FIVE DAY FORECAST: Will The Thunder Look Better In The States?
The Oklahoma City Thunder opened the preseason by playing two games overseas against Spanish club juggernauts Real Madrid and FC Barcelona Lassa.
Their opener against Madrid went from a 20-point blowout to high-scoring OT thriller, as Steven Adams suffered a sprained ankle and Russell Westbrook only played portions of the first and third quarters. However, the team as a whole looked off. Despite big nights from Victor Oladipo (34 points) and Enes Kanter (29 points), the Thunder had just as many problems slowing down their Spanish opponents on defense.
In their second game of the trip OKC looked much better defensively, but couldn’t find the hold on to the ball on offense (23 turnovers forced versus 25 turnovers committed). Again, Westbrook played only spot minutes for the Thunder--and it’s likely this will continue for the remainder of the preseason as well. Victor Claver, a 6’9” combo forward, gave the Thunder immense problems as his ability to play inside and out made him a tough matchup for any of the Thunder big men.
However, the team is back in the United States and has only four more games left to tinker with things before the season begins.
Billy Donovan showed last year that he likes to experiment with lineups and rotations and this season has been no different. Spanish import Alex Abrines has seen steady playing time, Anthony Morrow has been thrown into the game to space the court, Domantas Sabonis looks like a wily veteran already, and everyone except Mitch McGary got extended looks in Spain.
With the season fast approaching, it’s likely that we’ll begin to see Donovan give more minutes to players that will see the floor most once the regular season tips off. Figuring out who should be on the court and when is going to be critical as the Thunder move on from the Kevin Durant era.
This weeks slate of games gives the team a chance to face off with two familiar foes: the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies.
10/11 at Dallas Mavericks (7:30PM CST)
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy with high winds
Once again the Dallas Mavericks have almost completely overhauled their entire roster. Chandler Parsons left for the Memphis Grizzlies with Mark Cuban helpfully packing his bags. This season, Dallas adds in former Golden State Warriors Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes. With Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and J.J. Barea back, this is a solid team if all the pieces can remain healthy.
A lot of eyes will be on the play of Barnes this season, as the Mavericks offer him a chance to show that there’s more to his game than just spot-shooting in the corners.
Nowitzki has always given the Thunder problems, as even Ibaka had difficulties guarding the 7 foot German. Now that task is likely to fall on the shoulders of one of the following players: Ersan Ilyasova, Nick Collison, Domantas Sabonis, or Enes Kanter (GOD HELP US!). That’s not exactly a list of names--outside Collison--that inspires much faith defensively.
Dallas and OKC faced off in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and while there were some dust ups and choice words going back-and-forth, it doesn’t seem as if any of that ill will could carry over into this season. Mark Cuban seems too worried about tearing down Donald Trump’s political career to chime in again on whether or not Westbrook is a superstar-caliber player.
Do not overlook this Mavs team; Rick Carlisle is still their coach and he has a propensity for working magic in the NBA. If any coach is able to get Dirk and this ragtag team to overachieve, it is Carlisle.
PREDICTION: Thunder 104, Mavericks 95
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Semaj Christon
Semaj Christon is a player that the Thunder have held the rights to since 2014 when he was a member of their NBA Developmental League team, the Oklahoma City Blue. In his rookie season with the Blue, he was selected to NBA D-League All-Rookie Third Team and a D-League All-Star for the Prospects. He finished his rookie year averaging 18.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 5.7 APG and 1.6 SPG. He followed that up with another stellar showing in the 2015 NBA Summer League in Orlando where he averaged 15.6 PPG and 6.8 APG. However, with Westbrook, Cameron Payne and D.J. Augustin already on the roster, the team elected to not offer Christon a contract for the 2015-16 season. Last year he played in the Italian Serie A with Consultinvest Pesaro and put up solid numbers (14.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.3 RPG and 1.6 SPG) there too. With Augustin gone and Payne sidelined with a fractured foot, it seems like this is the year that Christon finally makes the Thunder. Christon has the skill to be on an NBA roster and with Westbrook and Ronnie Price as the only point guards on OKC, Christon could begin the year as the team’s backup point guard. In order for that to happen though Christon needs to be able to show and prove during his time on the floor in preseason. So far he’s played just 13 minutes combined in the team’s two games and he’s shown the ability to be a plus defender (three steals), but also has been foul prone (five in one game). The moment is now for Christon and it is on him to seize it fully before he loses another chance to make it in OKC.
10/13 vs Memphis Grizzlies (7:30PM CST)
FORECAST: Chance for Hail Storms throughout the night
Now this is a real rivalry. It’s not necessarily that these teams don’t like each other, but after playing four times a year in the regular season and then meeting in the postseason three times in the last six seasons a certain level of familiarity breeds contempt between the two franchises.
While Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger are both no longer coaching the team, most of the usual suspects are still suiting up for the Thunder and the Grizzlies. Memphis brought in David Fizdale from the Miami Heat to run the team. Fizdale is already putting his stamp on the team in his first season in Tennessee. Zach Randolph will come off the bench this year as opposed to starting alongside Marc Gasol as he’s done for the last eight seasons.
Starting in Randolph’s place will most likely be JaMychal Green. Green is entering his third season in the league and last season showed that he could be a floor spacer as a stretch big. Green shot 33.3 percent from deep for Memphis last year.
It will be interesting to see what type of system Fizdale looks to use in Memphis. Gasol and Mike Conley are a center-guard tandem that many other coaches in the NBA would die for. They brought in Chandler Parsons and at his best he’s a secondary ball handler and threat from the perimeter as well. Opening the court for Conley and Gasol could mean easy baskets for the rest of the Grizzlies. This will be a game where the Thunder will need to be at their best in terms of perimeter defense.
PREDICTION: Thunder 112, Grizzlies 107
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Steven Adams
When this game tips off, it will have marked 10 days since Steven Adams suffered his ankle injury in Madrid. Though it’s only preseason and there’s no need to rush him back, it would be nice to see the Big Kiwi back on the court again ASAP. Adams will be a very crucial piece for the Thunder this season. He is arguably the team’s best all-around player in terms of his contributions on both offense and defense. He’s going to be the defensive anchor for the team. And most of all, he is in a contract year. Adams showed during the postseason that he is capable of defending the rim and corralling smaller guards on the perimeter if necessary. His growth made Serge Ibaka expendable in the offseason. He has been the biggest reason for any optimism in regards to the infamous James Harden trade. If he can continue his rise into the upper tier of big men in the NBA this team is well situated for the future. A team like the Grizzlies is a great matchup for a player like Adams. In Marc Gasol, Memphis has one of the few big men that are capable of dominating a game in the interior. Gasol also has the skill to be a threat in other areas of the floor as well meaning that it will take a high-level performance from Adams to try and stifle Gasol. It’s unlikely that we would see much of these two players facing off Thursday night as it is only the preseason. Yet, if Adams can get the upper hand in the minutes that they do play against each other it will not only offer signs of promise for Oklahoma City on the floor, but in the promise of potential earnings for Adams as well.