During any rebuild, the general theme should often be structural
experimentation. Provide young players a role, while empowering
them to experiment within that role. Establish expectations for how
they can thrive, but don’t be overly rigid or domineering in the
exact play-style or execution. Freedom, within reason, is the
For Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann, all of that is an apt,
broad synopsis of his rookie season. He’s started 19 of the past 20
games and all year, he’s enjoyed a role encouraging him to
entertain a whole bunch of ideas. Many aren’t currently prosperous,
but a future where they are isn’t too difficult to
Right now, Mann isn’t a very good NBA player, yet much of what
he’s showcasing hints at a not-too-distant reality where he is
quite good. Most rookies aren’t good. His struggles are palatable
because the kernels of intrigue continue to swell.
Across all 54 games, he’s averaging 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds,
1.4 assists and 0.8 steals on 48.4% True Shooting (.381/.347/.771
split). In 21 starts, he’s averaging 13.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.2
assists and a steal on 48% TS (.367/.346/.833 split). None of those
are really numbers that scream “he’s currently good!” but there’s a
whole lot of dazzling tape and underlying data to inspire
Dating back years, Mann’s adroit ball-handling talents have
popped off the screen. Through five months in the NBA, those
handling chops have probably been his most functional skill. The
entire kitchen sink of tricks is seemingly in his arsenal —
hesitations, crossovers, in-and-outs, snatch-back dribbles — and he
leverages all of them to forge advantages.
Lower-body flexibility and evasive deceleration amplify the
threat of his ball-handling to keep defenders off-kilter. As the
season’s progressed, he’s growing more decisive and self-assured in
these moves — less thinking ahead of every decision and more acting
on the fly as he sees fit. He’s already authored a smattering of
highlight-reel buckets, and it’s not complicated to see him
torching defenses like this for years:
The ball-handling, flexibility and deceleration are all critical
in his ability to compensate for lackluster burst and strength.
According to Cleaning The Glass, just 19% of his shots occur at the
rim (31st percentile), where he’s shooting 49% (19th percentile).
He’s not unwilling to play through contact or embrace physicality,
but his poor core strength gives rim protectors the clear edge and
invites on-ball defenders to disrupt or crowd his handle.
Addressing that physical deficiency could be incredibly
beneficial, helping him to fend off handsy assignments and emerge
from the cellar of finishing and rim pressure groupings.
Fortunately, dribble-drive prowess isn’t the bedrock of Mann’s
scoring allure. His shooting profile is quite encouraging, even if
immediate results don’t highlight that.
He’s connecting on 37% of his spot-up threes and looks
reasonably adept as a movement shooter, given his
footwork and balance. Leaning into that catch-and-shoot volume is
important. He’s prone to bypassing stationary triples in favor of
drives, but interior scoring is fairly tricky these days (41% on
In fact, he’s taken more pull-up threes than catch-and-shoot
threes this season, despite generally playing alongside a lead
creator. Letting it fly off the catch more often would be a boon to
his efficiency and Oklahoma City’s offense.
None of this is to suggest off-the-bounce stuff is forbidden
with him. Mann’s pull-up game is rather promising. Among 14 rookies
to attempt at least 100 pull-up jumpers this season, his 47.1%
effective field goal percentage ranks second behind Cam Thomas
His step-back three is swiftly developing into a reliable,
hallmark weapon and he’s shooting 36.8% (21-of-57) on it this
season. The space he generates, while maintaining balance, is
absolutely menacing. His ankles can endure some serious
For many scoring-inclined prospects or young guys, a hurdle that
often exists is the inability to create open or comfortable looks
when transitioning from their pre-NBA context to the league.
Whether it’s athletic shortcomings, atypical shooting mechanics or
something else, the capacity to consistently find clean shots
prevents them from burgeoning into high-level scorers.
With Mann, that’s not a problem because he’s routinely producing
open, replicable shots for himself. He’s not hitting a ton of them
thus far, but the process is encouraging. Shot-making is a staple
of developmental curves, even if it’s usually just implied rather
than stated analysis. He views offensive decision-making through a
lens of distinguished creativity.
If there’s open space to occupy, he touts the ingenuity,
handling and flexibility to inhabit it. A lot of what he sees and
how he moves feels inherent as opposed to acquired.
A trap that can be the mystique of pull-up shooting is the
absence of ancillary skills around it. If you’re a good pull-up
shooter but underwhelming in an assortment of other skills like
passing and advantage creation, demanding significant usage to
broadcast the impact of that shooting is much more onerous.
Mann has the advantage creation with his slippery handle and is
a much better passer than his assist rate indicates. His best
passing trait is reads to the interior, but Oklahoma City’s crop of
big men are not credible play-finishers. I’d be curious to see what
his inside-out passing looks like on a team with better shooting,
though that’s also an area for improvement.
Yet given his dexterity, innovation as a dribbler and the manner
in which he interacts with space, he might have some latent
playmaking upside that would broaden the domain of his passing
toolbelt. And regardless, it’s not as though he’s totally inept.
He’s exhibited an enticing knack to thread reads into small windows
and occasionally manipulate help defenders with his eyes or body
angles. The base in Year 1 is substantial.
His ideas are also ahead of his execution. He’ll see an opening,
but not really have a path to capitalize on it. As the scope of
that issue dwindles and he potentially adds core strength to better
navigate physicality, he should be excellent at weaving through
defenders and delivering dimes.
All of this is to say that I’m not really worried about him
being a unitasker offensively who almost exclusively derives value
from pull-ups and fails to contribute elsewhere. He’s going to
manufacture paint touches and be a tenable facilitator. Offenses
should be able to entrust him with sizable usage.
Don’t let the gloom of Mann’s numbers today cast long-term doubt
or concern. The outline of a versatile, impactful secondary creator
is surfacing. In due time, refinement will come and the entirety of
his services will blossom. Foretelling it merely requires a look
beyond the box score.