Photo Credits: Ethan Miller/NBAE via Getty Images
The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the Las Vegas MGM Resorts Summer League far from their pre-draft expectations. With five of the top thirty-six selections in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Thunder had the label of a title contender written all over them — for Vegas, that is. Following the Thunder’s draft-day extravaganza which saw them offload Pick No. 16 and consolidate Picks No. 34 and 36 to move up two spots, their hopes still remained.
Oklahoma City’s hype started out strong in their opener versus the Cade Cunningham-led Detroit Pistons, but after a tumble from Josh Giddey, and personal reasons taking out Tre Mann, the Thunder were a microcosm of what they were originally intended. Despite this adversity, however, Oklahoma City got their act together to dial up the League’s season-high in their last hoorah, finishing the season 2-4.
Here are the main takeaways from all four of Oklahoma City’s draft choices in Vegas:
When Adam Silver initially read Josh Giddey off the Thunder’s draft card — the fanbase swirled into a frenzy. Prior to the draft, factions of those wishing for G-League Ignite standout Jonathon Kuminga or UConn guard James Bouknight reveled in budding heads as to why their favorite target was the top option. Presti’s guy had been under everyone’s nose the entire time.
Giddey took no time in making his voice heard in Las Vegas. In the first possession of his debut, Giddey navigated a high-ball screen to perfection coasting by Cade Cunningham and company for a freeze frame two-handed rim grazer. That was just about all the action we saw from the 18-year-old. A mere few possessions later, Giddey grimaced in pain after tweaking his ankle on a drive, and after three minutes of battling through the pain — the plug had been pulled. Giddey’s overall playtime in Vegas? Five minutes.
Despite the minimal playtime, Giddey’s stature as a 6-foot-8 point guard is just as tantalizing to imagine as it is to watch. Giddey lacked elite speed in his five-minute sample, though, his ankle surely rules into that equation. He still orchestrated plays regardless. Though Giddey’s reps in the halfcourt could be logged in the single digits, his renowned passing ability coupled with the penetration ability displayed beams some light into what Thunder fans will become accustomed to during the season.
Tre Mann’s selection at Pick No. 18 may have been overshadowed by Sam Presti’s decision to trade out of Pick No. 16, and the opportunity to select fan favorite Alperen Sengun. Despite the white noise Mann entered the room with, the 20-year-old put his best foot forward for Summer League play.
Mann showed zero hesitation in putting the ball up in Vegas shooting a team-high 14.5 times per contest, and as a byproduct — a lot can be picked apart from his game. Mann shot a mere 3.0 threes a game during his stint, opting to pass up on one of his most formidable attributes in college, but it opened up his interior game. Mann struggled to rack up points inside, going a mere 24.1 percent overall, but the tenacity Mann showed while slashing in on defenders six-to-seven inches taller than him deserves some praise. Mann showed a first step reminiscent of Kira Lewis Jr. and De’Aaron Fox, one small miscue from his defender, and Mann’s already at the basket. Mann’s lightning-fast speed allowed for the grander portion of his layups and floaters, but also an ample amount of kick-out opportunities — he rarely took them.
Mann posted 3.5 assists in his two Summer League appearances while recording 2.0 turnovers a night. Mann’s sample size hinders Mann’s true colors as a penetrator, as he played just two games before exiting Vegas due to personal reasons. Overall, Mann averaged 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists off a 28.1-minute sample size while shooting a paltry 24.1 percent overall and 0-of-6 from downtown.
On paper, Mann is marked as one of the worst rookies in the Las Vegas circuit, but Mann’s infectious quick first step showed more than enough potential that his potential is endless.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded two coveted seconds in Picks No. 34 and 36 to trade up two spots to , the team’s fanbase cast into uproar. With favorites such as Sharife Cooper and JT Thor remaining at both consolidation pieces, a lot of pressure amassed on second-round selection Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. He made diamonds in Sin City.
Robinson-Earl led all Thunder members averaging 12.0 points across his five games while also chipping in 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists across his 25.3-minute spread. In Robinson-Earl’s efforts, the 6-foot-9 forward amped up a notch to play small-ball five for the majority of his minutes — and he filled right in. Robinson-Earl shed dashes of how Isaiah Roby performed at the center spot last season outsourcing a dual-threat attack once a high-ball screen had been set. Following the ball screen, Robinson-Earl showed a knack at tip-toeing to open space whether it be via a mid-range or catch-and-shoot triple. As a rim runner, Robinson-Earl surpassed his frontcourt opposition simply through his speed alone. With his newfound speed, Robinson-Earl consistently made defenders pay if they opted to hedge or attempt to switch off of screens. Even while cruising in the fastbreak, Robinson-Earl kept pace with forwards, and on some occasions guards, when trekking to the rim off a fastbreak.
Even despite the well-rounded frontcourt ability, Robinson-Earl also dabbled into territory uncommon for his build. As a defender, Robinson-Earl not only held his stance on bigger centers inside, but the Villanova product placed clamps on backcourt members, one of which being Cade Cunningham. Robinson-Earl lateral quickness did not pop out to elite levels over the course of his five games, but the 20-year-old did an astute job in patching up potential driving lanes up top. As a rim protector, Robinson-Earl became accustomed to slamming down pin blocks, and as showcased against the Pelicans, shutting down posterizer attempts.
The 20-year-olds biggest strength, however, may actually rest in his passing ability. Though Robinson-Earl’s 1.8 assists may look like chump change, the forward turned into an offensive aficionado when it came to distributing the ball. Whether it was by means of bounce passes, transition heaves, or simple kick-out passes from the post, Robinson-Earl did so at an effective rate.
There’s a legitimate case that Robinson-Earl outclassed his first-round team members in Las Vegas, it will be interesting to see how Mark Daigneault plans to utilize the rookie come regular-season ball.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Aaron Wiggins with Pick No. 55, many fans had ruled out the Terrapin as an afterthought. With Presti’s less than lustrous late-second-round pick resume consisting of Devon Hall, Kevin Hervey, and Dakari Johnson, among others, Wiggins entered the Summer League with the bar set relatively low. He climbed the ladder.
After opening his post-collegiate career in the G-League Combine, Aaron Wiggins earned his stripes winning over one of just four invitations to the NBA Combine through his impressive play. Once at the NBA Combine, Wiggins kept the same tempo, hounding defenders on one-end while prowling for catch-and-shoot opportunities on offense. In Vegas, Wiggins did much of the same, and then some.
Wiggins emerged as one of OKC’s top members following Josh Giddey’s early exit, and he never dropped off. Wiggins placed the team’s second-highest scoring output on the team averaging 11.2 points to tag along with 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. The 22-year-old wing struggled going to trusty thee-ball, shooting a paltry 20 percent on 4.0 attempts per contest, but he found other ways to operate. Wiggins blossomed in the halcourt slashing in from the top of the key before promptly stopping, spinning backwards towards his pivot, and feasting off of post push-shots, hooks, and in some cases — turnaround jumpers. Wiggins’ smooth play on the interior shed light onto an aspect that had been left out on the majority of his draft profiles.
On the other side of the ball, Wiggins’ defensive abilities handed coaches Grant Gibbs and Kameron Woods a trusty option all Summer League long. Wiggins navigated as a ball hawk when lurking passing lanes, and in the halfcourt — his swift jabs at stealing the ball paid dividends averaging 1.2 a night. As a rim protector, Wiggins placed just one block across his Las Vegas-tenure, but the 22-year-old did a superb job in closing out on shots, both inside and outside.
Wiggins’ promising Summer League-play left Thunder GM Sam Presti no choice at the business table as now, Wiggins has clamped up one of Oklahoma City’s two two-way contracts. Under current regulations, Wiggins will have the opportunity to play in 50 regular-season contests, and if he stays par to his current course, he could reach the threshold.