As we approached Summer League, there was a lot of angst among the Thunder fanbase. There was an expectation that the Thunder would trade up in the Draft to get someone like Mobley or Suggs but that did not occur. James Bouknight was expected to be taken at #6 but Sam Presti opted forJosh Giddey instead.
All of these decisions, particularly the decision to take Giddey at #6 was puzzling. Summer League was the perfect opportunity for the Thunder to outline their thinking with Giddey but unfortunately, Josh sprained his ankle in the first game and did not play any more minutes in Las Vegas.
At this point in time, we know very little about how Giddey will translate to the NBA but I feel more positive about the pick than I did a month ago. Giddey’s playmaking instincts will fit nicely on a Thunder team that is predicated on smart, swift ball movement.
Before the Draft, I believed that seven players had the potential to be future All-Stars. I am now more inclined to include Josh into that grouping given his elite playmaking at such a young age. It will take time for him to mature into being that level of player but I would argue that the Thunder have the years to do so.
The extension of Gilgeous-Alexander starts the clock for the Thunder. Oklahoma City have to be a competitive, contending team by 2026 to have a chance at keeping Gilgeous-Alexander on the roster during his prime years. Presti has five years to assemble a contending team.
When the window is put into context, you can understand the Thunder taking another year to develop and grow stronger without the immediate pressure of winning games. With that in mind, Josh Giddey and Tre Mann make more sense for the Thunder.
Tre Mann did not play much at Summer League but I enjoyed what I saw from him. Mann is a fast, shifty guards who effortlessly goes through the gears whenever he is going to the rim. Mann has every trick in the book but it is encouraging to see him using his dribble with purpose.
Young guards can become fixated on using their dribble to beat the man but not necessarily create a good shot out of the possession. Mann showed none of those tendencies, his package was focused solely on creating space for him to finish around the rim.
Tre did struggle to get shots to drop but all of the Thunder Summer League players struggled to score the ball efficiently. It is not an issue that afflicted just him; cold streaks can happen.
The star of the Thunder’s Summer League team was Jeremiah-Robinson Earl. Robinson-Earl was taken in the second round by the Knicks and the Thunder traded up to acquire him on Draft night. As players go, he does not fit the mould of the usual Thunder draft pick.
Over the last three years, Sam Presti has not really taken college players and has focused on taking project players. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl came from an accomplished stint at Villanova in which he grew into being one of the best players in the Big East.
Robinson-Earl was highly productive during Summer League. He scored the ball efficiently, grabbed rebounds and consistently made the smart pass. It is really difficult to ask anymore from a player expected to be a role player for the Thunder.
The most exciting aspect of JRE’s play was his disciplined defense. Robinson-Earl does not chase blocks and waits for the right moment to block shots. He was patient and I believe that patience is one of his key strengths when guarding players from the opposing team.
In the game against Warriors, Robinson-Earl was the only Thunder player who was able to nullify Jonathan Kuminga. Kuminga is an elite athlete with a quick first step and vertical explosiveness. Robinson-Earl used his positioning and feet to direct Kuminga towards help and walled off the painted area.
In the first game of Summer League, Robinson-Earl was often switched onto Luke Garza, a burly skilled center. In theory, Garza is a terrible match-up for JRE; Garza had a height and weight advantage over JRE.
However, Robinson-Earl did well against Garza. JRE used his strength and active hands to disrupt passes into Garza and did not allow the Pistons’ big to settle into position in the low post.
On the strength of his Summer League work, I believe that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has earned his way into Coach Daigneault’s rotation. It is difficult to find JRE regular minutes at the 4 with Darius Bazley, Kenrich Williams, Isaiah Roby and Aleksej Pokusevski all being expected to feature in Coach’s plans.
The natural solution would be to play Robinson-Earl at center. He would be undersized for the position but he has the skill and strength to deal with most centers in the league. JRE will struggle against Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid but that is a common occurrence for most NBA bigs.
Theo Maledon also had a strong Summer League. We saw a lot from Theo Maledon in his rookie season in the way of playmaking and outside shooting but he had clear deficiencies in his game. Maledon’s lack of strength meant that he was relatively inefficient around the rim.
He returned for Summer League with more muscle on his frame and that paid dividends for Theo. Maledon seemed more comfortable absorbing contact and attacking the defense off the drive. His combination of strength and lightning fast acceleration meant that he was hard to stop whenever he went to the hoop.
I have to say, I am curious to see how Maledon slots into the bench unit. The Thunder’s bench was really solid last year and adding another playmaker to the Kenny Hustle/Ty Jerome/ Isaiah Roby combination could be fun.
Oscar Da Silva had a strong Summer League. I knew little about Da Silva other than the fact that he had a brief stint playing basketball in Germany. His Summer League performances indicated that he could potentially be a useful stretch-5 for the Thunder.
Da Silva is limited athletically and can be torched on defense but there is something there for the Thunder to work with. Centers who can shoot the ball create so much spacing for the rest of the offense.
I would like to see the Thunder offer Da Silva a G League contract. Oscar will need time in the G League to improve his positioning and consistency and the Blue is a great place for him to learn. The pathway from the Blue to the Thunder has been well travelled in recent years and he has a shot at making the league if he performs well with the Blue.
Rob Edwards balled out for the Thunder and was consistently able to get buckets. Edwards has a scorer’s feel for the game and knows how to get his own shot in the half-court all the time.
That being said, I cannot see a role for him on the Thunder right now. The roster is guard-heavy and Oklahoma City do not really need another shot creator. Rob Edwards projects to be a microwave scorer off the bench but he will not get the minutes he needs to develop with the Thunder.
Aaron Wiggins, the Maryland forward, was the biggest surprise of them all. I think it is fair to say that nobody really knew much about Wiggins when he was drafted by the Thunder. Summer League was the first real opportunity to get a sense of the sort of player he is.
Wiggins did not appear to be a late second round pick from the games that we saw. His inside scoring was polished and Aaron appeared to have a good understanding of how to create shots in the mid-range. He competed hard on defense as well except for the occasional lapse in concentration.
His long ball still needs work and his handle needs to be much tighter going forward but I like what I saw from him. The Blue and a two-way contract feels like a good developmental step for him. He will have the opportunity to refine his craft and prove that he can stay engaged for all 48 minutes.