It’s been a long time since Thunder fans heard the name of Dion Waiters. Well, not that long. About 6 months ago, Waiters was a member of our team. But Waiters is now a member of the Miami Heat. The Heat hope Waiters can fill a role as a poor man’s Dwayne Wade. Someone who can generate offense in the backcourt, get a steal every now and then. And, maybe even in an ideal situation, Waiters could hit open threes. But it’s hard for Waiters to exist where he is not the offense’s focal point. Waiters, a self-described student of Allen Iverson’s game, plays in a very ball-dominant way. Still, with Spoelstra’s experience, I’m confident that there’s a good reason he’ starting for Miami.
I don’t know if there will be animosity from Thunder players. Waiters always seemed to be kind of off on his own, never really gelling with the team beyond what happened on the floor. But Waiters hasn’t spent nearly as much time answering questions as KD has, simply because he’s the less popular player. So we’ll see if any of the old relationships are there. Ultimately, Waiters will surely be booed by Thunder fans. When it’s all said and done, Waiters time in OKC were inefficient and frustrating.
In the background are the two teams. OKC looks to improve on a strong 5-1 record. Miami looks to even things back to .500, currently standing at 2-3.
Loud Thunder Claps
The Thunder return from a rather significant win. The Timberwolves, who had been competitive throughout their first four contests, were soundly smashed by the Thunder. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, normally part of the team’s top three options, fell completely by the wayside. Wiggins, shooting 3 of 13, was completely shut down by Andre Roberson. Zach LaVine didn’t even get an opportunity to shine, shut down by Oladipo to the tune of a 1 of 6 shooting night. This type of blowout against the Timberwolves might seem normal, since the Timberwolves have been so moribund since Kevin Love left. But this year’s Timberwolves will be competing for a playoff seed, and it’s really fortunate that the Thunder have all the defenders in the right places. Presti looks good, and the Thunder are ready to counter the next generation of NBA talent.
All of that being said, Karl-Anthony Towns was still a spectacle to behold. The KAT would become the centrepiece of the Wolves’ attack, scoring 33 points on 13 of 20 shooting. Still, I have to commend the job that Adams and Sabonis did in attempting to contain KAT. KAT was hitting threes off of screens like he was Klay Thompson or Chandler Parsons. Then, KAT was down in the post, dream-shaking opponents like Hakeem. KAT’s range allowed him to use space effectively, while KAT’s touch near the rim allowed him to blaze through double-teams. Most of the time, I was just like, “Dang, Adams and Sabonis played KAT well, but nobody can stop KAT”. I’m a basketball fan who’s too young to remember much of the glory days of big men in the 90s. So it makes me really happy to see KAT bring the big man focused team to the 21st century.
Nevertheless, I feel like Adams is about as good as it gets when it comes to locking down Karl-Anthony Towns. As it stands, Towns is easily the best center in the NBA. So that game is a good litmus test for what Adams has to strive for as a lock-down defender. Given that Adams held his own in other areas, scoring 14 points and 8 rebounds, I’m confident about OKC’s capabilities moving forward. Most of Adams value continues to be his ability to nail short hook shots and be in the position for broken play opportunities.
As for the bench, the rotation appears to be taking hold. Donovan likes to play Kanter-Lauvergne-Grant-Abrines-Christon. That lineup is big and unathletic, but they will lock down the paint and defensive rebounding. Generating offense and defending the three point line will certainly be problems. But focusing on what we’re good at is as good a solution here as any. At least, for most games. (See: Kanter’s benching against Phoenix and Golden State)
Heat Hot Notes
Considering the Heat are dealing with the loss of Dwayne Wade, a 2-3 start really isn’t that bad. Even the secondary losses that the Heat endured, like Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, and Amare Stoudemire all contributed to a big change in team culture. Left is the core of what the Heat expect to be in the future. Guys like Whiteside, Dragic, Tyler Johnson, and Winslow. Those four appear to the the core of Miami’s future attack, and together they certainly have the firepower for an East playoff run. Off-season acquisitions James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed, and Wayne Ellington should be the complimentary pieces to this team. There is something to be said for these four guys, because they all fill a specific role. None of them are household names, but all could potentially be a part of a playoff rotation. And in some ways, that may be better for this young Heat team to develop their core. None of these guys will want possessions.
Meanwhile, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh provide invaluable moral support, as previous members of a championship Heat team. Erik Spoelstra, the second longest tenured coach in the league, continues to be an extremely valuable asset. Even though the LeBron era-Heat were far from a big man or point guard centered team, Spoelstra has adjusted his team to the new scheme well. Spoelstra must be credited as a major part of the continued success of this team in Miami.
But there is a new acquisition who doesn’t fit into any of the categories I’ve described above. That acquisition’s name is Dion Waiters. Waiters, with Oklahoma City for just over a season in total, departed over the off-season. As far as anyone could tell, Dion left OKC because he wanted a guaranteed starting role. There were rumors floating around that OKC wasn’t offering Waiters enough money in their initial offer to him, and eventually went a different route. Regardless of how it happened, Waiters has been off and on while playing for the Heat. An early injury to Josh Richardson gave Waiters the starting job early. Through it all, Waiters is averaging 11 points per game. But Waiters won’t be in that role long if he continues to shoot 35% from the floor. Regardless, I expect Dion to be a regular member of the Heat’s rotation, filling a semi Wade-like role.
How Tonight’s Game Will Go
The Thunder appear to be the superior team at this point. Adams is more than a match for Whiteside. In four matchups between the two in their career, Adams has held Whiteside to 12 points per game. Whiteside will be more of a focus on this new Heat team, so he’ll score more. But I still feel like Adams will get close to equaling Whiteside’s totals. Furthermore, Dragic is a very crafty point guard, with excellent scoring and decision making abilities. But Dragic is a step below Westbrook, and it’s uncertain whether any of the Heat players are effective at cross-matching Westbrook.
If those two can be kept under control, the only thing I could see really destroying the Thunder is a great shooting night. As early as it is, the Heat are the league’s 9th best team in terms of three point percentage. Dragic tops the team with nearly three makes a game. Luke Babbitt follows with 2, Tyler Johnson 1.6, and Dion Waiters 1.2. All of these guys are primarily perimeter guys. Given that our big guys like to stay near the rim, I believe this plays into the Thunder’s hands.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 118, Miami Heat 89.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!
Injuries: Josh McRoberts (Questionable), Wayne Ellington (Out), Chris Bosh (Out)
Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: FSOK, SUN