The NBA's reigning Western Conference Champions are continuing to make headlines in The Association, as well as the D-League, for all the right reasons.
When the Thunder traded James Harden, many basketball fans wondered if the team would be able to maintain the same level of play that made it so successful last season. That answer has been thus far been yes, as Kevin Martin continues to thrive, having stepped seamlessly into Harden's old role. The sharpshooter is averaging 16.1 points and has shot 47% from downtown through his new squad's first 18 contests.
With Martin's help off the bench, OKC has been able to keep its NBA title aspirations alive, and currently leads its division with a 14-4 record.
Though the Thunder's short-term plan may be to win big now, its longterm plan is to keep winning long afterwards, too. The team already has younger superstars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and after trading Harden, the team has once again gone back to basics, working on developing talent from the ground up.
And the contender is using the D-League to do so. Still believing in the potential that made Daniel Orton a first-round draft selection in 2010, the Thunder has allowed the big man to continue working out the kinks in his game with the Tulsa 66ers. Orton has been a double-double machine so far in the early goings, also asserting himself as a force on the defensive end.
2012 lottery selection Jeremy Lamb has also been shipped out to Tulsa. The guard exploded for 33 points in his NBADL debut, and the Thunder can only hope more of the same is seen by the guard as time goes on.
Dominating the D-League and building some confident while they wait in the wings is a good thing for NBA prospects, especially for those who will be expected to at some point contribute to a strong squad like Oklahoma City. The pressure will be on them to help their team maintain its winning ways.
As well as Orton has played and as eye-popping as Lamb's impressive debut was, that's how consistent DeAndre Liggins has played during his own respective assignment. The guard has shown versatility, averaging a near triple-double. Liggins has filled up the stat-sheet, putting up 11.7 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists through the NBADL team's first three games.
Though he is shooting an impressive 55% from the field, it's undoubtedly all the other things Liggins has shown that he can do well that garnered his NBA call-up on Sunday. As demonstrated, the guard can pass and crash the boards effectively for a smaller player. He runs the floor well and keeps up in a fast-paced tempo, whether it be to find an open teammate or evade a defender himself.
With NBA teams sending players up and down to the D-League based on each respective squad's schedule, it'll be interesting to see if Liggins is in town long enough to make any sort of lasting impression. That said, the early success of himself, Orton, and Lamb is, without a doubt, what gave the Thunder the confidence to assign yet another player to the minors.
Oklahoma City announced today that with Liggins called up, rookie Perry Jones III will have the opportunity to log some minutes in a D-League uniform. The Baylor alum has so far played sparingly in just ten NBA contests. That said, he's said to have all the potential in the world. Aside from garnering comparisons to teammate Kevin Durant, Jones III was also earlier heralded as the steal of this past summer's draft.
And now he can begin proving it. After watching three of his teammates thrive in the same setting, Jones III now has a chance to strut his stuff. Perhaps he too will take advantage and dominate the competition like those before him have.
Only time will tell, but it's easy to see that the Thunder have been one of the more active teams in using the NBADL to its advantage this season.