LAS VEGAS — The uphill journey of Robert Vaden became more pronounced as each one of his jumpers splashed through the net Thursday night.
With each bucket, the public address announcer inside the Thomas & Mack Center brutally botched his last name, providing a verbal indicator of just how far the 54th overall pick has to go before making something out of his NBA career.
But for the first time in eight summer league games, Vaden showed exactly why the Thunder traded for the second-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham. He broke out of what could be viewed as a summer-long shooting slump by dumping in 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting. He made four of five 3-pointers while playing 33 minutes as a starter in place of James Harden, who got the night off.
"He always comes out and competes every night,” said Thunder summer league coach Brian Keefe. "He always comes out and defends his guy. Always tries to help his teammates on the defensive end. He got more minutes (Thursday), so he got more looks at the basket and he got in a nice rhythm early. But he’s still doing all the other fundamental things well. It’s just he hasn’t made a lot of shots, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of shots.”
Vaden came to Las Vegas after averaging just 3.0 points in five Orlando Summer League games. He shot 30 percent from the field and missed eight of his 10 3-point attempts. And he added only 2.6 rebounds and 0.6 assists compared to 1.8 turnovers.
Things got worse through his first two games in Las Vegas, where he had made only one of five shots for five points in 25 minutes Sunday and Tuesday.
"Usually I only get one or two looks a game in not many minutes,” Vaden said. "I’ve always been the guy that had the ball in my hands or had the green light to shoot it. But I’ve just been trying to play with my teammates and be a good teammate and play good defense. The shots will come.”
Keefe said the coaching staff never was concerned about Vaden.