Thunder Evaluations: The Rookies

Going into the 2016-2017 season the Oklahoma City Thunder knew they’d be approaching some uncharted territory without former faces of the franchise, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka. They also realized they’d be missing out on some pretty hefty bench production after losing Dion Waiters as well. At the season’s beginning, there were only 9 returning players that were a part of the 2015-2016 Western Conference Finals roster. Of those 9, only 4 actually received significant playing time. This season was scripted to be an experiment that would likely take a turn for a disastrous end, but only half of that was true.

The experiment worked out relatively well. Yes, there were a few kinks along the way, but it worked out. Three big components to this experiment were rookies Alex Abrines, Semaj Christon and Domantas Sabonis.

All three players received significant playing time throughout the season and Abrines saw a ton of action down the stretch in the playoffs. There were high and low points for these three guys but the most important aspect is them getting the professional experience needed to take on a more robust role in the rotation for years to come.

Alex Abrines:

Season stats: 6 points, 1.3 rebounds in 15.5 minutes.

Abrines showed signs of a reliable 3-point shooter and had his fair share of slumps throughout the season. All-in-all, though, he met and maybe exceeded expectations. His confidence continued to grow as the season progressed, so one can only imagine the type of player he’ll be next season and into the future.

Defense and strength were major issues for Abrines this year and that’ll have to change moving forward. At 6-foot-6, he could have a physical disadvantage on other shooting guards but his 190 pounds prevents him from doing that. His lack of size presents a glaring disadvantage defending bulkier wings, thus making him a liability on defense in most situations.

Season accomplishments: 

  • Connected on a rookie record 94 three-pointers (James Harden’s previous record). Also shot 94-of-247 (38.1 percent) from three. That ranks 6th amongst rookies.
  • Scored a career-high with 19 points vs. the Los Angeles Lakers (2/24).
  • Was a member of Team World during the Rising stars Challenge at All-Star 2017 in New Orleans.
  • Scored 10-plus points 17 times this season.

Semaj Christon

Season stats: 2.9 points, 2 assists, 1.4 rebounds in 15.2 minutes.

Christon received the majority of Thunder fan’s criticism this season and the reason is obvious: he plays behind Westbrook so the difference between the two can be overwhelming at times. He’s a rookie and it shows, but this season he’s had to take on more than the average NBA rookie. Christon’s playing time wasn’t consistent. One game he’d play 25 minutes and the next he may see one. That was the trend throughout the season which made things uncomfortable for him in intense game situations.

Right now, I consider him a poor man’s Patrick Beverley. Christon is a hard-nosed minded type of player that loves to reap havoc whenever he’s guarding. Yes, he’s pretty raw and probably won’t wow anyone for awhile, but expect him to gradually improve his offensive game.

Season accomplishments:

  • Scored in double-figures on four occasions.
  • Dished out 5 or more assists seven times this season.
  • His three-pointer solidified Russell Westbrook’s record-breaking 42nd triple-double of the season.

Domantas Sabonis

Season stats: 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1 assist in 20.1 minutes.

Sabonis was undisputedly the most utilized player for the Thunder this season, being the only one to start a significant number of games for the Thunder as a rookie. Just like his two rookie counterparts he struggled. Sometimes mightily, but getting that starting experience is great for his growth.

There were times where Sabonis simply appeared to be outmatched physically. In college, he played a more stationary center position and it seemed to be difficult for him to translate his college game over to the NBA while playing a more mobile power forward position. That will change with time, t’s all about acclimation.

Season accomplishments:

  • Became the first rookie to start a regular-season opener for the Thunder in franchise history.
  • Scored in double figures in 13 games.
  • Had two double-doubles.
  • Was a member of Team World during the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star 2017 in New Orleans. 


About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.


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