The Oklahoma City Thunder ended a three-game losing streak with the most impressive win of the season on Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, 125-122.
This was an impressive win because they were down two starters. Those two starters are OKC’s only seasoned veterans, and the Thunder were on the road against a veteran squad. Instead of George Hill (34) and Al Horford (34), rookie Theo Maledon (19) got his first NBA start, and Isaiah Roby (22) got his sixth. Roby, at 22 years old, was OKC’s oldest starter tonight. Yet, this youthful Thunder team went into Portland and shot 18-40 (45 percent) from 3, shot 51.2 percent for the game, out-assisted Portland 25-17, and only committed eight turnovers.
While there are plenty of players to credit for tonight’s victory, you can look at the stat sheet and figure that out. A more important discussion is whether Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault should permanently insert Theo Maledon and Isaiah Roby into the starting lineup.
Best believe whether it happens or not, the thought will cross Daigneault’s mind.
Not saying that Hill and Horford don’t have more left in the tank because they obviously do. Hill averages 11.8 points, just over his career average, while shooting 50 percent from the field. Horford averaged 11.6 points per game, just under his career average, but the two are very serviceable players, even 14 years into their career. However, the future isn’t them. They may not survive the season in OKC. Maledon and Roby are the future. Roby could be a valuable piece of this Thunder rebuild, and Maledon may be the traditional point guard of the future, depending on how his game progresses.
The Thunder may suffer against elite competition (like they did against the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers), but they struggled will Hill in the lineup, so that’s inevitable. Why not give Maledon and Roby a jumpstart to their career and permanently place them in the starting lineup to boost their confidence?
It’s not like they need a boost of confidence. That’s both of their biggest strengths, but knowing that they’re in the Thunder’s plans, would undoubtedly help them.
Maledon isn’t a stat-stuffer by any means. Through 15 games, he’s only averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game on 36.5 percent shooting. The draw with him is his poise, court vision, speed, on-court awareness, passing ability, and most importantly, confidence. His confidence is actually really underrated. He’s not the most vocal guy on OKC, but since his first preseason game, where he led the Thunder with 20 points, it’s clear that he’s confident in his game, and he’s going to live and die by his strengths.
Maledon displaying his court vision.
Yet much more introverted, Maledon’s confidence resembles a young Russell Westbrook. His playing style mimics his mentor Tony Parker, who wasn’t the best shooter (32.1 percent from 3) but got the job done and is a future Hall of Famer because of it. The same future is there for Maledon to take.
As for Roby, most of us weren’t aware, but he’s instant offense. Through his six starts, he’s scored in double-figures five times and averaging 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds on 49.8 percent shooting when he starts. While Roby is a second-year player, he didn’t get any experience last year, so this year feels like his rookie season. Those numbers are auspicious of a fruitful career in the NBA. And once again, just like Maledon, Roby doesn’t lack any confidence, which will help him long-term.
If the Thunder are serious about this rebuild and more concerned about building for the future, they’ll realize that this is the best move for them: to start Theo Maledon and Isaiah Roby, and eventually trade George Hill and Al Horford if they still want to start in the NBA, which would be understandable.
It’s all about the future.
Feature image: Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images.