January 7, 2022 – the backcourt battle had officially concluded.
After weeks of sporadic minutes, up-and-down performances, and a shifting injury report, Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault made his final decision. Theo Maledon was the odd-man-out.
Maledon, age 20, took the biggest relegation in the midst of the battle. In the battleground, he went from last season's minute leader (1778 minutes) to playing rotational hot-potato with rookie Tre Mann and third-year man Ty Jerome.
Justifiably so, the Frenchman’s sophomore stint leading to January 7 had not been pretty. With averages of 3.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.0 assists across 13.6 minutes, the resume was spotty at best. To worsen his case, his 28.2% shooting clip, coupled with a paltry 18.2% hit rate from deep pinned him as a league-wide bottom dweller in terms of efficiency.
As a result of the guard’s drowsy play, Thunder GM Sam Presti had hit his last straw, pulling the guard from the active rotation on January 7. Four days later, the former minute leader was down with the G League, being assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue.
Initially, Maledon’s assignment looked to sound the usual in Presti’s bag of tricks – play Theo with the Blue, recall him in the subsequent moments, and keep the guard with the Thunder until both franchises play back-to-back at the Paycom.
Though, eight days in – that has not been the case. In fact, the 20-year-old has made a strong case for not only a recall to the ones but getting a second chance in the Thunder’s plans.
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Following a Winter Showcase stint in which the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 13.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, the former second-rounder played par to the course in his first regular-season game with the Blue – clocking 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in a 2-of-8 sample.
However, in the Blue’s latest six-day, four-game stand – Theo Maledon has risen the rungs of the G League roster. As since he's beamed off star-caliber production since taking on the venture.
Maledon’s masterclass has seen the guard torch the competition, logging four-consecutive 20-point performances, with three of four efforts hitting the 25-point mark. In his reign, he not only rattled in 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists, but he also elevated in the clutch, sending a game to overtime off a 33-footer.
The Frenchman's highly-touted passing ability, which became his biggest claim to fame in both the pre-draft and first year, has been rejuvenated in his latest run while his penetration ability, which has dwindled in NBA play, has returned to acrobatic status – flourishing in runners while also yielding buckets with mid-air adjustments. To ice the cake, his three-point shooting has garnered some traction going a bulky 44.4% (8-of-18) across runs.
Even with the high level of play, if Maledon receives another opportunity within Thunder ranks, chances are it will come as a fill-in for injuries or blow-out contests. However, with his blend of on-ball and off-ball creation looking to be back on the menu – the former second-rounder could make a surge at reopening the backcourt contest.