Author - Ed Kleese

4 Thoughts (11-12-18): Thunder 118, Suns 101

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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4 Thoughts (11-8-18): Thunder 98, Rockets 80

1. Now that was interesting. Certainly unexpected. The most surprising element of this game was what happened after the Rockets took their only lead of the game at 39-38 early in the second quarter. At that moment Houston had just hit a bunch of three’s and were winning the quarter 20-9. The 10 point lead the Thunder created was erased— and quickly at that. Game kind of had that feel of Houston taking control. There was still over half a quarter left and I was thinking the Thunder just needed to survive that run and be within striking distance at the half. Well, they did a little more that. Thunder ended the quarter on a 21-6 run and completely flipped the momentum. They took total control of the game and never relinquished it from that point. PG didn’t have any sort of amazing game tonight, but he was fantastic during that second quarter run. He was the catalyst and the team fell in line behind him. The comeback against Charlotte was very nice last week, but that run tonight was the most impressive stretch of the season thus far.

2. It’s a real chicken-egg thing. Did the Thunder D produce stifling results tonight due to their incredible performance or due to Houston’s pathetic offensive effort? It’s hard to tell for sure and it could be a combination of both, but one thing is for certain: the Rockets don’t score a total of 80 points in a game very often. And we’ve now seen the Thunder clamp down pretty much the entire season with the exception of the loss to the Kings. So we’ve seen enough to know that SOMETHING is going on here. They have an entire team of athletes— they are long and quick just about everywhere. It’s borderline ridiculous how many tipped passes and deflections they get on a nightly basis. They are forcing opponents into tough shots due in large part to the fact that simply passing the ball against the Thunder is a risky proposition. The identity is being established. It’s beautiful because it’s also necessary. The Thunder just won back to back games… without Russ… where they shot the ball horribly from three (less than 25% each night). Shooting the ball that poorly is almost always a death knell for an NBA team (see Rockets, Houston). But not for the Thunder. Now, shooting 25% can’t be the norm. That isn’t a sustainable number. However, it’s nice to know that not only can the Thunder win games when shots aren’t falling; they can win them going away. And when shots DO fall? Well, if this defensive commitment persists, they will be elite on those nights.

3. Adams’ stat line did not do his impact justice tonight. 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists is impressive enough, but if you actually watched this game you would have seen Adams more or less absorb it. It was as if he was the drain and everything else was the bath water swirling towards him and eventually being engulfed. He was everywhere. I loved the game plan and commitment to get him the ball in the post. It was a turning of the tables of sorts against a Rockets team that more often than not forces you to play THEIR pace and adjust to THEIR mismatches. Donovan and the staff make a clear conscious effort tonight to exploit the natural advantage of having Adams on the floor. Even when he didn’t yield immediate results it knocked the Rockets off kilter and set the tone early that this was going to be a more physical, less fluid game. In the paint, Adams was his usual wrecking-ball self. In the second half there was a sequence where he hit the floor on three straight possessions, creating jump ball situations on two of them. He also flashed some nifty passing skills; something we don’t see a whole lot. He had the ball in his hands way more than usual tonight and it turned into a major advantage for the Thunder. Noel is a nice player and I view him as an absolutely perfect defensive-minded back up center. There may even be occasions where he is more effective than Adams in a given match up. But I was hearing some rumblings early this year from other fans pondering if Adams might now become expendable. I’m not buying that.

4. Turned out to be a pretty fitting night for Melo in his return. He received what I would describe as a respectful round of applause when he was introduced. I thought I could make out a couple of boos from a few parts of the arena, but nothing significant. He mostly a solid round of applause, albeit a brief one. I think most people recognize two things… he gave it his best shot here and it just didn’t work out at all. He was gone before we knew it and he never really connected anyway, so there is certainly no emotional attachment between Melo and OKC or vice versa. It was a mostly forgettable one year experiment for all parties. Then Melo comes out and shoots 1-11 from the floor. That just sort of put the icing on the whole thing. The whole “Melo effect” thing probably isn’t entirely fair, but with the Rockets sitting at 4-6 and looking super sluggish thus far, let’s just say I’m fine with how things turned out. For OKC, it’s on to Dallas now in what I view as a very low pressure spot Saturday night. They’ve won 7 in a row, currently playing without Russ, and looking good doing it. If they were to drop the game Saturday it’s not really a big deal especially with two very winnable home games to follow. That said, extending to 8 would be nice. Team is riding a hot streak, no sense in cooling yourself down by taking a night off. I want to see the Thunder simply continue to do what they’ve been doing for the past two weeks.

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4 Thoughts (11-7-18): Thunder 95, Cavs 86

1. This might be my favorite game so far this year. The Cavs are not good. Not only is their roster a mish-mash mess, but they are also clearly emotionally defeated. The Decision Part 2 has left the collective tank on empty. It’s going to be a very long season in Cleveland. So winning this game even without Russ is certainly not cause for a parade. This game was ugly. It was plodding. But it was also a W. It was a road win sans your best player. What I really liked about it is how the Thunder just stayed within what they’ve been doing so well lately. Shots weren’t falling, but the defense was stifling and the Thunder were aggressive and just found a way to grind it out on the boards, with put-backs, etc. Then when it got a little too close for comfort late, they managed to hit some shots and put the game away. This performance would not have been good enough against the majority of the league. But that’s the beauty of it… they got what they needed. Last year was just so all over the place… play great, but lose on to a good team on a late shot and then come back and play lousy against a lousy team. This is steady. It is calm. It is consistent. When you win six in a role you can ignore style points.

2. My only negative take at all from this one would be that I’d like to see a tad more offensively from PG. Dennis came in tonight and saved the day on that end of the floor; he was the only one really making shots consistently or finishing at the rim. PG’s defense has been outstanding this year and he was all over it again tonight. In that regard he is flashing big time leadership– I think he is likely most responsible for the team-wide dedication we’re seeing to defense right now– very impressed by that. But I was hoping to get slightly stronger production on the offensive end. With Russ out, it will be tough for the Thunder to win many games if PG is just sort of so-so scoring the ball. That said, I’m loving the PG we’re getting thus far and this is admittedly a bit of nit-picky critique.

3. I’m not a hot-take kinda dude. I used to be… when I was a much younger and far less patient sports fan as I was all about blurting out what I felt in the moment. As time has gone on and I’ve realized that winning consistently in sports is actually really hard, I’ve come to appreciate the process a lot more and be far more patient with management, players, and coaches— as long as I felt there was at least a little light at the end of that tunnel. So while my “defense” of Donovan during his tenure could be termed as Presti-homerism or fanboy optimism, I just think it’s patience. Just because I’m glad Donovan is here doesn’t actually mean I’m a huge fan of his or even that I think it was a good hire. Just patience. I think the jury is still out. One thing I know… he’s not some glorified PE coach. If you listen to the guy he is thoughtful, articulate, and self-aware. He doesn’t spout cliches. Royce Young even often points out how long and drawn-out his answers can be– there isn’t much coach-speak with Donovan. I believe he understands the game and understands what the team NEEDS to do. The struggle of course is conveying that to the team and getting them to buy in. For me, Donovan’s entire tenure has taken place under duress. From will KD stay to…Oh My God KD left… to will Russ stay to… Oh My God we got Paul George… to oh my God will Paul George stay? Not only has the roster turned over many times, so have the expectations and target for the team. This is his first year where things are calm. First time he’s had a core return without any major clouds hanging overhead. So far I like what I see. Team looks composed, defense is strong. Lots of guys involved. So far I like what I see. And we will just leave it at that. I’ve watched this team for 10 games now and I find them to be (gasp) “well coached.” 72 to go.

4. I am assuming Russ will be sitting out again tomorrow night against the Rockets. It was probably going to be a 50-50 type of game with him, so obviously you’d have to give the edge to Houston now. The good news is that the six game streak sort of takes the pressure off in this game. It’s probably a game Houston SHOULD win, which puts the Thunder in a bit of a fun situation. Also hoping that the law of averages is on our side and the clank-fest we saw tonight will give way tomorrow to at least some of those shots falling. I’m looking forward to it though and it certainly presents the Thunder with an opportunity to make a big statement if they are able to pull it out. As far as Melo’s “return” goes… eh, I’ll give him a polite golf-clap. He was more or less a pro when he was here; exited with class. I did think it was always pretty clear this isn’t where he REALLY wanted to be and there was some body language stuff to go along with a few passive-aggressive type comments that rubbed me the wrong way form time to time. But all in all, I think he tried here. He tried to make it work. I believe he wanted it to work too. The fit was just not there for a wide variety of reasons. I think it’s pretty clear it was best for all parties to party elsewhere. So when he is announced tomorrow I expect a relatively warm (not raucous) reception and I certainly hope there aren’t any boos or jeers– that would surprise me quite a bit. So the best case for me is he gets a nice hand and then plays ole’ defense and shoots 2-14 from the field… if all of that happens, he should feel right back at home (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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4 Thoughts (11-5-18): Thunder 122, Pelicans 116

1. For about ten to fifteen seconds tonight I pondered a very, very cold winter giving way to a dark and empty spring. I saw myself pacing aimlessly mumbling horrible things about KD, the Warriors, Patrick Beverly, Pau Gasol, and life in general. Then they showed the replay… an ankle, not a knee… Thank you Lord. I’m no doctor, but I think when it comes to general sports injuries I’ve watched enough over the years to at least qualify as a PA. And one thing all sports fans know— ankle is preferable to knee. No doubt an ankle roll can hurt like hell; and clearly Russ was hurting like hell. And a really bad/high sprain could equal a decent chunk of missed time. But all in all, seeing it was an ankle was a huge sigh of relief. We will have to wait for official word of course before we completely rest easy, but at least I’m no longer having visions of eating three day old bread while shivering in the corner of cold cell.

2. After Russ went down the deflation was measurable. It was quiet and all of the positive energy the Thunder has built seemed zapped. Pelicans immediately cut into the lead and things didn’t feel so good. Much credit to the Thunder for how they closed things out from that point. The “nag” factor they provide the other team defensively is off the charts. There are still some coverage breakdowns where OKC allows a wide open three from a shooter or an open lane for a drive, but for the most part their defense has been superb this year— and specifically the way they play passing lanes and get their hands on the basketball is just awesome. It sparked the run at the end of the third quarter that really proved to be the difference in the game. I thought Diallo and Noel were the two that especially stood out in this area, but the whole team gets in on it and it’s clearly causing their opponents all kinds of issues. One negative of this defensive aggression is that it leads to fouls which leads to free throws, but I’ll live with that if the team remains this committed to defensive intensity. I would like to see them dial back the “intensity” when it blurs the line with stupidity though— some of the late fouls to keep NOLA alive were maddening.

3. Dennis was excellent. It’s the exact personification of his ideal role and what he was brought here to do. Ever since Harden was dealt the Thunder have desperately sought a true scorer off the bench. Someone that can play WITH the stars and without them. Someone that can create offense for himself without creating ONLY for himself. PG was fine tonight, but he wasn’t spectacular by any means. Once Russ went down, Dennis just calmly stepped in and took over the lead ball handler role. It was a pretty seamless transition. Of course he can’t match Russ all the time, but he doesn’t need to. There will be nights where they don’t need him to do as much and he will need to read the situation and step back. Other nights they will need more. It’s a little bit of a tougher role as a sixth man because the role isn’t always the same. This far I’m pretty impressed and like the fit.

4. Adams and Grant also deserve a big mention for holding Anthony Davis in check. Really didn’t notice him out there tonight and Adams specifically probably equaled him in terms of impact. That is a HUGE win for the Thunder because if Davis isn’t having a huge impact, the Pelicans are really not a very dangerous team. To their credit, they made a bunch of tough shots during stretches to stay in the game, but things never felt too uncomfortable because their star wasn’t hurting us. Thunder need to beat teams like NOLA, especially at home. So this shouldn’t be a fireworks and cartwheels type of win. However, when looking at the larger picture of the five game winning steak and HOW they’ve played, you can’t help but be happy/excited. Teams looks pretty transformed from last year with so many more guys capable and contributing. Fingers crossed that Russ won’t be out long because it appears they might be onto something right now.

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4 Thoughts (11-2-18): Thunder 134, Wizards 111

1. They are different. It’s only 8 games so there is still no sense at all in drawing too many conclusions at this point, but one conclusion I am drawing for sure is that this team is different from either of the previous two teams. The roster is different. The flow is different. The feel is different. The energy is different. It all remains to be seen if the results are also different– we have a long way to go before we start making any proclamations in that department, but one thing I know for certain– the made changes that are going to make an actual difference and not just a deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic difference. My theme for the entire year thus far has been how seemingly overnight the roster has become so much more involved all around– we are essentially playing a 10 man rotation right now and all 10 guys are consistently contributing– or at least getting opportunities to contribute. The ball is moving and shots are there to be had. Last night Abrines stepped up and helped bring us back; tonight TFerg and Grant got going early and then everyone just sort of joined the party. Kicking the living crap out of an opponent, on the road, on the second night of a back to back is really impressive. The variable is making shots– when the Thunder shoot the ball like that it’s going to be lights out almost 100% of the time. So I understand that level of shooting performance will be rare. But it wasn’t just the hot shooting; the entire approach to the game tonight was impressive for OKC. Excellent.

2. Of course it always starts with your top guys. Russ and PG are leading the way. PG hasn’t been fantastic offensively yet, but he is really locked in everywhere else– he’s working hard on both ends and he is the tone-setter on defense. When he isn’t scoring he’s at least making more plays/assists this year than he did last year. He isn’t just standing and watching. It makes total sense and it certainly appears as if PG is more relaxed and comfortable this year. Through six games, Russ may be going next level. Now, he did still make some same ole’ mistakes at the end of the Boston game– but with that exception, he has been completely invested defensively and his decision-making on the offensive end has been vastly improved. The chemistry on the team as a whole is better and Russ appears to be trusting in his teammates more. He did briefly get caught up in some one one one shenanigans tonight late in third quarter, but it really only resulted in one stupid three point attempt. And if you lead your team to a 20+ point lead I can live with one stupid three point attempt. I think Russ and PG really tried to incorporate Melo last year as the third amigo– but in all honestly he probably shouldn’t have even been the eighth or ninth amigo. Now, things look more natural– with both leading in their own way.

3. Hard not mention our old friend Scott Brooks tonight. I feel for him right now. The Wizards look like a train wreck. Just a total mess. There is really no reason for it either. I’m not as high on their talent level as some others as I feel both Wall and Beal are at least a tad overrated, but for them to be 1-7 with several blowout losses under their belts already seems completely unacceptable. A slow start is one thing; they look they’ve quit before they started. It’s weird. They provided absolutely zero resistance in the first half tonight. They were coming home off a bad road trip and local rumors are swirling about Brooks’ job security. That is precisely when you expect a team to shift into high gear and give you a top notch effort. Instead, they just allowed the Thunder to steamroll them. I’ve always felt Wall was a poor man’s Russ- namely because he just doesn’t play with near the same effort or intensity on a nightly basis. There is just something about him I find uninspiring and the team seems to adopt that general malaise. Brooks had his flaws, but he was certainly the right coach for the Thunder at the right time. The time eventually expired, but one thing we always knew is that the players respected him enough to give great effort. If they ever did lay an egg, they responded quickly. Not sure what’s going on in Washington right now, but if Brooks has indeed “lost” this team already it is more of a reflection on the players than the coach.

4. I think we can officially blow off the 0-4 start. Not saying the team doesn’t have flaws or things that will eventually come back to bite them, but in terms of freaking out over losing the first four, I think we can put that to bed. I knew they’d eventually get back to .500, but I was worried it might take them 8-10 games, something like that. To do it in the minimum of four is encouraging; especially considering the last two were road back to back. Everyone can exhale now. So, exhale. But don’t exhale and then get out the streamers. It’s not time to party yet. They have beaten the Suns, Clippers, Hornets, and Wizards. It’s a nice bounce back and I’ve especially liked HOW they’ve done it, but I’m also not doing cartwheels in the living room quite yet. It’s nice that they get the weekend off and we can look forward to seeing them Monday against the Pelicans- back at The Peake on Monday. Getting back to even is nice; but the reality is they are also just one loss away from dipping back below .500– it’s not a holding pattern the Thunder want to stay in for long. The schedule remains manageable for the next couple of weeks; would be nice to expand this streak and being establishing themselves near the top of the West pecking order.

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5 Thoughts: Thunder 117, Suns 110

1. Specific to this game, there is nothing to complain about. The Suns are a bottom tier NBA team. Without their best player (Devin Booker) they are almost certainly the worst team in the league. I like a couple of their young pieces and they have some vets (Chandler, Crawford, Ariza) to help stabilize things, but any way you slice it, sans Booker, they stink. So with the Thunder coming in at 0-4 there was absolutely no excuse to not come out completely focused and put the game away early. The Thunder did just that… there was no doubt by midway through the second quarter that the Thunder were in complete control and OKC did not let up or try to coast in the second half. The final few garbage time minutes were ugly and made the final score look closer than it was, but it was trash time and not anything to nit-pick. I heap no praise on OKC for this effort and I also have nothing to complain about. They had a job to do tonight, they did it, case closed.

2. While no one should be overreacting to this win on it’s own, I do think it’s OK to at least think “hmmmmm….” when it comes to Nerlens Noel. No matter the situation, putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds in an NBA game is impressive. What’s more, he just looks like the right fit for the way the Thunder want to play. He doesn’t possess the brute force of Adams (who does?) but he is uber-athletic and can probably involve himself in the offense a tad more naturally. He and Schroeder already have a good rapport on the pick and roll and it doesn’t look like there is any lob pass he can’t catch. He’s also a natural shot-blocker. Tonight, the Thunder didn’t miss a beat with Adams out with the calf injury. The challenge moving forward for Donovan will be figuring out how best to deploy his new weapon. Having Adams and Noel on the floor at the same time is an interesting thought, but could also be a real failure– two true centers with neither of them possessing any sort of stretch game isn’t something you see often on an NBA floor– and with the current league trends the Thunder would probably be the only team doing that. More likely, Donovan will need to feel out the rotation game by game and adjust their minutes accordingly based on who makes more sense in a given match-up. Initially, I thought Noel would be a really nice back-up center. Now, I’m thinking he can be more than that.

3. Hopefully a lesson learned for Diallo today. Not gonna lie– have developed a bit of an early bias towards Diallo and what he brings to the table. I am already all set for him to replace TFerg in the starting line up or at least supplant many of his minutes. But I’m glad the Thunder didn’t let him dress tonight. If he missed the walk through, he needed to be called out and a bit embarrassed by it. I haven’t heard the “why” yet but my guess is he’s 19 and was probably just being stupid or irresponsible and forgot to set his alarm or something. Always uncomfortable to be the new guy and do something not flattering in front of your peers. In this case I’m sure it’s made worse by the fact that he is ten years younger than the leaders on the team. I imagine they don’t take kindly to stuff like that. Probably not a real fun day for the rookie. He also missed a golden opportunity to get some extended minutes on a night where the Thunder rolled with the bench longer than normal due to the lopsided score. Hopefully this is the last we hear of anything silly like this because that kid has a ton of skill and I’m anxious to see more of him.

4. I moved on from this game about 3 seconds after it ended and hopefully the team will do the same. The 0-4 hole is a terrible way to start and there are true areas of concern that arose from those four losses, but it is also just four games and they will be quickly forgotten if the Thunder can string some wins together. Clippers in town Tuesday and we already owe them for that loss in Los Angeles the second game of the season. Clips pose a much tougher test than we saw from Phoenix tonight; it’s uncomfortable to have these games this early that feel “must win” but if the Thunder want to avoid a truly disastrous start, well then they…must win.

5. The lack of free throw efficiency is alarming. It’s not even the fact they’re missing. They’re missing at an exceptional rate. Their 65.3 percent is the worst free throw percentage in the NBA since the 2011-12 season when Orlando shot 66 percent. Oklahoma City has no one to blame for themselves. It’s unacceptable. If Oklahoma City is going to be a playoff team, let alone a championship caliber team, they’ll have to make their free throws. At this rate, the Thunder are gonna shoot themselves out of the playoffs.

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Three takeaways from Thunder’s 113-94 win over the Hawks

It was a dominant performance, as Oklahoma City had a great second quarter to take the lead away from the Atlanta Hawks and never looked back. The Thunder had four different guys in double figures scoring, led by Paul George who had 22 points while Dennis Schroder finished with 20 points of his own. Oklahoma City is now 2-1 in preseason play, with just one more preseason game left until the regular season starts.

Now, here are three takeaways from today’s solid win by the Thunder in Tulsa:

Competent Bench Play

If there is something that Oklahoma City would love to see an improvement in this season, it’s their bench play. Being able to rely on key reserves each game to being consistent is a major key for teams that make it deep in the postseason. It is an area the Thunder have lacked. However, today versus the Hawks, the bench play was very impressive, with Hamidou Diallo and Alex Abrines leading the way. They both looked very comfortable in their roles, Abrines looking seemingly more comfortable than he ever has in a Thunder uniform. Diallo on the other hand, showing he might be ready for a good chunk of minutes, and looking like one of those great Sam Presti sleeper draft picks.

Not to mention, Nerlens Noel had some great minutes today, with big time defensive plays including an absolutely monster block on an attempted slam dunk.

Schroder is fun to watch 

No doubt Dennis in his young career had his struggles in Atlanta. Today versus his former team, Schroder looked very good. His confidence seems very high, and he seems to have the natural ability to run this Thunder offense. From his mid range game, the nifty floaters in the paint and the slick passing to Steven Adams in the two man game, it is no doubt Schroder will have a major role on this Oklahoma City team.

HAMIDOU DIALLO THOUGH

Alright, we’ve already discussed him in a previous takeaway post, and also mentioned above, but he deserves to be mentioned as his play has been a warm welcome. It seemed this guy would be a draft and stash type player, spending most of his playing time in his first year playing for the Oklahoma City Blue. But after a few preseason games, Diallo seems like the real deal, becoming maybe one of those great sleeper picks. He finished with 13 points in 24 minutes, while also just being all over the court today with his insane athleticism. It is preseason, of course, but Diallo has no doubt earned himself some rotation minutes once the regular season begins in nine days.

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Three takeaways from Thunder’s 113-101 win over T-Wolves

The game really wasn’t in doubt. Oklahoma City took their show on the road, added in a little special feature of Paul George. Then, it led with the main act of destroying what little hope the T-Wolves had in this preseason game with a multitude of Steven Adams rebounds and box outs.

Yeah, I’m pretty amped about a preseason box out.

In reality, the Thunder did things better than they did on Wednesday night. They took care of a team that made the playoffs last season. They led by double digits throughout the entire second half and a good chunk of the first half, too.

With all that, here are three things I noticed in the first half.

Steven Adams, you lovely man

Steven Adams is the new mayor of the twin cities. Well, in the preseason sense. The fifth-year man out of Pittsburgh dominated in a way that had their own Timberwolves faithful doubting themselves. He was a monster. Is it just the lackadaisical attitude of the the Timberwolves on the night of a preseason game? Who knows but Steven Adams went 7-of-11 from the floor and only took one shot in the second half as the Thunder didn’t really need anything from him in the second half. He finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Diallo stepped up 

I try to keep expectations to a minimum in preseason. However, I look back to Adams, who beast mode all over the preseason his rookie season. He ended up starting over Kendrick Perkins. Then, there was Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, who both had good preseasons. So, Hamidou Diallo could be anywhere in there. Tonight, against the Diallo was 3-of-8 from the floor. He had eight points and six rebounds and two steals. He did also have one monster dunk.

Diallo is averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes this preseason. Stats come and go but his movement off the ball and his defensive executions are what really get your gears going about his ceiling.

The boards

Oklahoma City’s ability to dominate the boards all night. Five different players pulled down at least five rebounds. Adams and Nerlens Noel had 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes tonight. They all were able to limit What Karl Anthony-Towns did tonight. A guy who averaged 12.3 rebounds per game last season really had no other option but stand around and look around. Oklahoma City did a great job tonight on the glass.

The Thunder were 35-11 last season when they won the rebounding battle. If the Thunder are able to rebound at this rate, they’ll put on a really good show this season.

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Three takeaways from OKC’s 97-91 loss to Detroit

The Thunder may have faltered in their first preseason game out of the gates on the scoreboard but in reality, they’re winners. Oklahoma City played well without the likes of Paul George and some guy name Russell Westbrook. What might be the wildest thing is Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ center, played 34 minutes. In a pointless game. That doesn’t matter.

Anyway, let’s break down three quick things about the Thunder’s first preseason game

 

Adams-Schröder Pick-n-roll

These two have good chemistry already. Adams, due to a lack of help, really rolled with the second string a lot last season. This season, with Nerlens Noel helping, that could and should change. The two international bros found their spots early and often. It’s really was Schröder replacing Westbrook in the deadly PnR that did the Pistons in. Sure, you can’t run it for 48 minutes but in select spots the two really found a good play off one another and made the Pistons pay more than Dwayne Casey would want to admit.

Now, this could come in handy if Adams is in there with the second team or if Schröder is running a two-point guard system with Westbrook. That allows Westbrook to work off the ball and the Thunder all of a sudden have huge mismatches all over the court. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Thunder made their free throws

The last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have ranked 29th and 26th the last two seasons from the free throw line. They shot an average of 73.2 percent. It really became a point where the Thunder lost a handful of games they probably should’ve won because they didn’t convert their free throw opportunities. That said, it seemed a little different on Wednesday night. Oklahoma CIty made 22-of-28 from the line (78.6 percent). That sounds average but would’ve ranked the Thunder sixth in the NBA last season.

Westbrook struggled from the line last season. However, Schröder, yes there his name again, is a career 83 percent free throw shooter. The freshly traded Thunder point man went 9-of-9 from the free throw line and that’s why there’s such an elevated free throw percentage. The rest of the team went 13-of-18 (72.2 percent). There is still work to be had.

Who is Nerlens Noel going to be?

His numbers may be skewed as he guarded Drummond for basically three quarters. That’s fine. What Noel did all night was defend and play basketball. I’ll take his effort and output 60 out of 82 games a year. That type of output will get him a nice contract. Drummond, being one of the better big men in the league, needed to eat up against scrubs to get his gaudy numbers.

Noel shot alright, defended fine and did what was asked of him. In a new system and a new city, the big man is trying to figure things out. In his first game with the Thunder, I give him a B. The criticism is soft as the first game of the season is in the books. As the rotation smooths out and the starters are back. I’m interested in what role Noel is going to craft for himself. We don’t need another Dakari Johnson.

Oklahoma City takes on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night in Minnesota. The Thunder and T-Wolves tip off at 7 p.m. It’ll be only broadcasted live on okcthunder.com. We’ll have your complete game coverage on Social media.

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Five Thoughts Game 6 (Jazz 96, Thunder 91)

Five Thoughts Game 6 (Jazz 96, Thunder 91)

1. Simply too much swirling in my head right now to put together a coherent blog entry that addresses the season in totality while also looking ahead to what’s next for the Thunder; that will come over the next day or two via a Final Thoughts for the year. Right now, I guess I’m a little numb. I actually don’t feel the same deflation that I felt after the Game 4 loss on Monday. That was the night I truly felt we were done. All week there has been a feeling of impending doom for me. Without question the incredible comeback in Game 5 energized me and gave me hope. Yet, I still didn’t really believe we’d win tonight. You can only survive dangling on the edge for so long before you finally fall off. All season the Thunder had both missed opportunities to soar and dodged the kill shots that would bury them. Something had to give. They somehow wound up with the four seed; somehow wound up forcing a game 6; and there they were again…down 13 midway through the fourth and then out of nowhere down one. But life on the edge generally doesn’t end happily. Your pinky finger can only hold you so long. They finally slipped. Part of me wants to say that I’m relieved. And that might be something I ACTUALLY say to people when they ask. But it’s a lie. I’m not relieved. I’m bummed. I’m disappointed. “Sad” is a bit of a dramatic term given the subject, but I guess there is some of that too. Even though the season did NOT go the way I thought/hoped it would, I was still locked in… from the very beginning until the very end. Borderline embarrassed to say they played 88 games this year and I watched them all. I wrote a Five Thoughts about 84 of them I believe. That is a pretty serious investment in time (to say nothing of the financial end). So pretty clearly, Thundering Up is a big deal to me. To realize it’s over until October stings. The uncertain future makes it even a bit more painful this year.

2. I try not to be a Russ apologist. I believe even as a fan that I acknowledge his flaws. I definitely think due to his frenetic nature and unpredictability that he is a more difficult star to play with and build around. I can certainly see why teammates would at times get frustrated. And if you are a GM I think it’s tough to figure out exactly which pieces fit best with him. If you are a coach I think it’s tough to figure out exactly how to deploy him. How can you rein him in without eliminating what makes him so great? All of those things are valid questions that deserve answers. But you know what? Sometimes someone else just needs to freakin’ DO SOMETHING. Russ did not hijack this game from the start. Maybe he should have. He only went into bananas mode when there was no other option remaining. It was similar throughout the series. In hindsight I actually wish he would have been more aggressive at the end of Game 2. I was incredibly disappointed with PG tonight. I bet the narrative will be that Russ stifled the game and PG “only” took 16 shots to Russ’s 43. But that’s the thing about shots— at some point you HAVE TO TAKE THEM. PG had plenty of chances tonight to make an impact and help the team. He went 2-16 and he looked insanely (I’ll hold off on saying scared) tentative. He would dribble four feet inside the arc and just stop. Frozen. I understand the offense wasn’t doing anything and that PG wasn’t exactly getting great looks. But you know who else wasn’t getting great looks? Donovan Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. And both of those guys kept making tough, tough shots. This stuff isn’t easy. If you want to be a star on a team that advances in the playoffs, you are gonna have to make things happen. I do not “blame” this game, this series, or this season on PG alone— not even close. But the bottom line is that he was absolutely absent tonight. And they really, really needed him.

3. On top of everything else, it was also fitting that the Thunder also were dealt a dose of bad luck— another season-long trend. They lost a lot of games this year based on crazy made shots from opponents, bad bounces, and some bad calls. Tonight, it would have been nice if a few of those drives from Mitchell (which were well defended) came up short. Moreover, it would have been nice if one of the two Big calls went their way at the end. On the final shot from PG, I think that was a foul. It’s a call that has generally been made all year across the league. That said, in THAT situation it’s tough to rely on a ref to give you that call. It wasn’t overly egregious. And PG was for sure fishing for it. Dangerous to lay the season on the line hoping for that. It was however, probably a foul. My bigger issue was on the play prior when they did blow the whistle but didn’t award him free throws. He was CLEARLY going up for the shot when they called the foul. That absolutely should have been three free throws. Very frustrating to not get either of those. But it fell in line with the general theme.

4. Donovan made some good adjustments in Games 5 and 6. Our defense was better. We didn’t allow 100 points in either game. It took some serious heroics from Mitchell for the Jazz to get much going offensively. We changed how we played their screen game and it was generally effective. Scoring became more difficult for Utah the past two games. But man, I think he messed up playing Melo as much as he did. I was fine continuing to start him just to not upset the apple cart TOO much. It also allows the bench guys to stay in their roles. But specifically in the third quarter, he just left Melo out there far too long. He was cold shooting the ball and he’s been struggling defensively all series— the hook came too late. The metrics make this plainly clear- Melo was a massive weakness in this series for the Thunder and Donovan didn’t do much of anything to mitigate that.

5. Again, the end of season wrap up along with the “what do we do now?” Thoughts are still to come. Right now it’s 1:23am on April 28th and our season has been over for about 90 minutes. We were 1-2 shots away from pushing this thing to seven back at The Peake. But much like the season, those 1-2 shots proved to be far too difficult and far too elusive. And now we have a long wait to see if they can figure it out.

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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