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November 12: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Indiana Pacers — preview and gamethread

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Oklahoma City comes into Indiana looking to win their one game road trip

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder will be travelling to Indianapolis to face the Pacers in an overnight away game. The game against the Pacers starts at 7:00 (EST) and will involve two teams on completely different tracks. The Pacers, who have made serious roster changes, will be looking to continue their three-game winning streak. The Thunder will be looking to get back in the win column after dropping a tight loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pacers are coming into this game with a lot of momentum behind them despite injuries to core players. Indiana has picked up two quality wins over Orlando and Detroit who were both play-off teams last season.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Mike Muscala finally found his shot against Milwaukee. Muscala started the season 1-19 from three-point land and could not shake his cold streak. Muscala’s value comes from his ability to space the floor, without his shooting Muscala is significantly limited. He’s a decent roll-man but he does not excel around the rim. Against Milwaukee, Muscala broke his cold streak and scored four threes from downtown on seven attempts. Muscala’s outside scoring was a steady contributor for the Thunder against Milwaukee and was incredibly useful in keeping pace with the Bucks’ high-powered offence. The Thunder need to use Muscala in this way in future games. I would like to see him focus on perimeter shooting and take the majority of his shot attempts from outside. Muscala shot 36.8% from outside in the seventeen games that he played for the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He has just enough efficiency from this area of the floor to be turned into a bomber from deep. Muscala could feasibly play the Ryan Anderson role where he takes above six threes per game. That floor spacing is invaluable for the Thunder, it creates space inside while also creating flexibility when it comes to offensive scheming. Providing that Muscala’s shooting holds up, he could be used in pick and pop sets where he drops to the perimeter. The defensive separation created by the action would give Muscala enough time to get off a good shot while also giving the ball-handler plenty of space to drive inside.
  2. The game against Milwaukee proved that the Thunder are better than initially expected. The Thunder’s outlook at the start of the season looked pretty bleak. The youth of the roster meant that people expected Oklahoma City to be a sure-fire lottery team. There were also serious concerns regarding Chris Paul and his ability to contribute at a high-level. In Houston last season, Paul lacked the acceleration or explosion to create separation on drives to the basket. The reality has been much different, the Thunder have been a competitive side for the majority of the season so far. The Thunder have lost a fair few games by only a few possessions, it is not hard to imagine that OKC could have been 6-4 with a little luck. The game on Sunday proved that the Thunder could face a title contender and be competitive throughout each quarter.
  3. The question that arises from last night’s performance is what does the Thunder want from this season? The common thought coming into the start of the season was that the Thunder should tank hard and start the rebuilding process instantly. The tanking method often used by coaching staff is to find line-ups that are huge net rating negatives and play these lineups heavy minutes. Billy Donovan has gone the opposite way, the Thunder have fielded units which have been productive and efficient. The current performances would suggest that the Thunder could make the play-offs providing that the team continues to play this way. Making the play-offs will not provide a high lottery pick but it may generate more suitors for Chris Paul. Paul will likely be traded next off-season and over-achieving with this Thunder side with a play-off appearance would only increase his trade value. Whatever the Thunder choose to do, this decision needs to be taken before the middle part of the season comes around.

Pacers’ Passes:

  1. Indiana are 6-4 on the season despite suffering serious injuries. Victor Oladipo is still out from the quad tendon injury that occurred last year. Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and Goga Bitazde have all been suffering with injuries over the last few games and have missed significant time. It has meant that Indiana have ran with some unusual lineups at times. The most effective of these units is Aaron Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon, Jakarr Sampson, TJ Warren and Domantas Sabonis. This particular lineup has outscored the opposition by 20.1 points per 100 possessions.
  2. The injuries and lineup juggling has meant that Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have shouldered a greater share of the offence. Brogdon has not been featured as the offence’s primary option until this stretch of injuries. Malcolm Brogdon has been surprisingly effective outside of his usual complementary role. Brogdon is averaging 21/9/5 on 46/31/98 shooting. This is less efficient than the 50-40-90 season that he quietly put up last season in Milwaukee but his shot attempts have also increased massively. Last season in Milwaukee, Brogdon averaged just 11.7 FGAs and he is currently averaging 16.0 FGAs for the Pacers. His play-making has been hugely important in making sure that Indiana’s offence has operated smoothly. Domantas Sabonis has also taken on more responsibility with Myles Turner being out. Sabonis is averaging 20/13/4 which are All-Star numbers. Domas’ inside scoring and passing from the centre position has been big for the Pacers in filling the gaps left behind by Oladipo, Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb. Sabonis will not continue at this level, the return of Myles Turner will lead to lower stats but as of right now Domantas Sabonis is on a huge hot streak.

Random Sidenote:

The Thunder are owed a Milwaukee sign after Giannis broke a Thunder sign the other night after air-balling a free throw. At the end of the second half, Giannis took a free throw and did not even hit the rim. The half-time klaxon blew and he stormed off down the tunnel in frustration. Giannis being a good sport has promised to trade the Thunder a Bucks’ sign when the team goes to Milwaukee.