Five Thoughts 2-11-18 (Thunder 110, Grizzlies 92)

1. I was actually somewhat “happy” when I heard Melo and Russ would be out again tonight. I’m thinking long term here and in addition to getting some extra rest for those two, I think it is important that the role players begin to establish SOMETHING moving forward. Doesn’t look like any help is on the way from the outside so they need to figure it out in-house. They were horrendous in Los Angeles on Thursday and this game presented another opportunity for many of those guys to redeem themselves a bit. Thankfully, the Grizzlies complied with what we needed— they were just dreadful. But credit to our guys for playing very well in the first half and putting the game away early. PG led the way, but everyone else did a nice job falling in line. Hopefully this can be a bit of a catalyst. Our offense in the first half tonight was actually a well oiled machine. PG was on fire (more on that momentarily) and the ball zipped around. Of course, as always, it helps to hit shots. And the Thunder did that tonight at an almost absurd rate. Twelve three’s in the first half leading to 74 points without Russ or Melo? Pretty nice.

2. PG hasn’t been good lately. He hasn’t been great. He hasn’t even been “just” elite. He has been playing on an MVP level. No one in the league has played any better than he has over the past month or so. He looks so much more comfortable now than he did early in the season. He isn’t an uber-aggressive offensive player and he sort of allows the flow to come to him, but he’s been more assertive recently. He’s mixing up the inside/outside game which really makes him tough to defend. And the guy is just a dead eye shooter. It’s at the point now where when he gets an open look I’m thinking the same thing I think when Klay Thompson has an open look— and that is a high compliment. Reggie Miller has said it on the air many time: OKC is the perfect place for PG. It’s beginning to look that way. He is ALMOST a #1, but just a notch below. I view him as a more skilled/explosive version of Scottie Pippen. Playing alongside Russ is a perfect contrast for both of them as one is more aggressive/wild and the other is a calming influence and more efficient. I have no clue what the guy wants personally. But strictly in terms of basketball and maximizing his career individually, I think he’s found his landing spot. He’s better here than he was in Indiana and he’d likely be better here than almost anywhere else he’d go. It’s the right fit.

3. Abrines presents a conundrum for the Thunder. In an ideal world, he would be providing the scoring/shooting punch off the bench we so desperately need. In an ideal world, he’d be reliable instant offense and he’d be able to hold down the second unit along with Felton. Problem is, he is more or less failed in that role. He simply hasn’t been very good coming off the bench and appears to be an extreme rhythm player. He has gotten some spot starts due to injury and he has been FAR more effective in those instances. He actually won us a game in OT earlier this year at Memphis when PG was out. He gets better looks (obviously) when he is on the floor with the stars and he seems to settle in to a comfort zone with consistent minutes. Bench spark plugs need to be able to come in cold and make a quick impact— Felton excels at this. Grant does well in this role as well. Abrines stinks at it. So now Donovan is presented with a tough call. Alex is probably still a liability against really good teams like Houston and GS because he will likely get exposed defensively. But if he doesn’t start, he isn’t going to give them anything at all. So I think Donovan has no choice at this point but to ride with Alex as the starting shouting guard and see how it plays out.

4. I attended the game with my 9 year old daughter. I’ve written many times in this space how I admire her spirit, enthusiasm, and positivity. I try not to allow my cynicism or years of being a jaded sports fan creep out, but she invariably catches some of it. I try not to be overly critical or harsh towards individual players around her. But obviously, sometimes I fail. Tonight, when the Thunder made their early rounds of substitutions, the PA announcer said “Checking into the game for the Thunder, Josh Huestis!” She simply said “uh oh .” Kind of a faceplam moment for Dad.

5. Grizzlies are a bad team this year and they were really bad tonight. They didn’t have much interest in fighting for that game. Thunder did a good job of taking advantage and not allowing Memphis to even consider getting back into the game. I’m sure it was good for the locker room to get a win without two of the main guys leading the way. Probably also good for PG to be able to lead them to a W. Everyone in the league is on fumes now. All Star game fast approaching and these last two games will be tough. Cavs come in Tuesday and they look totally different from when we saw them last. They had so much energy in their big win at Boston and Lebron appears to be energized and out to lead these new guys. I don’t see how we have much of a chance if Russ is out again. I’d sit Melo these last two games regardless— give him what amounts to a legit three week break. With Russ, if he’s ready and not favoring the ankle, I’d play him because we could use some wins. That said, if he’s not 100%, I’d keep him out and live with the results.

Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal blog.

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Ed Kleese