Tag Archives: Mario Hezonja

OKC Thunder 2018 Trade Deadline Primer

The trade deadline primers for team blogs are usually released about a week to two before the trade deadline. And I was planning on doing the same, but then I thought to myself, “Hold up. Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti hardly ever makes a trade that isn’t on the day of the deadline. In fact, he’s usually one of those GM’s that’s on the phone making deals until the very last second of the deadline.” With that in mind, I said to myself, “Self, we’re not releasing this article until February 8th (a.k.a. the trade deadline).”

And if you think I spend an inordinate amount of time talking to myself, you may be right. In my defense, I can’t really help it. My internal voice is the “stay thirsty, my friends” Dos Equis guy.

If I had written this article two weeks ago, it would be completely null and void because of the Andre Roberson season-ending injury that occurred 11 days. If I had written this article a week ago, I wouldn’t have seen the general cluster (you know what) the team had become in the five games after the Roberson injury. And if I had written this article before Tuesday night’s thrashing of the Golden State Warriors in their arena, then my judgement could have been clouded by the negativity of the four-game losing streak the Thunder had heading into the Warriors’ game. Continue reading OKC Thunder 2018 Trade Deadline Primer

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Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic (Blue Team) Recap

thunder summer league

The Oklahoma City Thunder remained unbeaten in summer league play as they defeated the Orlando Magic Blue Team, 73-65. The Thunder moved to 2-0, behind the combined efforts of Mitch McGary and Semaj Christon. The Magic got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 6-1 lead to begin the game.  The Thunder weathered the initial storm and stayed in attack mode for the rest of the game. With the score 52-51 in favor of OKC with 8 minutes left in the game, the Thunder started to attack the basket at will and outscored the Magic 21-13 in those final 8 minutes.

The Thunder featured three players that were constantly attacking the paint (McGary, Christon, and Levi Randolph). For the Magic, only Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja seemed to be trying out there. Christon thoroughly outplayed Elfrid Payton, who finished fourth in the NBA Rookie of the Year vote last season. Christon consistently got past Payton to get into the teeth of the Magic defense where he displayed his playmaking ability and an array of tear drops and bank shots.

McGary put on a show, going from rebounding the ball on one end of the court to starting a one man fastbreak to the other side of the court. This has always been a part of McGary’s game, and now he appears to be more comfortable in incorporating this into his repertoire more often. McGary also displayed a mid-range jumper, making shots that stretched out past 18 feet. If McGary is able to incorporate that into his game with the Thunder, they may have their hands on another versatile offensive player.

mcgary thunder summer league

 

For the Magic, Aaron Gordon put on a summer league clinic. He had a double/double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 boards. He displayed a versatile offensive game that featured mid-range jumpers, ball-handling, and play-making. Gordon seemed comfortable handling the ball and being the focal point on offense. For Mario Hezonja, this game was likely a microcosm of what his rookie season will be like. There were flashes of brilliance, like the monstrous dunk in the first half and the ‘in your face’ 3-pointer in the 3rd quarter to bring the Magic within 1. But there were also mistakes and inefficiencies that will be a part of Hezonja’s rookie campaign. Hezonja’s finished with 14 points, but on 6-16 shooting from the field (2-9 from the 3-point line). One of his best comparisons coming in was JR Smith, and this performance was very Smith-esque.

Elfrid Payton, on the other hand, had a game to forget. He scored just 4 points on 1-3 shooting, while notching 4 assists and 4 turnovers. His shot, which was his biggest weakness coming into last season, seems to have shown no improvement at all. This may be something to watch with his young Orlando team in the next 2 to 3 seasons.

The Thunder will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, while the Orlando Magic Blue team will play the Memphis Grizzlies.

Orlando Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic Blue Team preview (Game 2 of 5)

thunder summer league

  • When: Monday, 06 July 2015 at 2:00 PM CST
  • Where: Orlando Magic practice facility, Orlando, FL

Summer league games are, in essence, exercises in hope. If you’ve watched summer league long enough, you know 80-90% of the guys on the court won’t ever make it to the NBA. If your name was not called in the first round, your chances of making it to the bigs drop significantly. With all that said, though, we still watch. If you are a true fan, you become familiar with all the players on the roster and even start to pick up little tidbits about them. A week later, unfortunately, all that knowledge gets cycled into the memory dump of our brains, and most of those players become but a distant memory. But as you watch the games, you start to notice things about players that may actually help your NBA roster.

After one game, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 1-0, having defeated the Charlotte Hornets 76-74. Lacking a dearth of NBA experience, the Thunder summer league roster depended on defense for key stretches in the game and on their back-court duo of Semaj Christon and Frank Gaines, who combined for 31 points. Christon notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, while also hitting the deciding basket on a drive on the Thunder’s final possession. Mitch McGary and Dakari Johnson cleaned up well around the basket, each grabbing double digit rebound totals (24 rebounds total between the two). The spark off the bench came from Travis Bader who came into the game in the 2nd quarter, and quickly racked up 10 points on 2 3-point shots, a mid-range jumper, and 2 free throws. Defensively, McGary struggled a bit with Hornets’ rookie Frank Kaminsky, losing him several times on the pick and roll. Kaminsky finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hornets, but did not score in the 4th quarter.

The Opponent

mario hezonja magic

Orlando brings two teams into their summer league. Their White team is made up mostly of guys that will likely spend most of their time next season in the Developmental League and overseas. The Blue team on the other hand, is made up of all the first and second year players that will likely see significant minutes in the NBA this season. This is an extremely smart move by the Magic who would like to see their young guys play together to develop a rhythm, instead of having them mixed with players who, honestly, likely will never sniff an NBA court. The Blue team won its first game against the Los Angeles Clippers, 75-74, in overtime. The Blue team is led by point guard Elfrid Payton, who was first team All-Rookie last season. Joining him on the wing are Magic first round pick Mario Hezonja and second year player Devyn Marble. Hezonja hit the deciding 3-point shot in overtime in the Blue team’s first summer league game. Up front, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Davies all have NBA experience. Off the bench, the Magic (Blue team) will likely use their 2nd round pick Tyler Harvey as an offensive spark plug.

Three Keys in the Game

1. Experience – The bulk of the minutes doled out to players on the Magic team will be to those players with NBA experience. While the Thunder don’t have the same amount of NBA experience, they do have a team that is quite familiar with itself as most of the Thunder’s roster is composed of players who were on the Thunder development team, the Blue.

semaj christon thunder II

2. Summer league superstar match-ups – While there aren’t necessarily any superstars in summer league, there are some interesting match-ups in this game. Aaron Gordon and Mitch McGary will likely match up a lot in this game. Both are athletic forwards that have a year’s worth of NBA experience under their belt. The other interesting match-up will be Elfrid Payton against Semaj Christon. The Thunder love Christon’s game and this will be a good barometer as to how ready he is to play in the NBA.

3. Mario Hezonja – Aside from the Thunder players, I’m most excited to see Super Mario. He was okay in his first game, but when the spotlight shined the brightest in the closing seconds of overtime, he hit the dagger three. This guy is far from a finished product, but his confidence and swagger make him a must-watch in summer league action.

 

Ten Prospects for the Thunder in the 2015 NBA Draft

ibaka durant westbrook thunder

After a disappointing 2014-15 season that was riddled with injuries, the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2015 NBA Draft with a sense of optimism. If Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka can remain relatively healthy next season, then this team is still a championship contender. With that said, the Thunder are basically playing with house money when it comes to this draft. Will they be drafting an integral piece to the present championship puzzle? Maybe. Or maybe they’ll be drafting a piece that won’t pay dividends for another year or two. Or maybe they won’t be drafting anyone at all. There are a ton of options at the Thunder’s disposal and this draft is shaping up to be one of the most active for the team. Here’s a look at 10 prospects the Thunder may draft at different stages in the draft.

The Trade-Up Prospects

There have already been rumors that the Thunder are looking to trade Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Steve Novak ahead of the draft. While this group of players isn’t necessarily attractive to most teams, to a team needing perimeter shooting, this haul may be a steal. There are two teams in the draft that are desperate for shooting and have already made moves this offseason to shore up that need. Detroit, under the direction of Stan Van Gundy, is looking to surround Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond with perimeter shooters, a la Dwight Howard in his Magic days. While Detroit already obtained Ersan Ilyasova from Milwaukee, they may want some more shooting at a cheap price. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, and No. 14 & 48 for Anthony Tolliver (who has a partially guaranteed contract) and No. 8. Detroit could use a wing defender and may be able to find one at 14.

Conversely, Charlotte is another team in serious need of perimeter shooting. The Hornets finished with the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league. Earlier in the offseason, they traded Lance Stephenson for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. But if they can get more perimeter shooting, it may completely transform the dynamic of their team. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, Novak, and No. 14 for Gerald Henderson (1 year at $6 million) and No. 9.

Edit: The Hornets traded Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh to the Portland Trailblazers for Nic Batum. And, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Thunder traded Jeremy Lamb to the Hornets for Matt Barnes. So there goes that theory!

So if the Thunder move, who do they take?

1. Stanley Johnson – Arizona/Freshman/6’7″ (6’11” wingspan)/240 lbs

One of the best two-way wings in the draft. Compares favorably to Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Great size for a wing, and has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways (transition, 3-point shooting, shooting out of the pick and roll). Needs some seasoning. Struggles with finishing at the rim. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

stanley johnson arizona

2. Devin Booker – Kentucky/Freshman/6’6″ (6’8″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the best, if not the best, shooter in the draft. Shot over 40% from 3-point land on 3.7 attempts per game. Great from deep and from mid-range. Compares favorably to Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Pelicans. Good size for  a wing. Youngest player in the draft. Not a high flyer or overly athletic. Extremely low steal rate. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

3. Mario Hezonja – International/FC Barcelona/6’8″ /210 lbs

Doubtful Super Mario falls to the No. 8 or 9 spot. But if he’s there and the Thunder have traded up, they may seriously consider drafting Hezonja. Gifted with a great jump shot, athleticism, and unabashed confidence, Hezonja plays a lot like the Thunder’s own Russell Westbrook. He has great size for a wing and has the potential to be good on the defensive end. Consistency is the biggest issue with Hezonja. He’s had games where he looks like the best player on the floor, and then he has games where he disappears for long stretches.

Prospects at 14

There could be a possibility that the Thunder like a player they can draft at the 14th spot. The draft has a weird way of shaking out sometimes, and players that you thought wouldn’t be available at your spot, suddenly become available. Here are the prospects the Thunder could pick at their spot.

1. Kelly Oubre Jr. – Kansas/Freshman/6’7″ (7’2″wingspan)/205 lbs

GREAT size for a wing. Can likely develop into a good defensive player based on his physical attributes alone. Compares favorably to James Posey or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Shot the ball well from 3-point territory in his freshman year (36% on 2.6 attempts per game). Good mid-range game. Solid defensive rebounder from the wing, with an ability to keep balls alive on the offensive end. Strong, wiry frame that can easily add 10-15 lbs of muscle. Struggles with creating offensive (only 0.8 assists per game) and consistency. Likely won’t contribute immediately, and may benefit from some time in the D-League.

kelly oubre kansas

2. Cameron Payne – Murray State/Sophomore/6’2″ (6’7″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Playmaking point guard that can score in a variety of ways. Compares favorably to Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks. Has good size for a point guard with a wingspan that will help him immensely on the defensive end (nearly 2 steals per game in college). Does a great job of changing speeds to keep defenses off balance. Did a great job of balancing his playmaking and scoring, dishing out 6 assists per game, while scoring 20 points. Has a good, but not great shot. Needs to put on more weight. Struggles finishing at the rim, instead choosing to shoot floaters (nearly 3 per game,which led all college players). Small school competition stigma.

3. Bobby Portis – Arkansas/Sophomore/6’10.5″ (7’2″ wingspan)/245 lbs

A high energy player with a relentless motor, Portis reminds me of Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. The SEC Player of the Year led the Razorbacks in points (17.5) and rebounds (8.9) per game. He gets most of his points off his energy in transition and put backs. But he is a very skilled all-around player, shooting 53.6% from the field overall and 46.7% from 3-point territory on nearly one attempt per game. His major downfall is that he isn’t overly athletic. His game stays closer to the ground than most NBA scouts would like. He is actually my darkhorse for this pick.

4. Sam Dekker – Wisconsin/Junior/6’9″ (6’11.5″ wingspan)/220 lbs

Dekker is an all-around talent that is good at most things, but not necessarily great at any specific skill. He has great role player potential and can play multiple position (naturally a 3, but can likely play small-ball 4 also). Defensively, Dekker can guard multiple positions. His size and strength allow him to guard bigger players, and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with wings. He will likely be able to compete immediately on the pro level. He’ll need to hit his 3’s more consistently at the next level to be an elite contributor. May be a bit redundant for the Thunder if they re-sign Kyle Singler.

Trade Down Prospects

Another possibility for the Thunder is to trade down later into the first round, while possibly picking up another asset. If the Thunder have a player in mind that they can possibly be taken lower than 14, they’ll likely look to move down. Remember, as you get deeper into the first round, the cost of the player goes down. And with the Thunder likely to be in the luxury tax, anything that can bring the price tag of the tax bill down will be a relief.

1. RJ Hunter – Georgia State/Junior/6’6″ (6’10.5″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Three-point specialist that shot only 30% from deep this past season, as defenses keyed in on him as the focal point of their attention. Compares favorably to Jeremy Lamb. He also averaged 3.5 assists which highlighted his playmaking ability. Good mid-range shooter. Can be a bit streaky as we saw in the Georgia State’s first game in the NCAA tournament against Baylor. His length allows him to be a menace on the defensive end, as he averaged 2.1 steals and 1 block per game. Body frame doesn’t seem like it can pack on too much more weight. Small school competition stigma.

rj hunter georgia state

2. Jerian Grant – Notre Dame/Senior/6’4″ (6’7.5″ wingspan)/200 lbs

Combo playmaking guard that led Notre Dame in points (16.5) and assists (6.6). Compares favorably to former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. Does a real good job of changing speeds and has a quick first step. Good upper body strength that allows him to get to the rim and score through contact. Good, not great, shooter. Solid defensively. Strength allows him to not be too affected by screens and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with guards. Can take bad shots early in the shot clock. Can be a bit inconsistent at times. Will be 23 years of age at the beginning of the season. Likely ready to contribute right now, but does not have a ton of upside.

3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona/Sophomore/6’7″ (7’2″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the better wing defenders in the draft. Compares favorably to Tony Allen and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Length, strength, and athleticism give him the potential to be a top-flight perimeter defender in the league. Scores most of his points in transition and straight line drives to the basket. Rebounds well for his position, especially on the offensive end (2 offensive rebounds per game). Hollis-Jefferson’s biggest weakness is his jump-shot. He just under 21% from 3-point territory. With the Thunder already having an elite defender that struggles with his jumper (Andre Roberson), it may be a bit redundant to draft a similar player that will be a net negative on the offensive end.

The Thunder have a ton of options in this draft. They could take one of these 10 players, or they could surprise everyone and draft a complete unknown (hello, Josh Huestis). Thunder GM has plenty of cards up his sleeves, and will pull the one he feels will make the Thunder a better team for next season and for seasons after that.