Quote by Nba preview – rookie & sophomore (Northwest)
We finished our evaluation of the rookies and sophomore in the Eastern Conference last week (if you need to catch up just follow these links for the Atlantic, Southeast and Central Division). It is now time to move to the Northwest Division and check if everything is well with the top of the 2015 rookie class.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Sophomore: Cameron Payne, Josh Huestis
Rookie: Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines, Semaj Christon, Alex Caruso, Kaleb Tarczewski
Cameron Payne‘s rookie season went more or less as expected. Being point-guard on a contending team that already has Russell Westbrook and DJ Augustin was not easy, but Payne was good enough to allow coach Donovan and GM Sam Presti to trade Augustin at mid-season. He came into the Nba as a player with great feel for the game and good potential as a shooter and floor leader, skills he did showcase from time to time, for example in here
and in here.
The stars on the team inevitably limited his touches and minutes on the floor in their rush to the Eastern Conference Finals, and of course he had a prolonged adjustment period early on, after missing his first training camp with an injury. His averages, adjusted per 36 minutes, are enough to inspire some optimism (14.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists) and OKC can only hope he will improve that 32.4% from three.
Josh Huestis was the 29th pick in the 2014 draft, agreed to sign in the D-League for his first season, and is now starting his second year in the Nba. As a first round pick his contract is guaranteed but he is unlikely to crack the rotation, in part because the roster is loaded at his position and in part because he didn’t exactly took the D-League by storm in his two seasons there, the first as a D-League player the second as an assignment to the Oklahoma City Blue. He is an athletic wing who might develop into a good shooter, but he played 55 minutes with the Thunder.
Domantas Sabonis was the 11th pick in the 2016 draft for the Orlando Magic but his rights were immediately sent to the Thunder in the trade that shipped Serge Ibaka to Orlando. The Lithuanian is a very good player, arguably one of the few rookies who could have an impact in a playoff-bound team (and a contender, back when Durant was still around). He will fit right in on defense, and he already proved he can be extremely effective on that side of the ball in the European tour the Thunder had in preseason. His help defense and switches were perfectly timed and he was active on the passing lanes and in the post. He will be another strong presence on the boards for OKC and collect rebounds on the weak side on offense when defenses will be forced to collapse on Westbrook’s drives to the rim. But Sabonis is a good passer from the elbows, and if he had to show a reliable jumper from the high post, he has a real chance to be in the starting five and in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
Alex Abrines was the 32nd pick in the 2013 draft and moved to the Nba after four seasons with top European club Barcelona. He has the physical tools and the talent to be part of the rotation, but he is unlikely to play relevant minutes from the very start. He certainly has experience in the most important competitions in Europe, and the fact that he will not be a starter should help him transitioning to the Nba game, but he will still struggle. The risk that he might end up like Nikola Mirotic in Chicago is real. The other rookies will be waived at the end of the training camp.