Can Oklahoma City’s Theo Maledon avert a sophomore meltdown?



The Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2021-22 season with the youngest team in the NBA.

And while the youth brings the promise of growth, it also brings the reality of an inconsistent game as the young plays continue to grow in the NBA.

The ‘sophomore crisis’ has become a reality as teams film the youngsters in the league and begin to identify and plan their tendencies.

A player in the Thunder roster this season who could be a contender for a year down is the second-year point guard Theo Maledon.

A second-round pick a year ago, Maledon has demonstrated his potential as a talented player who can pull the strings of the Thunder’s second unit. But aggressive play isn’t something that comes naturally to Maledon, and Oklahoma City has spent the past year pushing him to play aggressively even if it leads to turnovers in an effort to learn and grow.

Maledon’s development plan spanned the Summer League, where the point guard was called upon to lead the team.

Playing among other sophomores and incoming rookies, Maledon stood out, but not always for his excellent play.

Instead, Maledon only shot 33.3% from the field in his five games in Las Vegas, including a pair of performances where the Frenchman managed a combined 2 of 18 from the field.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the Summer League is not the end goal for any young player.

“We’re going to learn as much in six days of training as we would in the summer league,” said the OKC general manager. Sam presti said at his Media Day press conference last Friday. “Just being with the guys, getting into a routine, building relationships, getting a feel for the way things are done.”

So while Maledon will make more of the training camp he did this summer, he will also have fewer opportunities to shine this season.

Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexandre is back and healthy, which means he will get the majority of the minutes run. But the additions to the first round draft Josh Giddey and Tre Mann will also need a long time to pull the strings at the head of the Thunder offensive to develop.

On top of that, bench contributor colleague Ty Jerome proved he was more than capable of not only delivering a punch with his 3-point shots, but he also proved himself capable of slicing through opposing defenses effectively once he joined the Thunder of the G League Bubble last year.

But Maledon isn’t going to back down from the competition this year.

“I think that’s a good thing,” Maledon said at his Media Day press conference on Monday. “I think healthy competitions help raise the overall level of the team so I think that’s good. Personally, I want to see everyone win as much as I want, so for me it’s healthy and good to be there wanting to compete with these people.

“But at the same time, when we come to play against other teams, because of the way we compete, we know what to expect and can handle it better.”

The coming season will again provide plenty of opportunities for young players to make mistakes and grow, which is a necessary step in the process of maturing this young core of Oklahoma City.

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