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November 15: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Philadelphia 76ers - preview and game thread

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The Thunder will be looking to start a tough four game stretch off right

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City will be facing the Philadelphia 76ers at home before a tough Los Angeles road-trip. The game will start at 8:00 (EST) and will feature two teams who have been scuffling as of late. The Thunder struggled against Indiana to generate points which led to a huge blow-out loss. Philly’s issues with shooting is well-documented and it led to a loss against Orlando the other night. The 76ers shot just 26.1% from outside which meant Orlando refused to respect outside shots and cramped the interior space. The offence was stifled and the team only scored 97 points.

Three Points to note for the Thunder:

  1. The Thunder’s loss against Indiana was pretty painful as the ball stopped moving and the offence seemed to give up. The only real positive from that game was Deonte Burton looked solid during the extended minutes that he played against Indiana. Burton has played sparingly during the opening stretch of the season and the opportunity to make his mark has so far eluded him. Against Indiana, Burton got eighteen minutes and proved he deserves a chance at regular rotation minutes. Burton shot 5-12 from the field and scored an efficient looking thirteen points. The actual point-scoring is somewhat unimpressive but the numbers do not indicate the overall improvements in Burton’s game. His jumper looks much more fluid compared to previous season and suggests he can be competent shooter from deep if he is given minutes. The other aspect of Burton’s skillset which has improved was his decision-making on the ball. Last season, Burton looked hesitant at times and was a little all over the place on the court. This season, Burton’s game looks more decisive and he displayed this decision-making against Indiana. When he received the ball, Burton has decided what action that he wanted to run instead of getting the ball and working out what he needed to do. One particular example stood out to me, Burton received the ball at the break and did not feel the need to instantly chuck up a shot. He pump-faked, got the defender out of the way and scored an open mid-range jumper.
  2. The Thunder’s third quarter issues reared their head again as the Thunder let the game get away from them against Indiana. The Thunder entered the half down by ten and the team needed a fast start in the third quarter to get themselves back into the tie. Oklahoma City did not do this and Indiana built a lead which eventually put the game out of reach for the Thunder. The offence lapsed from the game-plan and the Thunder devolved into an isolation style where the ball stopped moving, the team has been best this season when every player is getting touches. The defence also failed to do its job as Indiana scored thirty four points in the quarter which is simply too many points to give up to another team especially when the Thunder was mis-firing hard on offence. Questions need to be asked of Billy Donovan and what the half-time coaching is composed of? The Thunder have struggled for years with coming out of the half flat and out of rhythm, even when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were here together in 2016. The key difference is that the Thunder used to have two talented isolation players who could get a bucket whatever the defence. This would eventually bring the Thunder back into games and plaster over the cracks. The Thunder do not have these players anymore and offensive consistency over forty eight minutes is necessary to win games.
  3. Andre Roberson’s recovery has been somewhat forgotten due to the fact that Roberson has had limited media availability since the injury and the Thunder organisation is not exactly forth-coming with medical information. Erik Horne of The Athletic described the Thunder’s approach in a Q&A session which he conducted yesterday. The Thunder have taken an approach where Roberson has been ‘alternating contact with non-contact’ on a weekly basis. Progress has been incredibly slow and Roberson is still far away from a return to the court. The Thunder have taken this approach due to the fact that Andre had serious setbacks the first time round due to an aggressive rehab strategy. The decision taken by the Thunder is prudent as the Thunder do not desperately need Roberson’s defensive abilities. The team will not be playing for a championship therefore a world-class wing stopper is not necessary for the roster.

76ers Singles:

  1. The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled to shoot the ball starting the season. Tobias Harris is shooting just 20.4% on 4.5 three-point attempts per game for the Sixers, this is exceptionally low compared to his previous season in LA where he shot 43.4% on 4.7 three-point attempts per game. Ben Simmons’ shot problems has been explained in much detail but the simple summary is that Simmons refuses to shoot the ball at all from deep. The reticence to take open shots has caused limited spacing among the Sixers starting unit. The other issue is that half-court sets have become harder for the Sixers to navigate with efficiency. Joel Embiid’s post-ups will constantly attract double-teams as the help defender does not respect Simmons’ outside shot and sags off Simmons at will.
  2. Philly have not done well against Western Conference teams to start the season. The 76ers are just 2-3 against the Western Conference which is poor for a team which has legitimate championship designs. Philadelphia had a four game road-trip at the start of November where they lost three straight games against Utah, Phoenix and Denver. In those games, Simmons’ impact as a play-maker was limited and the offence ran through Embiid.

Random Sidenote:

The Thunder have not won an away game over the first eleven games of the season. This could develop into a serious issue as the season goes as the Thunder will have a lot more road games over the next seventy games or so. The Thunder have been blessed with an opening run of games where the team played a lot of home games. The next two away games against the Clippers and Lakers will be difficult to win so the easiest away game in the next run of games will be against the Warriors at the Chase Arena in Mission Bay, San Francisco.