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Thunder 2018 preseason takeaways and overreactions

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The preseason is over and we have a week to get ready for the regular season. What did we glean from the past two weeks?

NBA: Preseason-Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook’s signature shoe is among the most underrated sneakers on the planet, but this isn’t about that.

The lack of depth in this year’s ACL Music Festival is nothing short of embarrassing, but this isn’t about that, either.

No, with the NBA preseason now dead and gone, there’s only one sensible thing left to assess and overreact to on this day, and that’s the previous week’s worth of exhibition basketball.

So, without further adieu, here’s what we learned from four Thunder preseason games:

Travis Schlenk Is the Real MVP

When Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded for Carmelo Anthony a year ago, it made perfect sense. And, if you consider Russell Westbrook’s five-year extension, signed just four days after the deal, as a direct byproduct, it can—and should—be counted as a win for the organization.

Still, by the time Utah showed OKC the door just six games into the first round of the playoffs, buying out Melo was must.

To trade him — complete with his $27.9 million price tag for 2018-’19 — seemed like a virtual impossibility. It seemed entirely plausible that Presti and the Thunder would have jumped at a bag of basketballs and some Gatorade mix if it got Anthony out of the building.

And, yet, there was Atlanta Hawks GM Travis Schlenk, fresh off of a draft day trade for Oklahoma guard Trae Young, tossing OKC one hell of a life line.

In exchange for a future protected first round pick, Schlenk was willing to take Melo — and his massive salary — off Presti’s hands and send 25-year-old point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City.

Schroder wore out his welcome in Atlanta and playing behind Westbrook can be tricky, so, while the thought of peak Schroder leading the second unit was a fun one to entertain, it required a wait-and-see approach.

So we waited.

And now we’ve seen.

In Westbrook’s absence, Schroder developed almost instantaneous rapport with a number of his new teammates while displaying utter joy at having a second chance in OKC. However polarizing he had become in Atlanta, it appears — albeit over a small sample size — that he left that baggage at Hartsfield International.

Schroder averaged 15.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.3 boards in four preseason games—including an electric 20-7-6 performance against the Hawks on Oct. 7 — and the numbers don’t do his performance justice.

He’s the best sixth man the Thunder has had since Reggie Jackson; a player who can get hot and carry Oklahoma City for stretches when needed. He’s a player capable of running the offense in Westbrook’s stead — and one that will, should head coach Billy Donovan go for it — allow Russ to play off the ball in spurts.

At minimum, Schroder allows Westbrook to take a breather without watching his team crater without him on the floor — and that’s something.

That’s a whole lot better than a bag of basketballs.

Hamidou Diallo Is Good: This Is Not a Drill

Listen, this is an article about things we’ve learned from four preseason basketball games, so I’m not going to repeat the sample size disclaimer repeatedly. Just know that it applies forever and ever, amen.

That being said, Hamidou Diallo is good—and he’s good in ways that are not subject to being massively impacted by unique circumstances.

If Diallo wasn’t a second round rookie who probably wasn’t expected to contribute, none of us would be so apprehensive to admit that.

Diallo didn’t just get hot and drop 30 points in a meaningless game — though he did drop 19 on 8-of-16 shooting last night — and he didn’t simply dominate a bunch of G-League players during summer league.

He was given additional burn due to an injury to presumed Andre Roberson replacement Terrance Ferguson, and all he’s done over the span of a week is become a fan favorite, a player that veterans in the locker room are openly complimenting, and a guy who looks like he will significantly lessen the blow of losing Roberson for another couple of months — regardless of what Ferguson or Alex Abrines does.

Diallo is a tenacious defender. He handles the ball well. He’s a very good rebounder. These are things that travel well from meaningless preseason game to meaningful regular season game.

Diallo and Ferguson are both 20-year-old guards and both should receive ample opportunity to prove that they can be the future on the wing in Oklahoma City. This isn’t meant to be Ferguson’s basketball obituary. But, Ferguson never flashed like this last season.

Paul George Is Awesome

Maybe that seems obvious — and it should — but it’s easy to forget with the distraction of trying to wrap our heads around the new faces that comprise the rotation traffic jam on the wing, along with low-key worrying about Russ while high-key worrying about Roberson.

Paul George re-signing with the Thunder was everything. Absolutely everything. And during the preseason, PG has looked as good as ever.

The Fresno State product capped an excellent exhibition run by freakin’ eviscerating the Bucks last night to the tune of 19 first quarter points. He finished with 26 and didn’t play in the second half.

Run OKC? The Thunder Look More Explosive

Subtract Carmelo Anthony and add pieces like Schroder, Diallo and Nerlens Noel, and what do you get?

Among other things, you get much, much faster and more athletic.

During the preseason, the Thunder was middle of the road in pace, but led the league in explosiveness and/or effort areas like rebounds and offensive rebound percentage (31.9) during the preseason, ranked second in blocks, and overall, the group on the floor just looks much different.

And that’s without the human highlight reel that is No. 0.


Hello, this is my first post at WTLC. I love sports, write words, hold doors and pet dogs. I’m an admirer of Sam Presti’s eyewear, Paul George’s footwear and Russell Westbrook’s, um, wear. Oh, and I went to UMKC. We’re D1. No big deal.