Thoughts and Highlights from the Thunder’s 2018 Summer League Opener
The Thunder dropped its Summer League opener today in Las Vegas, as the Charlotte Hornets took an 88-87 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center. Below is a collection of thoughts/observations from the opening day of summer ball.
Coming into his fourth year since being drafted in the second round by the Thunder in 2015 (and his first as an actual NBA player) it was time for Dakari Johnson to start translating his potential into real production. His rookie year showed real flashes of his potential as a potential rotation player, but coming into his sophomore season, OKC is looking for him to take another step in his evolution. With this being his fourth Summer League appearance, he needed to come in and make a clear and precise impact. To the delight of OKC staffers, in his first game of this Summer League, he crossed off nearly every marker expected of him.
With 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists, Dakari showed a great combination of screening and passing, proving his growth over the past three seasons was no joke. His ability to use his strength to bully defenders was present through all four quarters — even starting the 4th with an iso drive from the top of the key into a foul in the paint. He was the standout player of the Thunder and I don’t expect that to change throughout Summer League.
That’s not to say he was perfect though, as he failed to attack the rim as strong as he should when he was in the paint and often disappeared for stretches of two to three minutes on the offensive end in the first half. Overall, Dakari had a strong and impactful performance in game one — a showing we should expect to see carry over throughout the remainder of the week.
Terrance Ferguson is one of my favorite young players if not only because of the fire and confidence he plays with. He’s not afraid of anyone and he’s a smart player who knows where to be on offense — something he showed early on in his rookie season that led to Billy Donovan giving him more minutes than he probably should’ve received. But with some added weight and a year’s worth of experience under his belt, T-Ferg was the perfect candidate to have a standout Summer League performance. And while we didn’t get the performance of a lifetime on the offensive end, he was a presence defensively; using his length and athleticism to bother shots on the perimeter while also bothering players attempting to finish around the rim when he was brought down as a help defender.
T-Ferg started out well looking confident running the pick-and-roll into a smooth mid-range jumper that was very Paul George-esque, but he seemed to lose rhythm when he tried out a one-legged fadeaway the next time he ran the PnR that had me shaking my head.
Ferg was given ball-handling duties for a large portion of his time on the floor — something he wasn’t tasked with his rookie season — so mistakes are to be expected. But I would like to see him clean up some of these offensive mishaps next game.
The Second Rounders
Sam Presti made the best of the NBA draft by nabbing three promising second-round prospects in Hamidou Diallo, Devon Hall, and Kevin Hervey. None of them received starter minutes, but they each showed something that should get Thunder fans excited.
Hall is a quintessential Thunder player with good two-way potential, but without starter minutes it’s difficult to really determine how ready he is. He was a bit trigger happy on a few shots, but as Miky Berra pointed out, he excelled at navigating screens on the defensive end.
Kevin Hervey got a solid 15 minutes of playing time and managed to rack up 9 points and showed some great defensive footwork, but he needs time with Jerami Grant and Andre Roberson to better learn how to utilize his length defensively to match his footwork.
Diallo got the fewest minutes of the trio with 14 minutes and was about as good as you’d expect from a raw 19-year-old. There’s very clear that he has a high ceiling, but just needs time to refine his skillset. The one promising aspect of this game was his defense. Although he finished the game with a negative +/-, his defense was very impressive. He and Hervey navigated the PnR defensively quite well for rookies with several switches into quick scrams before the pass — something the Celtics demonstrated in the playoffs and looks to become more popular this season.
- Rashawn Thomas was great! Honestly shocked me how well he played on both ends. He was a legitimate two-way presence that should excite the Thunder coaching staff, finishing with 23 points, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. I don’t know if this is sustainable, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
- P.J. Dozier was another surprise of the afternoon. Still wearing #35, he played a great two-way game. A lot of potential two-way guys on this SL roster which can’t be by accident. After some early struggles from Daniel Hamilton, Dozier really took over as the main ball handler and I was impressed by his IQ and decision making. Speaking of Daniel Hamilton…
- OKC’s attempt to make Hamilton into a combo guard who can play the one seems to have failed. His ball handling was horrid all game long, failing to secure his dribble if he got even the lightest of pressure, and couldn’t have taken worse shots in the PnR. He filled up the stat sheet, but I was unimpressed by his performance given the jump he should be making now in his growth.
Rough officiating to end the game as a bad call against Dakari Johnson on the defensive end gave Charlotte a one-point lead and a no-call on a pretty blatant reach-in by Hernangomez sealed the deal for the Hornets in the final 3 seconds, but it’s Summer League and the team is onto the next one tomorrow against the Brooklyn Nets.