When thinking of the Oklahoma City Thunder, whether you’re a fan or not, you have to acknowledge that the organization has been one of the most successful franchises in sports and produced three of the most recognizable NBA players of this generation.
But after OKC’s original big three was established, how many successful rookies have the Thunder had? James Harden was drafted third overall in 2009. Since then, there hasn’t been a Thunder rookie that’s really stuck out since then throughout the course of the season. That’s why Théo Maledon could be the Thunder’s most impressive rookie since James Harden in 2009.
This doesn’t include Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort, who hit the scene late during their rookie seasons.
Given, Maledon has only played 18 games with three starts, but the 19-year-old French point guard has given Thunder fans more to look forward to than they’ve had in over a decade, and he’s doing it quietly.
One may argue in favor of Steven Adams, who was drafted in 2013, but there were plenty of visible holes in his game after his rookie season. Adams had a lot of raw talent but didn’t show flashes of being an elite big man.
The closest player to compare is Reggie Jackson, who showed promise during his inaugural NBA season, but how effective was he? What were his numbers looking like during his rookie campaign? Jackson averaged 3.1 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game. His expectation wasn’t to be a starting NBA point guard or a franchise player. It was to be one of the premier backup point guards in the league and an immediate jolt off a deep Thunder bench.
I didn’t forget about Domantas Sabonis either. He’s developed into one of the NBA’s best players, but how effective was he during his rookie campaign? He wasn’t. Domantas, just like Jackson, showed promise after his rookie season but wasn’t expected to be the star he is now.
The funny thing is, we aren’t sure whether or not Maledon is that guy either. He’s only started three games this season, and in the games that he didn’t start, he struggled getting into a rhythm on offense.
The difference with Maledon is his ability to make himself effective even when his shot isn’t falling, which is indicative of an all-around point guard. However, his offensive game isn’t as off-rhythm as outwardly indicated. In a limited role, and at times apparently ‘off-rhythm,’ Maledon has still managed to average 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game in 20 minutes per game, and in three starts replacing George Hill, he’s scored in double-figures twice, including 24 points on 6-of-6 shooting from three.
His statistics are on par with or better than Adams, Sabonis, and Jackson after the end of their rookie seasons. What puts him over the top is his confidence, decisiveness, and decision-making. If you didn’t look at his baby face, you wouldn’t know that Maledon was a 19-year-old rookie. He has the confidence of Russell Westbrook but the poise and creativity of Tony Parker. If developed correctly, Maledon could be one of the league’s best point guards during his career.
But right now, Maledon’s certainly one of the league’s best rookies, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he snuck on one of the NBA’s All-Rookie teams by the time this season is all said and done. Yes, the Thunder have a bright future with Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley, but you have to think about putting Maledon on that list as well.
Feature image: Zach Beeker, OKC Thunder.