MEMPHIS — The two-inch scar on his left thumb knuckle serves as a reminder of how harsh this game can be.
It’s a symbol that marks the latest bump in the road Kyle Weaver.
First there was the trade for Thabo Sefolosha at the February trade deadline, a move that added another wing player to the roster and effectively sliced into the shooting guard’s playing time. Then the Thunder drafted over the second-round pick out of Washington State when it selected James Harden with the No. 3 overall selection in June. That move could knock Weaver to mop-up duty this season.
The last thing Weaver needed was to come into training camp with a torn thumb tendon, an injury he sustained in the Orlando Pro Summer League and needed surgery to repair.
But that’s the predicament Weaver finds himself in as the Thunder opens its preseason schedule tonight in Memphis. Against the Grizzlies, though, Weaver might finally catch a much-needed break. Sefolosha sustained a mild concussion in Monday’s practice and did not travel with the team. That leaves an open spot at the starting shooting guard position that Weaver is itching to fill. It’s an opportunity for playing time that Weaver must take advantage of and show Thunder coach Scott Brooks he’s worthy of minutes. Fail to do so and Sefolosha and Harden are waiting in the wings to turn a three-man battle for minutes into a headache-free, two-man rotation.
It’s a challenge Weaver has accepted.
“Every day we’re out here, whether we’re doing a drill or scrimmage, when we get in between those lines it’s a fight,” Weaver said. “Not only am I trying to get better myself, but I’m trying to show that I belong out there. I’m still trying to prove that. Every time I step out here it’s a fight. I’m trying to get better, and I want to do what I can when I’m on the floor to make my teammates better as well. So it’s definitely a fight every time I’m out there.”
Weaver’s value is in his versatility. He’s a playmaker in a shooting guard’s body, capable of playing and defending both guard positions. He spent the off-season improving his shooting stroke, working on a quicker release, better range and deadlier accuracy. He also worked on his ball-handling and decision-making skills so that in emergency situations he can provide relief at point guard or give Brooks more options with his flexible lineup.
“Individually I feel a lot better on the floor,” Weaver said. “I’m feeling more comfortable. I’m feeling confident. I’m talking a lot more. Just the small things I want to just keep up and get better at during the season.”
The thumb injury set Weaver back in his goals. Just days before training camp Weaver shed all protection he wore on the finger. But ask him to bend the thumb and he still struggles with range of motion.
“I’m still doing my rehab hoping to try to get some more movement back in it in the next couple of months,” Weaver said. ” I can bend it, but it’s just still so stiff.”
Weaver averaged 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 56 games last season. It was considered a successful rookie season since he made the most of his 19 starts and 20.8-minute average on the year. But despite the odds, Weaver is doing everything he can to carve out a role for himself and build on last year’s performance this season. He played in both summer leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas. He then spent most of his summer working out in Oklahoma City with assistant coaches and a few teammates.
He knows his hard work didn’t go unnoticed, but he’s hoping it pays off in 2009-10.
“Everybody saw it,” Weaver said of his diligence. “The coaches saw it. The managers were here helping me out, too. And I think they appreciated seeing me out here working during camp as well. The main thing now is just to make it a snowball effect and carry it over now.”