Oklahoma City Thunder: Lessons from Summer School

okc summer league champs

The Oklahoma City Thunder finished summer league with a 5-0 record, and were crowned champions of the first ever Orlando Summer League Championship. While it is cause for celebration, it’s important to remember that this is Summer League. A league where at least 50% of the participants will log as many minutes in the NBA as you and I. Regardless of talent level though, there were a lot of things to take from summer league. Here are a couple:

1. Reggie Jackson is ready to make The Jump. The Jump is the term for when a player starts to understand the nuances of the professional game and it slows down for them. Kevin Durant led the league in scoring his 3rd season, Russell Westbrook made it to his first All-Star Game and made 2nd Team All NBA in his 3rd season, and James Harden won 6th Man of the Year in his 3rd season. In his one full game in summer league, Jackson broke the Orlando Summer League record with 35 points, bringing the Thunder back from a 12 point 4th quarter deficit with 23 of those points coming in that final quarter. He completely dominated getting to any spot on the floor that he wanted. While I don’t expect a repeat performance during the NBA season, I do think that Reggie is ready to take that next step in his development.

2. Jeremy Lamb deserves 12-15 minutes a game this season. The “stock option” in the Harden trade, Lamb hardly played for the Thunder in his rookie season, spending most of his time in Tulsa playing for the 66ers. In 4 games in Orlando, he averaged 18.8 points. What was most telling, though, was the aggressiveness displayed in the final two games. Lamb pressed a bit in the first two games, averaging 12.5 points on 28% FG and 23% 3pt FG, while shooting only 4 free throws total. After a DNP-CD in the third game, Lamb exploded in the 4th game with 32 points. He went on to average 25 points per game in the last two games on 50% FG, 33% 3pt FG, and went 15-17 from the line.

j lamb

Lamb is a lot like Kevin Martin, in that he can be efficient from the perimeter, but when that isn’t working he can rack up the free throws by driving to the basket. For his career, Martin averages 6.1 FT attempts per game, but only averaged 3.2 attempts per game last season while with the Thunder. If Lamb can do the same, he’ll be well on his way to being a solid bench contributor.

3. Daniel Orton seems to be finally healthy. It really is true that it takes about 18-24 months after a knee surgery to fully recover. Orton suffered an ACL tear during his senior year of high school (‘08-‘09) and then suffered another knee injury in what was supposed to be his rookie season (’10-’11). It seems that Orton is finally fully recovered from his knee issues. After coming out like gangbusters in the first game (15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots), Orton looked well on his way to duplicating his play in the 2nd game until his head met Reggie Jackson’s head in the 2nd half of that game. After sitting out 2 games with concussion-like symptoms, Orton went back to work in the final game scoring 12 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, and blocking 2 shots.

He looked confident and completely sure of himself. This is technically his fourth season in the league, and he played like he knew he belonged. He moved around in ways that a man his size shouldn’t be able to, looking very adept and agile. In reality, if this continues into the preseason, I think Hasheem Thabeet has a lot to worry about if the Thunder don’t plan on carrying 4 centers on the final 15 man roster.

4. Steven Adams has the tools to be the right center for this team. The thing with tools is that you have to learn how to use them for them to be effective. A man could spend thousands of dollars in a hardware store buying top notch tools, but if he doesn’t know how to use them, they go to waste. Adams is a big guy, with the potential to get stronger (Big man eat lots a food. Nom nom nom nom nom!). Adams showed the ability to be a good defender without necessarily getting into foul trouble; a rarity for big men in summer league. Offensively, he showed he could catch the ball in traffic, which is a huge plus for this team. (I’m only partially joking.) And he showed a developing hook shot.

2013 Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League

He still has a ways to go, though. I think it’ll take him at least a season to get used to the speed of the game. He’ll probably split his time between Tulsa and OKC, and may see some late season action. But I see nothing but good things down the line for the Big Kiwi.

5. Andre Roberson is something. I don’t know what exactly it is, but he’s something. Will his rebounding translate from college to the NBA? He averaged 8 boards per game in the 4 games he played in Orlando. He’s a pest on defense and knows his limitations on offense. He’ll need to develop a shot to get major minutes in the NBA, but he has the potential to be a Shawn Marion-like player. What I thought was a questionable draft pick may turn out to be a diamond in the rough.

andre rob sl

6. DeAndre Liggins can defend, but can he do anything else? Liggins is 3 years in. He can defend like a pitbull. Just ask Michael Carter-Williams. With that, he has the potential to replace Thabo Sefolosha as the starting 2-guard, if that position becomes available after next season. But what can he give you offensively? He showed in one game last season, when he started for an injured Sefolosha, what he could potentially do. He went 3-3 from 3-point land, finished with 11 points, and helped hold Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews to 5-22 shooting combined in an 87-83 victory over the Portland Trailblazers.

I was expecting Liggins to be a bit more offensively aggressive during summer league. While he did run a bit of the offense in the last 2 games (four assists per game), I was looking for more shooting and creating for himself. Maybe that’s Liggins’ game, but if he ever wants to be more than a glue guy, he needed to show a little bit more on the offensive end.

7. Perry Jones III should have been there. This would have been a great gauge to see how his development was/is proceeding. Jones was held back because of oral surgery he had a few days beforehand. This would have been a good experience for him. Darn you wisdom teeth!

coach rex

8. Rex Kalamian is a pretty good coach. With the departures of coaches Mo Cheeks and Maz Trakh to Detroit, Kalamian becomes the second in command behind head coach Scott Brooks. His understanding of the game and rapport with the players makes me feel good about our 1st assistant.

9. Grant Jerrett has an NBA skill, but needs to work on the rest of his game. During the first two games of summer league, Jerrett came out like gang-busters, leading the Thunder in scoring with an average of 15.5 points per game on 8-13 shooting from the 3-point line. He also averaged 4.5 boards in those two contests. But he was a fouling machine defensively and did little else on the offensive side of the floor. Once teams got a scouting report on Jerrett, they shut him down on the 3-point line, and limited him to 2-7 shooting from long range in the last 2 games.

grant j sl

The key to success is having counter moves for when the defense adjusts to your game. At this point in his career, Jerrett doesn’t have those counter moves. He would have definitely benefitted from another year or two in college. With that said, though, if he can somehow stick with the Thunder system (either on the roster as the 15th man or in Tulsa with the 66ers), I think he can definitely be a sharp shooting specialist in the league someday. If there’s one thing the Thunder needs, it’s a dependable sharp shooter.

10. Ryan Reid has Charles Oakley-like potential. He can hit the mid-range jumper and can set picks like nobody else in summer league. He played a little for the Thunder in the 2010-11 season, and was a late addition to the summer league team with the late Perry Jones III scratch. He has a Perk like demeanor to his game, and could be someone’s enforcer in the future.

11. I’m happy Dwight Buycks got a contract with the Toronto Raptors. Hard work pays off.

12. Apparently, a breakaway layup to ice a close game is the single most difficult shot in the history of basketball. I’m looking at you, Kyle Kuric.

r jax sl

13. A summer league championship is a great way to start a season. I happen to think that the Thunder are in a little bit of a transition period. Between the Harden trade and the departure of Kevin Martin, the keys to some important minutes are being given to some extremely young players. Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Andre Roberson, and Perry Jones III will possibly play major minutes either off the bench or in Tulsa. Their development will be key to how successful the Thunder are moving forward. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Reggie Jackson can’t play 48 minutes every game. With that said, a championship in their first foray together is a great start.

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