Oklahoma City meet the New Orleans Pelicans at the Chesapeake Arena at 5:00 (EST). The Thunder are looking to rebound from a tough loss to the Trailblazers where the team sputtered on offence. The Thunder are currently 1-4 on the season and will look to get a game in the win column on Saturday. This game is the second game of a three-game homestead which concludes with playing the Orlando Magic on November 5th. The Thunder will then have a one-game road trip where they play the Spurs at AT&T. New Orleans have started the season 0-4 and will be desperate to get a win after a string of good performances in losses. The 0-4 is not reflective on their performances, the Pelicans have largely played well in games against the Rockets, Warriors and Raptors.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
1. The Thunder have been playing incredibly slow on offence which has led to multiple shot clock violations during the first five games of the season so far. This has contributed to the Thunder's turnovers per game being excessively high. The Thunder have turned the ball over 18.4 times per game so far, this means that the Thunder are ranked 25th in the league in terms of turnovers per game. This cannot occur if the Thunder are playing a slower-paced game, they have less possessions to dig themselves out of holes created by the poor turnovers.
2. Terrance Ferguson has had an inconsistent start to the season so far. He has been adept defensively but has struggled to find a rhythm on offence. It will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan chooses to manage this issue. Ferguson as a shooter has not managed to get the type of looks which he received last season when he played with Russell Westbrook and therefore has only received limited shot attempts. His shot attempts compared to the last season have fallen by 2.6 FGA per game, this is significant when it is considered that Ferguson shot 36.6% on threes last season. He should be a 3&D wing and without him getting quality looks from deep, his value on the court diminishes
3. The Thunder have lost four games down the stretch of a tight game. In three of these losses, the game was decided by just two possessions. The stats are not positive for the Thunder when the game gets tight. The Net Rating in clutch situations as per NBAStats is -40.3 which is 26th in the league when it comes to crunch time. Part of this issue is that the Thunder do not have a designated closer on the roster who can take over when it matters. The issue for the Thunder is who do they trust in tight situations. Does the team trust Chris Paul, a savvy veteran who is incredibly good at getting a bucket or does the Thunder opt for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who has been the form player during the first five games of the season.
Chris Paul touched on the situation stating that "guys get paid the big bucks, to make big shots like that in the fourth quarter". Paul's statement was in regards to Dame being the closer for the Blazers but the sentiment could apply to the Thunder. They need a player who is comfortable taking the reigns as the game gets tight and has the confidence to take pressure-laden shots.
1. Brandon Ingram has started the season brightly for the Pelicans. Ingram has carried over his hot streak from last season where he found the confidence to trust in his shot. The Pelicans have used Ingram as a primary offensive option while Zion and Jrue Holiday have been injured. The results have been impressive as Ingram is averaging 27.2 points per game on 60.2% TS. His scoring has been efficient as a lead option and he seems to be flourishing in New Orleans compared to the Lakers' dysfunction which clouded his first three seasons in the league.
2. JJ Redick has started the season poorly compared to his usual consistent production. He is shooting just 31.6% from the floor and has not spaced the floor as the Pelicans' front office predicted before the season started. This is a worrying trend for the sharpshooter whose shot has been impressive at all of his previous stops.
It is likely that Gallinari will be traded by the deadline. It makes no sense for him to play out the rest of the season with the Thunder when he is unlikely to re-sign with a team that is settling into a long rebuild. A trade with the Blazers at the deadline, once Nurkic comes back, Whiteside is irrelevant. The Thunder could swap expiring deals with the Blazers and get back assets as a result. A scorer like Gallinari is a desirable asset to have and would rectify Portland's front-court production issue.
Thunder get: Whiteside, Nassir Little and a future first-round pick
Blazers get: Gallinari and Justin Patton
The trade just works under the salary cap rules established by the NBA. A team over the salary cap is allowed to take 125% + $100,000 of the salary which the team is trading away. The Thunder could take on $30.29m in salary provided that Patton and Gallinari was traded away, the combined salary of Little and Whiteside equals $29.5m. The Thunder get a young player who could develop as part of the Thunder's youth project while the Blazers get a hyper-efficient scorer. The other benefit of this deal for Portland is that Justin Patton is on a non-guaranteed deal and therefore could be waived at a cap cost of $700,000. This would create another roster spot for Portland which they could use to sign a veteran player to beef up their bench for the play-offs.