Thunder summer league a window on young talent
You don’t find out if guys can play during the NBA Summer League.
But you sure can find out if they can’t.
So, this season, a year where the Thunder didn’t have to find a hidden gem or, for that matter, even find an answer in the humidity of the Orlando summer, Oklahoma City learned enough.
Andre Roberson can get in front of some guys. Daniel Orton has become part of the discussion and Jeremy Lamb, Grant Jerrett and Steven Adams can be active participants. This season.
Not a bad batch of intelligence gathering in a week’s time in central Florida where the Thunder won five games in five tries and the league title to go along with it.
So, beating a bunch of teams with rookies and second-year players doesn’t make you eligible for a ring-sizing party, but it’s certainly better than seeing your own first and second-year players getting beat.
But most importantly the summer league provided a window to who will help chip in, not who is going to have to be counted on.
All three of the Thunder draftees from last month played well. Reserve guard Jeremy Lamb did, too, and Orton, whether he’ll ever really contribute for the Thunder, showed he can score.
But perhaps the biggest question going into the draft and then into Orlando is who the best choices are at guard. The Thunder lost Kevin Martin to free agency, so it left the team with just Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Liggins and Jeremy Lamb as options. Jackson has been a solid fill-in in the past two seasons, but past that, there hasn’t been a lot of information to go on.
Jackson played just two games in Orlando leaving plenty of minutes for Lamb, who scored 18 points in the championship game and finished the week averaging 18.8 points per game. Lamb has to be considered a volume shooter, but in a lineup that would have Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and others, he wouldn’t get the shots. But he did last week. Lamb put it up 64 times in four games and shot just 39 percent, but remembering back to last season, what the Thunder need is scoring, creating and an another option past Durant. Lamb showed he can provide that.
Meanwhile, Jerrett shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line (10-of-20), proving himself a viable 3-point shooter – something else the Thunder lacked in the postseason last May.
And the picking apart of Roberson began early when Oklahoma City moved up to grab the Colorado forward in the first round, yet here was Roberson playing defense and rebounding.
Ultimately, the Thunder measure themselves against the Miami Heat, and certainly Roberson isn’t the guy to be able to step in and guard LeBron James tomorrow, but he is a guy who can be an extra body and a defensive stopper. Roberson averaged 24 minutes in four games, had a game-best 11 rebounds in the championship matchup against Houston and finished the tournament averaging eight rebounds per game.
And ultimately, the Thunder have proven they don’t need a center to succeed. Kendrick Perkins will return this season and start, but doesn’t provide any offense to go along with low production defensively, so carrying four centers on the roster seems to be unnecessary. You have to figure the Thunder will hold onto No. 12 pick Steven Adams. Then there’s Hasheem Thabeet and Orton. Neither played much last season. Likely one will be gone come October, so Orton used Orlando to showcase his talents, playing in three games and averaging 12 points per. Adams played in four games and averaged nine points and four rebounds, but his roster spot is safe.
No matter what the Thunder do, including possibly trying to sign a free agent with the $6 million they have to spend, won’t matter too much.
Just like the summer league didn’t matter much, either.
With Westbrook expected to be healthy come November and with Durant, Oklahoma City will be a favorite to win the Western Conference.
But it sure is nice to see some of the new guys play well.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @andrewgilmanOK