When the 2020 NBA Draft got underway, there were still a lot of questions surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the league as a whole. However, some things were almost a guarantee, like the Thunder selecting this unicorn big man Aleksej Pokusevski in the first round. It was also assumed Theo Maledon would be selected within the Top-30. He and Tyrell Terry were my two prospects that saw an unexpected plummet down draft boards. For Terry the fall was more dramatic going from fourth on my big board all the way down to 31st, falling into the lap of the Dallas Mavericks on draft night.
For Theo Maledon he fell to pick 34 from 28 on my big board. Maledon was also 28 on The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor’s big board. Many have speculated that the reason Maledon fell in the draft is due to the answer he gave those of us in the media during the predraft combine and teams during their interviews.
Maledon made no mistake about it, his next step is the NBA and he would be coming over to compete in the 2020-21 NBA Season. He has followed through on that, with the trade being made official today, the 34th pick is already in OKC undergoing protocols and getting ready to start his NBA Career.
As OKC Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault noted today with the media, Theo Maledon “Has a good amount of experience.” The 19-year-old has been playing professionally in some of the best leagues overseas since 2017. He has great pacing and is a very good playmaker. The 6’4 guard with a 6’8 wingspan also possesses high upside as a shooter.
Some of the knocks on the court has been about his athleticism, or lack there of. The combo guard struggles to switch guards making it virtually impossible to beat a defender off the dribble, his inability to get into the paint effectively can allow the defense to adjust their coverage on him and really negate his playmaking attributes.
While Maledon has the size to be a very switchable defender, he doesn’t have the effort or talent level yet. Which could impact his playing time in a Mark Daigneault system that is designed to have a ton of switching, and a position-less flow to it.
Despite the flaws in his game, Theo Maledon has a very important advocate…San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. The Hall of Famer has mentored Maledon for some time now, and that is worth something when you are taking a flyer on a second round pick.
Of course, Maledon is not your average second-rounder which gives him a leg up in his ability to stick around as the Thunder try to find out just how much of that first-round potential they can tap out.
It is unclear what Theo Maledon’s availability is for Saturday’s preseason opener in San Antonio as he goes through proper COVID-protocols then works into game shape. If he is able to get up to speed in time for tip-off it would be almost a fairy tale to begin his NBA career in the same building that Tony Parker orchestrated his Hall of Fame career.
What is clear about Theo Maledon’s rookie campaign is that he is ready to perform at the NBA level. His maturity and experience allow Mark Daigneault to trust the rookie with heavy minutes. However, a factor working against Theo Maledon is the amount of guards on the Thunder that need playing time. Of course you have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill, Hamidou Diallo, and Lu Dort. The team also needs to find a way to work in Ty Jerome a second year player from Virginia who is the last man standing in Bricktown from the Chris Paul trade.
From there, OKC has really taken a liking to Frank Jackson, a guard who they loved in the 2017 Draft and despite a good stretch of basketball in the bubble was not re-signed by the Pelicans.
There are a lot of reasons to believe why Theo Maledon will crack the Oklahoma City rotation at some point this year.