ORLANDO, Fla. — As the final minutes ticked off the clock in the Thunder's final game at the Orlando Pro Summer League, a running joke began to make its way down press row.
Reporters from all over were tickled at the nerve of the Thunder.
Oklahoma City, they said, brought ringers to summer league.
When the scoreboard showed the Thunder ahead by 20 late in Friday's championship game against the Rockets, one writer cracked that OKC was out there running up the score with its second unit.
It was all in fun.
But the truth, as we know all too well, is that much of the Thunder's roster that so thoroughly dominated in Orlando couldn't even crack the lineup in Oklahoma City last season.
Reggie Jackson was the only player in Orlando who ranked among the Thunder's top 12 in minutes per game last season — and he was merely a spectator Friday. Jeremy Lamb, Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins, meanwhile, each averaged eight minutes or less.
The unit observers in Orlando witnessed was really the Thunder's third string.
And that should do two things: put the league on notice at what's coming down the pipeline in Oklahoma City and quell Thunder fans' fears about whether this team has enough to contend for a title.
The cupboard, even with the departures of James Harden and Kevin Martin, is far from bare.
Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka appear to be in good hands. The supporting cast that surrounds them possesses some serious skill, offering shooting and slashing, running and rebounding, passing and playmaking.
But can all that talent be tapped into this season?
That's the most pressing question.
After a season in which an ill-timed injury to Westbrook ruined the Thunder's playoff run, it's understandable how nobody wants to hear about tomorrow any longer.
Still, the facts can't be ignored. For all the concern about the Thunder's championship window closing, there is a simple reality that illustrates how wide open it might be: Westbrook (24), Durant (24) and Ibaka (23) are closer in age to Jackson (23), Lamb (21) and Perry Jones III (21) than they are to Kendrick Perkins (28), Thabo Sefolosha (29) and Nick Collison (32).
Translation: their time is coming.
The pipeline is filled with too much promise.
Here are five things we learned about the Thunder's pups this week in Orlando.
Reggie Jackson is ready for more
We didn't need Jackson's single-game Orlando summer league record 35 points — which included a 23-point, fourth-quarter explosion Tuesday — to know this. We saw enough out of Jackson when he was thrown into the playoff fire to know he's capable of more. But the Thunder's projected sixth man was full of swagger this week, on and off the court. From the outside, it appeared he carried himself with as much confidence as he ever has. The way he walked. The way he talked. The way he hooted and hollered from the bench. If he didn't before, Jackson now knows he belongs. What we still don't know, unfortunately, is how much Jackson has improved as a shooter. He attempted eight 3-pointers in his two summer league appearances and made only two.
Jeremy Lamb is not just a shooter
A funny thing happened with Lamb in Orlando. The one thing he does best, shooting, is the one area with which he struggled most. He made only six of 22 3-pointers (27.3 percent) this week. But he did just about everything else. He rebounded, ran point guard, made plays of the dribble for himself and others and even played pretty solid defense. While it's good to know Lamb does indeed have some versatility, that won't be his role if he cracks the rotation next year. He'll probably be used primarily as a spot-up shooter. Everything else would be a bonus.
Steven Adams has a solid foundation
Few among us knew what to expect with Adams. But he was a pleasant surprise this week. His extremely athletic for his size and at times that alone will lead you to believe he should be playing. On one possession this week, Adams chased an opponent's fast break following a Thunder turnover. He caught the ballhandler, a guard, and ultimately stopped the ball and forced a pass. Adams then crossed the lane and contested the shot. There might not be another center on the Thunder's roster that can do that. Though he has a long way to go, especially on offense, Adams showed patience in the post, awareness in pick-and-roll defense and the makings of a nice baby hook. His rebounding and shot-blocking left more to be desired. He's in the right position to do both but has a tendency to stay on his feet rather than use his athleticism to grab those rebounds and blocks.
Andre Roberson is a rebounding machine
Get used to hearing about him doing the little things. Because he's great at them. In four games, Roberson took just 19 shots, the eighth most on the team. But he had 32 rebounds, the most on the team, and six steals, the second most on the team. His rebounding really stood out. Roberson has a nose for the ball and a knack for flying in out of nowhere to grab both offensive and defensive rebounds. Offensively, he's really raw but knows where to be and knows his limitations. Almost all of his 19 points came on cuts and putbacks. To maximize his potential, Roberson will have to develop a reliable 3-point shot.
Daniel Orton could leave the Thunder with a tough decision
Rarely do teams carry four centers. And with a leaguewide gravitation to small ball, the Thunder might be reluctant to buck that trend. But Orton showed tremendous improvement this week. He rebounded at both ends, scored out of the pick-and-roll and ran the floor for easy transition baskets. It was enough to raise eyebrows for many who haven't seen much from Orton due to his limited playing time the last three years. But the Thunder might soon have to decide if it can afford to let go of a 22-year-old big man with good hands, athleticism and a strong work ethic.