I have one amendment to an earlier list.
20. Rashawn Thomas
Earlier this summer, it was reported the Thunder had agreed to a partially-guaranteed deal with Thomas. My thinking was that it was just for summer league and possibly for the G-League when it came time for that. But it still stuck in my head whether he would be with the Thunder during training camp or not. So I decided to ask the source, himself.
Thomas finished a stellar career at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and then joined the Thunder for their summer league after going undrafted in this past draft. He averaged 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Thunder in 5 games played over the summer. He likely won’t make the 15-man roster for his hometown team, but the Thunder will likely sign him to their G-League team and see how he develops from there.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled program. These next four players will likely play a big part in how far the Thunder go. For as important as players like Russell Westbrook and Paul George are for a team, they can’t do it alone. It’s the guys at the end of the rotation that fill in the roles that make a team whole.
11. Terrance Ferguson
Looking at the numbers, it would make complete sense to wonder what the Thunder saw in the lanky shooting guard that was one year removed from his high school graduation. Instead of going to a college like a lot of his colleagues, Ferguson instead chose to take his talents across the Pacific to Australia.
In an interview I had with Will Crouch of 9News Adel in Adelaide, Australia, he mentioned why Ferguson’s numbers may not necessarily tell the whole story of the player.
“(36ers head coach) Joey Wright was always of the belief that Terrance scoring 20 points a game, but getting exposed on D or missing a lot of shots, doesn’t translate well to the NBA scouts. They see a guy that can put up numbers, but may not be ready to play defense or may not be a guy that can score at an NBA standard. So Joey actually eased him in there. Some games, Terrance hardly played because of the match-up or because of the style of play….he eased him into the rotation. It’s not like in the first game of the season, they said this guy (Ferguson) is our savior and going to bring us the title. They said, ‘alright, you’re going to watch and learn for the first couple (games)’…..He kind of took a bigger role towards the end of the year once things were a little more comfortable.”
Ferguson doesn’t project to get a lot of time in the rotation this season. But one of his biggest strengths is shooting, and the Thunder may trot him out there from time to time to get used to the speed of the game. Many think he’ll spend most of the season playing with the Blue, but I think the Thunder are going to treat him like Steven Adams in his rookie season and play him a couple minutes a game from the beginning.
10. Doug McDermott
This is a critical year for McDermott. He’s eligible for a contract extension after this season and he’s not trying to be pegged as a one-trick pony in the league. He’s known as a shooter, but McDermott would like to showcase more of an overall game. So far, though, three years into his career, McDermott’s body of work hasn’t pointed to him being anything more than a good shooter.
And honestly, that’s not a bad thing. In this pace and space NBA, a shooter is one of the more important role players in the league. The problem with McDermott is that he can only be showcased on one end of the floor. Defense is one of his biggest weaknesses, as he can’t guard 3’s because they are too fast and he can’t guard most legit 4’s because they are too big and strong.
McDermott will be a match-up piece for the Thunder and nothing more. He’ll be put on the floor at times with Westbrook and George to provide spacing, but he likely won’t see more than 12-15 minutes a night, and that is highly dependent on the match-up.
9. Raymond Felton
The talent gap between Russell Westbrook and Semaj Christon was one of the big reasons why the Thunder tended to struggle when Westbrook was out of the game. Christon, a rookie last season, did the best he could, but he just wasn’t a decent enough player last year to make an impact when he was in the game. Enter Raymond Felton. The 12-year vet has been one of the most consistent back-ups in the league for some time now, and he should shore up that talent gap between the Thunder’s starting point guard and back-up point guard.
Felton isn’t great at any particular thing, but he’s a steady and consistent hand for the Thunder’s young reserves. How he meshes with Enes Kanter and Alex Abrines will be very important to how the Thunder perform in games. Good reserve units have the ability to take leads and increase them or inherit a deficit and cut into it. The Thunder lacked that last season, and it had a lot to do with the point guard position. Felton should help shore that up and make an impact off the bench.
8. Jerami Grant
Nick Gallo of OKCThunder.com calls Grant the Thunder’s “Swiss Army Knife”. The 6’9″ jumping jack out of Syracuse is able to play small ball center, hit corner 3’s, and provide weakside rim protection reminiscent of Serge Ibaka.
His importance on this team is tantamount to it’s success and continued development. In last season’s playoff’s, some of the Thunder’s most effective line-ups featured Jerami Grant as the small-ball center. His ability to hit corner 3’s keeps defenses honest, while his ability to switch on the perimeter and provide weakside help on the interior makes him a defensive force to be reckoned with.
Expect to see in many different line-ups throughout the year, to include death line-ups and closing line-ups. He is that important to the Thunder in this small-ball era.
Check back on Wednesday, where we get into the meat of the rotation and look at the players who should be receiving heavy minutes from the beginning of the season.