Checking in on the Rookies
Thunder rookie guard Tre Mann sat courtside after practice. The court was completely cleared except for forwards Darius Bazley and D.J. Wilson playing one-on-one. With his newfound downtime free from classes and obligations that come with being a college athlete, Mann leaned back on the bench and observed the matchup from the sidelines rather than going home – soaking up as much basketball as he could.
Beyond the speed of the game, physicality and the spacing on the floor, Training Camp is a time where rookies learn how to spend their time outside of the practice and build the routines and habits that will sustain them throughout the season. From the start of Training Camp to the team’s first preseason game, the Thunder rookies have been immersed in practice soaking up not just schemes and systems, but also life in the NBA. After a full week of Thunder Training Camp and a preseason game in the books, here’s a look at how the Thunder’s rookie class of Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins are beginning to settle into the league and their new environment.
The Thunder’s No. 6 draft pick put his skills on display in the Thunder’s first preseason game with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists in his 29 minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-9 rookie used his size to his advantage as he zipped passes across the floor to his teammates and snagged rebounds off the glass. Giddey also showed his comfortability in transition by initiating the break after grabbing a board, his decision-making indicative of the professional experience he already has under his belt.
While Giddey spent time Australia’s NBL, the 18-year-old is adjusting to multiple aspects of the NBA game and rather than focus on stats alone, he used that first preseason matchup to get his feet wet in those new areas.
“It was more about coming out getting a feel for getting used to the NBA League,” said Giddey. “Getting adjusted to the physicality, the pace of the game which is the big change from where I was at last year. It was just about that getting a feel for my first game.”
On the court, the first thing Thunder fans will notice about Tre Mann is his speed and shiftiness making it difficult for defenders to keep him out of the lane. Against Charlotte, Mann drew multiple fouls and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line while also showing some feistiness defensively by sacrificing his body for a charge.
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault explained that throughout Training Camp, Mann has demonstrated his ability to play the right way and play within himself on the offensive end in various lineups – including guard-heavy player combinations. As with many young players, Daigneault explained that shot selection will be a key area of growth for Mann as he logs more and more playing time throughout preseason.
“Just being around him he's a guy who as good as he is with the ball and as good as he is as a shot creator, he also really knows how to play, and he really plays the right way and there's times where he can seem deferential,” said Daigneault. “For guys like that, it takes them time to kind of calibrate, you know when to be aggressive and when to really try to go and when to kind of pull back and play inside the team.”
The Thunder’s second-round pick out of Villanova put his skillset on full display during NBA Summer League. His versatility, IQ and footwork made him a strong pick and roll partner with Thunder second year guard Théo Maledon. From that experience, the Villanova product recognized the importance of craftiness around the rim against the league’s stronger, more athletic big men which is an area he’s aimed to improve throughout Training Camp.
With a strong, versatile 6-foot-9 frame, Robinson-Earl offers versatility at the forward position with the ability to stretch the floor behind the arc – an area he focused on throughout the offseason. Defensively, Robinson-Earl also touts the ability to switch to his advantage. Robinson-Earl still has runway ahead of him as he finds his footing as a big man in the league, but he has already demonstrated to the coaching staff his ability to grasp things quickly.
“He’s a guy with his size and his intelligence, the more he’s out there in an NBA game, the more he’s going to figure out how he needs to play and how he can be effective within his game and within his limitations because he’s a little undersized,” said Daigneault. “But his strength is his mind so he’s going to figure it out.”
Thunder two-way rookie Aaron Wiggins didn’t know whether he would see the floor in the Thunder’s first preseason game on Monday night – but he would be ready to go if his number was called. Sure enough, it was and Wiggins was ready.
In his seven minutes of game action against Charlotte, the former Maryland Terrapin cashed in 12 points shooting 4-for-5 from the field and 3-for-3 from behind the arc. It was a representation of what Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault has seen from Wiggins throughout Training Camp – someone who competes and is ready to go as soon as he steps over the line. While the two-way forward still has much room to grow on the offensive end, the Thunder coaching staff has been encouraged with what they’ve seen from him so far.
“He's done a nice job, he's been impressive,” said Daigneault. “He's got a lot of advocates in the building, there's people that believe in him just because he's consistent, he's competitive and is a good team guy."