Ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally arrived upon us, NBA basketball is back again.
For all the fun that Summer League provides, preseason is something different entirely. For all the pride the Olympics brought out, this week begins a new level of fandom.
This preseason will be especially intriguing because it will be the first one without the departed Kevin Durant. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now Russell Westbrook’s team.
As great as it was to have one superstar remain in town, OKC 2.0 poses more questions than answers currently. Who will start? How handsome is Alex Abrines? Will Andre Roberson or Steven Adams sign a contract extension? Can Russ do it by himself? Is Alex Abrines more than just really really good looking? What will the offense look like without a top three NBA player? Can Cameron Payne
make the leap even be able to play?
The preseason offers us a glimpse at answering these questions and more before the regular season tips off. The Thunder were one of the few teams that were able to get a head start on training camp, as they open up preseason abroad this year. They’ll face two Spanish juggernauts: Real Madrid and the jilted ex-lovers ex-teammates of Alex Abrines, FC Barcelona Lassa.
10/3 AT Real Madrid (1:30 PM CST)
FORECAST: Dry and humid with temperatures in the mid-70s.
The Thunder might have gotten a jump on the rest of the league in regards to getting back on the court, but Real Madrid has been playing since mid-September.
In the past, fans have grown accustomed to seeing these international bouts be one-sided. However, that hasn’t been the case the last few years. The better European teams have both the talent and the cohesion to go toe-to-toe with the NBA’s elite squads.
Real Madrid for instance boasts a roster that features former NBA players: Rudy Fernandez, Jeffery Taylor, Anthony Randolph, Andres Nocioni, Trey Thompkins, and Gustavo Ayon. They also feature international greats and Spanish National team members Sergio Llull (rights still owned by the Houston Rockets) and Felipe Reyes. Jaycee Carroll is an Anthony Morrow type of knockdown shooter and they also have Luka Doncic, an 17 year-old Slovenian, who is in contention to be the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
This game will definitely be a good test for the Thunder. As constructed, this Madrid roster could possibly fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. It’ll be interesting to see what OKC can do while still attempting to figure out their new roles and new pieces.
PREDICTION: Thunder 98, Madrid 105
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Billy Donovan
Donovan did a hell of a job in his first season on the sidelines. He had his ups and downs during the regular season, but truly showed what he was made of in OKC's postseason run. His ability to adjust on the fly and tinker with lineups and rotations helped the Thunder defeat the San Antonio Spurs and propelled the team to a 3–1 lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. With Durant and Serge Ibaka elsewhere there are now two openings in the starting lineup. Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter are the two most talented players outside of the Westbrook/Roberson/Adams trio, but will they be placed in the starting lineup? Oladipo and Westbrook have already seemed to have developed a tight bond off the court, and all signs from media day point towards Oladipo being a starter.
The front court is less solidified at the moment. Kanter was great in his sixth man role last season — should’ve won the award and I’m never letting it go — and it serves OKC best to keep him in that spot and letting him annihilate second string bigs. That leaves Ersan Ilyasova, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nick Collison, Domantas Sabonis, and Mitch McGary (LOL) as candidates to start at the four. Who Donovan chooses to put in that position will be something to follow all preseason until a starter is announced on opening night.
10/5 at FC Barcelona Lassa (1:30 PM CST)
FORECAST: Rain, in the plains.
Forgive me for the terrible pun above, but I couldn’t go a whole post about Spanish teams without making it. FC Barcelona Lassa is another one of the elite teams overseas and has long been considered the best team in Spain.
FC Barcelona Lassa doesn’t have the same type of superstar names on their roster as Real Madrid, but when these two teams faced off in the Spanish Super Cup semifinals, it was Barcelona that emerged victorious. The name to know for Barcelona is Tyrese Rice. The former Boston College and All-ACC point guard poured in 30 points in the game against Madrid and will be someone that the OKC defense needs to keep multiple eyes — and at times defenders — on.
Barcelona also features notable players Juan Carlos Navarro, Joey Dorsey, Víctor Claver, Petteri Koponen, and Ante Tomic. These players have Euroleague experience and the talent to be rotation NBA players if they came to the United States.
With a day off between the two games fatigue should not be a problem for the Thunder — if it is this team will have bigger problems than whether they win or lose.
PREDICTION: Thunder 112, Barcelona 96
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Alex Abrines
Wednesday’s game will be a coming home of sorts for the 23 year-old Spaniard. Abrines played the last four seasons with FC Barcelona Lassa. During that time, he was twice selected to the All-Young players Team in the ACB League (2013–14 and 2014–15) and was named the 2015–16 Euroleague Rising Star. Obviously the talent is there for the young man — and the Euroleague is as close as you can get to NBA level competition — and OKC has long believed that he would be part of their future plans. Abrines said that Kevin Durant’s departure for the Golden State Warriors was one of the reasons he decided to make the jump to the NBA. Via The Oklahoman,"Once KD left, I think there was a spot at the three position," Abrines said. "Also I can play the two. I thought I had a chance to come here and grab some minutes. I don’t want to be here and just practice. I would say that was one of the biggest reasons." He’s right now at his best as a catch-and-shoot perimeter option, but he does have the tools to have an all-around impact once given some time to adjust and develop to the NBA game. However, being back home in a gym and city he’s used to should serve as a springboard to a good showing. I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that he’ll get extended playing time against his former team.