Much is at stake over the next seven days for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Pride is in play, and legacies are on the line as the Thunder looks to defend its 2013 summer league championship
But don’t underestimate the value of the next week. When the Thunder walks into this year’s Orlando Pro Summer League, opening its five-game slate with a 4 p.m. contest against Memphis, a good portion of Oklahoma City’s projected 15-man roster will be on hand. For the team’s young players, this setting will provide another pivotal opportunity to develop. For everyone else, it’s a chance to see just how much the pups have grown or, in some cases, still have to learn.
As many as seven players on the Thunder’s summer league roster could be wearing Thunder jerseys next season. Five of them we know will be in town.
So as the week unfolds, here is what you should be watching from the Thunder’s main summer league players.
Has a skill: Physical play is what Adams does best at the moment. He bangs against anyone and earned a reputation in his rookie season for being a pest. But we saw signs throughout last season of Adams being capable of much, much more than being a mere nuisance. He rebounds well, is fantastic at running the floor, catches and finishes around the rim and is a solid passer.
Needs to drill: Defense is what Adams needs to do better. He had some nice moments on that end as a rookie. But there were many more where he was baffled in pick-and-roll coverage and a step slow or simply lost in other team concepts. It was to be expected out of a rookie with a limited basketball background. But shoring up those defensive skills will be critical for Adams to blossom into the player many believe he can be. Free-throw shooting is also a sore spot. Adams shot just 58.1 percent from the foul line last season.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He limits his mistakes defensively, shows a little more polish on the offensive end and continues to flaunt the all-out hustle that made his rookie season a success.
Has a skill: Since the night he was drafted, all we’ve heard about is what a great defender Huestis is. We’re about to get our first glimpse at what he might be capable of at the next level. Huestis is said to be capable of guarding small forwards and power forwards because of his size, strength and length. The Thunder at this point is not looking for much else from Huestis outside of defense, hustle and consistent effort, all the things that got him drafted.
Needs to drill: Offense is not Huestis’ strong suit. He’s developing as a shooter but struggles to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. He knows his strengths and tries to limit his weaknesses, so don’t expect him to transform into Rudy Gay. But those offensive areas are some of the things Huestis can really work on in this summer league setting.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He lives up to the hype as a defender, rebounder and hustler. Anything he provides offensively will be icing on the cake. But we’re looking for Huestis to wow us in at least one game with his defensive effort.
PERRY JONES III
Has a skill: He’s 6-11, with long arms and world-class athleticism. There isn’t much Jones can’t do on a basketball court. He’s a rapidly improving shooter, a useful defender and a terror in transition.
Needs to drill: His energy. It was the knock on him coming out of college, and after two years it remains a question mark. There are times when Jones is just out there, not making an imprint on the game in a positive or negative way. He’s talked about needing to learn how to get the most out of his athletic ability and turn it into productivity. Now would be a great time to practice doing that. It’s the most critical thing for Jones at this stage in his career.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He plays hard every minute he’s on the floor. As one of the older players on the Thunder’s summer league roster, Jones should shine this week. Not only as a scorer. Whether he’s defending, rebounding, passing or just making hustle plays, Jones has to make his presence felt at all times. He isn’t likely to play in all five games. But the ones that he does appear in need to leave you floored.
Has a skill: Shooting is what Lamb does best. But it was in Orlando last year that we saw Lamb really showcase his ability to orchestrate the offense and run the pick and roll. We could see more of that this week.
Needs to drill: Defense is Lamb’s biggest area of weakness. He’s proved to be a willing defender, but he must get stronger to be able to better hold his ground and he still has a tendency to get beat by his man fairly easily. That’s the biggest thing to watch with Lamb this week. How effective he is at creating his own shot is another one.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He doesn’t get injured. Seriously. Lamb should be no worse than the Thunder’s eighth man next season. His place on the roster is solidified. His future is bright. He isn’t expected to play in more than two or three games this week. So while it’d be nice for Lamb to show much-improved defense, the biggest things for him are just being a leader and dodging injury.
Has a skill: Rebounding and passing are two things that McGary does at an elite level. He has a knack for both, and when he’s rolling with those two things he really wows you with his intelligence as a player. He’s also good at running the floor for transition points, capable of scoring out of the pick and roll and owns a good pair of hands and a soft touch around the basket, allowing him to catch and finish with regularity.
Needs to drill: It’s going to be interesting to see how much work McGary has to do as a defender, both in the pick and roll and on the low block. He loves to do the dirty work and excels at it, but position defense is not his strong suit. This will give us our first look at exactly where McGary stands.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He can log some good minutes. McGary played only eight games last season because of a back injury that required surgery. This is the first time he’ll play in a real game since early December. The Thunder might want to limit him. But if McGary can go all out this week, it’ll be a great sign.
Has a skill: He might be the best rebounder on the Thunder. Not the summer league Thunder. The real Thunder. Roberson is that good. He led the Thunder’s summer league outfit in rebounding last year and flaunted his nose for the ball in 40 games as a rookie. His defense also stood out. His long frame allows him to cover a lot of ground and be really effective at staying in front of his man.
Needs to drill: Shooting. Shooting. Shooting. Roberson has a long way to go to be a threat from 3-point range. He missed 11 of his 13 3-pointers last season and, worse, shied away from taking open ones. That can’t happen, especially if he’s being viewed as a potential starter to replace Thabo Sefolosha next season.
He’ll have a successful summer league if: He supplies solid defense and shows some semblance of a more reliable shot. His shooting isn’t going to be refined overnight. It literally could take years. But he’s working on it every day, and it could be a big boost to his confidence if he has a strong showing as a shooter in Orlando.