Notes from NBA Summer League: With Holmgren, Giddey Thunder will be fun to watch
LAS VEGAS — The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to lose a lot of games this season.
However, this team will be fun to watch with Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey, not to mention Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a host of other talented young players. They might even push a few teams.
That fun starts with Holmgren’s versatility — in his first game in Las Vegas (but third overall), the Thunder let him bring the ball up and initiate the offense at times, they used him in dribble hand-off actions and other plays where he was expected to make the right read, and they just let him be aggressive. That matters, Holmgren is naturally aggressive (and stronger than he looks, although he’s got a ways to go in that department).
Holmgren finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks on Saturday night.
“I think with a guy like him, it’s easy to get siloed into one specific facet of the game, good or bad for him, because he’s so unique,” Thunder Summer League coach Kam Woods said. “He impacts the game in a lot of ways. So I thought his rim protection was really good. I thought he found offense within what we’re doing.”
“I mean, he does everything on both sides of the floor. He can stretch the floor, knock down threes, plays at the rim, can play in the mid-range,” Giddey said. “On the defensive end protects the rim like I’ve never seen before. So I know he’s got my back on that end, great guy to play with.”
Giddey also is part of the fun with the Thunder — he’s creative, aggressive, and is getting downhill to the rim better this summer than we have seen.
“I spent a lot of time this summer in the weight room so I’ve been getting stronger and then that will allow me to take more contact going into the paint,” Giddey said after a 14-point, eight-assist night. “I’m making an emphasis of getting to the rim and whether it’s me finishing or dishing out... I think last year I shied away from a lot of contact. I got bumped off my line a fair bit, but I think now I’m starting to get stronger to be more physical.”
There’s still a lot of development left for both of them. Holmgren may be stronger than he looks, but he’s got to add more muscle to deal with the physicality of the NBA. At one point with the ball on the block, he tried to bump Jabari Smith to create space, then slide around him. Holmgren got his shot blocked for his efforts. He was outmuscled for rebounds a couple of times and was stripped a couple of other times. Meanwhile, Giddey’s decision making is much improved, but there are still some wild passes he should never have tried.
The Thunder are not going to be good this season. They are going to be entertaining. It’s a start.
There is so much else going on at the Las Vegas Summer League, here are some other notes and things I saw.
• Kyrie Irving was sitting courtside for the Thunder vs. Rockets game, two seats down from Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer plus Jerry West. Read into that what you want (but you probably shouldn’t read anything into it).
• The more I see of Tari Eason, the more I think the Rockets may have found something. He came in with a rep as a defensive stopper, but he’s shown some offense too —14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, hit a 3, and had 11 rebounds on Saturday. He’s got the skills to grab a rebound and go, leading the break himself.
• Kegan Murray made his Las Vegas Summer League debut, and while he started a little slow on Saturday he found his way and impacted the game, hitting a clutch 3 that sent the game against the Magic to overtime.
“Keegan was very efficient,” Kings’ Summer League coach Jodi Fernandez said. “At the beginning he probably struggled with the physicality but then we found a way with backdoor cuts. And again, I think he shot almost 50% over 20 points and rebounds, he rebounded very well.”
intoxicated very passionate and vocal Kings fans chanted “over-rated” every time No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero touched the ball. You have to love summer Sacramento fans.
• Speaking of Banchero, his offensive game is smooth and effective, as he had 23 points and got to the line 15 times on Saturday.
As scouting reports suggested before the draft, he loses focus on defense and doesn’t put in the same effort consistently on that end of the court. However, when he is focused, he can do things like making a game-saving block.
We’ll see how Bancharo’s defense develops. You can be sure Jamahl Mosley will be in his ear about it.
• We have reached the point in Summer League where young stars who have played well for a couple of games are pulled by teams who don’t want to risk injury with their new investments. I’m not sure we’ll see Banchero, Holmgren, Giddey, or some other big names for the remainder of Summer League.
• Apparently Payton Pritchard is not an NBA star by Summer League security standards.
Well, this was rather embarrassing... Celtic guard Payton Pritchard stopped by security. Wouldn't let him into restricted area so he could sit with C's coaches. VP of communications Taylor Kielpinski-Rogers had to vouch for him. Pritchard burned the strings in this gym last year. pic.twitter.com/d7MuKUt2dj— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) July 9, 2022
• In case you didn’t see it, No. 4 pick Jaden Ivey of the Pistons had to leave the game Saturday with a sprained ankle and could be done for Summer League.
Ivey was in a lot of pain but stayed in the game to take the free throws (he hit all 3, finishing with 11 points). The Wizards’ Isaiah Todd was issued a Flagrant 1 foul on the play for taking away Ivey’s landing space.
Add Ivey to the list of players likely done for Summer League, the Pistons have no reason to push him to get back on the court in Vegas.
• The Pelican’s No. 8 pick Dyson Daniels also sprained his ankle on Saturday and had to leave his game not to return.
No word on the severity of the injury yet, but he likely is done for Summer League.
• Isaiah Livers, who played just 19 games for the Pistons last season, has had a strong Summer League on both ends of the floor and has been one of the best players for the 2-0 Pistons.