In Saturday’s duel between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, the expectation for the Thunder was that this game would a learning experience for all the newcomers on the team. With eight Thunder players not making the trip out to San Antonio, including starters in Dort, Bazley, and Horford, winning was not on the top of people’s minds. Theo Maldeon completely changed that rhetoric, as the 6’5″ guard dropped 20 points, on 7-14 shooting, 5 rebounds, and two assists. But these stats do not tell you the full story on how well Theo Maledon played. As he played nothing like a rookie, with decision making skills you’d see from a star point guard and a shot as wet as water. Let’s break down his performance from Saturday.
Maledon’s Immediate Impact
It didn’t even take him 30 seconds to get his name is the stat sheet, getting himself to the line off a quick drive to the basket.
Spatial Awareness (on both ends)
Quite frankly, really all of Maledon’s plays fall into this broad category. But these were plays that I felt were necessary to address and didn’t follow fall under any other areas.
On one of the few times the Spurs opted to switch on Roby-Maledon screens, the Spurs payed big time. Drew Eubanks, a 6’9″ power forward, stood no chance to the quicker Maledon, as he ran straight to the baseline creating separation off a simple stepback. That one move sent Eubanks right into Maledon making it a no-brainer to chuck up a shot and take a chance at the line.
This same awareness came into play on defense, drawing a charge on his man.
Right out the gate Maledon was able to come right around the screen and take over on Derozan. Derozan, being the bigger player, naturally tried to beeline to the rim. Maledon actually gave Derozan some wiggle room to work with, but that was all part of the plan as he planted his feet and fell right as he felt contact. Great effort and selling job on the play.
Maledon hardly took any jump shots, but maybe he should look towards taking more after going 2/2 from 3 on Saturday.
This three-ball popped out me:
This was one of the exact plays I was etching up in my head when I covered the combo of SGA-Maledon in my Podcast, as well as the game’s Preview Article this past week. Well done by SGA catching the open Maledon as he got up the court. And well done by Maledon, cashing in on the triple.
Maledon started the game off on the right foot with his aggression to get to the line, and he never his foot off the gas pedal when it came to getting inside. Maledon, had a reputation in France for having a unique repertoire when finishing inside, with his main go to tricks consisting of runners and floaters. He made sure to show off his abilities inside on Saturday. Showing off more than one asset of his game in the process.
I want you to the look at this play and notice how well Maledon read the defense here. It was the little things that set him up to score this basket, with relative ease. To start it off, Maldeon comes beautifully off the screen from Isaiah Roby. The first thing that sticks out is that there is no help defense from Lamarcus Aldridge, as he remained grounded in the paint. Maledon took this opportunity of having no help defender to essentially take Demar Derozan out of this play. Derozan got himself around the screen but went right into another with Maledon backing him down from behind. At this point all Derozan could do was try to reach for the ball, but by then Maledon had already begun taking his step into the paint.
This immediately turned into a 2 on 1 situation for the Thunder, allowing for Maledon to create the space necessary a this shot. He set up a beautiful pass fake to Roby before getting into his gather. Watch as Aldridge’s feet shift toward Roby, that slight change of movement was all that it took for Maledon to get his shot off, swish.
Even when coming off a screen at the top of the key, Maledon was still able to muscle his way around his defender in order to get his shot to go. Right off the bat you see Maledon resort to creating space from behind, creating the separation needed to get a shot at the rim. In this situation, Rudy Gay and Jakob Poetl were put in a spot where they really could not help. Gay had to get back onto Poku from the corner, and Poetl would’ve risked giving up and easy layup had he helped and had the ball dumped off. This was a great job by Lonnie Walker to get himself back into the play and get a nice contest on Maldeon, it was not enough however as Maledon was able to absorb the contact and finish the difficult layup.
It wasn’t just in these two plays where he showed his ability to create his shot inside either, as 10 of his 20 points came from the paint.
Maledon had an absolute field day when it came to getting his teammates open. When looking back at this game, this is what should stand out about his performance. His ability to read the defenders whether it be 2 feet away or 20 feet away was impeccable. Maledon was a pass-first guard in France, and his court vision was highly touted by his peers, but I find it hard to believe anyone expected him to translate this aspect of his game so easily at such a high level.
Take a look at these near-identical plays, resulting in a pair of wide open Frank Jackson threes.
In both cases Jackson’s defender is caught ball watching waiting to see Maledon’s movements coming off the screen. Had the Spurs defenders stayed home on their man, these plays looked like they were going nowhere. But with Maledon noticing them playing inside, he delivered cross-court passes right on target, elevating over his defender(s) to get the pass off.
Maledon even found himself getting others open when driving inside:
This play look fairly similar to his finishing play previously shown, in which he was able to convert on a floater. Here, we look at that play, but the same play, but with the ending reversed. Maledon comes off the screen and immediately has a clear path to the rim. A 2 on 1 situation comes up again, but this time Maldeon opts to draw the defense towards him as opposed to against him. He steps right into the paint and keeps his eye right on the basket, drawing the center up in the air as soon as he left the ground. This was an easy read dishing it off to Two-Way player Moses Brown, who whiffed the wide open layup. Even though the end result was not pretty, Maledon played everything perfectly to set the shot up.
You couldn’t have asked for a better rookie debut. His Performance was so good even Mark Dagneault had to give him credit for his efforts, calling him over after the end of the 1st quarter (wonder what Mark had to say to Theo after the final buzzer had sounded.)
Maledon showed on Saturday that he is not your average second round pick, and he has put the league on notice with his high understanding of the game. Fans should be excited for what’s to come with Theo if he is able to keep this same level of play into Wednesday’s game vs. Chicago. I’d bet the house that he does.