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Thunder at F.C. Barcelona Preview: Can the defense focus themselves?

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Alex Abrines challenges his former teammates

For America! For New Zealand! For Scotland!

The Thunder are coming off of a particularly tragic loss to begin the Pre-Season. Real Madrid, a top-tier European club, managed to upend the more talented Thunder in overtime. This leaves the Thunder 0-1, and with a lot of questions about how their bench unit is going to come together.

Where the Thunder are @

No one is sounding alarm bells yet. Crunch time was without Russell Westbrook, who was resting on account of his age and experience. Crunch time was also without Steven Adams, who went down with an ankle sprain in the second quarter. Furthermore, the Westbrook-led units managed to amass a 24 point lead versus Real Madrid.

But the Thunder still looked like they had a lot of work to do in terms of defensive communication on the perimeter. Once Real Madrid was able to get past any kind of initial pressure, they had an open shot. And with Real Madrid's excellent floor spacing, that was enough to give the Thunder fits. If the Thunder want to have an effective defense against NBA quality teams moving forward, they'll have to refine that throughout training camp. But I'm betting that the Thunder will be a "force turnovers first, and then worry about covering shooters" type of defense this year.

The Thunder also really struggled with finding bench lineups that worked. With Cameron Payne out, it's looking like Ronnie Price and Victor Oladipo will share backup point guard duties. But defenders don't respect Ronnie Price's shot, so it's hard for him to get the defense to move. Furthermore, when Oladipo handles the ball, he's more prone to shoot than to pass. So you can't go with only Oladipo 24/7, because it could stagnate the offense.

Ball movement is going to be essential to helping Enes Kanter's point totals. Kanter is awful when it comes to back to the basket possessions where he tries to generate something off the dribble. But Kanter is great at standstill turnarounds, jumpshots, and any type of shot close to the basket. So as long as Kanter gets the ball in those situations, we should be good. That's why it's important to establish that second unit flow now, and find out who else in the lineup could help this larger goal. This is the type of stuff that we should really be looking for in this game against Barcelona. We know that Westbrook and friends are going to run roughshod over opponents who aren't on the same athletic level. But can the starters cover Madrid's shooters? Can the bench feed Kanter the ball in the right places?

Background on tonight’s game

This is the second leg of a two-game exhibition tour of Spain. After this game, the Thunder will return home, and resume a normal pre-season schedule in about a week.

FC Barcelona Basquet is the basketball arm of the more famous soccer team. In the basketball world, Barcelona stands alone with Madrid as the powerhouse of Spain. Barcelona has captured three of the six most recent Spanish domestic championships. Furthermore, Barcelona has been an extremely strong Euroleague contender. Since 2010-11, Barcelona has reached the quarter-finals of the Euroleague each year.

Alex Abrines is the name of one of the Thunder's new backup wings. Abrines was a draft pick of the Thunder back in 2013, but didn't come to the NBA until this off-season. As recently as last off-season, I was certain that Abrines would neverv come to OKC. Abrines European stats have stagnated over the past few seasons as he's settled into his role. Also, Abrines seemingly confirmed his love for Barcelona when declaring that he wanted to be like Juan Carlos Navarro, playing for one team his entire career. But Abrines unexpectedly went to OKC this off-season, after four years with Barcelona. Abrines was really impressive, hitting a pair of threes against former rival Real Madrid in his first game. Hopefully Abrines can continue the trend tonight against his former teammates.

The most notable of the Barcelona players is Juan Carlos Navarro. Despite coming off the bench, Navarro has played for Barcelona for over a decade straight and is the team captain. Navarro is admired for his scoring ability and creativity off the dribble. During the height of the Spanish national team, he was part of a very unique and beautiful-looking passing scheme. Tonight, we can expect some veteran leadership from Navarro as he picks apart our defense, finding shooters.

What to Expect from Barcelona

Barcelona has a similar structure to most European teams. There is no one singular star, but the team is composed of a set of solid pick and roll players combined with shooters. The point guards are big and athletic, perfect for getting open around screens and getting to the basket. The bigs are good at scoring off the catch. Wings are good at scoring off the catch. Passing is frequent. Just last season, Barcelona had five players that averaged more than two assists per game.

Here’s the general lowdown on some guys, player by player. Ante Tomic, the starting center, is a traditional pick and roll big with a decent back to the basket game. Can be slow and only mildly athletic. Victor Claver, the starting power forward, can shoot decently for his size. Stratos Perperoglu is a Greek mainstay. He’s nowhere near the level of stars like Vassilis Spanoulis or Kostas Papanikolaou. But Perperoglu is a very solid wing, with the ability to create his own shot.

The Barcelona backcourt includes Pau Ribas, a 6’5” shooting guard. Ribas can shoot off the dribble and has a really mean eurostep at the rim. His athleticism will pale in comparison to Victor Oladipo, though. Tyrese Rice is a USA ex-pat, whom I saw play for Montenegro. If Rice is having a good shooting night, he can be a spark plug for his team. Also pretty decent athleticism, good dunker.

Bench notables for Barcelona include Navarro, first and foremost. There’s also Petteri Kopponen, whom I’ve seen play extensively with the Finnish national team. Kopponen is a next gen point guard, working really well off of screens and shooting under pressure. But he can have really bad nights too. Justin Doellman is a USA ex-pat forward who can shoot really well from three, over 40% last year. And Joey Dorsey is a athletic big fresh from the Houston Rockets.

What to Expect Tonight

I didn’t expect the first game to be competitive, and I’m going to go on record saying that the Thunder should win by at least 10. But with no precedent for a winning Thunder team, I’m ever so nervous about my prediction. But really, the result doesn’t matter. Let’s just hope that Oladipo and Kanter can settle into their new roles. Their integration is paramount if this team is to have depth beyond Westbrook.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, FC Barcelona Basquet 97.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2017 NBA Pre-Season Game 2
Thunder

F.C. Barcelona Basquet
0-1

0-0
October 3rd, 2016
Palao Blaugrana, Barcelona, Spain
1:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: NBA League Pass
Injury Report: Cameron Payne (Out), Mitch McGary (Out), Steven Adams (Questionable), Joffrey Lauvergne (Questionable)
No previous matchups.
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Tyrese Rice
Victor Oladipo SG Pau Ribas
Andre Roberson SF Stratos Perperolgu
Domatas Sabonis PF Victor Claver
Steven Adams C Ante Tomic