Summer League for most NBA teams is a showcase of their roster’s young talent and trying to figure out what they have in their new additions to their depth charts. The OKC Thunder are no different as they test the limitations of guys like Chet Holmgren, Tre Mann, Cason Wallace, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Ousmane Dieng and more.
For many NBA fanbases, this is the beginning of a journey with their new young prospects that they hold hope with that could help their team going forward or maybe even be the catalyst to turning that franchise around into a winner.
The OKC Thunder are widely considered one of if not the best young cores of under-25-year-old players in the NBA. OKC may have the crown, but other teams are vying for that top spot. In the four games that the OKC Thunder are guaranteed to play in Vegas they will have a deep slate of teams with all types of dynamic young talent that will be a great test for the new blood OKC has brought in and the handful of returning players from last season’s roster.
Young Core Wars
OKC Thunder vs Mavericks
Saturday afternoon the Thunder will face off against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs who were the Thunder’s trade partner on the night of the draft helped bring Cason Wallace (and Davis Bertans) to OKC. Dallas on the other side of the trade didn’t come up empty-handed. The Mavericks added a 7’1 rim protector out of Duke in Dereck Lively II.
Lively vs Holmgren should be a fun matchup of super mobile shot-blocking bigs who have a range of offensive tools. I would assume Holmgren wins this matchup, but this will be the best one-to-one physical match Holmgren has faced since his return.
The guard matchup is also super interesting, as I mentioned earlier the focus for Cason Wallace will be on defense. Wallace in his first game will have an immediate test and challenge in the form of guarding Jaden Hardy. Hardy like Tre Mann is an electric scorer and dynamic athlete who flashes the potential of a guy who could play off of Luka Doncic and put up points at a nice rate.
This isn’t the end-all-be-all by any stretch of the imagination, but it could be a nice preview or even coming out party for Cason Wallace if he can provide a nice challenge to Hardy and make some impact plays causing havoc on defense.
OKC Thunder vs Rockets
Two fanbases and basketball teams that could not be more diametrically opposed to each other. If the Thunder said up the Rockets would say down. Thunder say hot? The Rockets want cold.
This dynamic and rivalry is nothing new and has resonated with both fanbases for nearly a decade starting with the first-ever James Harden trade. Russell Westbrook vs James Harden’s MVP arguments were the next sticking points. Chris Paul and Westbrook being traded for each other added a nice wrinkle and now the two teams are compared to each other based on their current rebuilds and potential young players.
Even without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Green or Alperen Sengun there still will be immense amounts of talent on the floor.
We will get part two of Chet Holmgren the former number two overall pick vs the guy the Thunder passed over in that same draft that fell to three in Jabari Smith Jr. Those two will no doubt go at it on the perimeter and inside in a fun battle of the next generation of stretch 4/5s.
We have wings too! Jalen Williams by far outclasses the competition, but it still will be fun to see him and Cason Wallace matchup with the nuclear athleticism and physical gifts that rookies Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore possess.
Who knows, this could add another wrinkle into the past, present and future of the Thunder vs Rockets rivalry.
OKC Thunder vs Pacers
For many months various Thunder blogs, podcasts and media personalities including myself identified Houston’s Jarace Walker as a prime trade-up target for the Thunder.
In the Thunder’s third game in Vegas, they will match up against Jarace Walker and the Pacers. Walker who was projected as a great fit next to Chet Holmgren will now face off against him and guard him.
This should be a fun test for Holmgren as he goes up against an elite athlete with a ready-made NBA body in Walker. Will Thunder fans feel like they missed out watching Walker on the Pacers or will they feel better about Wallace by the time the final buzzer rings?
Cason Wallace looks like he will have no off days or easy assignments in his Summer League schedule. Going from the craft of Jaden Hardy to the out-of-this-world athleticism of Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, the next challenge will be a super physical one. Second-year player Benedict Mathurin at 6’6 210 pounds is a battering ram of bully ball that will test the strength and durability of Wallace.
Just like the past matchups this will be a fun test for Wallace against a guy who averaged nearly 17 points per game and landed as a first-team All-Rookie player.
OKC Thunder vs Wizards
The Thunder over the past few years have been linked to and selected many of the drafts “international men of mystery”. Aleksej Pokusevski in the 2020 draft was a big swing for OKC as they entered into a new chapter of Thunder basketball. Poku was a high-risk high reward prospect that many draft experts pegged as a guy the Thunder would target. In the 2022 NBA draft, we saw history repeat itself as the Thunder once again went out and got another high-risk high-reward prospect in Ousmane Dieng.
Given this recent draft history and rumors surrounding the draft, word started circulating about another international man of mystery” the Thunder might have their eyes on in Bilal Coulibaly.
Coulibaly is an extremely raw prospect with incredible measurements at 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan at 19 years old. The Wizards on the night of the 2023 draft were expected to go with a guard whether that was Anthony Black, Cason Wallace, Kobe Bufkin or someone else. What not that many people were expecting was for the Wizards to trade up and take Coulibaly.
This should be another fun defensive challenge for Cason Wallace as he will match up with a guy who has all of the physical advantages in his favor. Wallace is a much more polished basketball player, but seeing how the two rookies deal with each other on both ends should be super intriguing.