The first night of Summer League is in the books and the Thunder looked pretty good against the Detroit Pistons. Oklahoma City went down early in the game but then took control in the middle stanzas of the game. The Thunder went cold in the fourth quarter but Oklahoma City were able to hang on for the win.
Despite this only being Summer League, there is a lot to be happy about as a Thunder fan. I came away from last night’s game feeling more positive about the Thunder’s future than I did after the Draft.
Theo Maledon came into Summer League as an afterthought. Cade Cunningham and Josh Giddey garnered the star billing. Cunningham is the first overall pick and is regarded as a future All-NBA talent. Giddey is an intriguing prospect out of Australia who has an unusual skill-set and is the highest Thunder draft pick in ten years.
Quite frankly, nobody gave any thought to the young Frenchman. Maledon finished the game with 15 points, 11 assists and just 2 turnovers. Theo played with so much control and ran the offense like a seasoned professional.
Maledon effectively played three different roles with the Thunder last season. He was a reserve guard when George Hill was on the team, then he started in the backcourt next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Finally, Theo Maledon ended the season as the lead playmaker for the Thunder. He never looked comfortable as the primary option in the last six weeks of the season.
In his first ever Summer League, Theo Maledon looked calm and assured as he ran the two-man game. Maledon and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl seem to be developing a chemistry between them already after just one game. Maledon kept on delivering perfect pocket passes into JRE’s hands and Robinson-Earl kept on getting good scores.
Theo’s control of the pick and roll was also much improved. Maledon was patient and deliberate in how he drew two defenders towards him before placing the pass into his teammate’s hands. Maledon’s creativity now seems to be balanced with calm playmaking.
It is also clear that Maledon is stronger and quicker after an offseason of strength and conditioning work. Maledon’s first step looked to be more explosive and he had no issues getting into the lane for a score at the rim.
Tre Mann had a tough night from the field (3-14 FGA) but his performance was generally solid. Mann is a different player to the other Thunder guards on the roster. Tre likes to use his dribble to attack the defense and create driving lanes.
My main takeaway about Tre is that he is a saucy player. Mann is a shifty, energetic player who has handles for days. He will be breaking ankles with his handle and should be very exciting to watch.
Tre’s skill-set is not all fur coat and no knickers; there is a lot of substance to his game. His ability to string dribble moves together gets the defense moving and creates opportunities going to the basket.
His game still needs development, I thought he was too loose with possession of the ball at times. Mann had two turnovers but on both of those turnovers, he was stripped by the Pistons’ defense. Mann did not use his body enough to protect the ball but that growth will come with time.
I was really happy with the Robinson-Earl pick; Villanova guys always seem to know what to do at the NBA level and JRE is no exception. Jeremiah played outstanding defense on Cade Cunningham and was comfortable switching through different defensive assignments.
His offensive game needs refinement but he played with such intelligence on that end of the floor. He did not simply sit behind the arc and launch jumpers. Robinson-Earl was more than willing to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He knew how to challenge the defense on every possession which is always a positive.
The best thing that I can say about JRE is that he seems to know what a good shot is and how that shot can be generated for the team. Robinson-Earl was selfless and moved the ball quickly when he recognised that a teammate had a better shot opportunity than he did.
I had no expectation for Wiggins. I knew nothing about Aaron Wiggins except for the fact that he was a 6’6 wing who could shoot the ball. He surprised me quite a lot last night. Wiggins was aggressive looking for his own shot and displayed surprisingly polished finishing around the rim.
Aaron Wiggins was just fun to watch as a fan. This guy competes on defense and can get his own shot on offense. Wiggins will need to develop his consistency as a shot-creator but there is certainly something there for the Thunder coaching staff to work with.