The big question for the 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder will probably have something to do with replacing the scoring of Carmelo Anthony.
As a result, Terrance Ferguson’s progression as a playmaker became the primary focus for Thunder fans. The second-year player showed flashes in his rookie campaign of being a solid, contributing scorer off of catch-and-shoot opportunities. Ferguson’s athleticism puts him into the conversation of possibly becoming that third scoring option/sixth man role for Oklahoma City.
The plan was to put the ball in Ferguson’s hands. Allow him to distribute, run the offense and create offense off the dribble. For most, the 20-year old disappointed, even to the man himself. Often times, Ferguson looked uncomfortable in this new role. Unattractive box score outputs followed.
Zero points in the first half of the initial tournament game against the Memphis Grizzlies, finishing with only four on 1-of-6 shooting. Eight points against Toronto. To his credit, he saved his best performance for last, scoring 14 points on an efficient 5-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-4 from three.
While scoring wasn’t the most paramount development that many wanted to see, Ferguson’s distribution showed it is still very much a work in progress. Only five assists in five games to go along with eight turnovers.
Ferguson and Thunder Summer League coach Mark Daigneault were not worried as both understood that it was all apart of the process.
“When I first started doing it, I was getting frustrated,” Ferguson said after the Thunder’s 92-85 loss to Memphis. “It’s something new. But then I talked to Billy (Donovan) and Darko (Rajaković) and they both told me that it’s a process. Each day I’m becoming more and more comfortable in doing it.”
“The reps,” Daigneault said. ” Decision making, reps. Every rep he gets is an experience he feels and then he can watch the film and get the feedback on that experience and inevitably that’s how guys get better.”
With this understanding, Ferguson never allowed himself to be a detriment to the younger players despite his struggles.
“He’s a vet,” Hamidou Diallo said of him. “He’s a guy that comes into practice and is locked in. I’ve already learned a lot from him and how he conducts himself as a professional.”
As talented as Ferguson is, it was a tad foolish to assume he would become what Oklahoma City wanted so quickly. Let alone during Summer League. With a foundation set of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Thunder finally have a comfortable identity of which to build upon. This will allow Donovan to put Ferguson into development situations early on in the season.
If the light bulb turns on for Ferguson, it will happen during the regular season. It wasn’t going to happen overnight in Summer League.
“It’s not easy,” Daigneault added. “There’s probably more adversity but you’re investing by taking the short term losses and you’re learning from them and they become future games.”
Ever since former Kentucky Wildcat Hamidou Diallo dunked against the Brooklyn Nets, Thunder fans have been enamored with the young man’s talent and potential.
“He’s made some progress in the week,” Daigneault said. “He’s done a good job of focusing in, learning from the game. Specifically on defense, his identity as a professional player needs to be on defense.”
Diallo agreed with his coach in saying that he needs to improve defensively, specifically on getting beat on back doors. For all raw players, Summer League provides a good learning experience.
Diallo has the look of an Oklahoma City Thunder player. Raw, athletic and a ton of room to grow. Considering he was a late addition to the squad in Summer League and didn’t practice much with the team, according to Daigneault, Diallo’s performances show a lot of promise.
“I’m trying to understand the game at a different level,” Diallo said after the Memphis loss. “That’s going to take time and a lot of film work.”
“He’s a jet athlete,” Daigneault said. “But he’s also got great pace to his game. He’s not just raw-athleticism and no skill, he can definitely play. He can handle the ball, he doesn’t play to fast on offense and has a great maturity to his game.
The biggest surprise for the Thunder Summer League was no question Deonte Burton. As an undrafted free agent, Burton signed with Wonju DB Promy in South Korea’s Korean Basketball League where he won league MVP as a rookie.
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Burton’s unorthodox style of play to his body type combination allowed him to bully opposing Summer Leaguers and surprisingly hold his own against some larger players.
Deonte Burton vs Jaren Jackson Jr was like Unstoppable Force vs Unmovable Object
— Jon Hamm (@JonMHamm) July 12, 2018
“With the way the league is trending, you want more and more positionless players,” Daigneault said. “He has the physical strength to guard bigger guys with the way that switching is going in the league, that’s a valuable asset to have. He’s one of those types of players that has the versatility to his game that is very valuable.”
“Every team is looking for that one player who can bring consistent defense, regardless of what position,” Burton said when asked about his versatility.
Burton routinely made good basketball plays. His in-game maturity meshes perfectly with his fearless attitude and physical skills. The Thunder did themselves a favor signing him to a two-way deal quickly and early. Burton certainly has a skillset that, if developed, can become valuable to the Thunder down the road.
Of course, many will point to his fun performance in the last game against the Orlando Magic where Burton hit the mid-range floater to win at the buzzer.
“Every game I feel I got more comfortable,” Burton said. “I think the more reps, the better I can get.”