ORLANDO, Fla. — At roughly 11 a.m. on Friday morning, the Oklahoma City Thunder scattered into summer.
But not before spending five days in Orlando focusing on development.
The Thunder finished 3-2 at the Orlando Pro Summer League, but records, of course don't matter. It's the individual improvement by the players that trumps all.
Over the past five days, there was some good, some bad and some ugly things in Orlando. But ultimately, the Thunder accomplished its desired goal and walked away a better team thanks to some growth seen in several players.
Here are five things we learned in this year's summer league.
1. Reggie Jackson is getting better and gaining confidence
The 24th overall pick in last year's draft came to Orlando as the second most experienced Thunder player based on NBA games played. And he played like it. Jackson was a leader from start to finish, and he looked as comfortable and confident as he's ever been running the offense. He was a wizard in the pick-and-roll, regularly making all the right decisions. Jackson's jump shot looked improved and his decision-making and assertiveness got better each day. He was by far the most impressive player for the Thunder, causing many in the crowd to begin to wonder about his future with Oklahoma City. It was a stark difference from the player who not long ago faced questions about how he would handle a roller coaster rookie season, which saw Jackson lose the backup spot to Derek Fisher late in the year. But Jackson kept his head during the season and used Orlando to show that he might be ready to take the next step in his second year.
2. Perry Jones III is Lamar Odom lite
We weren't quite sure what to expect from the Thunder's 28th overall selection. And a sprained ankle late in the game on Day 2 kept us from getting a nice, long look at the rookie. But Jones didn't disappoint in his first two games as a pro. In his debut, he scored 16 points with eight rebounds and silenced critics questioning his motor. Just 24 hours later, however, Jones was much less impressive, scoring eight points with four rebounds and three blocks in what would be his final game in Orlando because of an ankle injury. His second game brought back questions about his consistency. But Jones showed enough to prompt Thunder assistant and summer league coach Mark Bryant to label Jones as a Lamar Odom type of player. While everyone agrees Jones has a long way to go before living up to that comparison, he certainly showed Odom-like ability to impact a game in a variety of ways, be it scoring, rebounding, facilitating or blocking shots. Jones might never be great at any one thing. But if he can improve and remain solid at everything, he'll have extraordinary value.
3. Cole Aldrich needs structure
Aldrich is now in his third season and is penciled in projects to be the primary backup to Kendrick Perkins this year. But he left plenty to be desired after his week in Orlando. Aldrich averaged five points, 6.5 rebounds and had more turnovers (eight) than blocked shots, steals and assists combined (seven). He simply didn't have a good showing. But many believe the defensive-minded Aldrich was in a no-win situation competing in summer league. This setting is more conducive to guard play, not lumbering big men who are paid to set bone-crushing screens, play stout post defense and rebound. Combine that with the fact that Aldrich was playing with unfamiliar teammates, all competing without a set system, and Aldrich was doomed. Those aren't excuses. That's the reality. Aldrich certainly struggled. But the regular season might be a truer indication of how ready he is to contribute.
4. Lazar Hayward has some skills
When the Thunder acquired Hayward two weeks before the start of last season, he was supposed to add defense, perimeter shooting and toughness. But all he brought was a bunch of DNPs — did not plays. Because he averaged just 5.4 minutes in 26 games for the Thunder, many fans wondered what his purpose was on the team. But Hayward showed an array of positive traits that could benefit the Thunder if the team ever needs him in a pinch. Hayward led the team in scoring with a 15.8-point average and showed an improving ability to barrel his way to the bucket. He struggled with his shot throughout the week, shooting just 35.8 percent and 23.1 percent from 3-point range, but Hayward isn't expected to take on a primary scoring role in the regular season. If he can be effective as a scorer in limited opportunities, he'll have a place. In the meantime, his defense, rebounding and leadership (he was the most talkative player on the court in Orlando) are all underrated assets and should keep him around.
5. Latavious Williams is an animal on the glass
It doesn't look like Williams, a 2010 second-round pick, will join the Thunder this season. But that should just give him more time to develop his game. What we know now, though, is Williams is a terror on the glass. He's a rebounding machine. Despite sporadic minutes, Williams still managed to lead the Thunder in rebounding this week. He grabbed 27, including a staggering 18 on the offensive end. Williams doesn't have many skills or much polish, but his athleticism makes him a threat in transition and on the boards in any league.