Even in the so-called "offseason", there's still a small-scale season going on with the NBA Summer League taking place throughout the month of July. Sure, it's mostly comprised of fresh draft picks, young players refining their game or guys who are just hoping to nab a roster spot, but there's still plenty to take away from these games.
In the Thunder's case, they prefer to ease in their younger talent and season them slowly rather than throwing them directly into the fire of high-level competition. Therefore, the summer league could be used as a major proving ground for any player trying to crack OKC's star-laden rotation.
Besides just vying for playing time, there's a lot of other underlying storylines as well. There are players who are looking to make the cut for the 15-man roster, and there are also other players who are looking to edge out other guys at their position. As for Oklahoma City's summer league squad, let's see which of these storylines we should be on the look out for.
Reggie Jackson: Potential star?
Even the most casual of NBA fans probably got a little acquainted with Reggie Jackson this past postseason, when he was called on to fill in for an injured Russell Westbrook.
Jackson's scoring contributions and athletic plays proved to be a bit similar to Westbrook's, but it was ultimately not enough for the Thunder to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
Though he's not a household name (for basketball, anyway), Jackson's performance so far in the summer league has shown that he could be due for a full-blown breakout season in 2013.
His latest performance included setting the record for points scored (35) in an Orlando summer league game, including leading the Thunder comeback with his 23 fourth-quarter points.
Seeing this domination by Jackson was a good sign that he may finally be blossoming into the player that OKC hoped for when drafting in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft. And even though he wouldn't ever have a chance to take Westbrook's starting job, having a reserve point guard of this quality gives the Thunder that much more depth.
The guys playing around Jackson in the summer league right now could be comparable to the future second unit for Oklahoma City, so it is very encouraging for the Thunder to see Jackson so comfortable with creating his own offense without any star power to fall back on.
Could this latest showing by Jackson be the start of his possible rise to stardom? Perhaps it does, but that all relies on just how consistently he can produce games like this against more elite talent in a full season.
How ready is Jeremy Lamb?
Though there's a lot of pressure riding on Jeremy Lamb to fill the role of OKC's go-to sixth man, he hasn't had a substantial amount of NBA seasoning.
This makes his playing time in the summer league that much more important, since he'll have to work quickly to work any kinks out of his game before the regular season starts in a couple months.
So far, Lamb has had a decent couple of games while sitting out the Thunder's last contest against the Pistons. In his two games, Lamb played around 30 minutes each—scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively. However, these points came off of some pretty rough shooting, as Lamb went just 9-of-32 (28 percent) and shot only 3-of-13 (23 percent) from long range.
The shooting percentage struggles are bound to be there for any young player adjusting to NBA-level competition, so there shouldn't be too much to worry about there. However, Lamb may have to start opening up his offensive game more without relying on his jump shot too much if he wants to make an offensive impact for Oklahoma City.
What better time to try out some new potential moves than during these games that basically don't count for anything but pride? I have little doubt that Lamb will be ready for his increased role by the start of the 2013-14 season, and he should be able to prove that over the course of these next couple weeks.
Which rookie will have the biggest impact?
Even if the Thunder didn't make the "sexy" picks during the 2013 NBA draft, they still came away with a pretty good looking haul of potential contributors.
Leading that pack is the No. 12-overall pick, Steven Adams, who may be in line to become Kendrick Perkins eventual replacement as starting center.
Adams was pretty quiet in his first summer league game, scoring just two points with six rebounds in his 20 minutes of work. This was followed by no game time in the second contest and a much better outing in his third game. Against Detroit, Adams looked much more comfortable in his 31 minutes of time on the floor—scoring 11 points with six rebounds.
Grant Jerrett, acquired by OKC after being drafted in the second round by Portland, has looked great himself—scoring 17 and 14 points in his first two games. Though he struggled in the third game with just two points, Jerrett's flashes of offensive ability in the first couple contests showed off his three-point shooting range, which could be helpful off the bench during the regular season.
As for the Thunder's other first-round pick, Andre Roberson, his summer league performances so far have been solid in other ways. Though he hasn't lit up any scoreboards with his offense, Roberson is living up to his hype as an amazing rebounder, collecting 21 boards over his first three games.
Out of these three, Adams probably has the best chance to play the most with the Thunder, while the other two go back and forth between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This is due both to the Thunder's need for big men, as well as the general lack of need for Jerrett and Roberson as the roster stands now.
With Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III headed for an increase in playing time, and with all of the other talent that OKC has already suiting up, it's tough to see anyone but Adams actually making a noticeable impact this upcoming season.
It's still early in the summer league season, and things could still change for the better or for the worse. With the starting five set pretty much in stone for the Thunder, it's these secondary guys that we have to keep our eyes on, as they can also be just as important down the stretch for any contending team.
One thing is for sure: the Thunder have plenty of young talent up and down the roster, which means any of these guys may be capable of stepping up when called upon. For now, we will have to see how they develop throughout the summer, and if they can end up making a difference when the games start counting for something.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.
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