size should have more of an influence blocking shots, yet he wasn’t to be seen on a lot of rotations.
  • One thing I want to point out is that I couldn’t tell D.J. White (who also played well with 13-9) and Serge Ibaka apart at all (not in a racist they-all-look-the-same way). Partly because a “3” and “9” look kind of similar on a blurry webcast feed, but also because their games are kind of similar. Their movements are fairly comparable and their games mimic each other in a way.
  • I think Shaun Livingston is about to put Earl Watson either at the end of the bench or on the trading block really soon. He really looks like he’s getting everything back and I love the combo of him and Westbrook on the court together. Livingston is the slow, steady point man and Westbrook is the hectic, reckless attacking point guard. I think they complement each other really well.
  • Evidently, Harden kisses his hand after made threes. KD does the salute, Harden kisses his hand. He can stop and sign the whole alphabet for all I care as long as he knocks down open threes.
  • Russell Westbrook was really forcing things early. A couple turnovers, a couple ill-advised drives and some hesitation to shoot. I was discouraged a little. But reader okcnba left this wise comment: “You mean the turnover problems haven’t stopped after 2 months of not playing? NO WAY!”
  • David Thorpe added this comment about Westbrook via Twitter: “Westbrook is 3 steps ahead of his teammates. He misses KD and Green.” I think he definitely got acclimated to the speed of the game more in the second half because he slowed down and made better decisions. While he played more than I thought he would (33, team high), I think it was good for him to have to change gears and adapt to the teammates he had on the floor. He did finish with 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds, had four turnovers (three in the first half) and hit 16 of 18 from the line after all. Pretty good game.
  • One aside: What’s sadder? Really looking forward to a summer league game or eating Chicken Express twice in one day? I have no idea what the correct answer is, but at different times in my life I have been guilty of both.
  • Kyle Weaver somehow is the most unnoticed player on this team. Someone will make a shot and you’ll say, “Who was that? Livingston? Oh, that was Weaver? I didn’t even know he was in.” Both he and Robert Vaden didn’t make much of an impression. Weaver is a nice player but he just doesn’t seem to have a big-time impact when he’s on the floor.
  • I think it’s a Summer League rule to have at least one player on each team that is going to play out of control for the majority of the game. Makes things interesting. You never know when you’re going to get that wild, out of control, hilarious shot from somebody. Keeps you watching.
  • The sequence of Harden stealing the ball, passing ahead to Westbrook on the fly and Westbrook dropping a perfect dime back to Harden for a flush was a thing of beauty. If that doesn’t get you excited about what could be this year, nothing will. Well, maybe that and the thought of Robert Swift in someone else’s uniform.
  • I honestly can’t believe I just wrote 1,300 words about a summer league basketball game. Don’t tell anybody, please?

Players of course were going to be a bit out of sync after having not played basketball in a while and also having to play mostly with guys they’ve never seen before. The games are disorganized and there’s not a lot of sets being ran. You just kind of have to take things for what they are. But my intial impressions were that Shaun Livingston and James Harden looked very good.

Livingston was smooth and calculated, making smart plays and setting up teammates. He looked very agile and appeared to be moving even better than he was at the end of last year. Harden looked fantastic. He started out slow with the jumper, but he heated up and was deadly if given an open look. He was silky, making smart passes and opening up the floor for his teammates. Every five seconds I had to keep telling myself it was just a Summer League game, but James Harden has me seriously giddy.

Tomorrow’s game is at 6 p.m. CST against Indiana. Tune in if nothing at least for the outstanding commentary by Dante and Galante. It’s entertaining.

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