Orlando Summer League Coverage

GAME 5: JAZZ 70, THUNDER 60July 10, 2009

The Thunder's fourth quarter comeback fell short in its final game of the Orlando Pro Summer League, a 70-60 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday morning.

But that’s not to say there weren’t some positives to take from the game.

Guard James Harden continued to show why the Thunder made him the No. 3 pick of the June draft. Harden finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three steals.

With Russell Westbrook given the final game off, both Harden and Shaun Livingston were left to run the point.

For Harden, it was his first extended minutes this week as the primary ball handler. In the week leading up to the Orlando Pro Summer League, the Thunder staff has remained confident that Harden can be a facilitator. He certainly played the part on Friday. Harden looked sure of himself when getting the team into half court sets, and seldom rushed a play or forced a first option.

Harden was effective coming off the high pick-and-roll, as his dribble penetration often ended with him attacking the rim or successfully kicking it out to a teammate. That spoke to his court vision.

One of Harden’s most impressive sequences came in the second quarter, when he passed up a high screen and took his defender off the dribble with a sharp crossover, exploded to the basket and finished with a two-handed dunk.

When both Livingston and Harden were on the floor, the veteran handled the point.

Livingston has primarily played off the ball when on the floor with Westbrook. Either way, Livingston has proven the ability to adapt. He was crafty on Friday, using a few stutter step dribbles to get in the lane and draw fouls. Livingston got to the free throw line six times against the Jazz and finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.D.J. White (17 points on 7-for-10 shooting) continued to pick up where he left off from the end of the regular season. There’s no denying that White has played with a ton of confidence in Orlando, where he’s shown a balanced inside-outside game on offense. He’s continued to bang down low with the bigs and hasn’t hesitated to take his man off the dribble. On one sequence he squared up his man, made a strong first-step dribble, pulled back, spun and sank a midrange jumper.

Then there was international prospect Sesrge Ibaka, who clearly made the most of his season in Spain. We’ll have a close up look of Ibaka next week in Vegas, but he’s been nothing short of impressive in Orlando.

Against the Jazz, he knew when to attack from the weak side. When squared to the basket, he used a strong power dribble to get to the rim and eventually the free throw line. He later hit a turnaround jumper. He’s been doing this type of thing all week. He closed out Orlando with an eight-point, three-rebound performance.

The Thunder will now head to Las Vegas, where it will participate in another summer league with fresh competition. Come back later for a look ahead at Vegas. GAME 4: THUNDER 83, NJ/PHILA 62July 9, 2009

For the second straight day, the Thunder built and sustained a sizeable lead.

And with each passing game, the trust and chemistry amongst the Thunder’s younger players is growing.

The Thunder notched another victory at the Orlando Pro Summer League, this one an 83-62 win over the New Jersey/Philadelphia split squad on Thursday afternoon.

Center Byron Mullens, the No. 24 pick in the June draft, played his best game to date. The rookie out of Ohio State looked confident, played assertive and was very active on both ends of the floor. Mullens posted 18 points on 9-for-12 shooting, pulled down five rebounds, dished an assist and had two steals.

Mullens had 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting through one quarter, and he later added a long-range jumper and an aggressive put-back dunk.

When the Thunder drafted Mullens, general manager Sam Presti lauded the Ohio native for his perseverance. While this is just the first week of his professional career, the confidence Mullens has gained will only help in the long term.

Guards Russell Westbrook (19 points, nine assists) and James Harden (15 points, three assists, two steals) and center Serge Ibaka (15 points, two blocks) were other standouts for the Thunder, which improved to 3-1 this week.

Westbrook has been the most consistent player in Orlando this week.

But more on Ibaka.

Ibaka, a late first-round pick in the 2008 draft, has continued to be active on both ends of the floor. He’s been efficient with the ball in his hands (5-for-8 field goals, 5-for-7 free throws), and his athleticism and exceptional length also helped alter shots.

Ibaka was right alongside his teammates on fast breaks, and even showed off a bit of a hook shot. On one defensive sequence he blocked a shot and ended up with the rebound.

Ibaka, like the rest of his teammates this week, hasn’t stopped hustling.

Another thing the Thunder organization loves to see is a player take a charge. The 6-6, 200-pound Moses Ehambe, who played for the Tulsa 66ers last season, did just that, taking a charge from the 6-10, 245-pound Marreese Speights in the second quarter. GAME 3: THUNDER 94, BOSTON 82July 8, 2009

It was another impressive performance by the Thunder.

Through the first three days of the Orlando Pro Summer League, the Thunder has been prepared, focused and serious about making the most of these opportunities.

Oklahoma City improved its record to 2-1 with a 94-82 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

Guard Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting to go with five assists, five steals and four rebounds. D.J. White and Kyle Weaver combined for 28 points, guard Shaun Livingston scored eight of his 10 points in the first half while also finishing with six rebounds, and center DeVon Hardin contributed 11 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 19 minutes.

A couple of notes before we get into some observations: Center Serge Ibaka, who has shot 80% through two games, rested and did not play against the Celtics.

Also, rookie center B.J. Mullens is asking to be referred to by his given name, Byron. So from now on, it’s Byron Mullens.

And now for some observations:

Westbrook continued to be an aggressor and facilitator on the offensive end. There doesn’t seem to be a player in this summer league who can keep up with him, and he demonstrated that by blowing past defenders from the opening tip.

Westbrook finished with 15 points in the first half, and he did it in a multitude of ways, some of them which we saw on a regular basis during his rookie year, and others that he’s clearly refined during the summer months.

There was Westbrook making a steal, racing down court and getting fouled at the rim. No surprise there. There also was Westbrook flying through and over defenders to slam home a missed shot. How many times did we see that during his rookie season?

But then we saw Westbrook confidently nail a pair of long jumpers; he never hesitated in pulling the trigger. And then, on two separate occasions, he ignited a fast break, only to slow it down while in the lane, draw a pair of defenders and then kick out to a cutting teammate for the basket. That goes to show Westbrook’s improved decision-making – he did it on the fly, and he did it without hesitation.

Now, that’s not to say Westbrook isn’t going to make mistakes. He’s still just 20 and only in his second season. And like head coach Scott Brooks reiterated last week, the plan is for Westbrook to continue to improve every summer. It’s a never-ending process.

After getting the day off on Tuesday, Livingston picked up where he left off from Monday. Livingston scored eight points in the first half, and the five-year veteran also helped direct the younger guys along the way. He showed off his lateral quickness on offense, and hustled hard on defense, where he came up with a steal and earlier blocked a fast-break lay-up attempt after sprinting the length of the court.

Rookie center Byron Mullens showed another facet of his game: the big man can pass. He hit both Livingston and James Harden for buckets in the paint, and added some offense in the second half. He finished with six points, three rebounds and three assists.

Kyle Weaver continued to show he’s a multidimensional player. He played point guard, shooting guard and small forward during his rookie year. Against the Celtics he played both off the ball and at the point. He was also aggressive with the ball in his hands, driving hard through the lane on several 1-on-1 situations, when he either finished or drew a foul.

D.J. White, meanwhile, continued to flash his inside-outside game. He had 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting by halftime, doing so off pick-and-pop jumpers and by muscling his way in the paint for baskets under the rim. He’s been relentless in the paint and very active in general in offensive sets. GAME 2: INDIANA 91, THUNDER 88July 7, 2009

Tuesday night showed just how unpredictable, and unorthodox, an NBA Summer League game can be.

The Thunder dropped a down-to-the-wire game against the Indiana Pacers, 91-88, in an Orlando Pro Summer League game, and it happened on a play you wouldn’t regularly see.

With 2.3 seconds left, the game tied at 88 and the Thunder with the ball, forward D.J. White was called for an illegal screen. Only it was White’s eighth personal foul, meaning the Pacers received two free throws and possession. In summer leagues, a team is rewarded two free throws whenever a foul is committed by a player who has more than six fouls.

In a regular season game, White would have fouled out after his sixth foul. In Summer League, players get 10 fouls.

So Pacers rookie Tyler Hansbrough sank both free throws, center Roy Hibbert added another and Oklahoma City rookie James Harden missed a last-second three-pointer that could have tied the game.

Still, the Thunder’s late comeback should be lauded. Guard Russell Westbrook continued to impress, scoring six straight points down the stretch en route to a 22-point, eight-assist performance. While Westbrook did the most of his damage on Monday at the free throw line, he reversed course against the Pacers, hitting 9 of 15 from the field.

Only rookie guard James Harden (19 points, five rebounds, three assists in 36 minutes) logged more time than Westbrook while guard Shaun Livingston sat out the game to rest.

Center Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, was a mainstay in the middle, finishing with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, three rebounds, a blocked shot and seven fouls. Ibaka scored both inside and from the perimeter.

The Thunder will next face the Boston Celtics on Wednesday at 4 p.m. GAME 1: THUNDER 88, ORLANDO 77July 6, 2009

In the days leading up to the Orlando Summer League, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks stressed to the team the need to focus on the fundamentals: defend, play unselfishly and give maximum effort.

That much was evident in the Thunder’s 88-77 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday.

The Thunder led from start to finish in this one.

It came out with a strong defensive effort by building a 15-2 lead in the first quarter and holding the Magic to 40.9% shooting overall. Defensively, Oklahoma City forced 17 turnovers.

The Thunder went with a starting lineup of Shaun Livingston, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White, Kyle Weaver and Serge Ibaka.

The Thunder rookie trio of James Harden, B.J. Mullens and Robert Vaden made their pro debuts, combining for 30 points. Harden paced the Thunder with six points in the second quarter and finished with 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Ibaka, a 2008 first-round pick, had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting by halftime; he finished with 13 points, five rebounds and two blocks.

Westbrook dished four of his nine assists in the third while scoring a game-high 22 points, including 16 from the free throw line.

Westbrook picked up where he left off after an impressive rookie campaign. It was in last year’s summer league that the rest of the NBA got its first glimpse of the athleticism and explosiveness the former No. 4 pick possesses.

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