The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-94 in OKC’s 5th pre-season game of the year. Powered behind Russell Westbrook’s 26-10 with zero turnovers, the fully stocked Thunder used a big 3rd quarter run to keep the game out of reach playing against the Wolves’ backup players. Steven Adams continued to build his personal mythology by draining 3’s in pre-game warmups and then abusing former OKC center Cole Aldrich in the game to the tune of 20-11 and 4 blocks in 23 minutes of play.
Since the final score is often the most meaningless part of a pre-season game, especially when one team decides to bench all of its starters, here are a few general observations about the style of play overall that led to the easy win for OKC.
- Westbrook got his longest burn of the pre-season, playing 31 minutes on the night in what is likely a preview of the regular season. You’ve not going to believe this, but Wolves’ rookie PG Kris Dunn was not quite up to the challenge of slowing him down. More importantly, this is the first game where we really got to see a heavy dosage of what the Westbrook-Adams PnR is going to look like. What I like most about it is that they can set up from almost any position on the floor, including the transition, to make it pay off. As Enes Kanter recently said, Westbrook is uncommon, and that his appropriate counterpart is Cristiano Ronaldo. Since I don’t follow soccer at all, I’m going to have to presume that means that Ronaldo also likes to take a lot of 3-pointers off the dribble.
- Victor Oladipo is learning that Westbrook is not exactly Elfrid Payton. I think it’s going to take a while before Oladipo figures out that Westbrook can make his offense incredibly easy, but he needs to back off on the one-on-one stuff and over-reliance on low percentage jumpers. Instead, get those two into the side PnR game just like Westbrook used to do with Durant and all sorts of things can open up.
- Domantas Sabonis is already reminding me of how Marc Gasol has morphed into the best center in the NBA. That is not great for Sabonis’ rookie of the year chances because his statistical production will not be overwhelming, but at least on offense, his ability to move, make quick decisions, and yet never force the action is going to make him extremely valuable to Westbrook and company as the season goes on. Plus, he’s got a little bit of a nasty streak in him. Perhaps it is infused by his pops, but Sabonis is no shrinking violet.
- The Thunder bench performed well, although it was again the Wolves’ 2nd and 3rd stringers, but it is going to be critical for OKC’s 2nd unit to forge an identity quickly. Whether it be offense or defense, they have to figure out a way to keep OKC competitive when Westbrook and Adams are not on the court. On this night, they combined for 48 points and 21 rebounds.
- Furthermore, the bench has appeared to be much more of a threat from 3-point range, which leads me to believe that the first guy off the bench going forward may be a shooter (Alex Abrines?) instead of 6th man of the year candidate Kanter. At one point the team was shooting 2-14 from 3-point range, but finished with a respectable 7-21 stat, largely behind the sharpshooting of Kyle Singler.
- Speaking of Kyle, I know I was a little harsh on him in my player preview, but his newfound confidence shooting the ball is beginning to find its way into other parts of his game. Singler still shouldn’t see himself as a primary playmaker, but he’s still athletic enough to be able to finish strong at the rim.
I also feel strongly that Kyle should consider growing out a goatee and then dye it black, similar to when Hulk Hogan went evil. Kyle is certainly on his way, going with the Billy-D hairstyle and all, but he needs to look a little less like Jack McBrayer and a little bit more like...Dr. Kyle Strange.
There you go.
(Sherman is definitely ready for the regular season to begin.)