It’s been a pre-season riddled with injuries. But, aside from Cameron Payne, the full slate of players appear to be ready for opening night. The only problem is that the lineups for the Thunder haven’t had much time to play with each other. We’ve seen lots of experimenting by Donovan, but not exactly a ton of lineup consistency. The Thunder aren’t a team where everybody fits well with everybody else. With so many one-way players, things will need to be carefully balanced.
Some Thunder Context
That’s why Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves was so important. With a full roster, we got to see what types of rotations Donovan preferred. Kanter, Lauvergne, Christon, and Singler had 16 minutes or more off the bench. Abrines, Ilyasova, and Price had 10 minutes or less. Collison, Huestis, and Morrow had no minutes at all.
It’s right about what I’d expect. But I have a hard time seeing Christon and Lauvergne getting so many minutes long-term. Each player is talented, but playing out of position. Teams with adept power forwards or shooting guards may be able to take advantage. Then again, this is only the bench. Maybe two big centers and two defensively focused point guards can work.
Beyond minutes, it’s interesting to see how each of the new players is doing individually. Aside from a bit more refinement, there’s really nothing revolutionary from the guys we know. But Oladipo pretty clearly is a defense into offense, fast break first guy. That’s the place where Oladipo is always going to be successful. So it’s good that the Thunder have stocked up with rebounders (like Lauvergne) and ball hawkers (like Price and Christon). Lauvergne continues to show off his classic sweeping hook shot, as well as his reliable standing jump shot. And Semaj Christon can nail off-the-dribble floaters when given space.
Nuggets are fast and furious as always
The Nuggets are led by a team of able scorers. Wilson Chandler, Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, and Danilo Gallinari have been the most consistent 10+ PPG weapons that the Nuggets have. All of them have different skill sets. Chandler is long and athletic. Will Barton has ridiculous speed. Jusuf Nurkic is powerful and can rule the paint. Finally, Danilo Gallinari is fundamentally sound and can operate around screens.
Beyond those four, it’s unclear who will have a role on this Nuggets team. History would say that veterans like Kenneth Faried, Jameer Nelson, and Michael Beasley get those minutes. However, those veterans may be less effective than they once were. Aside from the Nuggets’ two main prospects, the rest of the team is guys who could potentially fill a role in the right situation.
Who are those two main Nugget prospects? Emmanuel Mudiay is the one we’re already acquainted with. Mudiay is a physically impressive point guard, but was notorious for being turnover-prone last season. But at the young age of 20, Mudiay still has plenty of developing to do. Mudiay does seem to have a nice outside off-the-dribble shot though, which is a rare skill to have.
The prime Nugget rookie this year is Juancho Hernangomez, the 15th pick out of Spain. Thus far in the pre-season, the Spanish power forward has 7.6 points per game on 39% from the floor. Hernangomez is also shooting 25% from three on 2.5 attempts per game. Ideally Hernangomez is the ideal pace and space power forward. Hernangomez can set screens, finish off the roll, and shoot from outside.
How tonight’s game will go
We know from the Nuggets last year and Mike Malone’s background that the Nuggets are going to be offense-first. Beyond that, rebounding is more important than defense, because the Nuggets want as many possessions as possible. The offense-first, fast paced style can also uniquely benefit the Nuggets, as they’re from Denver. Denver has high altitude, and visiting teams might be less acclimated to the conditions.
But really, offense-first teams are always going to give the Thunder fits. The Nuggets are going to be able to shoot much more effectively than Oklahoma City. It’s really going to come down to whether OKC’s defense can force enough turnovers for OKC’s offense to be viable. And if OKC’s offense is viable on its’ own without Westbrook, I’ll be happily proven wrong.
One last quick note: This is Lauvergne’s old team, so there may be a bit of personal incentive there.
Prediction: Denver Nuggets 117, Oklahoma City Thunder 111.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!
Injuries: Alex Abrines (Questionable), Cameron Payne (Out), Emmanuel Mudiay (Questionable), Gary Harris (Out), Darrell Arthur (Out)
Time: 7:00 PM Central Daylight Time
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: NBA League Pass (Or Thunder.NBA.com)