With the Orlando Summer League all finished up, teams will be taking stock of the performances of their players and deciding how to tackle the preseason slate of games. While obviously a Summer League star will not instantly be able to tear up the NBA, they often will have what it takes to be a solid bench option, so therefore it really does matter.
With this in mind, the winners and losers of the week is important, and in this article I hope to outline these for the Thunder.
Buycks' great week in Orlando has already paid dividends, as he recently agreed to a multi-year contract with the Toronto Raptors, according to Shams Charania of RealGM. While it will be sad to see the young point guard leave Oklahoma City after his promising play in the Summer League, the fact that he had four teams bidding over him showed how many heads he turned.
Buycks put up good numbers all week. He did not shoot a lot, but when he did, he found the net almost half the time, and averaged 9.5 points, six assists and two steals a game. However, the big takeaway from his play was the poise he showed controlling the game. He was great at running the pick and roll, showed some nifty passing skills and was one of the more locked-in perimeter defenders to boot. While he will not ever be a starting point guard for an NBA squad unless he sees a lot more development, he stands to be a very solid career back-up who can run a game and gel a bench unit together.
Jones was one of the trio of young stars that the Thunder were going to send to Orlando to get ready for a potential starring role off the bench in 2013. However, while Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb played and showed their talent in Orlando, Jones was sidelined and did not play a single minute due to a medical procedure to clear up an oral infection. While Jones will still get a chance to show off his game in the preseason, a week as a featured star against fringe NBA talent and rookies would have been a great chance for Jones to impress the coaches and build confidence before the season.
Instead, Jones sat on the bench and watched Andre Roberson, a late first-round pick by the Thunder in the 2013 NBA Draft who plays the same positions as Jones, perform very well as a hustling rebounder, defender and cutter. In short, he looked like the perfect complimentary rotation player. While he will not be totally replacing Jones any time soon, Roberson's play and Jones absence is certain to have closed the gap between the two of them, and will probably cut into Jones' 2013 minutes backing up Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
I admit that I was never a great fan of Daniel Orton, but his Summer League performance has given us a peak into the looking glass of what he can offer the Thunder bench. The Thunder now have a glut of centers on the roster, with Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Hasheem Thabeet also battling for what will probably be three roster spots. While Orton's defensive struggles are frustrating and he has terrible conditioning, his ability to score points should give him a leg up on someone like Thabeet, whose only redeeming quality is length.
Orton was a very effective scorer who did his work mainly on the low-block, an area where the Thunder are lacking. If he can continue to do this against bench units in the NBA, he could prove very valuable in short stints off the bench, where his ability to score would help prop up units without Westbrook or Durant and his lack of conditioning and defense would be hidden as best as possible.
This should not really come as a surprise, but the surprisingly good performances of Steven Adams and Daniel Orton in the Summer League will probably make a significant dent in Perkins' minutes next season. Orton provides some offensive capability that Perkins simply cannot offer, and Adams' athleticism and length makes him a more versatile (and in my mind better) defender and better offensive rebounder.
Perkins has just come off a very disappointing season in which his inability to defend the pick and roll, his offensive struggles and lack of athleticism really caught up to him. In the playoffs, he managed a PER of -0.7, which is the lowest ever recorded. Also, over the last two seasons, his PER rating has been 8.7 and 8.2 respectively, according to Basketball-Reference. Given that the league average is 15, his two-year run of mediocrity does not create optimism for a return to prominence. Additionally, Perkins has recently gone under the knife to repair his right knee. While this should not lead to him missing any time, it does not bode well for his ongoing health.
While Perkins was always on his way out in Oklahoma City given his play, the faster development of Adams and Orton will significantly shorten his clock. He could be done in OKC by the end of the 2013-14 season.
In what seemed to be a unimportant round-two deal, the Thunder shipped a unknown amount of cash to the Portland Trail Blazers in return for the draft rights to Jerrett. Jerrett is a 6'10" stretch four with long arms and a sweet stroke from outside. After all, in college he made 40.5 percent of his three-pointers. However, he rarely played in his one and only year at Arizona and does not project to be a good inside player, which is somewhat of a requirement to play power forward in the NBA. For these reasons, Jerrett was a player who looked to be on the precipice of being cut until the final hour, and even then never see the floor of a real NBA game.
However, his play in Orlando has opened a lot of eyes to his potential, and it seems almost impossible now that he will not be part of the wider Thunder roster for the next two years. He averaged 10.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from three, and showed some shot-blocking ability as well. He showed that he is indeed one-dimensional, but that dimension will be enough to get him game time, since there is possibly nothing that breaks rim protection down more than a spread four.
The Thunder are sure to see his potential, and, if he develops, he could easily become the next Ryan Anderson or Matt Bonner.
With a great Summer league team, the Thunder are well on their way to having the best bench unit in the NBA. While benches are notoriously fickle, the Thunder have a potent combination of athleticism, size, defense and scoring that should let them build leads even when Durant and company are taking a breather. Here's a quick run-down of the bench.
Steven Adams (C) - Athletic big who can defend, rebound and finish at the rim.
Daniel Orton (C) - A big man who can score in the post, although a bit of a defensive sieve.
Nick Collison (PF/C) - The ideal glue guy who does a bit of everything, defends and plays with great hustle.
Perry Jones III (SF/PF) - A bit of an unknown, but has the skills to score inside and out, rebound and defend 3's and 4's.
DeAndre Liggins (SG/SF) - A poor mans Sefolosha, Liggin's plays great defense and can hit a corner 3.
Jeremy Lamb (SG) - A legitimate scorer who can nail jumpers off the ball, drive the hoop and play solid defense.
Reggie Jackson (PG/SG) - The sixth man, Jackson plays in a similar way to Westbrook, and has the elite athleticism to play lock-down defense and slash to the rim. He is not a three shooter though, or a traditional point guard.
The Thunder also have Andre Roberson, who looks to be a great rebounding and defensive forward who could replace Orton or Liggins on the bench depending on who plays well. The point is that this is a versatile bench that can dominate on it's own with ball handlers or mesh with an elite scoring front line.
Both Jackson and Lamb did exactly what was expected of them. They dominated when they were switched on and seemed to coast for chunks of their minutes. This is especially true of Jackson, who absolutely exploded in that huge fourth quarter in their game against Detroit. While it would have been nice to have seen them dominate the competition from start to finish, they showed enough to suggest they will be ready for their important bench roles next season.
Lamb was more inconsistent, and did struggle to nail his jumpers in some games. However, he also showed great form, and should become more accurate when given a less-featured, more off-the-ball role off the bench. By midseason I am sure that he will be performing at least as well as Kevin Martin did last year as a floor-spreading sixth man
Since they did not dominate consistently, they were not technically "winners," but they really were. They were already locked into big roles next season, and only a complete dud of a week would have done anything to change this.