LAS VEGAS — The Thunder was not one of the 12 teams in action Monday in the NBA Summer League. Oklahoma City got a much needed day off after playing five games in seven days dating back to last Monday’s opening day of the Orlando Pro Summer league.
The Thunder did go through a practice at a local high school in preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at 7:30 p.m. Central Time. As for the game, Oklahoma City is simply looking for continued development out of the roster, individually and collectively, and for players to continue focusing on playing as a team.
It should be an interesting match up from the standpoint that the Lakers have a vagabond bunch with the two most familiar names being Adam Morrison and former OSU forward David Monds. Former Arizona standout Mustafa Shakur once was a big name, and some of you might remember Michigan State product Alan Anderson from his successful college days with the Spartans. But the Lakers roster is awfully sketchy after that, so the fact that L.A. has only one NBA player on its summer league roster should bode well for the Thunder executing its game plan. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, former Oklahoma star Blake Griffin torched that Lakers squad in his debut Monday night. A buzz began building in Cox Pavilion for Griffin’s debut about 30 minutes prior to the Los Angeles Clippers tip-off. Before the final horn even sounded on Phoenix and Dallas’ game, media and league personnel began making their way across the hall to the Thomas & Mack Center to get a good seat. And Griffin didn’t disappoint, scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds in 30 minutes.
The game was by far the highlight of the evening, and Griffin (even against inferior talent) continued to show he was a worthy No. 1 overall pick and has the tools to blossom into a special talent. What I found most interesting is that Griffin hardly hinted, verbally or non-verbally, that he was pleased with his individual performance. He gave himself a B- when asked to grade his debut, he rarely smiled, perhaps signaling he was in no way satisfied with his latest double-double and he appeared simply relieved when it was all over.
Griffin’s performance was the latest in a string of solid showings I’ve seen in my first two days in Las Vegas. And while summer league standouts don’t mean a thing come November, the talent on display here is beginning to make this draft class look much better than what the experts routinely wrote off as second rate. Is this 2003 all over again? Of course not. But it certainly looks like it won’t come close to rivaling the 2000 class as the worst this decade.
Nothing more needs to be said about Blake Griffin. Hasheem Thabeet had a solid debut against the Thunder on Sunday. James Harden plays with the poise of a 10-year vet. Tyreke Evans has been a scoring machine but also has shown a knack for all-around production. Jonny Flynn gets whatever he wants whenever he wants, and he’s got a tough-as-nails mentality to match his motor. And Stephen Curry has scored at will just like we thought he would in Golden State’s system.
Brandon Jennings has been impressive with his speed and quickness, and I’ve also heard good things about Darren Collison, Sam Young, DeMar DeRozan and Austin Daye. No. 8 pick Jordan Hill and the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls No. 16 pick James Johnson and No. 26 pick Taj Gibson make their debuts Tuesday.
But my most surprising revelation came in Monday’s second game while watching Taylor Griffin and the Phoenix Suns go up against Dallas. Thunder draft pick Rodrique Beaubois is Rajon Rondo in the making — with a better jumper. Beaubois, the No. 25 pick who the Thunder dealt to Dallas in a draft-night deal along with a future second-rounder in exchange for Byron Mullens, has proved to be indefensible when driving to the basket. He’s got ample athleticism to finish at the rim and is so savvy with his passing that he finds the open man when he’s doubled or draws any extra attention. He looks like he’s 12 in a 15-year-old’s body so he must get stronger. But my money is on him turning into something after learning the ropes for a bit under Jason Kidd.
There are also a lot of players with local ties out here whose last names aren’t Griffin. In addition to the Griffin’s and Monds, former OU big man Longar Longar is competing for Memphis, Oklahoma City native Darnell Jackson is with Cleveland, former Oral Roberts forward Larry Owens is with New Orleans and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Dove and ORU’s Moses Ehambe of course are with the Thunder. I also caught up with Joey Graham, who is here with brother Stephen and is looking for his next opportunity this summer in free agency. I’ll have updates on all of them in the coming days.