By RJ Young
During the NBA’s summer league games at the Orlando Magic’s RDV Sportsplex, the Oklahoma City Thunder reserves, D-League All-Stars and returning overseas talent had six games to show Scott Brooks and his staff the goods. They did not disappoint.
Led by lefty shooting guard James Harden and point guard, Eric Maynor, the Thunder summer league team made a point to attack the basket, play team defense and make a concerted effort to win every game at a time when winning is perceived to be secondary.
The Thunder finished 4-1 for the week with their lone loss coming in the form of a buzzer beater against the Charlotte Bobcats on a circus jumper from guard, Jeremy Pargo.
Throughout the week the Thunder came back from twenty point deficits as it did in its first game against a scrappy Boston Celtics squad and took commanding leads, like their 43-24 halftime lead over the Indiana Pacers in the Thunder’s weekend finale.
Minor injuries were sustained by power forward Serge Ibaka, who rolled an ankle in the Thunder’s first contest against the Celtics and sat out multiple games for the rest of the week.
Eric Maynor also suffered a thumb injury and did not play in Saturday’s game. Both players are reported to be on the mend and should be back in good health by training camp.
In the minutes that Ibaka did play, he looked dominant in the low post, blocking shots, crashing the boards and clearing out the paint on shot attempts.
Alongside Byron Mullen, Ibaka looked comfortable in his role as the Thunder’s force down low.
To the delight of many Thunder fans, Mullens came as advertised since ending the season. He was bigger, stronger and more confident in his game in Orlando.
In his first action in a Thunder jersey since April 14th, Mullens notched a game-high 24 points and led the team in rebounding with seven boards against the Celtics.
Mullens free throw shooting was key in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, going 12-15 from the line for the game. Mullens’ inspired play during the week should get him more opportunities to prove himself against NBA competition in the fall.
Maynor looked in control, cool and at ease as the resident floor general. This is the kind of attitude a coach wants to see in his point guard and the kind of attitude the Thunder have come to expect from their consistent backup to presumed starter Russell Westbrook.
Maynor is emerging a consummate pro, facilitating ball and running the offense with quality passing and ball handling. His best game during the week came against the Bobcats when he scored 18 points, had five assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes.
James Harden made the biggest leap in his individual game of any Thunder player on the roster. He played both guard positions and made himself into a facilitator as well as a scorer. When the team needed a bucket, he darted to the basket, drew contact and got to the line.
But scoring is Harden’s strong suit and his glaring weakness as a defender has kept him out of the starting lineup in the past. With Thabo Sefolosha being left off the Thunder’s summer league roster, a defensive specialist and shooting guard in last year’s starting five, Harden had an opportunity to show he’s become a better perimeter defender and challenger to Sefolosha at training camp. He took that challenge and made it a priority to defend and help defend on every possession often leading to easy points in transition. His best performance came against the Celtics in which he scored 19 points, had four steals, three rebounds and went 15-18 from the charity stripe.
Other standouts during the week include D-League player, DJ White who helped himself tremendously starting in place of injured Ibaka at power forward as well as D-League All-Star, Mustafa Shakur, who saw significant minutes after Maynor’s thumb injury.
In the game against the Pacers, Shakur had 19 points, six assists and was 6-6 from the line. With a roster loaded with talent guards and perimeter scoring threats, Shakur may have a hard time cracking the Thunder’s 12-man rotation in the fall, but performances like that won’t hurt his chances.
The Thunder summer league squad came in as the most hyped and deep team playing in the Orlando and left with folks around the league feeling vindicated by their performance.