Even before roster changes, Thunder can bolster its offense with development from Terrance Ferguson
Terrance Ferguson’s smile widened as a reporter told him how excited veteran guard Raymond Felton sounded about working out with Ferguson over the summer.
“He's really trying to expand my game, and I love what he sees inside my future,” Ferguson said in his exit interview Thursday. “I'm all in with it.”
The offseason is here, which means it’s time for the Thunder to tinker with its roster. It has to, after losing a first-round series to a Portland team without starting center Jusuf Nurkic. It has to, after three consecutive first-round exits.
The players themselves don’t have control over who OKC general manager Sam Presti adds to, or removes from, the squad this summer. What they can do, and what Felton and All-Star Paul George have already committed to, is help guide Ferguson.
“This is a pivotal year for young guys, their third year,” George said. “He's got to make a jump for us.”
There’s no guarantee the Thunder will keep Ferguson out of trade talks. But on a team with one of the most expensive rosters in the NBA, contracts like Ferguson’s are rare.
OKC exercised Ferguson’s third-year team option in October to lock him in at about $2.47 million next season. Ferguson, on a rookie-scale contract, was OKC’s lowest paid starter this season by over $6 million.
His presence in the starting lineup became hotly debated among Thunder fans and media members in the first couple months of the season. Thunder coach Billy Donovan repeatedly defended his decision to keep Ferguson in it, while the 20-year-old shot 7.7 percent from 3-point range in October.
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In his rookie season, Ferguson had averaged just 12.5 minutes in 61 games.
“I worked my butt off in the offseason, so I was expecting something big,” Ferguson said. “I wasn't expecting anything that big. Not starting, especially for the whole season, being 20 years old, second season. It was a very different role, but I took the mindset it was business. I had to step up to the job and do it to the best I could.”
Ferguson settled into the starting role, was OKC’s best 3-point shooter in January (47.9 percent) and began to integrate other skills into his play — driving to the basket, distributing.
His offensive efficiency wavered as the season wound down, but the Thunder saw Ferguson’s upside. It saw the team’s upside when he is scoring.
George saw an opportunity.
George’s third season in the NBA was his first as an All-Star. Other than the 2014-15 season, when he played just six games due to a gruesome leg injury, he has earned the honor every year since.
Ferguson’s next step, the way George sees it, is the same one he took between Years 2 and 3.
“I think Ferg has to put pressure on Coach now to use him more, to use him in the offense,” George said. “I think that's what you want out of your young guys, is for them to put pressure on the coach to increase his — whether it's offense, defense — increase his production out there. So, he's got to have a big summer.”
He told Ferguson as much.
“I'm taking whatever advice he gives me,” Ferguson said. “On the court, off the court, doesn't matter what it has to deal with, I'm taking that advice because to see the player he is, the player he became, I'm trying to be on that level.”
This summer, as he moves back and forth between Texas and Oklahoma — Ferguson said he didn’t know if he was going to play in Summer League — Ferguson will have Felton around to help him hone his offensive skill set.
Felton’s contract expired after this season, but he said he wants to return to the Thunder next year. He and Ferguson have been planning to meet in Dallas this summer since the beginning of the season, according to Ferguson.
“I said we're going to get together,” Felton said, “do a lot of ball handling, a lot of stuff off the dribble, to make you a more all-around scorer.”
Steven Adams hopes to improve free throw shooting, Page D3