In the first game with their three new acquisitions in the lineup, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to pull away from the Charlotte Hornets late, 110-103. Kevin Durant missed the game with a sore foot, and remains day-to-day. It was a bit frustrating to watch the Hornets score so easily against the Thunder, since the Thunder have destroyed the Hornets historically. But, as always, Russell Westbrook made everything look so effortless. Russ was key for a number of fourth quarter baskets, and led all scorers with 33 points. If that weren't enough, Russ contributed 10 of the Thunder's 21 assists tonight, mainly in the half-court sets. It was so easy for him to draw the D! You really don't need to draw an offense for this guy.
Singler, Augustin, Kanter are all pretty cool
And when Russ has all of this new help, why would you need a complicated offense? The Thunder's four new acquisitions combined for 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. The statline is almost KD-esque, no? All four acquisitions were able to feed off of Russ. Kyle Singler hit one of his two threes on the night off of a Westbrook pass, and D.J. Augustin was able to hit an extremely clutch three plate in the game via a Westbrook pass. Kanter was arguably the biggest beneficiary of Westbrook's play. Basically, Kanter replaced Adams as Westbrook's primary pick setter, and the combo was natural. Kanter has the range to pick and pop, but is far more effective at getting inside. It's great to have both Kanter and Ibaka as weapons on the floor at the same time, like for real.
The new acquisitions were able to shine on their own as well. Enes Kanter played some really physical defense with Al Jefferson all night. Big Al was able to get quite a few baskets early, but went 2 of 6 in the fourth quarter. Kanter locked in and was able to keep Jefferson off the block, forcing some important misses. Meanwhile, D.J. Augustin was a wonderful facilitator. While Reggie Jackson would dribble the ball for a solid 16 seconds to no avail, Augustin will always look to pass or score immediately. Augustin transitions between a point guard and a shooting guard role seamlessly, and seemed especially deadly when paired with Westbrook. I know it sounds simplistic, but it's just crazy to have a point guard out there other than Westbrook that can actually shoot and move with the ball.
Where's the D?
It was a bit distressing to see the Hornets score just so many points tonight. A few Charlotte players were running the floor; namely, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. Both of those guys seemed to spring for opportunistic points while their defenders weren't looking. Neither of them could create their own shot, though.
The two real shot creators for the Hornets are Mo Williams and Al Jefferson. This team goes as far as they can offensively, and it was annoying to see both of them score so easily. You'd think Westbrook would have an edge on Mo Williams, but he kept getting caught around screens. I also think Russ did a bad job of sensing when Mo was going to start chucking, but I might just be griping. Al Jefferson also had his way with Kanter for the majority of the night. Honestly, I just think that Adams would be a better defender here. Really though, if KD comes back and takes the offense to a new level, the Thunder might not even NEED defense.
PG Battle: Westbrook vs. Williams
Going into the fourth quarter, these dudes were neck and neck. Westbrook had 25 points and 9 assists, while Mo Williams had 23 points and 10 assists. Both had been equally critical to their team up to that point. I've talked about Westbrook, but Mo Williams was really like a revolution for Charlotte's offense. The Hornets rank second to last in assists per game, which says all you need to know about their ball movement before he came to town. Simply having a respected shooter on the floor with good court vision and dribbling ability really helps Charlotte out. Walker is athletic and can pass, but he simply doesn't have the all-around package that Williams presents.
In any case, Williams wasn't able to carry his team in the fourth quarter. He went 0-5 from the floor, hitting a lone technical free throw and dishing two assists. Meanwhile, Westbrook went 3-6 from the floor, nailed a pair of free throws, grabbed three rebounds, and dished an assist. When you get right down to it, Westbrook is just the better player, and can score it when he needs to. While Williams was ducking around screens and trying to find open space for shots, Westbrook was bursting down the floor for easy transition points. It's just not something Mo Williams can compare to, and it's a big reason the Thunder were able to pull away. But really, I don't know why Russ had to make it so close for so long!
What Dion Waiters can learn from Lance Stephenson
The Thunder have this wart on their back named Dion Waiters. He shot the ball 15 times, but only managed to find his teammate for a shot once. I don't really understand why a player like Reggie Jackson would be considered sooo much more devastating to OKC's functionality on the court, but okay. I know that we're stuck with his 30 minutes a game for the rest of the season, but could he at least hit a catch and shoot shot once in a while? He can hit really inefficient isolation shots at bad rates. We all know that. I mean, if Dion could just run around screens and work within the offense, then he could score well. Hopefully having a more cooperative point guard in Augustin will help elevate Waiters' game moving forward, because this is looking really bad.
By the way, Lance Stephenson arguably tanked the Hornets in a similar fashion tonight. But even he was able to dish four assists and take most of his shots at the rim or from three. Dion Waiters was just firing it up from wherever he wanted. I mean, look at their shot charts comparatively:
Stephenson was focused towards the center of the floor, and at least somewhat worked within a system. Waiters was taking shots from....everywhere. No focus.
Don't Forget about Mitch McGary, Nick Collison, and Anthony Morrow
These are the silent workmen behind tonight's win. The bench looked great for OKC overall, and these dudes were a huge part of it. McGary still has to learn about defending the rim, but his offense is 10 years ahead of his age. Despite not having a shot, Mitch always knows how to get to the bucket so well. And his rebounding is out of this world, especially after seeing Perk struggle in the area for so long. Nick Collison is always here, always grinding. Decent spot D on Jefferson in the first, and did a great job of moving the ball when he was on the floor with Westbrook and Ibaka. And Anthony Morrow's shooting did him well tonight, equalizing his so-so defense.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, ballin' as always
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, the forgotten man who spaced the floor so well in the fourth
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, I've ranted enough
Thunder Plunderer: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, just because his 20 points were so outrageously efficient and out of nowhere
Next Game: Versus the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, February 22nd, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!