And down the stretch they come.
Game four of the Thunder’s schedule at the Orlando Pro Summer League is in the book.
Thunder 83, New Jersey/Philadelphia 62.
In today’s edition, Russell Westbrook proved once and for all he doesn’t need to be in Orlando. James Harden showed once again that he’s as efficient, effective and savvy as advertised. And Byron “Don’t call me B.J.” Mullens proved he deserves to be called whatever he wants as long as he continues scoring like he did today and matches his point production with strong effort.
Seven minutes into the game, Mullens had outscored the N.J./Philly squad 6-4 as OKC raced to a 16-4 lead. Mullens had 10 of his “career-summer-league high” (I just made that up) 18 points in the first quarter. In the first period he had two mid-range jumpers, two dunks and a nice layup in transition. He also attempted and missed a 3-pointer. Mullens made nine of 12 shots and finished with five rebounds, two steals, one assists and zero turnovers to go along with his point total. I’d say it was a great performance from the young fella.
But I’m still waiting to see a solid post move out of Mullens. That figures to come with more experience and more time in the weight room. I guess the Thunder has to live with him shooting 17-footers for now. Not bad if he makes them, I suppose, and if OKC is looking for him to become more of a Mehmet Okur type of center than, say, a Chris Andersen or Emeka Okafor or even Brook Lopez type of presence.
Westbrook, meanwhile, fell one point shy of his fourth-straight 20-plus-point game, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and four rebounds. He did have seven turnovers, however. Westbrook continues to get whatever he wants on the floor no matter who he’s going up against and has turned Orlando into his personal playground.
On one possession late in the first quarter, Blake Ahearn was trying to be a little physical with Westbrook as he brought the ball up the court. The two proceeded to get into it a little bit, and the sequence ended with the best move I’ve ever seen out of Westbrook. Westbrook shoved off Ahearn a few times as he brought the ball up the court and the N.J./Philadelphia bench wanted an offensive foul called. The ref eventually blew the whistle on Ahearn, who then tried to swat the ball out of Westbrook’s hands after the play had ended as Westbrook walked away. Westbrook flipped the ball in Ahearn’s direction and walked off. On the inbounds play, Westbrook pushed off Ahearn to receive the pass on the left wing, backed down the smaller Ahearn with two dribbles, turned and shot a baseline fadeaway that looked a little something like this. The move was aggressive yet controlled, powerful yet graceful. Get mad a little more, Russ.
Shaun Livingston and D.J. White both sat this one out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Westbrook sit out Friday against Utah, although he could be thrown out there since he’s not playing in Vegas. If so, I’m mildly awaiting a match up between Eric Maynor and Westbrook just to see how the Jazz rookie fares against a bigger, stronger, more experienced point guard like Westbrook.
Devon Hardin has got to be the most animated player in summer league. I love his enthusiasm.
Robert Vaden still is struggling to get it going. He played 14 minutes today, missed his only shot (a 3-point attempt), and committed three fouls with two turnovers and one rebound. And yet I still think he’ll put together a nice little performance before summer league ball is over with.
On Tuesday I wrote that James Harden could walk out of Orlando as the best rookie in this summer league. I’m about to take that a step further. He could walk out of 2009-10 as the most efficient rookie in the NBA. I’m not big on PER, but I’m getting the sense that by the end of next season Harden will be atop that list for rookies. Through four games he’s averaged 15 points on 55.8 percent shooting from the field, 45 percent shooting from 3 and 85 percent shooting from the foul line. He’s added 3.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and just 1.1 turnovers in 26.7 minutes per game. Sure, it’s summer league and he’s the highest drafted rookie in Orlando. But he’s done nothing to indicate things will change during the season, especially when he’ll be flanked by even more weapons in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Harden is about to enter into the category of, “It’s scary to think this guy is only 19.” Let’s at least get to the preseason before anointing him the next Clyde Drexler. But the question of, “Ricky who?” is definitely beginning to bubble in my brain. And I will also say this, I’m extremely close to handing Harden my preseason prediction for Rookie of the Year. Tyreke Evans is on such a bad team in Sacramento without much else around him that the numbers he could put up might dwarf Harden’s production on a more loaded team.
Speaking of rookies, Philadelphia’s 17th overall pick Jrue Holiday is quickly becoming the most unimpressive young prospect in this draft in my eyes. I know it’s not Thunder related, but this is the second time I’ve watched one of his games and hardly even noticed he was on the court. Today he finished with seven points on 3-for-8 shooting to go with two assists, two steals, one rebound, one blocked shot, five fouls and four turnovers in 28 minutes. The first game I really watched him was against Harden and Arizona State on Feb. 12. He went scoreless in that game on 0-for-5 shooting with four rebounds, one assist, one steal and three turnovers in 33 minutes. I think Holiday has skills to become a good player. But it’s looking like he’s got a long, long way to go.
Thunder is wrapping up this first summer league set Friday against the Jazz. Tip is 10 a.m. our time.