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Orlando Observations: Day 2

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm •  Published: July 7, 2009

The Thunder played its second game of the Orlando Pro Summer League on Tuesday and fell to the Indiana Pacers, 91-88, after beating Orlando on Monday’s opening day. OKC lost behind some obscure summer league rule that allows a team two foul shots for each foul an opposing player commits after his sixth foul. D.J. White was whistled for an offensive foul while trying to set a pick for Russell Westbrook at the top of the key in the closing seconds with the game tied, and 13th overall pick Tyler Hansbrough (I think) hit two free throws to put the Pacers up two with about 2.9 seconds left. The Thunder then fouled and some dude made one of two free throws for the final margin. James Harden missed a good look at the buzzer that would have tied it at 91-91.

But who really cares if you win or lose, right? The most important thing is the team’s young players got another chance to play together collectively and 40 more minutes of experience individually. And nobody on the Thunder walked out of the gym on crutches. Can’t say the same thing for Indiana’s Josh McRoberts.

View the box score here. As for my impressions……

Westbrook looked great throughout much of the first half, finding the open man and getting teammates the ball for wide open shots off his penetration. He also showed a more controlled pull-up jumper. But in the second half he struggled with turnovers, with a bad pass and palming and traveling violations in the third quarter alone. He also didn’t get where he wanted nearly as much as he did in the first half during the third quarter. But it was a product of a change in the offense. In the first half, the Thunder ran a lot of pick and roll and pick and pop, letting Westbrook read and react to what the defense did. There was much more ball movement in the second half, which allowed other players (mainly James Harden) to initiate something. In fact, the Thunder ran pretty much the same play the entire second half after running almost the same set for Westbrook in the first half. In the final half, White would set a screen for Westbrook, Westbrook would pass to White, White would dribble over and hand it off to Harden, and Harden would run pick and pop or roll with White, allowing Harden to become the facilitator. Basic stuff for summer league.

Westbrook finished with four assists in the first quarter. He got into the lane twice early, finding Harden for an open 3 on one possession and Kyle Weaver for a deep 2 on another. He also stole a pass and led a fast-break, which ended with an alley-oop to Serge Ibaka. He later hit B.J. Mullens off a pick-and-pop for a 17-footer at the end of the first quarter. Westbrook made up for his third quarter sloppiness by getting to the cup at will in the fourth and, with the help of Weaver and Harden, sparking a comeback for OKC, which trailed by as many as 12 (I think).

Harden played terrific. He looks great in the open floor. Not the fastest, as we’ve all heard by now. But he’s under control and makes the right play more often than not. He was a consistent perimeter shooting option for Westbrook out of ball screens and showed his versatility by leading the break a few times and hitting the open man in transition. He could very walk out of Orlando as the best rookie in this league.

It was good to see assistant coach Brian Keefe (who’s coaching the summer league team) switch up the offense and give Harden more opportunities to create in the second half. With Westbrook dominating the ball so much in the first half, Harden was reduced to being a bystander who could only sit and wait for a kick out. Same thing happened with Weaver. Because of that, it might not be a bad idea for the Thunder to sit Westbrook on Wednesday to let Weaver and Harden control more of the pace and tempo and work on their game management skills. But since Westbrook will not play in Vegas, they’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to get that experience this summer.

Weaver’s shooting stroke looks slightly quicker. I know it’s one of the areas he was looking to improve this summer. Still has a long way to go, but it’s a good first step considering he’s only had a little less than three months since the end of the Thunder’s season to concentrate on it.

White competed but struggled with his jump shot, which is generally really solid from mid-range. The offensive foul he picked up on the moving pick that cost the Thunder the game should be and likely will be chalked up to Westbrook not waiting on White to set the screen. Granted, their was only three seconds left and Westbrook was at the top of the key needing to make a move in a hurry. But Westbrook should have then called off the pick and made his move. Chalk it up to growing pains. They’ll get better at it as they play more together.

Shaun Livingston sat out tonight and was in street clothes. No clue why, but the logical explanation is likely rest for an experienced player rather than sticking him in back-to-backs.

Mullens showed he has a nice shooting touch early. Then he air-balled an 8-foot jump hook from the right block, and his next shot attempt from the right wing hit the bottom of the left backboard. At least he showed he’s got some tools to work with, I suppose. Didn’t see much defense out of him, although he did come from the weak side on one possession and help challenge a Hansbrough shot in front of the rim, so effort does appear to be there.

Ibaka plays with confidence even if he is raw. He isn’t afraid to do different things, shoot from the outside, bang on the inside, put the ball on the floor, rebound, contest shots, bring the ball up. He’s got a good mix of skills that could become awfully deadly because of his athleticism if he works to refine his God-given abilities.

Can’t say that I saw the same confidence out of DeVon Hardin. He looked lost throughout several moments and not quite sure where to be or what to do. He has similar athleticism as Ibaka but appears to over think the game.

Robert Vaden showed off his perimeter shooting in the little bit of burn he got. Still want to see if he can put the ball on the floor, play defense or create something for someone else. Then again, keep stroking it and he might not need to do any of the other things. Just shoot it and shoot it well and he’s an asset.

Random thoughts…..
* Kyle Hines, who I’ve never heard of, checked into the game about midway through the second quarter…..and he later got dunked on by Hansbrough off a baseline drive in the third quarter.
* Moses Ehambe played 3:19 according to the box score…and I never knew he was in the game.
* McRoberts, between dominating play in the first half, reminded me of Robert Swift in appearance alone. Must have been the floppy hair.
* Westbrook “mule-kicked” a ball boy underneath the basket late in the first half. He was chasing down a Pacers run out, went up for the block and on his landing had his right foot stretched out toward the goal post where the kid was sitting. Apparently Russ didn’t say anything to the kid or check to see if he was OK. Good hustle anyway, Russ.
* The Thunder seemed to play with a different energy than the other teams at summer league. Guys were up on the bench, clapping, shouting, encouraging each other. I thought it was a good sign.
* The Thunder shot a better percentage (54.7 percent to Indiana’s 52.5 percent) and had fewer turnovers (14 to Indiana’s 20). But the Pacers won the game by doing a better job of converting the Thunder’s turnovers into points (24 off the Thunder’s 14 as opposed to the Thunder’s 23 off Indiana’s 20) and shooting 19 more free throws, making 25 of 40 compared to OKC’s 14 of 21.
* There’s nothing wrong with the broadcasting crew of Dante & Galante. If you don’t like them, lighten up. It’s summer league.

Thunder back at it tomorrow at 4 p.m. our time against Robert Swift and the Boston Celtics.

-DM-

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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