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After a long three month wait in which OKC fans endured a lousy luck lottery night, a Thunder-less playoffs and a polarizing draft, Thunder basketball has finally returned. Ah, Summer League, that special time of the year when you can root for Thunder wins full-stop with no victory associated confusion.
OKC tipped off the Las Vegas competition with a 76-72 win over Detroit and #1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. And in true Thunder culture fashion, newly minted $172 million man Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, Ty Jerome, Vit Krejci and team chaperone Mike Muscala were in the house to support the Thunder’s young guns.
With apologies to Josh Hall (who had a quietly nice night), Jaylen Hoard, Charlie Brown Jr., Rob Edwards and Oscar da Silva, all eyes were on OKC’s four newest draftees and returning 2020 draft day steal Theo Maledon. Here’s my quick initial thoughts on the Thunder rookies’ first pro action and the Thunder backup point guard’s progression.
Josh Giddey. The Australian passing prodigy’s biggest knock coming into the draft was his perceived lack of athleticism. So of course, OKC’s first possession ended in an emphatic, driving two handed Giddey dunk just under 10 seconds into his Thunder career. And just one minute into his career, he rolled his ankle. The #6 overall pick waved off the sub sent to the scorers’ table by Coach Grant Gibbs (anyone else think of Gary Gibbs every time?) and played another four minutes, but he was noticeably bothered by the injury. The Aussie toughness was reminiscent of a certain beloved Thunder Kiwi, but after he was yanked, he went to the OKC locker room and never returned. Hopefully Giddey’s time isn’t up in Las Vegas or else Thunder fans will have to hear it every time Jonathan Kuminga or James Bouknight score a Summer League bucket.
Tre Mann. If you just check the boxscore, the scoring guard from Florida had a rough pro premiere. Mann was not The Man as he finished just 3-14, including 0-4 from 3, for 6 points and 3 rebounds. Early on, he looked hesitant, unconfident and gun-shy, which is the complete opposite of the Tre Mann scouting report. Once the NBA newbie nerves wore off in the second off, Mann finished two highlight reel drives to the rim and starting showing off his patented shot and space creation. The shots may not have fallen, but they will. The important takeaway was the hope that his elite ability to produce open looks on his own would translate. Signs point to yes.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. JRE was the most impressive rookie on the court tonight. And I’m not just counting the OKC guys. Yes, Cunningham is going to be a star, Giddey will wow crowds all season with his playmaking and Mann should show off his bag of long range sniping, hesis, floaters and step backs, but for at least one night, the Villanova big man was the first year player of the game. The 20 year old quieted critics of combining #34 and #36 to move up to #32 to ensure Sam Presti got his guy by scoring 14 points on 6-12 shooting, including one of OKC’s three 3s on the night. His defense was excellent and it was easy to see why JRE has earned a reputation as a high IQ glue guy. JRE doesn’t have Mann’s flash or Giddey’s upside, but whatever his sauce-less ceiling is, he’s likely to reach it.
Aaron Wiggins. When OKC drafted Wiggins at #55, it felt like a mini-steal given that he was usually mocked somewhere in the early to mid-40s. OKC must’ve really liked Aaron to spend a draft pick on him given they broke a new no-no: Wiggins is a geriatric 22 years old. But the Maryland product seemed to check off all the boxes in college and they showed up vs the Pistons: athleticism, size, shooting ability and defensive acumen. Wiggins, no relation to Andrew but hopefully has the same results in the Building Formerly Known As The Peake, scored 13 points on 6-11 shooting. Wearing a #21 jersey and coming away with 3 steals, it sometimes felt like I was watching Andre Roberson out there. Except he hit one of his two free throws. (Just kidding, Dre is awesome and I miss him forever.)
Theo Maledon. After leading the Thunder in minutes as a rookie last season, the elder statesman of the group led the OKC Summer League squad in minutes against Detroit. In a game featuring #1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, along with his own team’s top prized pick and several heralded rookies and sophomores on both sides, Maledon was the best player on the floor. Theo scored 15 points, handed out 11 assists (with only 1 turnover!) and grabbed 5 boards, but his beefy line wasn’t even his biggest flex. Theo did in three months what we all hope Poku might do in three years: doubled his body weight in muscle. Theo ended the season as a Maledon but came back an AlphaMaledon.
Summer League kneejerk reactionary hot takes are completely ridiculous, silly and irresponsible, but that said it’s very obvious that OKC 2nd round picks Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins > #1 overall pick Cade Cunningham.