YUKON — Three practices was all Elijah Millsap needed to make certain, no matter what happened throughout the remainder of the preseason, that teammates, coaches and media members would know him by his first name rather than his already familiar last name.
But by his seventh Thunder practice, the undrafted rookie's performances had raised the question of whether he can somehow seize a currently nonexistent roster spot. It's a remote possibility that was first discussed by Kevin Durant, who was so sold on the swingman out of Alabama-Birmingham that he singled out the training camp signee Wednesday with an eyebrow-raising proclamation.
"One guy that I think has a great chance to make our team is Elijah Millsap," Durant said. "Great defender. Great all-around player."
Millsap, the younger brother of Utah forward Paul Millsap, showed at the Thunder's open scrimmage at Yukon High School on Friday night what Durant and others have seen all week — defensive tenacity and a tough-minded, never-back-down mentality.
With guaranteed contract players James Harden and Daequan Cook sidelined after bumping heads in Thursday's practice, Millsap got assigned to Durant throughout much of the four, 10-minute, running-clock quarters. And Millsap put on a defensive clinic against last year's scoring champ. He disrupted plays by being a pest in passing lanes. He held his own in the post against the much taller Durant. He let his defense lead to his offense.
A number's game, however, could cost Millsap a chance at a crack at NBA life. The Thunder's roster is at 15 guaranteed contracts, the maximum allowed under league rules. In order for Millsap to make the team, he must perform well enough to force the front office to trade or waive a player before the regular season opener. A more likely option is for Millsap to wind up on the Tulsa 66ers, the Oklahoma City-owned NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Thunder.
However it plays out, Millsap can rest assured he has made a name for himself.
"He's very aggressive defensively," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "That's what we like about what he brings to our team. He makes our camp very competitive. He's not mistake-free. But there's not one drill or day in practice that he did not come with 100 percent effort. That's what he is about."