Looking Ahead to 2022 Summer League

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

After every NBA season there’s a second season that follows – either the NBA playoffs or the “development season”, as Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti put it at his 2022 end of season press conference. For the Thunder, that campaign has been in full swing since mid-April. 

Returning players have been attacking the first 80 days off the offseason, honing their crafts and remaining connected as a group. Heading into next season, it will be those mainstays who make the biggest impact on elevating the group as a whole. The development season hits a crescendo starting on Tuesday with two straight weeks of Summer League action for the Thunder in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. The Thunder will get eight games, nearly 10 percent of an NBA regular season, as an offseason checkpoint before the players rest their bodies and come refreshed to training camp in September. 

“Any chance that a team has to play together is really valuable, at this stage of where the team is,” said Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. “It's accumulated mileage together.”

Thunder players – returners and newcomers alike – will step on the floor at the Thunder ION and at the two Summer Leagues that run from July 5 to July 17 with the understanding that nothing is given and everything is earned. The first trio of games, in Salt Lake City from July 5-7, will see mostly veteran Thunder players going against the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers in a quick three-day round robin. In Las Vegas those four squads will join the other 26 NBA teams for a slate of four games apiece, which determine positioning for a fifth and final game on July 16 or 17. 

Ep. 51 – Summer League Preview with Pinto

The Thunder has had a longstanding tradition of players competing Summer League and oftentimes veteran players will organize their offseason workouts to such a way to be close enough to support the Summer League squad. All of that competition and camaraderie is what builds continuity, which in an NBA market like Oklahoma City is a precious phenomenon that can elevate the entire group from season to season. 

“You've got to understand each other because that makes a better team. Putting the guys in situations for that is critical, and Summer League is a big factor in that,” said Presti. “That continuity is really important for us - to continue to replenish the group and let guys learn each other, play with each other, and through that competition you'll start to identify the needs that we'll need to fill over time.” 

As a result, the Thunder is doubling up on Summer League action with the intention of investing court time for its returning players. The players that already have NBA experience have set a high bar for work ethic this offseason, spending time in Oklahoma City together and then also maintaining their professional habits on their own outside of the Thunder’s walls. There’s intrinsic motivation behind that work, but also a healthy dose of external incentive behind it as well. 

“Everyone has to have a good summer,” Presti said. “The guys that we have in our uniform are hungry and hand selected because of their approach to working. I want to see what happens when they come back. I'm confident they're going to work because if they don't, they're going to get left behind, and they understand that. There's more competition on the team.”

The reference Presti made about competition on the roster is a part of the Thunder’s goal to continue layering in young talent and allowing the best players to rise to the top. There’s a new quartet of rookies getting ready to dive right into the brewing continuity that has been building in Oklahoma City, and they’ll each get a shot to give the Thunder coaching staff a baseline reading of where they stand as players and professionals. 

Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams were all drafted in the top 34 of the 2022 NBA Draft, with the former three coming in the first 12 picks. While being selected is just one piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t determine your NBA fate. It’s the sweat equity and resilience that does the job after draft night. 

“Development is a process and not an event,” said Presti. “The people that have calm endurance through that process are more rare than people that are just talented. So as talented as these individuals are, the success that we're going to achieve and they're going to achieve individually will be based on their ability to endure what's really hard about the NBA. A lot of adversity, there's a lot of demands, there's a lot of sacrifices, but when you draft someone, what you're essentially saying is you believe in them.”

The Thunder rookies will demonstrate their skills, explore their games and make plenty of mistakes, while the returners will certainly have moments on both ends of the spectrum as well. Either way, the organization looks at Summer League as a data point in the larger context of these players’ journeys and careers. The Thunder will uncover different aspects of the players’ games in the midst of moments for growth and learning. The goal is for each player to be further ahead in their understanding of themselves and how they can impact team performance within the Thunder’s strategic concepts. It’ll look different for each guy, but every day will be a developmental win, and the Thunder looks to stack as many as possible over the next couple weeks. 

“Summer League, it makes a difference. But we also hopefully have learned you can't overreact to Summer League,” said Presti. “It's a very small sample size. It's only upside, but just because someone is successful in Summer League doesn't mean they're going to go to the Hall of Fame.”

“Summer League, it makes a difference. But we also hopefully have learned you can't overreact to Summer League,” said Presti. “It's a very small sample size. It's only upside, but just because someone is successful in Summer League doesn't mean they're going to go to the Hall of Fame.”