This afternoon, the Thunder took on a relatively experienced Bobcat team that stuck with them until the final buzzer. Here's a quick recap of how it went.
The first quarter of the game was excellent in every sense of the word. The thunder were working wonderfully for offensive opportunities on every possession, while their defense wasn't too shabby overall. Eric Maynor led the offense beautifully, at one point hitting a Kobe Bryant-esque deep three, and another hitting a softly touched teardrop layup over two defenders. Meanwhile, D.J. White was easily draining those mid-range jumpers that we all criticize Nenad Krstic for missing. James Harden stayed mostly out of the way, scoring when called upon. The only glaring dark spot was Kyle Weaver, who looked completely lost on offense. He made some bad passing decisions, and he missed some easy shots.
The second quarter went equally as well as the first, with the Thunder continuing to score with relative ease. James Harden played more of a role this time, and Kyle Weaver stepped up his game, hitting a crucial three. Scotty Brooks stepped in early in the second quarter, and he gave the usual responses about how much he loved the team. Though, he did explain that he had a preference for players who were gym rats.
Below: What went wrong? What does the Summer League even mean?
The third quarter was more of the same until the halfway mark, when Charlotte really started turning it on and taking advantage inside. Don't get me wrong, Charlotte was taking advantage of us by driving to the hoop all game, but here was where it really came to a head. At one point, it got so bad that a lob pass from 3/4ths of the court away got easily completed to P.J. Tucker, who was right under the basket and proceeded to score easily. Oddly enough, the shining light for the Quarter was Weaver, who hit two critical shots to keep the Thunder in contention. James Harden helped a bit as well, though mostly from the line.
The fourth quarter was easily the worst for the Thunder as they struggled to keep their lead, even at maximum effort. The Bobcats continued to own us inside, and even when someone like Mullens did manage to get in the way, the Bobcats would get an easy rebound and put it back in. There was a point midway through the fourth where Maynor was piloting the team and things were starting to look up, but it quickly fell apart, and the Thunder then focused on getting fouled a million times. But it only stemmed the tide for so long, as Charlotte eventually came back and won it on a buzzer-beating layup as time expired.
Admittedly, this Bobcat team is more talented than the Celtic team we saw yesterday. They sport Gerald Henderson, sometimes used Bobcat backup, Nathan Jawai, known as the Australian Shaq, and Alexis Ajinca, Pape Sow, and Derrick Brown, all of whom have seen NBA action at one time or another. But, even though this team is filled with one solid player and a bunch of NBA rejects, they still should be easily beaten by our team on paper.
The problem is that, in reality, this Thunder Summer League team is tragically flawed. They have absolutely no inside presence. At all. I'd be willing to bet that Eric Maynor spends more time in the lane than D.J. White. B.J. Mullens spent time there, but he was stranded on defense and not in position for rebounds. Everybody else tended to hang out around the perimeter, drastically limiting our second chance points. Thus, with bad defense and bad rebounding, the only way to win is by having a stellar offense and being able to out-talent the other team. In most cases, this works (heck, it almost worked tonight), but it doesn't make a good team.
What does this mean for the Thunder? Well, it means that we might have to resign Nick Collison next year. Nenad Krstic looks like he can be replaced by White or Mullens, but if we decided to replace Krstic and Collison with White and Mullens, our lineup would suddenly become very soft.
But what about Cole Aldrich? Right now, he's auditioning for Collison's spot. We really don't have a fallback plan if he can't hold up in the NBA. Even if he does make it, I doubt we'll trust Collisons spot to him after only a year, forcing the Thunder to resign Collison. It's not a terrible fate or anything, but it is looking like the future of our team at this point, barring trades.
So what are the Summer League Storylines at this point? Well, there's only a few. The main one is the competition between B.J. Mullens and D.J. White. The Thunder are going to need spots on next year's roster, and one of them might have to say sayonara pretty soon. Side storylines include whether Kyle Weaver can avoid getting cut, how well Eric Maynor can improve his scoring, and whether any of the players currently on the bench will get a chance to show their abilities.
The awards for this game are....
Thunder Wonder: Eric Maynor, for running the offense well.
Thunder Down Under: D.J. White, for his excellent first quarter.
Thunder Blunder: B.J. Mullens, for missing way too many layups.
Thunder Plunderer: Gerald Henderson, for having easily the best game on the Bobcats.
Next Game: At the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, July 7th, 12PM Central Daylight Time.