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When you’re a fan of a rebuilding team, there are certain dates on the calendar that become more exciting than when you’re cheering for a contender. So while other fandoms checked the NBA schedule for playoff dates and the start of free agency, Thunder fans circled the lottery draft, the draft and Summer League on their OKC must-watch list.
Well, the ping pong balls were cruel on lottery night, the selections and moves on draft night were polarizing and Summer League gave all Thunder fans FOMO.
OKC’s top two draft picks played a combined two games and 5 minutes. To pour salt in the wound, all those coulda been, shoulda been Thunder Top 5 picks Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, shoot even Scottie Barnes and even worse Jonathan Kuminga, showed out. Ironically, reported Thunder trade up target Evan Mobley was the one buzz-less Top 5 guy. I’ll resist the urge of pettily posting percentages and efficiency of some of the supposed Summer League stars.
Despite the disappointment, the Summer League letdown still provided the Thunder with promising potential from some young players.
DT presents the standouts and takeaways from one week of OKC in Vegas.
MVP: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. When OKC traded #34 and #36 to move up two spots and draft JRE, it was deemed a failure because of lost value. Sam Presti confirmed later that he had intel would be taken at #33. The value can be questioned, but the player answered questions. JRE averaged 12 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals on 50% shooting and 33.3% from long distance. Other players had bigger games, but nobody played more consistently well every game than Robinson-Earl. He’s going to get heavy rotation minutes with the Thunder this season.
Biggest surprise: Rob Edwards. Lu Dort’s former Arizona State teammate might have secured a spot as Lu Dort’s future Oklahoma City teammate. After shooting 44% on over 6 attempts per game with the Blue last season in the G League, the sniper scored 23 points in two of OKC’s last three games in Vegas. In the finale versus the Spurs, Edwards did his best Klay Thompson impression by scoring a ridiculous 15 points in three minutes. The Thunder roster is filled as of now, and one of the two two-way deals is locked down, but Presti can’t let this walking bucket walk out of the 405.
Top Thrill Dragster: Theo Maledon. Let’s take a roller coaster ride up and down and up and down Maledon’s box scores. Game 1: 15 points, 11 assists, 2 turnovers. Game 2: 5 points, 3 assists, 5 turnovers on 2-11 shooting. Game 3: 18 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers on 5-8 from 3. Game 4: 0 points on 0-7 shooting including 0-4 from 3. Game 5: 11 points, 7 assists, 1 turnover on 3-4 from 3. I’m dizzy.
Biggest tease: Josh Giddey. One play into game one of his Thunder career, one JRE screen on number one pick Cade Cunningham led to one exciting two-handed dunk and one minute later, he rolled one ankle. OKC won but Giddey was one and done.
Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers Do Too: Tre Mann. The statistics say that the Thunder’s #18 overall pick shot 7-29 from the field including a woeful 0-6 from long distance for a total of 18 points. That’s a far cry from a player deemed “the best pull-up shooter in the draft” by The Athletic’s draft expert Sam Vecenie. While the numbers say one thing, the eyes saw something differently. Mann was able to create open looks at will, showing off the elite separation ability that separates him from the rest in his class. Shooting was a never a question for Mann. Those shots will start to drop, and the numbers will start to rise.
Biggest Winner: Aaron Wiggins. The two most consistent Summer League players were arguably OKC’s two 2nd round picks. While JRE was efficient and appears NBA ready, Wiggins was solid with averages of 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals and a decent 42.6% from the field. He played well enough for the Thunder to ink him to a two-way contract, an important feat for a #55 overall pick. Let’s just say, I’d rather have Aaron Wiggins on a two-way than Andrew Wiggins on a one-way.
Best closer: Josh Hall. Along with Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown, Hall was the biggest culprit in the Thunder upsetting the Clippers in the 2021 finale that may have cost OKC a top 4 draft pick. Just as he did in the regular season, Hall decided to save his best game for the Summer League finale. The two way player scored 17 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and shot 5-8 from the field and 7-7 from the free throw line. Was it enough to stave off Rob Curry Edwards for the other two-way contract? Hall if I know.
Biggest What If?: Alperen Sengun. An extra helping of salt filled Thunder fan wounds in the form of the other center connected to OKC. The 16th overall pick was drafted by Sam Presti and immediately traded to arch enemy the Houston Rockets. Sengun’s play was followed by OKC followers as closely as any player on the Thunder roster. Every time the Turkish big put up big points, big rebounds and big blocks, it was a big gut punch. But Sengun’s offensive talents were never in question, and especially against Summer League competition after dominating the Turkish league. And with all due small sample size disclaimers, his shooting numbers came on poor efficiency. Sengun’s impact defensively at his size and length in the NBA was the biggest reason why teams passed on him and remains to be seen. And if he moves to the power forward spot, he’ll need to add an outside shot. The verdict on this trade was undecided on draft night, is undecided after Summer League and will likely be undecided until years from now when those two 1st round picks finally convey. Still, expect the social media hot takes and OKC pot shots every time Sengun puts up 15 points and 10 rebounds this season. Just be sure to check the box score to see how much the opposing center or PnR guards scored as well.