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Sounds of Thunder: Oklahoma City Thunder fans get first glimpse of Terrance Ferguson

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We analyze the Thunder rookie’s debut in blue.

Mark D. Smith @ USA TODAY Sports

Thunder Nation finally got its first good look at Terrance Ferguson in a Oklahoma City uniform this week.

The Thunder’s Mystery Man

Ferguson, the Thunder’s #21 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, was unable to play in the Orlando Summer League when the required FIBA clearance letter was mysteriously delayed. After less than fabulous numbers in Australia’s NBL belied the promise Terrance displayed throughout a spectacular High School career followed by starting spots on both the 2016 McDonald’s All-American and Nike Hoops Summit games, most Thunder fans wondered just how much the slender Tulsa-born prospect could offer in his first NBA season.

Not long after he was drafted, SBNation’s Michael D. Sykes, II wrote this about Ferguson:

With the Thunder, he won’t need to touch the ball. He’ll find a way to produce, whether it’s just spotting up on the floor and knocking down threes, playing tough defense, or slashing to the basket. Ferguson can be a solid prospect moving forward.

... and further.

Ferguson is rail thin and lanky at just 184 pounds, so he isn’t going to run through anyone. But he certainly will be able to jump over some of them. His explosion mixed with his length and wingspan make him a dangerous athlete when he gets a straight line to the rim.

Teams already have to worry about Ferguson stretching out to the wing and springing three-pointers on them, but his athleticism and ability to finish above the rim make him even more of a threat in transition. If teams don’t keep track of him in the open floor it’s an easy bucket for Ferguson.

Sykes also spoke of Ferguson’s downside:

He can’t really create shots for himself or others. As a wing player, it really isn’t a requirement to be able to create your own offense, but it is a huge plus.

In Ferguson’s case, he may be so bad at it that it becomes an overwhelming negative. Ferguson averaged one turnover per game in Australia, but couldn’t register a full assist. He turned the ball over more than he created for others, and that’s not a good thing for a wing player even if creation isn’t a requirement.

When Ferguson attacks a hard closeout, the defense will know exactly what he’s going to do. If he tries to pass the ball, it’ll probably result in a turnover.

Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz from DraftExpress also gave Ferguson’s lone NBL season a mixed review:

On paper, Ferguson hasn't been an incredibly impactful player thus far, which was to be expected to some extent for those familiar with him. He's averaging 6.3 rebounds in 18 minutes per game, shooting 45% for 2, 39% for 3 and 58% from the free throw line, while generating very few assists, rebounds, steals, blocks or free throw attempts.

The film tells somewhat of a different story, though, as he's very clearly carved out an important role over the past six weeks or so. Now on a three game winning streak, Adelaide, at 6-6, is just a game and a half out of first place. Ferguson is even getting some crunch time minutes in highly competitive games, and the coaching staff clearly has a role for him that he's very much bought into. He seems to be gaining more of a comfort level as the season moves on, and could be in line for a much stronger finish if he doesn't hit the proverbial rookie wall.

Offensively, Ferguson is mostly a spot-up shooter, which has always been his strong point, and will almost certainly continue to be his role at the NBA level as well. What's impressive is how mature of a team player he's been so far, as he rarely tries to do things outside of his comfort zone, and has been a very willing ball-mover looking to make the extra pass.

Ironically, while the printed reviews about Ferguson’s potential are guarded at best, his fans on YouTube remain undaunted in their belief that Ferguson will be a NBA star one day. Videos with titles such as “The Greatest Player Everyone Forgot About” , “The Next NBA Dunk Champ!” along with many others declaring Ferguson the steal of the 2017 draft or the most athletic player of the draft paint a very different picture of Ferguson.

But my favorite video about Terrance Ferguson came from a more recognizable source:

Without doubt, Terrance Ferguson was a dominant player in High School. His performances at the two premier HS All-Star events and all the video evidence backs that 100 percent, but every player has a ceiling. Many, as was the case with Cameron Payne, have a much lower ceiling than projected or bragged about, and the competition level in NBL is not well known in the US. We’ll gain a better understanding on Sunday, October 8th when the Thunder take on Melbourne, but it’s hard to blame Thunder fans for showing restraint this summer.

First Impression

As stated, Oklahoma City fans got their first look at Ferguson in the Thunder’s Blue/White scrimmage and their second in the Thunder’s pre-season opener against the Houston Rockets. I jumped on the Ferguson bandwagon fairly early this summer but was still pleasantly surprised by the maturity the 19 year-old displayed in his Thunder début.

Defense:

The first thing you notice when you watch Ferguson play defense is how aggressively he plays it. In this clip his angle of pursuit is perfect and Ferguson picks Daniel Hamilton’s behind the back crossover like it was low hanging fruit. Made it look easy too and then ran the floor for the easy slam to boot. To put this clip into perspective, let’s watch how the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man-of-the-Year fared against the same move.

Ferguson finished the play with a slam on the other end. Eric Gordon finished by watching Hamilton knock down two free throws.

Coming out of the time-out, the rookie must have looked like easy pickings but some outstanding footwork and anticipation broke up the set play and created a Rocket turnover.

My favorite.

Ferguson runs the floor with Gordon and gets him to pick up his dribble and pass to PJ Tucker. He then sags back into a strong defensive position at the nail. When the strong side defense forces Tucker to pick up his dribble and look for an outlet, he initially looks to Gordon but has to lob the ball to Chris Paul when he sees Ferguson exploding into the passing lane. This anticipation and aggression is going to lead to countless easy baskets going the other way for many years to come. It nearly did in this instance.

Hey Rook!! Who do you think you are? Steven Adams?!?

While no one will EVER confuse the 19 year-old Tulsan with the Funaki, Ferguson does a great job cutting off the baseline drive and forcing the Rockets to reset.

AGAIN!?! I’ve heard of small-ball, but this is ridiculous!

That’s Trevor Ariza, a 6’8”, 215 small forward barreling down on Ferguson at full speed and the kid never flinched. He set his feet, threw up his hands, said his prayers, and steeled himself to take his freight training like a big boy. Not to besmirch a recently traded and much beloved former player, but it would have been nice if a certain 6’11”, 245 lb Turk had shown this much fortitude, on a regular basis, as this 184 lb rookie just did.

Point being, Ferguson might be the size of your average house cat, but he has the heart of a tiger. Add 15 to 20 pounds to that 6’7” frame and the Thunder might have to declare him a lethal weapon.

Unfortunately, Ferguson will have to deal with the “rookie whistle” from time to time.

I’ve looked at this play several times. The play was ruled a shooting foul, so any contact prior to Ferguson’s hands going vertical didn’t matter. The contact that Ferguson got whistled for was, IMO, initiated by Gordon and thus should have resulted in a no call, but either way, Ferguson is right there against one of the best the NBA has to offer...

....and he’s just a rookie.

Offense:

How many times have we watched a brand new player go crazy the first time he got a chance to show his stuff. Chucking the ball every time it touched his hands no matter what. Ferguson didn’t. He was surprisingly patient, moved the ball crisply, and stayed active instead of buying a ticket and watching the show when the ball wasn’t in his hands.

If he forced a shot in either outing, I didn’t see it, and appeared perfectly content to let the game come to him.

I hate to point this out to the Ferguson’s critics that labeled him a one-handed player (I actually don’t hate it at all), but that’s his left hand he just dribbled with on that baseline drive.

A good example of Ferguson’s unselfishness, followed by motion, then an understanding of spacing and creating a passing lane leading to an open jumper.

Did I say unselfish? After another steal on the other end, Ferguson brings the ball down court one-on-one against Kyle Singler. Rather than playing the hero against the taller defender, Ferguson dishes it to the trailing Paul George for the easy slam.

Rookies!!

Loved the left-hand work, recognizing the defensive rotation and the left-handed pass to boot, but hey! There wasn’t a soul within 15 feet of Ferguson when he got the ball. Playing unselfish is great, but that was the time for .....

....Cha-Ching!!

Oh well, there is a lot of season to find the balance between being unselfish and being self-sacrificing.

Ferguson’s Grade on his First Pop Quiz - B+

Ferguson has to get stronger. To be a top 3-and-D player in the NBA he must fight through screens and at just 185 lbs, he can’t spend too much time in the weight room. In addition, he has to continue improving his ball-handling skills. Although there will always be a role for solid spot up shooters, to reach the potential Ferguson's video-bloggers predict, the ability to create his own shot is a must.

In the meantime, Ferguson may earn his way to less time in the G-League, if any, before camp is over and the empty seats on the Ferguson bandwagon should start filling up rather soon.

UPDATE

The kid is already a social media star. As of 11:45 pm cdt, this little tweet has been viewed over 10,500 times and drawing clicks at a rate of about 5 per second. Don’t waste this kid’s time in the G-League, he got that last year. It’s time for bigger and better things.