Théo Maledon thrilled for “New Start” and Opportunity in Charlotte
The few days between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season are always difficult around the NBA, mainly because teams have to cut players to comply with league requirements. Many players on non-guaranteed or Exhibit-10 contracts know what’s coming, but that doesn’t necessarily make the process any easier.
“It’s all about people, so you can start a relationship with guys,” Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said after practice Saturday. “In return, [having to make moves] is obviously part of what we do. Professional sports are synonymous with change, with adapting to change. The players leave, there is free will, they come, they leave. It’s just part of managing the job.
But when some doors close, others open and a door has opened in Charlotte for 6’4” French point guard Theo Maledon, who has officially signed a two-way deal with the organization. Maledon, 21, was released by Houston last week on a Sept. 30 trade from Oklahoma City. As a two-way player, Maledon will likely see most of his early action in Greensboro, but could definitely earn minutes with the Hornets down the line.
“It’s been a lot, but I’m really excited to have the opportunity to be here, settle in and get to work for sure,” says Maledon. “I’ve played against most of these guys over the past two years, so I know a bit about their strengths. It seems like a great working environment. The guys are determined to work and bring good energy, so it’s really exciting to be here.
Taken with the 34e Overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Maledon was acquired by Oklahoma City on an overnight trade from Philadelphia as part of the deal that sent Al Horford to the 76ers. Prior to arriving in the NBA, Maledon spent the previous three seasons playing in the French Jeep Elite LNB Pro A League for ASVEL Basket, a club currently owned by former Hornet Tony Parker.
Maledon averaged 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 0.8 steals in 116 games over two seasons with Thunder, including 56 starts. The biggest challenge for him so far has been his offensive efficiency — he’s a career 37.1 percent and 32.2 percent 3-point shooter. He shot 42.1% and 33.3% from behind the arc in 46 appearances for ASVEL during the 2019-20 campaign, which included clips of 45.6% and 36.7% from 22 outings in the league. ‘top-tier ultra-competitive EuroLeague.
“My abilities to play with and without the ball,” Maledon said, when asked what skills he can bring to the Hornets. “It’s something I worked on this summer to be comfortable in both positions. I think defense is always a must, especially in this league. Ability to play pick-and-roll, be able to knock down all three catch-and-shoots, provide leadership at the same time as a point guard. I’m just trying to fit in and give it my all.
The last rookie classes at Oklahoma City have been quite large in terms of players signed and from the outside it looks like there may not have been enough development resources for all of the young Thunder players. This is when tough decisions have to be made – it just comes down to a numbers game.
“They make the decision at the end of the day,” Maledon says. “A lot of guys came from the last draft, so they had to make choices. I think for me to be able to be here and have a fresh start is the most important thing and what I’m really focused on. Ultimately, my job is to be here, to be professional and to give my best. If it didn’t work somewhere, just keep working until it does work somewhere. I hope it’s here.
In 2019, Maledon won the LNB Pro A Best Young Player Award, joining a notable list of past winners which includes Parker, Boris Diaw, Ian Mahinmi, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Clint Capela and Frank Ntilikina. He was by far the youngest player for the silver-medalizing French national team at the EuroBasket 2022 championships last month and has rare experience starting as a teenager for an LNB Pro A League champion and a EuroLeague team.
“It was great. I played [three] games,” recalls Maledon, originally from Rouen in northern France. “It was really the first championship I was able to participate in. It’s great to play for your country at this level of FIBA Basketball. It’s such a different game, so it was really interesting to be the.
The combination of Maledon’s youth, physical traits and vast professional experience make this pickup a real intrigue for Charlotte. Life in the NBA can be tough and humiliating and sometimes the fit just isn’t there in the first place for one reason or another. Maybe this time for Théo Maledon, it will be.