Photo Credits: Nic Antaya/NBAE via Getty Images
With preseason play opening on Monday, basketball season is back. But before the regular season, the Thunder will embark on a four-game preseason from October 4 – October 14.
For most fans, watching the progression of fourth-year star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or seeing the first moments of rookies Josh Giddey or Tre Mann will be atop the watch list for the test run. However, as recent history shows — the Thunder host a petri dish for training camp success stories.
When looking for notable underdog stories, look no further than last season’s training camp roster.
The least prosperous camp waiver, Admiral Schofield, still made strides past the workout sessions, being selected first in the 2020 G-League Draft and an in-principle 10-day signee for the Orlando Magic, later being nullified for health-and-safety reasons. Another frontcourt drop, T.J. Leaf, kept to himself for the majority of last season before inking a two-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers last April.
Center Omer Yurtseven raised eyebrows post-camp with the Thunder’s G-League affiliate Blue averaging 15.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks across 14 games. The Turk transfigured his game from a back-to-basket role to that of a modern stretch five gig with the Blue, garnering the attention of the Miami Heat — signing a two-year deal last May. Yurtseven’s deal consisted of a fully non-guaranteed contract for this season, but an impressive Summer League campaign netted the 7-footer another two-year bid.
The Thunder’s biggest training camp star from last season, Frank Jackson, hit his stride at all three levels, averaging 12.3 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in a 20.1-minute slate of minutes. Upon the Thunder’s decision to waive Jackson, uproar sprouted as a result of his four-game display. After his time with the Thunder, Jackson garnered a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons, later climbing the ranks into a two-year deal with the franchise.
Following a 22-50 regular season, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in a near-identical situation in comparison to last year. With a roster permeating with young talent, and an ongoing search for potential, all 20 of the Thunder’s training camp members will be explored for further investigation.
Here are three under-the-radar Thunder players in the running for preseason standout:
Tre Mann does not fit the mold for training camp attendees of the past. Unlike success stories from the last camp, Mann will be an indefinite member of the Thunder’s long-term future. In Mann’s route to Oklahoma City, the 20-year-old bolstered a Freshman campaign averaging 5.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 0.7 assists off the bench into becoming the Gators’ star, dropping a team-high 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting 40.2 percent on 4.7 attempts across 24 games.
Mann’s pre-draft process saw him soar up boards to the point of late-lottery consideration. By the end of the draft process — Mann found himself in a Thunder jersey at Pick No. 18.
Mann has had a drab debut with the Thunder up to this point as the 20-year-old averaged 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists across two games with Oklahoma City’s Summer League team over the offseason, before having his time cut short for personal reasons. In his Vegas venture, Mann shot a mere 24.1 percent on 14.5 attempts per night.
On paper, Mann was the least efficient first-round selection in Vegas. However, it should be noted that the guard’s two-game sample size is insufficient to draw any conclusions, and in the two games he did play — he showed tenacity in slashing towards the hoop, looking to clash or swerve around frontcourt figures mid-air.
Fast forward to today, Mann is a surprising breakout player, but only due to his previous resume. Mann’s game seamlessly fits into Mark Daigneault’s pick-and-roll-oriented offense as the former Gator has one of the most diverse bags in open space. When driving to the basket, Mann showed a knack at kicking out to defenders or going up for a hallmarked free-throw floater. In the mid-range, Mann has the ability to quick stop and pop, while at the three, Mann is a more than capable shooter, wielding a shifty step back to create space.
Mann made a name for himself in college for his methods of scoring, averaging 20.7 points in his final seven games, posting four consecutive 20+ point outings, and a 30-point game, so the idea of Mann exploding in the stat sheet will be something to monitor.
As of now, Mann is intertwined in a positional battle for the guard spots with Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome. A major spark for Mann during preseason could tilt the odds into his favor, and based on his track record — it should very well be in the equation.
For those keeping tabs on Rob Edwards’ career to this point, the 6-foot-5 guard has been the constant underdog but has prevailed through adversity.
Following a five-year college career across Cleveland State and Arizona State, Rob Edwards was selected by the Oklahoma City Blue with their final pick, the seventh selection in the second round. Edwards joined a Blue roster filled to the brim with guard talent including Ty Jerome, Chasson Randle, and Zavier Simpson. Edwards started out as a sneaky shooter off the bench notching double-digit honors in a bench role. Edwards’ once quiet role on the team had become no secret as the season progressed, however, as the rookie became the Blue’s secret weapon off the bench, firing home a sequence of 8+ points in a matter of minutes, putting games well out of reach by halftime. The former Sun Devils’ 15-game G-League campaign saw him post eleven double-digit games and two 20-point outings.
By season’s end, Edwards averaged 12.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting a team-high 44.0 percent from downtown.
In addition to Edwards’ outburst at the G-League level, the guard opted to remain with the Thunder for the Las Vegas Summer League, he dominated yet again.
Edwards climbed his way up the depth chart improving from taking garbage time minutes to recording the teams’ season-high in points, twice with 23. When it was all said and done, Edwards was the second-highest scorer on the team with 11.2 points to tag along with 1.4 rebounds and 0.6 assists.
The initial news of Rob Edwards joining the Thunder on a training camp deal looks like a head-scratcher on the surface given that Oklahoma City has stacked the backcourt with 10 other players to this point, but if one thing can be concluded, it’s that he’s right in his natural habitat.
The 24-year-old sources Oklahoma City a Frank Jackson-Esque role from last preseason as a three-level scorer prone to erupt and take over the offense. Edwards’ offensive game spans to both playing on-and-off the ball, and the guard has made a living to this point pulling up from the left-wing. If Daigneault gives Edwards his fair share of minutes, it’d be a safe bet to envision the guard heating up quickly, and making his future status a legitimate toss-up.
Vit Krejci is expected to make his Thunder debut for preseason play, but the Czech guard has been in Oklahoma City’s system for an entire basketball year.
Krejci, age 21, was acquired by the Thunder last offseason in a draft-day deal that sent the rights to Cassius Winston (53rd pick) and a 2024 second-round selection to the Washington Wizards in exchange for the rights to Vit Krejci (37th pick) and Admiral Schofield.
Thunder GM Sam Presti took a swing on Krejci last year with the knowledge the guard would miss the 2020-21 season following a torn ACL injury in September of 2020. While Krejci was in recovery, the guard opted to rehab in Oklahoma City starting in January. During his time in recovery, Krejci familiarized himself with the organization, signing a G-League contract with the Oklahoma City Blue to access facilities, attended Thunder home games throughout the season, and went to Darius Bazely’s birthday party earlier in the year.
Krejci’s injury plan originally slated the guard to participate in the Thunder’s Summer League over the summer, however, a hiccup in Krejci’s rehab process sidelined the guard from playing in Vegas.
As of last week, Krejci has been participating in full-scale workouts for the Thunder’s training camp, so it looks as if it’ll be a go for the 21-year-old during preseason play.
Krejci comes in as Oklahoma City’s mystery man, but a very intriguing one at that. Based on his original draft evaluation, the guard has already outperformed his second-round grade with his archetype alone. Krejci clocks in as a mega point guard, playing solely the one thus far in a 6-foot-8 frame. Krejci’s highlight reel hits nearly every category as he’s been prone to laser-off flashy, no-look passes to teammates while also using his ability to drive to complement his passing game. The guard’s overall speed resembles that of a wing, though he compensates as a slasher. Pre-injury, he was a heads-down slasher who strived in making contact on finishes. As an additive, the guard shot in the mid-thirties from the three-point arch with Basket Zaragoza last season while also being coined as “impressive” by Coach Daigneault on defense.
Given the 21-year-old’s playstyle, the guard gives Mark Daigneault extra ammunition in lengthy perimeter figures with a decorated array of playmaking ability. Krejci’s absence for a surplus of a year makes him a bit of a wild card, but if he anything like the scouting reports, the Thunder have found another playmaker next to names in Aleksej Pokusevski, Darius Bazley, and Gabriel Deck, among others.