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Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Summer League Recap

6:03 AM EDT on August 18, 2021

Right after the tipoff of the Thunder’s Summer League opener, Josh Giddey, the team’s top draft pick, set up the offense from the top of the key. He was being guarded by first overall pick Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons. After a few dribbles, the Thunder’s top Jersecond round pick—Jeremiah Robinson-Earl—set a screen on Cunningham as Giddey moved quickly to his right and then into the empty lane area.

Giddey quickly flushed a dunk as a Piston defender rotated too slow to stop him. Oklahoma City was out to a quick 2-0 lead and the Australian point forward appeared to be the steal of the draft.

This concludes the highlights of the Thunder’s Summer League experience.

Within a couple of minutes of this, Giddey turned his ankle, and a couple of minutes after that, he checked out, never to return. His final line of the 2021 Summer League was two points on three shots, five minutes of playing time, and a seven-point deficit for the team. He registered no other stats, and apart from that single flash at the beginning did nothing more to justify Sam Presti’s confidence in selecting him with the sixth pick of the draft.

Before going any further, it is probably important to point out that Summer League is nothing more than an opportunity for young NBA players and wannabe NBA players to work on their basketball skills during the off-season. Historically, players who have struggled in Summer League play have gone on to have fantastic NBA careers and players that have put up fantastic numbers have washed out of the league. While score is kept, the wins and losses have less significance than preseason scrimmages. It is silly to assign any significance to what happens in Las Vegas, it should stay in Vegas.

All that said, the Thunder Summer League squad did nothing to soothe the fears of OKC fans who feel this has been a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad Summer for the team.

Summary of Summer League:

The Thunder Summer League squad won their opener against Detroit, then dropped the final three games. It was very similar to the way the main squad played during the regular season.

Roster:

The roster can be broken into three categories: draft picks, returning players, and roster filler. The draft picks are the most exciting part of a team’s Summer League team. It gives fans an opportunity to see the new guys in the team uniform before the season starts and those guys are usually on the bench fighting for playing time. Meanwhile, the returning players that play SL are usually guys who were stuck on the bench during the past season and need to show their capabilities in a competitive environment, or players whose contracts aren’t guaranteed for the next season that are making a case for staying on the team. Finally, the roster filler is made up of players who played for the team’s G-League affiliate, guys that the General Manager wants to take a look at (usually for the G-League affiliate), or guys who are building a resume so that teams in obscure Asian league will offer them contracts.

Draft Picks

Josh Giddey

Giddey’s Summer was detailed above. It was definitely a letdown for fans to only see him play for five minutes, but you don’t risk a player of his caliber in Las Vegas if there is any kind of physical discomfort.

Tre Mann

The other first-rounder played in the first two games in Vegas before leaving for “personal reasons.” It usually takes Thunder shooting guards a couple of seasons before they just straight-up quit playing basketball, but Mann is advanced in that regard.

Where he wasn’t advanced was on the floor. Selected at 18 because of his shooting ability, Mann was seven of 29 from the field (0-6 on three-point attempts) in those two games. He did grab six rebounds and make seven assists in the game two loss against New Orleans, but given an opportunity to showcase, Mann did not.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

Robinson-Earl’s highlight of the Summer was signing a Lu Dort-style contract. Unlike Dort who had started nearly a full season for a playoff team, Robinson-Earl only had to post 14 points, six rebounds, two steals, and a block in a Summer League win over Detroit to get a four-year contract.

Though this is a very low bar, Robinson-Earl was one of the best players on the team. He led the team in rebounding, was the second-leading scorer, and made about half his shots with about half of those attempts being three-pointers.

Aaron Wiggins

The 55th pick of the draft wound up being the team’s leading scorer (11.5/game) but did that with terrible efficiency. He only made three of his 18 attempts from outside the arc and had more turnovers than assists. Kind of fun to watch, though.

Returning Players

Theo Maledon

The former second-round pick started 49 games this past season, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him playing in these unimportant games. Even more surprising was how poorly he played in those games. With the exception of the Golden State game in which he put up 18 points on 5-of-8 behind the arc, he was atrocious.

Generally, second-year players have a huge advantage in these types of games because they have NBA experience and they’re playing against mostly undrafted rookies. The history of experienced players who have struggled in Summer League, has not been pretty. At 28% shooting over the four games, Maledon may have been the biggest disappointment outside of Josh Giddey’s ankle.

Charlie Brown, Jr.

Brought in as a two-way player at the end of the season to assist the team with tanking, Brown Jr. continued his losing presence in Vegas. He literally shot 12% from the floor on 33 attempts.

Josh Hall

Another two-way player in the 2021 season, Hall made no case for being asked back. He averaged four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

Jaylen Hoard

Hoard put up Josh Hall-like numbers.

Roster Filler:

Oscar da Silva
Jalen Lecque
Rob Edwards
Emmitt Williams
Ryan Woolridge

I am doing no research on these players because their names on this list is probably the last time you will see any of their names again…unless you attend an OKC Blue game.

What if…

One thing of interest during Summer League is seeing how players the Thunder could have drafted performed. Spoiler alert: mostly better than the guys OKC did draft.

Scottie Barnes

Barnes was selected two spots before Giddey, but if the team had been able to move forward with their plethora of assets, he was probably going to be the target. He was very good in Summer League. He filled up the stat sheet and provided so much energy whenever he was on the floor. Most importantly, when giving a post-game interview after his tantalizing debut, he asked a clarification question to the interviewer rather than flying off into word salad.

James Bouknight

A player that was heavily linked to OKC and the sixth pick, Bouknight was passed over and slid to #11. He scored 16.8 points per game, which would have been well in the lead for the Thunder, on 45% shooting. He also made 38% of his threes on four attempts per game.

Jonathan Kuminga

The highest-rated player still on the board when OKC selected Giddey, Kuminga was a player that actually played against the Thunder in Vegas. In that game, he made a case that Presti made a mistake in passing over him. Kuminga was a defensive hound that just seemed to be everywhere. For the league as a whole, though, Kuminga also showed off the shooting woes that likely caused his stock to slip.

Alperen Sengun

Oklahoma City actually drafted Sengun on behalf of Houston in return for two future draft picks. The Turkish League MVP made many Thunder fans wish that the Thunder had kept him. Often compared to Enes Kanter because he’s Turkish and has shown a lot of old-school center skills offensively, Sengun only looked like Kanter in good ways for Houston.

He certainly has amazing footwork around the basket and a nose for the ball on rebounds. However, Sengun has much quicker feet than Kanter and showed off shooting range out to the logo on the floor.

Trey Murphy III

Drafted between Sengun and Tre Mann, Murphy was probably never a consideration for the Thunder because as a rookie, he’s still older than Shae Gilgeous-Alexander. That said, he was a much better shooter (44% on 6.3 attempts/game) in Vegas than the guy OKC actually did get.

Isaiah Jackson/Cam Thomas

Two players that were rumored to have draft promises from Oklahoma City clearly didn’t have draft promises from Oklahoma City. Maybe they should have.

Thomas was the leading scorer of Summer League with 27 points in 29 minutes/game. He took a ton of shots and got to free throw line whenever he wanted. Meanwhile, Jackson may have been the best defensive player in Vegas.

Miles McBride

To get Jeremiah Robinson-Earl at pick 32, Presti gave the Knicks both picks 34 and 36 (which was used for Miles McBride). It was a puzzling move at the time because it was likely that JRE would have been available even at the Thunder’s pick at 55. Seeing McBride dominate the Summer League added a new layer of confusion.

It was always known that McBride could be a difference-maker on the defensive end, but in Vegas he shot lights out. At 50% overall, 46% on threes (5.6 attempts/game), and 88% on free throws, he was practically Kevin Durant….which is exactly the type of thing that means nothing in Summer League.

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