In the D-League, lost in Santa Cruz's continued success or the offensive experiments that are going on in Reno or Rio Grande Valley has been the seamless relationship that's going on between the Oklahoma City Thunder and their NBA D-League affiliate. Although the Thunder's relationship has been solid since their team was stationed in Tulsa, the connection has grown more over the past 12 months. Since that time, OKC made two significant moves that had a D-League connection: drafting Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon and moving their affiliate from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.
For the first point, the team drafted them for the sole reason of placing them in the D-League. While the "draft-and-stash" model has been a part of the league for more than a decade, there weren't any cases where the prospects remained stateside until the 2013-14 season. During that season, both OKC (Grant Jerrett) and New Orleans (Pierre Jackson) were stashed in the D-League for their entire rookie season. The following season, the Thunder took the same model that they started during the prior season and seemingly built on from it, as they stashed both Semaj Christon and Josh Huestis in the D-League.
While sticking a late second round pick like Christon in the D-League wasn't exactly shocking, sticking somebody like Josh Huestis, who was drafted with the 29th pick was a much more intriguing scenario. Huestis deciding to bypass the main roster and a guaranteed contract to apply his traits in the D-League was a move that sent a minor shockwave through the basketball world.
To closely examine the progress of Huestis and Semaj Christon, the Thunder moved their D-League affiliate from their long-term location in Tulsa to Oklahoma City. The move allowed the Thunder organization to have a closer examination of their affiliate, as the Blue's arena is down the street from the Chesapeake Energy Arena. While on the topic of examining OKC's "draft and stash" prospects, we're going to look at the lesser-known Semaj Christon, who made a huge impact during his time with the Oklahoma City Blue.
The term "examination" is actually a perfect fit for scouting Christon, as you have to keep your eyes glued on him or else you'd take the risk of missing him making a big play. Christon's sheer quickness stood as one of the more entertaining parts of the OKC Blue, as Christon exhibited a tremendous ability to drive his way to the paint in a blink of an eye. That trait was evident by the amount of times that Christon was able to score from inside the paint. Over the course of the 44 game regular season, Christon scored 203 times from inside the paint, which would round out to more than four made shots per game. Christon's speed also allowed him to get to the free throw line at a strong rate (6.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes), which allows him to be effective even if he's struggling from the field.
Those combined efforts allowed Christon to be one of the finest scorers in the entire D-League. For the season, Christon averaged 18.6 points per game on 43% shooting. That average helped allow Christon to become a D-League All-Star.
Another way that Christon had a positive effect on the OKC Blue was through his work as a facilitator. Although he's still considered as a score-first guard, Christon displayed pretty solid court vision, which he mainly showcased while he was on the move. In the process of driving to the paint, he can either kick it out to a perimeter opponent or a big that's also working towards the rim. Over the course of the season, Christon averaged 5.7 assists per game, which is an average that continued to grow as the season went. During OKC's brief two-game stint in the playoffs against Santa Cruz, he averaged 9 assists per game, as he did whatever he could to prevent the team from being eliminated.
That resiliency is a huge reason as to why Semaj Christon is such an intriguing prospect. To even the untrained eye, you can see that Christon is one of the hardest working and aggressive players on the court. That aggression combined with his tremendous quickness could definitely make up for the clear deficiencies that he has as a player (i.e his lack of any perimeter jumper).
Although Semaj Christon still has some aspects of his game that he needs to flesh out (that perimeter jumper and shot selection), he does have the potential to be a rotation player in the league. His propensity for cutting to the paint and his underrated court vision are two tools that would allow him to fit well as a backup PG. Could that fit be with the Thunder? Possibly. The team is in need of a backup PG after dealing Reggie Jackson to Detroit during the middle of the season. However, the recent reports that the team has made a pre-draft arrangement with Murray State point guard Cameron Payne makes Christon's role more of a question.
Whether Christon gets that role as a backup guard, moves onto another team (or country), or spends another season in the D-League, he'll continue to stand as an exciting guard that will keep your attention whenever he's on the court.