After a win in San Francisco, the Thunder will head to Portland to conclude their West Coast swing. The Moda Centre will play host to the Thunder’s last road game before a game against the Pelicans at Chesapeake. The tie starts at 10:00 (EST) and presents an opportunity for the Thunder to improve their record to 7-10 on the season as they look to get into the play-off race. Oklahoma City had a victory against the Warriors on Monday in which the side played terribly but won against a tanking team, the team will be looking to improve their overall performance against the Blazers. Portland are coming off a victory at the United Center where Carmelo Anthony had a vintage night with twenty five points.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Inability to Put Away Bad Teams - Oklahoma City escaped Mission Bay with a victory in hand but the team did not exactly play well. The Warriors are the worst team in the Western Conference but they hung around for the majority of the game and it took five minutes of the Gallinari-Paul two man game getting the Thunder to a win. It would be expected that in this type of game, where the Warriors were missing all four of their All-Stars , that the Thunder would win easily. This was the type of game where the bench could be emptied and little-played players could be evaluated in a game setting. OKC did not manage to do this and missed an opportunity on Monday night. This issue also speaks to another long-standing Thunder issue. Over the years, the Thunder have played to the level of their competition. With Westbrook, the Thunder could get away with this complacency but this is not possible now, Oklahoma City do not have that force of nature who can win games by themselves. Alexander could be that player in the future but in the present, the Thunder’s de facto option is somewhat unclear.
- Thunder Player Development - The game on Monday night was generally an affair which did not draw the league’s attention but it did draw some parallels between the Thunder and Warriors in terms of player development. Golden State have needed to dig into their bag and develop young players as they do not have veterans around who can carry the load. This would usually be a terrible strategy but for stretches the Warriors have looked competent. The drafting model taken by the Warriors’ front office is prioritising players who have skill rather than athleticism. Eric Paschall fits that model as a college senior with a rounded skill-set who can contribute right away. Presti has approached drafting differently, he has consistently taken raw projects who are athletic and have plenty of upside. The prudence of this strategy needs to be considered as the league orientates itself towards a skill-based style of play. The most important attributes for an NBA player to be effective are shooting and game intelligence, it is not raw athletic ability. This change could be seen by the Cavs taking Dylan Windler in the first-round this year. Windler is a marginal NBA athlete but his shooting makes him an exciting proposition. The strategy does not need wholesale change but I think Presti needs to be cognisant of the fact that not every draft pick will have star level ceiling, some draft picks may just be talented role players. The reluctance to take multiple year college players should be re-thought as we have seen Joe Harris and Landry Shamet both become valuable role players on play-off teams. Harris and Shamet are both multiple year college players who are skilful shooters instead of being Uber-athletes.
- Blazers’ Assault - The Portland big man rotation has some serious flaws that the Thunder should exploit in the pick and roll. Hassan Whiteside is a solid rim protector but he is not a player who is comfortable at defending in space. The Thunder must run 1-5 pick and roll and create mismatches with Whiteside switching onto a guard. He will get roasted in a small on big match-up and it should present easy points for Oklahoma City. Carmelo Anthony’s lateral quickness is pretty poor and struggles at defending faster players on the perimeter. Oklahoma should use off-ball actions such as flare screens to get a guard onto Melo who can beat the Syracuse player for pace. This mismatch will be incredibly beneficial for the Thunder and it should be attacked. The last option for the Thunder is a post option. Anthony Tolliver has played small-ball centre for the Blazers this year and will likely do so against the Thunder tonight. Steven Adams is significantly taller and stronger than Tolliver which makes the post-up an efficient look, he can simply shoot over the top.
- Carmelo Anthony’s Revenge Tour - Carmelo is back in the league after a year out where he took a lot of shots in private work-out sessions instead of arenas across America. Portland picked Carmelo to provide some scoring from the front-court and to play as a third option to Dame and CJ. It is the same role that Melo played for Oklahoma City two seasons ago before the Thunder flamed out against Utah and Donovan Mitchell. Melo will likely want to get some revenge for the way that his Thunder tenure ended. Anthony was somewhat unceremoniously shoved out of the door and finally realised that his current place in the league is a role player instead of being a star player.
- Damian Lillard’s MVP-type Season - Lillard has been exceptional to start the season. He is averaging 27/8/5 on 60.2 TS%. He has been a hyper-efficient first option for the Blazers and his season would likely get a lot more attention if Portland was doing better in the standings. Lillard also humiliated the Thunder last season in the play-offs and will love to give the Thunder a bloody nose again.
Chris Paul has been an important mentor for the Thunder but the effect of his mentorship has been on the defensive end instead of being on offence. When the Thunder have made mistakes and have defensive breakdowns, Chris Paul has been on hand to provide advice to younger players. He has more than willing to call out young players on their mistakes before providing some guidance on how to fix these issues. He has fully embraced this role which can only be a positive for the Thunder’s development strategy.