Editor’s Note: Matt Craig is in Orlando this week to cover Summer League for Daily Thunder. He’ll be posting recaps, photos, videos and more right here on the website, but you can also follow along on Daily Thunder’s Twitter, Up The Thunder or Matt’s personal Twitter account.
Summer League is upon us, and I’ll be in Orlando this week to bring you coverage. The Thunder boasts an exciting crop of young players, some of whom may be looked upon to contribute alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the regular season. (It sure feels good to say that.)
Domantas Sabonis and Terrance Ferguson were originally slated to participate, but have both been scratched from the team. Sabonis because he was dealt to Indiana in the Paul George deal. Ferguson, the Thunder’s 21st overall pick in the draft, because he has yet to sign his rookie contract.
Let’s meet the team.
Shooting Guard, 6’3″, 190 lbs., 25-years-old, Oklahoma State, 2 years NBA experience
At a Glance: The Freak Athlete
After four standout years at Oklahoma State, Brown was drafted 44th overall by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2014 NBA Draft. The upside was obvious, as Brown showed off a 43.5″ max vertical at the NBA Combine and paired it with outside shooting touch. But in his two years with the Nets, he averaged just 16.2 minutes per game and saw his three point percentage dip below 30%. He played last season for Khimki of the VTB United League in Russia (sidenote: that team also included former college legend Robbie Hummell and former NBA players Alexey Shved and Jeremy Evans).
Still, aside from the two players in Orlando who have appeared for the Thunder, Christon and Huestis, Brown is the only member of this summer league squad with actual NBA experience. The real questions he needs to answer this week are what position he’s going to play at just 6’3″, and whether or not he can be a threat from the NBA three-point line.
Guard, 6’3″, 190 lbs., 24-years-old, Xavier, 1 year NBA experience
At a Glance: The Incumbent
Christon’s story is the dream of nearly every player in Orlando this summer. As is the case with many, he was drafted in the second round coming off of a successful college career, but spent his entire rookie season in the D-League. After failing to make the Thunder roster in the summer of 2015, he spent a season playing in Italy. But he returned to last year’s Orlando Summer League on a mission, showing off impressive defensive ability and ended up beating out Ronnie Price for the third string point guard spot on the Thunder roster.
After Cameron Payne was traded in February, Christon was vaulted into the backup point guard role, receiving valuable minutes behind the league MVP. Those minutes showed exactly what you might expect from a potentially fringe NBA player who may have been above his head, especially in an intense playoff series with the Rockets, but it’s always difficult to unseat the incumbent.
OKC has brought potentially five candidates to Orlando for the backup point guard role on the Thunder, but it’s the job of the four challengers to make it clear they deserve to replace Christon, who already has a salary option in place with the organization. That isn’t to say there isn’t still pressure on Christon, who finds himself once again in Orlando with his NBA career on the line. Fans can expect stifling on-ball defense, and better hope for improved outside shooting and decision making.
Guard, 6’2″, 195 lbs., 25-years-old, Oregon, Rookie
At a Glance: The Sparkplug
Fresh off of his appearance in this year’s Final Four, Ennis enters the summer league as one of the oldest and most experienced rookies. In a college career long enough to give Perry Ellis a run for his money, including stints at Rice, Villanova, and Oregon, he showed the ability to run a team and also proved effective as an off-ball point guard. He’s the type of player that energizes his teammates, as you might guess by the lighting bolt-esque Wiz Khalifa stripe in his hair, and though he’s likely not as tall as listed, he certainly has more muscle mass than most of the younger point guards in Orlando. The stat fans can get excited about is his three-point percentage, which was 35.8% on nearly four attempts per game last season, and with nearly textbook technique to boot.
It’s an uphill climb for Ennis to make an NBA roster, but he may be a darkhorse contender amongs the five point guards. In the AAU-style setting of summer league, high-energy point guards usually thrive.
Guard/Forward, 6’6″, 200 lbs., 21-years-old, Connecticut, Rookie
At a Glance: The Threat
Of all of the player’s on the Thunder’s summer league roster, Hamilton has perhaps the most to gain by performing well this week. After a successful season with the OKC Blue of the G-League, where he averaged 15 and 8 and shot 37% from deep (as well as some standout performances including hitting seven threes against the Santa Cruz Warriors), he seems like he could be in line for a promotion. While it’s more likely the team will use one of the new two-way contracts on him, who could say no to a sturdy 6’6″ wing who should be able to stretch the floor?
This week his primary goal will be to outplay Josh Heustis at the same position and prove that he could be the three-and-D wing the Thunder have long searched for.
Guard, 6’6″, 220 lbs., 21-years-old, Illinois, Rookie
At a Glance: The College Star
There’s no two ways around it, Hill was THE man at Illinois. He averaged 14.4 points as a sophomore, 18.1 a junior, and 17.2 as a senior, all adding up to the third most points in school history. At that level he was asked to do everything, and for the most part he did, hitting threes (35.5%) and taking defenders to the rim on isolations. Perhaps most impressively, he averaged under two turnovers per game despite heavy usage.
His biggest task is proving he can play on the perimeter at the next level, since he played as a forward for the undersized Illini. That will be most noticeable on defense, since there are questions about whether or not Hill is athletic enough for the NBA.
Forward, 6’7″, 195 lbs., 24-years-old, Texas-RGV, Rookie
At a Glance: The Swiss Army Knife
During his four years at Rio Grade Valley, Hines did a little bit of everything. At 6’7″ with long arms he was able to play both inside and outside, though it’s fair to say that players were a bit smaller and slower in the WAC. Still, there’s a lot to like from his college tape and what little I was able to find from his time playing in Sweden this past year. Hines is great while operating in tight spaces, which is a useful NBA skill, and has good court vision for someone who doesn’t have the ball in his hands a lot. His footwork is above average and his shooting stroke shows some potential.
The concerns arise when you think about how Hines might match up with players he cannot bully as he did in the lower collegiate levels, or how he’ll defend wings who have more foot speed. He doesn’t look like a player who can create his own shot, so he may struggle to stand out in the summer league setting.
Forward, 6’7″, 230 lbs., 25-years-old, Stanford, 2 years NBA experience
At a Glance: The Savvy Vet
It may seem like a slight to call Huestis a veteran at 25 years young, but on this roster it is fitting. After being drafted in the first round by Oklahoma City in 2014, Huestis played on the Thunder’s Orlando Summer League team that summer, missed 2015 with a pectoral injury, then participated again in 2016. “The 3-and-D Wing Who Was Promised” has flashed all of the skills front offices drool over in the modern NBA, but doesn’t wow you with his game.
The Thunder has used the summer league for players who are solidly on the team before, with hopes they could come in and prove they can dominate against lesser competition. It’s all about development for Huestis, who will look to prove he can be a knockdown spot up shooter and lock down the best player on the opposing team. In the back of his mind will be all of the younger players on the roster with similar measurables and skillsets (Hamilton, Hill, Hines).
Center, 6’9″, 210 lbs., 22-years-old, UTEP, Rookie
At a Glance: The Tweener
Hunter is another player who has had to transition from the interior to the perimeter at the professional level, which is a tall task for someone who only took 12 three point attempts in his entire career at UTEP. He does it mostly through his athletic body and surprisingly impressive ball handling skills. Last summer he had some good performances for the Clippers summer league team in Orlando, attacking the rim ferociously on cuts to the basket. But on the current roster he is still listed as a cente — so which is it? Perhaps Hunter has decided to transition back into being a small-ball big man due to the lack of spots for non-shooting wings in the NBA.
Center, 7’0″, 250 lbs., 21-years-old, Kentucky, Rookie
At a Glance: The Beast
In a modern NBA filled with skinny, mobile big men, it’s refreshing to see someone as physically impressive as Johnson. His body has trimmed down substantially since his time at Kentucky, but he’s still a handful down low. Johnson is the most likely amongs this group to jump up and see minutes for the Thunder next season, as he showed all he needed to this past year averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds for the Blue and being named a D-League All-Star. With Domantas Sabonis being shipped out and trade rumors swirling around Enes Kanter, he is someone that fans might get to see a lot of in the coming year.
In Orlando, Johnson will likely see a lot of opportunity to score down low. In order to peak the interest of Thunder scouts, he will need to show passing ability out of the post and some ability to switch on pick-and-rolls and defend quicker guards.
Center, 6’10”, 210 lbs., 23-years-old, France, Rookie
At a Glance: The Trash Man
Morin is a no-nonsense, rim-running, pick-up-the-trash big man. Though he’s just 23-years-old, he’s been playing professionally overseas since the 2012-2013 season, most recently in France’s B League. He’ll set solid screens and do all the dirty work, and is the type of big who likes to dunk everything he sees. In the tape, there are worries about his slow foot speed and lack of feel for the game. But again — dunks. Lots of dunks.
Guard, 6’2″, 175 lbs., 23-years-old, North Carolina, Rookie
At a Glance: Smooth as Silk
Paige is a player that most fans are probably familiar with due to his high-profile at UNC and the fact that he hit the most incredible shot-before-the-shot in sports history. Since being drafted 55th by Brooklyn in last summer’s draft, traded to Utah and then waived in October, Paige has had to readjust. At 6’2″ he’s almost certainly stuck at the point guard position despite shoot-first tendencies, and if he wants to make the team he will need to show drastically improved defensive skills.
Three-point shooting can however be the trump card for any player, and Paige is someone who was a career 37.5% outside shooter on…ehhemm…”difficult” attempts at North Carolina.
Forward, 6’8″, 230 lbs., 22-years-old, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Rookie
At a Glance: The Hometown Kid
The Oklahoma City native followed up a standout career at OKC Southeast HS with four productive years at Corpus Christi, averaging 22.5 points and 9 boards as a senior this past year. Thomas is yet another example of a small-school forward who will need to showcase perimeter skills in Orlando, but in his case he will likely be content to compete at the power forward position. Intensity and physicality will definitely not be lacking from Thomas, who loves to bang with bigger players, and seems to have mastered a handful of unconventional scoring techniques.
Guard, 6’4″, 190 lbs., 24-years-old, William & Mary, Rookie
At a Glance: The Shooter
Not to be confused with the seven-year NBA vet by the same name, this Marcus Thornton was the conference player of the year in the CAA his senior season in 2015 after averaging 20 points a game. How? By shooting over 40% from three-land on nearly eight attempts per game. One can only hope he’s still sporting the shoulder-length dreadlocks that he showed off during the 2015 summer league playing for the Celtics. Thornton was also productive this past season in Italy, averaging 13.5 points and shooting 34% from three on over five attempts per game.
The problem is going to be finding a role for Thornton, both on this summer league team and also on the regular season roster. He’s an undersized guard that is content to just shoot, which limits his possibilities quite a bit.Coaches
- Mark Daigneault (Connecticut)
- Vin Bhavnani (USC)
- Royal Ivey (Texas)
- Andrew Jones (Penn State)
- Steve Scalzi (Boston College)
- David Akinyooye (Adelphi)
- Jarell Christian (Emory & Henry)