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Thunder Views: Five things to look out for in January

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What to keep an eye on as the Thunder begin their 2018 campaign.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So December didn’t exactly end the way Billy Donovan wanted it to. After ripping off six straight wins, the Thunder finished up 2017 by losing two in a row to Milwaukee and Dallas. But hey, it’s a new year and OKC gets to open up 2018 with a west coast trip. What else should we be looking forward to in January?

Offensive Confidence

Yes, the Thunder regressed a little bit to end 2017, but don’t let that deter you from the progress they’ve made. Over the last 10 games, OKC has scored 111.3 points per 100 possessions, which makes them a top five offense in the league. Much of this is thanks to Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George, as the three of them have been terrific while on the floor together.

Keeping up these numbers is the best way to kill off any doubts of positive developments.

Abrines’ Defensive Performance

Defense has not been an issue for the Thunder this season thanks to guys like George, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson. Fred Katz even pointed out the possibility of all three of them making the all-defensive team. This would be the first time three teammates did so since 2005-06 when Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Chauncey Billups accomplished the feat.

When Roberson is out of the lineup however, the Thunder have struggled to replace their defensive dominance. Alex Abrines is commonly used to fill his slot, which hasn’t been ideal as of late. With four starters and Abrines on the floor, OKC is getting outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions. People can knock Roberson’s free throw shooting all they want, but that defensive impact is invaluable.

It’ll be interesting to see how Donovan deals with any future Roberson absences.

**cough** **cough**... Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant ... **cough** **cough**

Paul George Consistency

George has been tremendous on the defensive end and should be considered a strong candidate for defensive player of the year, but his offensive game has been a little odd this season. When he’s in rhythm, George has been terrific and confident, but when he struggles to find it in the early going of games (see early December 8 point performances), he tends to look out of sorts.

Joining OKC’s lineup forces him to be less assertive, and he’s embraced his elite 3-and-D role, but I’ll be looking to see if he can remain healthy and confident for an extended stretch. This is in no way a knock on George, he’s been great over the last 5+ games, but just something to keep an eye on going forward.

Steven Adams

The 2017-18 campaign has been a world-takeover tour for Steven Adams. He’s been nearly perfect on defense while playing a vital role in OKC’s now efficient offense. He’s averaging 13.4 and 8.8 per game, while sporting festive Christmas sweaters and pre-game attire like this:

Stay tuned for more of this:

World domination 2018 edition coming soon.

Good Reads

This is not necessarily a Thunder-specific read, but Bleacher Report’s Tom Haberstroh recently wrote a great piece on Gordon Hayward’s road to recovery. Paul George once when down that same path, and has plenty of connections with the Celtics’ new star.

“Gordon Hayward's iPad holds 500 clips of Paul George playing basketball.

His trainer (Smeathers) and Boston video coordinators put them there. None of the clips come from pre-injury George. All show George's play following his return to the NBA after a horrific incident while playing with Team USA in 2014, in which he landed on the stanchion in Las Vegas and snapped his leg. As fate would have it, Hayward witnessed that firsthand just a few feet away on the Team USA bench. Hayward watches these clips every day for positive reinforcement, a reminder that he can do this, a reassurance of what's possible.”

Solid feature to start your 2018.

Happy New Year Thunder fans!