Using valuable experiences and lessons from his rookie season, the Thunder’s French point guard built up his body and his mind to prepare for his second year in the NBA.
It had only been two months, but when second year point guard Théo Maledon put on a Thunder uniform for Summer League, he looked different than he did during the regular season.
The 20-year-old had spent the summer in Oklahoma City participating in two-a-day workouts in the weight room. By the time he arrived in Las Vegas for his first ever Summer League, Maledon was visibly stronger and had added more muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame.
He put that new strength on display in the team’s first Summer League game in August as the point guard played with more pace and physicality. Out of ball screens, Maledon could be seen attacking downhill, reading his defender and either making his way to the rim fearless of contact or kicking it out to a teammate left open thanks to his aggressiveness. The effort culminated to a 15-point, 11-assist double-double to go alongside just two turnovers as he led the Thunder to a 76-72 victory over Detroit.
“I really took advantage and worked as much as possible so I get all my chances to succeed on the court,” said Maledon. “With the ball, I feel like it helps me play with more pace and get into my spots more quickly.”
“I just think overall he got better,” said Thunder Summer League forward Jaylen Hoard who also played with Maledon in France as a youngster. “He made the decision to stay in OKC the whole summer to just work on his game, work on his body and he got much stronger from this past season. That’s one of the main things I think everybody noticed.”
The stronger build was just one of the areas of focus for Maledon as he approached his first-ever NBA offseason and Summer League experience after a strong rookie season. However, while some areas of Maledon’s growth could be identified by simply looking at him, others weren’t quite as visible upon first glance.
Despite having only one NBA season under his belt, Maledon stood as the most experienced member of the Thunder’s 2021 Summer League roster. During the 2020-21 season, the Frenchman led the Thunder with 1,778 total minutes played while starting 49 games as point guard. That foundation of experience primed Maledon to expand on another critical aspect of his game over the summer: his leadership.
Maledon took that challenge to heart in his Summer League opportunity as he was tasked by his coaches and his own determination to be a more vocal leader. From guiding his new teammates as they learned the Thunder’s system to spearheading the offense on the floor without a play call, Maledon used the time in Las Vegas as another training ground to blossom as a game manager and conductor.
“I think that was one of the parts I could improve on my game in season two,” said Maledon. “Taking advantage of the new guys here. New guys that don’t really know the system everything that happened last year. So really embrace it and communicate with them to help them be as comfortable as possible.”
“That’s one of the things we talked about with him is just being more vocal, taking ownership of the group he’s on the floor with. A lot of times, I wasn’t even calling plays when he’s out there. Kind of giving him that responsibility and I thought he got better at that as the week went on,” said Thunder Summer League head coach Kameron Woods. “It was able to stretch him and give him confidence that he can lead a group out there and it was good for us to see as well. He definitely gained our confidence in doing that.”
Whether in physical strength or leadership, the strides that Maledon took throughout his Summer League debut stemmed from the valuable opportunities he received on the floor during his rookie season. He took those 1,778 minutes, 65 games and 49 starts going up against the league’s best players as a 19-year-old and translated them into foundational lessons that he could develop heading into his sophomore season.
“I think I learned a lot from it, and it was really great to be able to get the chance to compete against the best point guards in the world,” Maledon said in his end-of-season interview. “I'm really excited to and looking forward to competing against them and taking advantage from it.”
“I did not take one day for granted, one game for granted. So that's something that I'm satisfied with,” said Maledon.
"I worked as much as possible so I get all my chances to succeed on the court."
It’s a trend that has been present during his entire basketball career– soaking up experiences and working diligently to build upon them. Maledon’s rookie year performances in Oklahoma City were built upon a foundation of professional experiences he had already garnered as a teenager in France.
Maledon began playing for ASVEL, a professional team out of France at the young age of 18-years-old. By the time he arrived in the NBA, it was clear through his level of poise and low mistakes that he had already been playing against professionals for some time. However, in order for him to grow as an NBA player and point guard, Maledon received an encouraging “push in the back” from his coaches midway through the season to play more aggressively even if it meant making more mistakes.
This boost in aggression coupled with increased responsibility and playing time played a key role in Maledon’s jump from averaging 7.8 points per game before the All-Star Break to averaging 12.8 after. That lesson on playing with force sparked an offseason focused on building strength in order to handle more contact which he put on display in Las Vegas during Summer League.
“Théo is a relentless worker,” said Woods. “Everything that he accomplishes out there is a tribute to how hard of a worker he is.”
There is still work on the horizon for Maledon as he gears up for his second NBA season but he now has five more games worth of precious on-court experience to add to his already dense catalogue. One thing is for sure, the Thunder’s second year point guard will take the lessons from Summer League in the same stride as he did during the regular season – with a diligent work ethic and a determination to learn and layer onto his game.
“I think [Summer League] helped me a lot,” said Maledon in his walk-off interview with NBA TV’s Ashley Shahahmadi following the Thunder’s final game of Summer League. “Leading the team, being the main guy I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I’ll try to carry it over coming into the NBA.”