Seven things from Summer League

Charlotte Hornets v Oklahoma City Thunder

With Thursday’s loss in the 3rd place game, the Oklahoma City Thunder finished out the 2017 Orlando Pro Summer League with a record of 2-3. After winning their first 2 games of summer league, the Thunder went on to drop their next three to finish in the fourth position of the 8-team league.

There honestly isn’t much that can be gleaned from this year’s summer league team. When you are a perennial playoff team, summer leagues are usually to see what you have in the cupboard, as the main dishes of the team usually don’t have to play summer league. Of the 13 players who were available to play for the Thunder, only about five have realistic chances of playing in the league.

Here are seven things from summer league:

1. Semaj Christon has improved

After being tagged as probably the worst back-up point guard in the league last season, Christon came into this summer league with a little chip on his shoulder. And he did not disappoint. This was the 2nd year guard’s fourth stint in summer league and he played like a grizzled veteran. Christon averaged 12.8 points and 6 assists on 45% shooting from the field. He started every game that he played and was the unquestioned leader of the team. He attacked the rim a lot more than in previous years and was more offensively aggressive.

The back-up point guard position is a definite point of interest for this team. Had they had a better back-up point guard during the playoffs, the team may have been more competitive in their first round series against the Houston Rockets. The question now becomes: has Christon improved enough to negate the need for a more expensive back-up? That remains to be seen. With the Thunder currently over the luxury tax, they may be hesitant to bring in a bigger salary. Christon’s option for next season has yet to be picked up and the deadline for that salary to be fully guaranteed is the 15th of July.

2. Josh Huestis is the ultimate glue guy.

Huestis has played 7 games total in his 2-year NBA career. It’s always been a mystery as to why Huestis has not gotten more of a shot at playing time during that time span. Every time he’s been given the opportunity to play, he’s been adequate. Outside of what the meaning of life is, this is probably the most mysterious of all questions.

Like Semaj Christon, this is also Huestis’ fourth year in summer league. And like Christon, his game has likely matured past the point of summer league. Huestis is what he is: an athletic combo forward who can hit an open three (43% on 21 attempts) and play switchy defense. You’re not going to get much else from Huestis. He’s not a playmaker (only one assist in 4 games) and his free throw shooting is still a little shaky (63.6% on 11 attempts).

At this point, the Thunder almost have to see what they have in Huestis. The issue this season, like it was in his rookie year, is the numbers game. Paul George and Andre Roberson have the wing positions on lock in the starting line-up, while Jerami Grant and Doug McDermott will be used situationally off the bench. The only way I could see Huestis getting playing time is if Grant is used mostly as a 4/5 off the bench, then Huestis could get some playing time as a defensive 3/4.

3. Will Dakari Johnson’s game translate to the NBA?

For all intents and purposes, Dakari Johnson was Oklahoma City’s best player during summer league. The big man averaged 18 points and 5.5 rebounds per game on 57% shooting from the field. He went to the free throw line a team-leading 24 times in four games and even played a little point guard in the final game (see my Twitter feed to catch those highlights). But the question still remains: in a smaller, ultra-athletic league, is there still room for a hulking big man like Johnson?

Had Johnson played even five years earlier, he would’ve had a place in the league. But now, the Kendrick Perkins-type players are being phased out quickly. If you’re a big and you can’t space the floor on offense or guard on the perimeter on defense, your time in the league may be very limited.

Johnson is a candidate to be one of Oklahoma City’s two-way players. That will probably the perfect thing for him and for the team. That way, the Thunder get to see how Johnson’s game will translate to the NBA, while also continuing his development in the G-League.

4. What is Daniel Hamilton?

Last year, in my summer league review column for Daily Thunder, I wrote, “Daniel Hamilton is something. I just don’t know what it is yet.” One year later, I still don’t know. Is he a point guard? Is he a combo guard? I know that he’s a jack of all trades, but he isn’t necessarily great at any one thing.

One thing he did show in summer league was his playmaking ability. Hamilton led the Thunder in assists with 27 in four games. But he also tied for the lead in turnovers at 18. His shot was all over the place, shooting just 30.6% from the field. He’s going to have to further develop that aspect of his game if he wants to move up to the NBA. Until then, another year of development on the Oklahoma City Blue (or overseas) will likely do Hamilton some good.

5. What happened to Vincent Hunter?

For three games, it looked like Vincent Hunter was going to be OKC’s best player this year. The power forward out of UTEP averaged 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. He showed a nice perimeter game for a big, making 4-6 three point shots. And he was extremely active.

But then he didn’t play anymore. I don’t know if that was a decision by the Thunder or whether Hunter suffered an injury. It was a bit of a mystery as to why Hunter didn’t play anymore after the third game. For someone looking to get back to the league, this was a good showing by Hunter. If the Thunder don’t offer Hunter a 2-way contract, I’m sure some other team will offer him theirs.

6. Why didn’t Terrance Ferguson play?

One of the things most Thunder fans were looking forward to during this summer league was the debut of first rounder Terrance Ferguson. Unfortunately, Ferguson never signed his contract and he never played in summer league. But why didn’t he sign his contract?

According to Erik Horne of The Oklahoman, because Ferguson played overseas last year, he has to receive a letter of clearance from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) before he can sign his NBA contract. Since Ferguson hadn’t received his clearance as of the Thunder’s last game, he couldn’t sign his contract and thus, couldn’t play in any of the games during summer league.

7. Of the players on the fringe of even getting a shot at the NBA, who impressed the most?

I thought Dylan Ennis was very aggressive in his time on the court. The 6’2″ guard out of Oregon was not shy about putting up shots, attempting a team-leading 23 three pointers. Luckily for him, he made 47.8% of those attempts on his way to averaging 8.2 points per game.

The issue with Ennis is that at 6’2 (and that’s being generous), he didn’t show himself to be an adequate play maker. He only had 6 assists total in 5 games played and only averaged 3.1 assists in college his senior year. If he can show himself to be an elite shot-maker, a la Marcus Thornton (the one that last played in the NBA, not his summer league teammate), he may get a shot in the league.

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