Théo Maledon had a career night in Oklahoma City. Here’s how he’s benefits from little-known rule

·5 min read
Sue Ogrocki/AP

It seemed fitting for Théo Maledon.

The guy making a surprise start for the Charlotte Hornets for the first time in four months did it in the place he was cast off from last year, suiting up against the very team that drafted him, when he got sent to Houston in an eight-player deal back in September.

Perhaps that’s why Maledon smiled as he kept his shooting form on display midway through the fourth quarter following a made 3-pointer during a critical run against Oklahoma City. He was thrust into emergency duty just hours after the Hornets made a roster move to take advantage of a little-known Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rule.

Stepping in after Dennis Smith Jr. was a late scratch with a sprained right big toe, Maledon ran the show effectively for the Hornets in their 137-134 win over the Thunder at Paycom Center on Tuesday night. Maledon tossed in a season-high 19 points to go with a season-best nine assists and four blocks – the most he’s swatted in his short career.

“Just the context of it, coming back to OKC where I spent my two years there, I was already pumped for that game, you know?” Maledon said. “I was ready, whether I got 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes. As long as I can get on the court and try to give everything and leave everything there.”

Earlier in the day, the streaking Hornets (26-51) signed Xavier Sneed to a 10-day contract, bringing the roster to 15. That was significant because it provides Maledon with more time to play on his two-way deal, and the Hornets don’t have to convert his deal to a standard NBA pact.

According to the CBA, players on two-way contracts are allowed to be active for a maximum of 50 games. A team that has only 14 players on its roster is allotted a total of 90 combined active games, but if a team has 15 – which is the maximum – it can utilize the full complement of 100 games.

So, Sneed’s arrival means Maledon, who’s been active for 41 games, can keep honing his craft over these next two weeks.

“I’m blessed by this opportunity,” Maledon said. “Whenever the opportunity is, I want to be ready for it. And live it all and have no regrets about it. I’m just trying to prepare myself the best I can – watching film, doing recovery, taking shots and being sharp at practice so it can translate onto the court.”

The Thunder witnessed Maledon’s growth firsthand.

“Very poised,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “He has a vivid organizational aspect of his game, which was good for us. Their ball pressure … (The Thunder) are very good at creating turnovers. We turned the ball over quite a bit tonight. And that’s where he’s good – organize the team, get good possessions. And I think that’s a real strength of his.”

Oklahoma City chose Maledon in the second round of the 2020 draft, taking him 34th overall, and he played for the Thunder in his initial two seasons, averaging 8.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 116 appearances.

At the outset of training camp in September, Maledon found himself trying to hang on in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder eventually shipped him to Houston just prior to October in an eight-player deal along that sent Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Maurice Harkless to Houston in exchange for David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss. Maledon didn’t forget it and the trade fueled him against the Thunder.

“It’s a special feeling, spending two years there ... my rookie year then my sophomore year,” Maledon said. “When it’s the first team that drafted you and gave you a chance, you are forever grateful for that chance. But at the same time you’ve still got in mind what happened, so you just try to get out there and get it done.”

Maledon didn’t last long with the Rockets, getting waived within a few days of changing employers. Wanting more insurance at backup point guard, the Hornets pounced on inking Maledon and gave him a two-way contract, figuring he’d be toiling mostly in the G League with the Greensboro Swarm. That turned out to be far from reality, though.

Given the rash of injuries that hovered around the Hornets’ backcourt early in the season – remember Smith, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier and missed time – the team relied more on Maledon than initially thought. And he played well, posting 4.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists, shooting 54.2% and 40.9% from 3-point range.

Before this last week, Maledon had been active only once in the new calendar year, meaning he’s played in mostly Swarm garb since the holidays. But as the Hornets wrap up their 2022-23 campaign, expect to see more of Maledon during these final five games, quietly running the show.

“He’ll play a lot,” Clifford said. “But he’s been very solid for us whenever he’s played. He’s smart, he’s an organizer, he’s got good size. Everything makes sense when you watch him play and he plays on both ends, so we all have confidence in him.”