Who will break out from the crowd that we are not expecting?
“Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.” via Adrian Wojnarowski.
In the Summer of 2019, OKC Thunder fans knew they were in for a change after another early playoff exit. Damian Lillard literally and metaphorically waved goodbye to an incarnation of basketball in OKC. Little did we know that late night on July 6th, the Thunder would have a big-time shake-up.
OKC Thunder fans looked like lost puppies, not knowing what a future without Russell Westbrook would look like. When you launch a rebuild, younger players are usually the best place to invest your hopes for the team.
The OKC Thunder had just drafted Darius Bazley 23rd overall the month prior to the blockbuster deals, and many hoped he could be a guy on the Summer League team for the Thunder that could provide a reason to be optimistic. Unfortunately, Bazley did not turn out to be that guy, but the OKC Thunder still found a gem on their Summer League roster that is now an integral piece to their team today as they continue to trend up.
That player? Luguentz Dort. He was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Arizona State. Can history repeat itself this year?
Let me take you to Las Vegas for the 2019 NBA Summer League. Many OKC Thunder fans got their first chance to watch Lu Dort. Dort’s journey is well documented as an undrafted rookie, two-way player, turned playoff starter, and now one of the best perimeter defenders in all of basketball. During Summer League, we had no idea any of that was to come; we just knew he played hard and made other players look like bowling pins as he knocked them down repeatedly on both ends.
Even just going back to last year in 2022, the OKC Thunder sent out an incredibly talented roster of guys like Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Tre Mann, Aleksej Pokusevski, Aaron Wiggins and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl just not name a few. A name that didn’t get as much play was Eugene Omoruyi, just like Dort was an undrafted player with a chip on his shoulder, all types of hustle plays, and the body of an NFL defensive end.
At the time, nobody watching those games could have known Omoruyi would end up playing in 40 regular-season NBA games and even starting 6 of those contests.
Fast forward to 2023, the Thunder will kick off their Summer League in Salt Lake City, but who could be the Lu Dort or Eugene Omoruyi for this roster and break out or give us some foreshadowing for next season of a surprise?
A former top-100 recruit in the 2019 class, Jaden Shackleford spent three seasons at Alabama, where he started 83 of his career 97 games for the Crimson Tide before being picked up by the OKC Blue last season. Shackleford is a 6’3 combo guard who averaged 16 points per game, 1.5 assists per game, and 5.4 rebounds per game on 38/44/78 shooting splits in 2021-2022.
These numbers and Shackleford’s game are similar to Tre Mann. Mann has more upside, but both are streaky shooters who are tweener guards who project to get targeted at the NBA level.
How would it work? Shackleford can shoot the lights out when he is on; his best path is to have a scorching shooting display in SLC and Vegas. Playing with the space created by Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams should free up Shackleford to fire away from deep. Don’t be surprised if Shackleford has a big game or more in the next couple of weeks to try to solidify his spot on the Thunder or elsewhere in the NBA.
Another Williams? Really? This is just hoping the “J” in “KJ” isn’t short for the name we are all thinking of.
Regarding his game, KJ Williams is a mobile big with a lot of strength and can also stretch the floor. Last season at LSU, Williams shot 41% from deep on just over four attempts per game. Big guys who can play reasonable defense, a dash of athletic burst, and the ability to space will not be going out of style anytime soon.
We have seen the Thunder make different stretch bigs look good over the past few years, with the likes of Mike Muscala, Isaiah Roby, Olivier Sarr, and more. Williams’ best bet is to show off he can be a consistent spacer who doesn’t get beat on defense too often. If he can defend at an average to above-average level and play with a lot of effort and space the floor, then he could definitely have a chance to make some noise and get some minutes in OKC or elsewhere in the NBA in the future.
Jahmi’us Ramsey might be a name Thunder fans have heard before if they have seen the OKC Blue. Ramsey is going into his third season under the Thunder/Blue umbrella—a former top-30 prospect who only played one season at Texas Tech. Since leaving Lubbock, Ramsey bounced from a couple of other G-League teams before landing with the Blue.
Last season Ramsey averaged 21 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.7 apg on 51/33/79 shooting.
Having some skin in the game and being in the Thunder’s developmental program should give him a slight boost just in terms of comfortability with what coaches he has already worked with will be asking him to do. Just like Shackleford and Williams, this all comes down to how well Ramsey can shoot the long ball.
As previously mentioned, he shot 33% from downtown in 2022-2023. That will likely not cut it for the Thunder, Ramsey has upside and more to his game than just his shot, but with the ball-handling duties already spoken for on the main roster and even more guards added to the roster, the best shot Ramsey has to make it in OKC or elsewhere next season in the NBA is to really dial in from three in these Summer League Games.