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Takeaways from the first week of Summer League

The Thunder have played very well over the last seven days

2022 NBA Salt Lake City Summer League - Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers

Oklahoma City were unable to go 3-0 after a loss on Thursday night to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Thunder lost 80-79 and Chet Holmgren did not play a minute. Holmgren’s absence was evident. OKC’s spacing was poorer and the Thunder struggled to stretch the Sixers’ defense. Chet already figures to be an important player from Day 1 of the new season.

The Thunder have followed up that loss in Salt Lake City with another loss in Las Vegas. Bad shooting nights from Tre Mann and Chet Holmgren meant that the Thunder could not overcome the Houston Rockets.

The last four games have been very valuable in assessing the current Thunder roster in an environment where they were able to display the full extent of their skills. Some players have shone while others need to work a little harder to justify regular minutes when the season starts in October.

Holmgren’s self-creation:

Chet Holmgren, the Thunder’s #2 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, has arguably been the greatest surprise of Summer League. Holmgren has been able to put the ball on the floor and create shots for himself.

This skill was hidden during his tenure at Gonzaga. Coach Few assembled an offense around Drew Timme’s low-post scoring and Andrew Nembhard’s threat off the drive. He did not necessarily need Holmgren’s shot creation which is why Holmgren spent a lot of time sat in the corner waiting for kick-outs.

Coach Kameron Woods has no reservations about deploying Chet’s full toolkit and has empowered the young center to show off his ability to create shots. We have seen Holmgren catch the ball in a triple-threat situation and go to work.

As players go, Holmgren is very difficult to guard on the perimeter. He can knock down jumpers at a serviceable rate with the defense in his jersey. His polished, tidy handles allow Chet to drive to the basket and score inside with his length.

We were aware that he could score from two levels, perimeter and interior, but the middle level was harder to determine. The crowded spacing in college meant that we had very little film on how Chet performs in the non-painted area. The initial results are quite encouraging. We have seen Chet use his pull-up jumper comfortably and flash some fancy footwork.

When you watch Holmgren work off the dribble and break down a defense, his fluidity and balance really stand out. One-legged fadeaway jumpers are difficult shots to execute but Chet rarely looks out of control. It is difficult shot-making made to look effortless.

For the Thunder, it will provide Coach Daigneault with another late game option. At the moment, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander handles that responsibility. When the Thunder need to manufacture a basket against a tough defense, they turn to SGA. Having Chet will relieve some of the pressure off his shoulders. Holmgren’s ability to rise up and knock down jumpers that cannot be contested should pay dividends in these sort of situations.

The Roamer:

Jalen Williams was a late riser on most draft boards and nobody quite knew what to expect from him. Williams played in a conference that is typically under-scouted which meant that his performances in the combine were the only real way to evaluate his ability.

In those games, J-Dub showed poise and control as he sliced through defenses and finished at the rim with well-timed, creative finishes. Those traits have carried over into his summer league play so far but his work off the ball has been a huge surprise.

Jalen has been tireless off the ball and I think this clip really illustrates why he has been so effective as a cutter.

Williams is patient with his cut on this play, he waits for defender to push up before slashing back-door for an easy finish at the basket. He times the cut well and arrives in the dunker’s spot just as the driver reaches the top of the painted area. By that point, he is completely alone and the defense is all out of position.

He likes to cut baseline from the deep corner. Williams gets into the corner and shuffles his feet incrementally until he is behind the opposing team’s back-line. His position means the defense can no longer see him and he has an easy lane to the hoop. It is a little detail but it is indicative of the sort of player Williams is.

Giddey’s newfound strength:

Giddey’s passing has been a delight to watch and he has played with real confidence as the team’s lead playmaker. I think he has done a great job of managing each possession and choosing when to take risks.

HIs flashy, cross-court dimes draw attention but he has done a really solid of keeping the offense ticking over when the game gets a little uncomfortable. His inside scoring has been a useful tool whenever the Thunder’s offense has gotten stagnant.

Josh does not look too different physically but it is clear he has spent in the off-season developing his core strength and building his body. Giddey is driving to the basket and using his size to create space by simply shrugging off defenders. He is more than willing to create contact and has been unafraid of playing physical basketball.

His jumper has not improved a whole ton but it is really positive to see Giddey becoming an efficient option inside. Developing this part of his arsenal will force the defense to collapse on him when he drives and it will create more uncontested looks from the perimeter.