The OKC Thunder have a strong reputation for finding undrafted free agents and value in the margins under General Manager Sam Presti. The loudest example of this is Lu Dort. The Thunder picked him up immediately following the 2019 NBA Draft. At times during that cycle, Dort earned a first-round grade before falling out of favor and going undrafted. Dort eventually landed on a two-way contract before making a playoff impact as a rookie in the bubble. Even Kenrich Williams was undrafted, starting his career in New Orleans before being a throw-in to the Steven Adams trade and blooming in Bricktown.
Following the 2023 NBA Draft, before I even made it home from the OKC Thunder practice facility, the team inked Caleb McConnell to an Exhibit-10 contract, which will allow the Rutgers guard to play in Summer League for the Thunder. Oklahoma City also has two of its three two-way slots available, which makes McConnell an interesting watch in July. Could McConnell be another hidden gem for the Thunder?
Have the OKC Thunder found another undrafted free agent gem in Rutgers defensive ace Caleb McConnell?
Caleb McConnell stands 6’7, weighing in at 195 pounds at Rutgers University. McConnell is a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Defensive team member for the conference. The Jacksonville, FL. native averaged nine points, five rebounds, three assists, and 2.9 STOCKS per game a year ago.
The five-year college star helped change the culture of Rutgers basketball. McConnell ranks in the 79th percentile in overall defense, according to Synergy. As an isolation defender, McConnell ranks in the 90th percentile, only allowing 0.438 points per possession. The Scarlet Knight wing can fight through screens, stay attacked to his matchup’s hip, disrupt passing lanes, and flat-out annoy the opposition. With his length and footwork, how he chases players around the court on defense is tiring even to watch, much less matchup against.
As is the case for most defensive aces, McConnell was a bit of a liability. However, he thrived as a cutter in the 77th percentile (1.346 points per possession), scrapped for rebounds with eight put-back buckets, and shot 38 percent as an isolation scorer. McConnell could get more effective on that end of the floor in a reduced role as an off-ball offensive player. McConnell shot an excellent 68 percent at the rim, ranking in the 87th percentile.
With any improvement on the offensive end, the defense looks to translate to the next level. As the new CBA introduces a third two-way slot to the roster, McConnell could be primed to grab that spot with a stellar showing in Vegas. However, if he looks like a Tuesday morning Elvis impersonator, this was all for not. For his sake, let’s hope he is the Saturday Night Elvis.