The Oklahoma City Thunder began the new cycle of the 2016-17 season with a 86-85 victory vs the Dallas Mavericks on day 1 of the Orlando Summer League. In a back and forth affair that came down to the final seconds, Thunder 2nd year point guard Cameron Payne buried a deep contested 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 1 point lead with seconds remaining. While the Mavericks still had a chance to steal the win, the Thunder did a great job closing on and contesting Vander Blue's 18 foot baseline jumper, which fell well short.
The Orlando Summer League has been OKC's home for many moons, and it is always exciting to see their young talent get a chance to showcase for extended minutes. This summer, all eyes are on Payne, who missed last summer due to injury, Josh Huestis, who is searching for a regular role with the team, and Mitch McGary, who is looking for some redemption after his 2nd year in the league came up mostly empty. All three players made an impact, giving OKC its first win of the summer. Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis will not be in Orlando to compete, as he is reportedly expected to play for Lithuania in the 2016 Olympics.
- Payne was mostly hit or miss, but fortunately ended the game with a 'hit' off of a nice in-bounds play triggered by Mcgary and involving reverse action from Payne. Reminiscent of Reggie Jackson a few seasons ago, it seemed obvious that Payne wanted to come into this summer league, after collecting meaningful minutes for the Thunder last season, and prove that he was the best player on the court. This emphasis largely worked to his disadvantage however, as Payne forced a number of long jumpers that missed their mark. Payne does not yet have that scoring ability that you see in other smallish guards like Isaiah Thomas, so he looked his best when he was working within the offense instead of trying to create his own.
- Mitch McGary looked the most comfortable on the court for the Thunder, a good sign because Mitch really needs a solid rebound season. What I find interesting about McGary is the dichotomy of his movement. Watching him run, as Zach Lowe so eloquently put it, is like looking at The Kramer. "Look at all that churning effort, the weirdly stiff arms and hands, the eager glance backward that says, "Please pass me the ball, I'm open, I'm running really fast, so fast, like the wind, am I going to get the ball?" He's like a dog looking for a Frisbee." But then you contrast that frenetic energy with McGary in the half-court, where he looks like the most composed and in-control player out there. He understands spacing and passing angles and can find his man from anywhere on the court. It's the little things he does when, during a fast break for example, he ran the court soaking up 2 transition defenders and then pointing to the trailing shooter who was open on the wing because of Mitch's gravity. It is plays like this, reminiscent of court awareness like Marc Gasol or Tim Duncan, that gives me hope.
- Josh Huestis really REALLY needs to work on his free throw shooting. He's active, but he needs to be active with purpose, and when he draws the fouls, he can't waste opportunities for points (OKC shot 20-36 overall from the FT line).
- Dakari Johnson was active around the rim, but the scouting report on him coming into the league is still there. He's slow off his feet, so instead of dunks, he was making and missing layups.
- The Thunder's best offense, which should be the standard high pick and roll set with Payne and McGary, was mostly a mess, and in large part because Payne is still struggling with his spacing and pocket passing. McGary is a great roll man because he's a triple-threat - he can spot up, he can roll to the rim, and he can swing the ball to the weak side. But he can't do any of those things if Payne isn't hitting him with the pass. Instead, OKC's best offense was in quick swing passing from side to side, which yielded a number of open looks from the corners (OKC shot 6-17 from 3-point range overall).
- Today's game started at 8AM CDT. Which means that I missed most of the 1st half. Orlando Summer League! It's happening!