1. Searching for a proper slogan for this team and here is what I’ve come up with: “We Get Our Hands on Your Balls.” I understand this my fly in the face of the general conservative nature of the team marketing strategy, but damn if it isn’t accurate. I am floored by the percentage of defensive possessions where the Thunder are literally getting their hands on the ball at one point or another. They lead the league in steals, but that stat doesn’t even do it justice. There are several additional instances throughout the game where the Thunder are altering possessions by deflecting or tipping a pass or dribble— even if it doesn’t wind up in a steal or turnover it is often leading to a lower percentage shot. Much is made of the general Presti philosophy to de-emphasize shooting in exchange for length and athleticism. It’s a valid criticism and will likely remain a relevant argument. But the flip side can’t be ignored— what it yields is possibly the best defensive team in the NBA. There are no weaknesses there. Even a guy like Dennis who isn’t a lock-down type defender is at least pesky— he flies around and is quick enough to not get torched while also contributing to the general chaos the defense is creating. Most teams in the NBA are trying to keep pace with the Warriors by emulating them and their style. The Thunder are trying to do it by offering a roadblock. I find it pretty interesting and I’m enjoying watching it unfold.

2. The game itself was fine. Thunder took care of business and they did so in completely acceptable fashion. They played a bad team, they didn’t take it for granted and they still played hard and with lots of energy and intensity. While the Suns did make a fairly impressive run to cut the lead from 28 all the way down to 7, you certainly never felt the game was in danger and as soon as PG and Adams returned in the 4th quarter it was a 20 point lead again in no time. It is clear that the focus, chemistry, coaching, and all other intangible factors are DRASTICALLY improved this year. Last year we saw game after game where the Thunder would either lose to a far inferior team or get pushed to the brink. This year they are putting together complete games and finding ways to bounce back quickly from stagnant stretches. They do need to file away that they play Phoenix again in five days on the road. It’s a bit of an odd scheduling twist that it will also be the third time the teams have played this year already. Even by the standard of a lousy team, it’s hard to just blow a team away three times in a row, so I’d suggest the Thunder bring an equal effort on Saturday— especially if Russ still hasn’t returned by then.

3. Deandre Ayton should be a really good player. I liked him a lot and even though my pick would have been Doncic at number one, I understand why they chose Ayton and you can already see little signs of a big time talent emerging over the next couple of years. He has a bright future. But tonight he was taken to school. Or maybe behind the woodshed. Adams abused him early and often teaching him all kinds of lessons in the post. Adams may very well be the most physical player in the entire league and now he is adding some real legitimate basketball moves as well. His footwork in the paint is impressive and even though he never actually “shoots” the basketball, he has developed a soft touch from a variety of angles; he’s also become pretty adept at using his off hand to finish. And my goodness, even when he doesn’t wind up getting a rebound, I swear he’s getting his hands on it. Yes, Adams is an extreme ball toucher on a team full of them. There will be better nights ahead for young Ayton, but tonight he received a lesson from what looks like a worthy all-star caliber player.

4. This is a soft stretch of the schedule. They’ve won 8 of 9 and the next three are Knicks at home and the Suns and Kings on the road. Now, if Russ doesn’t play in any of those games I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop one. This is the NBA after all and the Kings in particular have performed well above expectations (as we found our first hand once already). Things get a little tougher the night before Thanksgiving when they make their second trip to Oracle to face the Dubs. It would be really nice to get Russ back before that game riding a stretch of 11 out of 12. Without Porzingis, the Knicks aren’t scaring anyone. That said, without Russ there is always the looming possibility that the team will struggle to find offense (see the Mavs game the other night) and while the defense has been exceptional, you don’t want to put that pressure on yourselves every game. What I’m trying to say is that while they shouldn’t be rushing Russ back at all; if he is ready to roll then they should let him go immediately and not try to sneak in extra rest just because of the upcoming level of competition.

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Ed Kleese