(Justin will be attending the games in Orlando and offers a unique 1st person perspective to this analysis that cannot be found elsewhere. Stay with him all week for his coverage.)
The Oklahoma City Thunder's summer league team fell to the squad from the Philadelphia 76ers, 84-73. Once again, the OKC Thunder's summer league team failed to grab their first win. The game was sloppy, to say the least. Too many fouls, missed shots, and turnovers. However, these games are about player analysis, and some guys truly stood out from the rest.
Initially, I expected the Orlando League "veterans" to be the impact players. Guys like Steven Adams, Perry Jones III, and Andre Roberson. Assistant coach Darko Rajakovic, who recently joined the Thunder coaching staff, started off the game with a defensive approach. Semaj Christon at point, Andre Roberson at the 2, Huestis as the small forward, PJ3 at power forward, and Steven Adams as center. With a wing combo of Roberson and Huestis, it seemed like Darko was looking to win on defense and let the offense fall into place.
Perry Jones was the vocal leader at first, telling specific players where to go and when. Jones struggled with his shot consistency, as he always does, but contributed with his vocal encouragement as well. What I noticed as the game wore on was the leadership skills of the rookies. Mitch McGary, who did not play, was the first person to stand up, cheer, high five, and help out. Semaj Christon took control of the team on the floor and showed leadership like I have never seen from a rookie. The game was not as intense as it should have been, but I enjoyed following certain players and examining how they moved around and played defensively. The result may not have been in OKC's favor, but the young guys are showing signs of great teamwork and leadership at times. Overall, some players stood out, but some disappointed.
Huestis did not have an outstanding game. I noticed his potential and ability to play from the start. Right from the get go, Josh Huestis was all over the place. His physical attributes certainly help him defensively. I spoke with Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman about his size. Mayberry said, "When he gets with the training staff in Oklahoma, he will gain some good weight and fill out more. He is a big guy."
Huestis is quick to poke the ball out of someone's hands and jumps high and hard for rebounds. On offense, he is still very raw. His stroke looks good, but he has trouble putting the ball in the basket. It's clear that he has scoring tendencies and wants to get to the hoop, but as of now he has some trouble finishing. Huestis drives well and uses his body to draw fouls, getting to the free throw line 3 times. It seems like the Thunder got a go-getter on defense who has plenty of room to grow offensively.
After watching Huestis play live, I am more excited about what he can bring to the team. If he works on his jump shot and finishing skills, I see him as a solid bench player in the future. I expect Huestis to spend some time in Tulsa before making it to the big leagues. However, when he reaches his ceiling, he can be a valuable piece to the puzzle in OKC.
I have always been a fan of the Kiwi. Watching him live was even more entertaining than I had imagined. What I saw from Steven Adams was improvement. What else could we ask for? His defense was just like before, physical, tough, and energetic. He can still work on refraining from the fouls, since he managed to commit 7 (you cannot be DQ'd from fouls in the Summer League). Adams had only 2 turnovers, which is not too bad for a center playing 29 minutes.
Offensively, I was impressed by Adams' quick improvement. He is still timid to shoot and he occasionally doesn't even look at the basket, but he looks to pass first and moves the ball pretty well. Adams' inside game was much better than before. He has a bit of a hook shot now, but he almost always uses his right hand. A smart player can just watch some tape, realize that tendency and force him left every time.
I got around to asking Steven Adams about his offense and what the coaches have been working on with him. "We have been working on low post and rolling off of screens. Now it is just getting comfortable with the game and low post stuff."
The practice has been working out because Adams shot 4-5 from the field for 12 points. Unfortunately, Nerlens Noel did not play for Philadelphia. It would have been a great test for Steven Adams to try and score on a defensive freak like Noel. I liked what I saw from the Kiwi. I can tell there are good things to come for the big man.
Semaj Christon was easily the most entertaining player to watch. To be honest, I was surprised with the rookie's talent. Christon is crazy quick, which ultimately gives him an advantage over most defenders. Not only does he have a fast first step, but also he is physical. His was fearless in his 6-3 frame against the big men he had to face down low. He is not afraid to push off against a center in order to get to the free throw line. For the 55th pick in the draft, Christon can be an impact player in the future.
The Thunder have a history of finding talent late in the draft. I expect Semaj to play in Tulsa for a majority if not the whole season, but he will be a good choice to fill Reggie Jackson's spot if Jackson decides to leave after next season. Christon was energetic, a vocal leader, and really gave it his all. What you often see at the Summer League is lack of effort because it is just like a practice. Semaj Christon brought his focus and tough mentality, which is what I like to see in young players. He did not have a good shooting day by any means, just 5-14 from the field, but he has a scorer's mentality and can translate most of his misses into makes with practice and maturity. Semaj Christon just needs a few years to develop in order to be an official steal.
Mario Little lit up the floor with his spectacular shooting. Little is a player on the Tulsa 66ers and scores around 18 PPG. Tonight, he 3-7 from the field with 2 three pointers, both far off the line. Before his second three, the guy I was sitting next to said, "He has no business making that... (shot goes in)... never mind." I think everyone was shocked after Little hit those two long bombs. Not only did he shoot well from long range, but he was tough getting around screens and drew fouls really well. Little got to the line a number of times and went 10-10 from the line. OKC is looking for a guy who can space the floor with shooting. It would also open the lane for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to drive through. I don't expect to see Little in OKC next season, but he should be a reasonable option for them as a shooter off the bench.
Tomorrow the Thunder will face off against the Brooklyn Nets. Look out for the Plumlee/Adams match up. Keep an eye out for any young talent that catches your attention, there will be lots of it.