Theo Maledon entered Friday’s game vs. the Brooklyn Nets with the consensus being he’d fill in adequately for starter George Hill, who was out with a thumb injury. What ensued in Maledon’s 33 minutes was nothing short of spectacular— 24 points, 3 rebounds, and three assists. Not only did the 19-year-old’s scoring totals eclipse his previous career-high of 12, but he put his name in two record books. The rookie’s 6/6 three point shooting on the night tied the franchise record for best 3-point performance in a game, tying Caron Butler’s, who set the bar in 2014. Maledon’s numbers from downtown also tied an NBA rookie record for best 3-point performance. Though his knack for shooting was spectacular, bar none, the other complimentary pieces to his game made this match unforgettable for Theo.
Let’s Break Down The Tape
Maledon’s three assists may be swept under the rug when people look at back at this breakout performance, but it may have been sneakily what made him so productive.
Shai GIlgeous-Alexander has had the privilege of playing with guards capable of playing both on-and-off the basketball. SGA’s passenger side role alongside that of Chris Paul has been similar to that of George Hill this season, and now, Theo Maledon.
Shooting the basketball has become the primary option for 34-year-old Hill this season, and the adjustment for Maledon to primarily shoot along with SGA, and create plays on the side took no time for the rookie to put into motion.
Here are Maledon’s three assists:
A tendency that Theo has shown so far is his levitation towards the middle of the floor. In all three of his assists in the game I want you to notice his patience when attacking to the middle of the paint, or in some cases not attacking at all.
Maledon’s radar is always on when he has the ball in his hands, every assist he made led to a wide open triple. His options are always open until the very last second of possessions.
The rookie’s passes in this game were the absolute basics of what guard-play looks like: survey the floor, and make the right reads. That he did, but he didn’t even scratch the surface of his playmaking talent on Friday. I highly suggest checking out his Game Breakdown from the preseason, where he rips pass after pass off in the most improbable of situations.
Maledon kept to the catch-and-shoot for the greater part of Friday night, but he had a few spurts where he look the shot off the bounce.
The first possession is a product of a great coaching and implementation of the playbook. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks to be the leader going up with the ball, but that was all but a decoy. Theo intentionally takes his time to cross the timeline in an effort to let the play develop. SGA does a beautiful job handing the ball off to Maledon by crossing the court to force the switch. James Harden did not really gravitate towards Shai much so he did not have much to recover from at that point. What he did need assistance with was Al Horford’s screen which with no help from Deandre Jordan gave Maledon an easy two.
The second play was a result of Nets’ James Harden and Reggie Perry not being on the same page off a Mike Muscala screen. James Harden was fully intending on switching to Moose while Perry seemed a bit dazed, closing out far too late to stop the (very) long two.
Maledon’s three-point frenzy is what made his night so special, let’s see where he accumulated his shots.
Theo had one lone triple off of the bounce, converting on a transition pull-up which was poorly defended by Brooklyn’s defense. The rest of his five triples were dialed up by the catch-and-shoot. All five of his shots were generated off of dumbfounding drives and passes to the middle of the court to draw defenders in. For all we know, the Nets may have chosen to test Maledon’s range all night, opting to rather double down low, but they learned not to try such behavior again once Friday’s contest wrapped up.
The passes flew in from multiple players as Bazley and Al Horford completed two assists apiece off the rookie’s threes, while SGA dotted him for one triple.
Maledon’s stroke was never shaken up during the night, having zero pressure at all on looks (credit goes to extra passing from the starters.) His silky-smooth jumper hardly touched iron in any of his six attempts in finding the basket.
These kinds of open catch-and-shoot looks are expected to be made at the Thunder’s two-guard position, and as the stats stand now, he’s the best option. Maledon currently leads the team on catch-and-shoot’s shooting an efficient 48.9% on 2.5 attempts, with George Hill falling in second on 47.5% off 2.9 attempts.
You could not have asked for a better shooting performance than what Theo Maledon put on display Friday night. His shooting from his last game has seriously raised the question if he should be starting long-term, and with his playmaking ability left mostly in the bottle vs. the Nets, he has more room to impress and make his case for playing with the starters.