Before the game in Los Angeles last season when then-rookie Terrance Ferguson erupted for a career-high 24 points, Thunder assistant coach Darko Rajakovic told the bouncy guard that he’d have a big night.
The day after the Thunder fell to the Utah Jazz in the playoffs, Ferguson predicted that Rajakovic was sitting down and diligently putting together a game plan for his own offseason development program.
So at Summer League in early July, it was no surprise to see Rajakovic at the hip with Ferguson on the sidelines, going through material for the 20-year old to pick up. Before the tournament in Las Vegas even started, Ferguson and Rajakovic discussed the approach to the week. The goal for Ferguson was clear - to not have a single worry about the stat sheet, but rather keep an emphasis on learning and implementing everything the Thunder staff threw at him.
It takes a great amount of will power and courage for a youngster of Ferguson’s ilk, with prodigious athletic talents, to deny the opportunity to show out on a national stage like Summer League. Rather than gunning for points, Ferguson accepted the Thunder coaching staff’s challenge of heaping a ton of material on his plate.
“That kid is doing a hell of a job of staying within himself. I think there’s a lot of external pressure on these guys to come out and show out and be on some highlight tape,” Thunder Summer League and OKC Blue Head Coach Mark Daigneault said. “To his credit, he’s done a really good job of staying within himself, playing the right way, playing for the team and not forcing.”
“Most guards come back and want these big numbers,” Ferguson said. “That’s one thing I’m definitely not worried about. I’m worried about getting better, adding to my game, becoming the best player I can become.”
Summer League: Terrance Ferguson
Last season Ferguson performed quite well both with the Thunder and the OKC Blue, when he was sparingly in the G League. As a rookie, Ferguson played in 61 games, even starting 12 contests as a fill in for the injured Andre Roberson, and chipped in 3.1 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. In 3 games with the Blue, Ferguson racked up 14.7 points per game on 47.2 percent overall shooting. On both levels, he displayed a toughness despite his thin frame, a willingness to put his nose into a play and some quick feet defensively. Ferguson was also prone to knock down a clutch three-pointer from the wing, and throw down a ferocious slam dunk.
At Summer League, the performances were more subdued, but that’s because Ferguson had a lot more thinking to do. Last season with the Thunder, his role was pretty straight forward: play defense, sprint to the rim on fast breaks and in the half court, take corner three-pointers. Daigneault and the Thunder asked Ferguson to spend some time at point guard, to attack out of the pick and roll, to come off of pin down screens and to accept dribble hand offs to attack and initiate offense.
The results didn’t show up on the stat sheet, as the coaches understood was likely, and there have been moments where it’s clear Ferguson was a bit frozen trying to remember everything that was downloaded into his mental playbook. Yet that is the point of Summer League – to get all of these hiccups out of the way, so that by the time training camp rolls around, Ferguson will have some of those moments of hesitation behind him.
“His performance, he’s had his ups and downs. That’s predictable because we’re asking him to do a lot of things that he hasn’t done before,” Daigneault noted. “He’s handling that process really, really well. This is the only way for a player to improve. You have to go through this in order to get better. He’s exactly where he should be and the way he’s handling it is showing a lot of professionalism and maturity.”
“That’s definitely what I’m doing right now, just experimenting with different things, running the point guard position, just making plays off the ball and on the ball, facilitating and just trying to add to my game to be a better player,” Ferguson explained.