Caption: Where'd that ball run off to?
Last night was a nice homecoming for the Oklahoma City Thunder after what has seemed like eons of waiting. The competition wasn't serious, but it was nice to see most of the team get time in an exhibition game. It was also nice to see Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka play well into the third quarter and put the game out of hand, so the fans had something to cheer about.
But the biggest news for those at the Peake last night was the continued development of Perry Jones III. He looked fantastic on the floor, showing lots of hustle and talent in finding his way to the basket. I will say that the lane was open for business all night long, but Jones wasn't standing and hitting open dunks. He was rolling and cutting to the basket, working off the ball like a charm. If tonight told us anything, it's that he's willing to work within the team's system to get things done. And considering what some were saying about his will to play, that's fantastic news. Granted, his rebounding could be better and he lost B.J. Mullens on the perimeter a few times, but his offense so far has been off the charts.
Byron B.J. Mullens, apparently he can shoot threes now. Who knew? In all honesty, in the first half of the game it really looked like Mullens had made a total transformation from what he used to be. He was hitting threes and open jumpers, he was aggressive going to the basket, and he defended the paint relatively well. But as soon as the second half rolled around, the B.J. Mullens we all knew came back into the forefront. He tried to handle the ball, but lost it a couple of times. He couldn't grab two catchable passes, and after he lost one he began making passing motions with his hands, trying to get his confidence back. And, of course, at one point, he was stuffed at or by the rim (which I can't exactly remember). Either way, there's good and bad aspects to B.J.'s game. But if he can hone in the follies, he would be an invaluable asset to the Bobcats. Of course, that's a huge if.
Another big story for those who were at the game last night was the 0fer that Cole Aldrich posted. He didn't exactly have an easy task, going up against Biyombo and Haywood in the paint. But both offensively and defensively, he was just off. He took one shot late in the game as almost a token, but he didn't even think to try a hook or something similar. He let Haywood slip by him a couple of times for easy baskets. I mean, his performance wasn't disastrous, but it comes out as just one big "meh". Regardless, if this is the worst Cole Aldrich has to offer, then I'm a bit relieved.
If you weren't at the game, you're looking at Andy Rautins' box score line right now and saying, "Wow!". But those 20 points on 7-10 shooting are a bit overblown. 14 of those points and his two steals came during the fourth quarter, when defense ceased to be a factor and most players had stopped caring. He did his two threes during the second quarter, but as far as I've seen, that's all he is. A great shooter. I doubt he makes the roster.
Speaking of the last roster spot, Daniel Orton had a nice game when Aldrich couldn't. He was a total bruiser in the paint, powering his way to the basket. He did have a short fadeaway jumper, but generally, he seemed to be a one-trick pony, like Rautins. He had a lot of hustle and heart, but didn't have that extra oomph that would make you a good post scorer on most nights. And he's not a spectacular rebounder or defender, either.
Two of the other guys competing for that last spot, Walker Russell Jr. and Hollis Thompson, also got time. It was Russell's first time in the lineup, and he looked decent enough. He was quick and could get down in the lane easily enough. His distribution was alright, and he served to get the offense going. But with Maynor and Jackson already on the roster, I just don't see this guy getting the last spot. Thompson had some token minutes in the fourth, but you couldn't decipher much from it other than his ability to hit an open shot.
But right now, it's apparent that one guy stands above the rest in terms of that last roster spot, and his name is DeAndre Liggins. He got significant time with the starters tonight, and he shined well. His points were limited to a single three and a free dunk from Cole Aldrich, but given that most of his minutes were with Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, that's all he really needed to provide. He was also a scrappy defender, guarding his guy man-to-man and never overly pressuring. He's a lockdown defender you can stick on somebody, much like the Thunder's Swiss man, Thabo Sefolosha. And with Sefolosha's frequent minor injuries, he'd be invaluable in a pinch. If the Thunder have any sense, they'll sign this guy to be roster spot #15.
Anyway, the rest of the Thunder players turned out how you would expect. Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were all true to form, and trounced the Bobcats. Nick Collison was back to his usual efficient form, making crisp passes in and out of the paint, rolling to the basket, knocking down open jumpers and playing admirable defense. Eric Maynor nearly had a triple-double, and he ran the offense wonderfully.
On the Bobcats end, there's some hope to be had, but they've still got work to do. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't done a lot to be desired offensively, although he did frustrate KD a bit defensively. Ben Gordon was an excellent scorer as always, and he'll probably be the top scorer on this team when the season is said and done. Ramon Sessions played like he did in the regular season, and Bismack Biyombo still can't score.
Thunder Wonder: Perry Jones, 17 Points, 4 Rebounds, 5 Assists
Thunder Down Under: Eric Maynor, 10 Points, 5 Rebounds, 7 Assists
Thunder Blunder: Cole Aldrich, 0 Points in 18:38
Thunder Plunderer: Ben Gordon, 21 Points, 4 Assists, 2 Steals
Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns (in Tulsa), Friday, October 19th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.