The Oklahoma City Thunder meet the Orlando Magic tonight in a game that starts at 8:00 (EST). This game is the final game of a home stretch for the Thunder where they have gone 1-1 against Portland and New Orleans. This is a good opportunity for the Thunder to get a game under the win column as the Magic have similarly sputtered at the start of the season. Orlando have been very good defensively, currently ranking 5th in defensive rating as per NBA Stats. The Thunder rank 3rd in defensive rating so a low-scoring game with tight defence on both sides is the most probable outcome. Orlando are currently 2-4 on the season and they lost a close game down the stretch against the Denver Nuggets in their last game. The Magic have had a difficult start to the season as they have played the Raptors, Bucks and Nuggets, three teams who made deep play-off runs last season.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
1. Darius Bazley had himself a night against the Pelicans in the Thunder's last outing. He scored 17 points on efficient shooting and looked comfortably at the NBA level. It is important to note that Chris Paul has taken a role in mentoring Darius. He has encouraged Bazley to keep shooting the ball with confidence which has obviously been important for Bazley's game. It has meant that he has not retreated within his shell and played passively. For a player who is raw and light on experience, Bazley has shown serious flashes of potential. The Intern has so far taken eleven threes which he has knocked down at a 45% clip, his shooting stroke looks solid. He has also shown potential when it comes to handling the ball, he looks comfortable as a ball-handler and makes the right pass more often that not. It is up to the Thunder staff to focus on these aspects of Bazley's game, a talented passing big man makes an offence significantly harder to guard.
2. Hamidou Diallo is another player who has started the season brightly compared to the previous season. Last season, Diallo looked lost on defence. He often played an energetic, aggressive style of defence which lacked direction. It felt like he was playing hard but the hard charging style did not have any focus. Diallo has been a different story defensively this season, he has been more decisive which has reduced the complications of his previous style of play. Diallo's energy now has a purpose and his abilities on defence have started to be unlocked. Hami has also developed his offensive game significantly. His three-point shot is still flaky and unreliable but the other aspects of his game have been polished. Diallo has become exceptional at corralling offensive rebounds and getting easy looks from these opportunities. He is averaging 2.0 offensive rebounds per game which is behind only Russell Westbrook and Will Barton in terms of offensive rebounds per game for a guard. It has meant that the Thunder have managed to retain their aggressive rebounding style and fill the gap that Russell Westbrook left when he was traded to Houston.
3. The Thunder's net rating per unit has been an interesting question for both fans and the coaching staff to puzzle out. The common logic would dictate that the Thunder's best line-ups would be their starting five but Dennis Schroder's impact has meant that the three-guard lineup is trusted down the stretch of a game. Schroder's net rating of +13.2 is the best out of all Thunder players this season. The reason for this is Schroder's ability to fill it up quickly. The ability and confidence to get a bucket has always meant that Schroder is valuable on the offensive end but his defensive ability has also improved. Schroder's defensive net rating is 89.2 points which is a career high for him. It is probable that this number is an outlier, that type of improvement is unparalleled and likely due to the small sample size that currently exists. I would expect this number to regress slightly over a larger sample size but the eye test does suggest that Schroder is better on defence this year. He looks more active and engaged on that end of the floor which is a positive. A player who works hard on defence every single night makes it hard for offensive players to get a bucket.
1. Markelle Fultz is now a starter for the Orlando Magic. The third-year player out of Washington has had a torrid start to his NBA career. He has battled injuries, nerve damage and constant conspiracies regarding the nature of his injury. The trade to Orlando has allowed him to become happy playing basketball again, he does not have the relentless pressure of Philly fans every single night. Fultz has been very good defensively to start the season and has been mature at the point guard position, he makes the right reads at the right times. His outside shot is still a little inconsistent but he has definitely made a positive impact for the Magic.
2. Jonathan Isaac has been incredibly effective to start the season for Magic and will be a tough problem for the Thunder to deal with. Isaac is a lengthy, versatile talented who can feasibly defend 1-5 but the common knock on Isaac's game was his lack of shooting. Isaac was an erratic shooter in his first two years in the league and seemingly struggled to find a consistent shooting rhythm. This is no longer true, Isaac has become a 37.5% three-point shooter on decent volume. He will be a two-way headache for the Thunder to manage.
The Thunder face some issues at the centre position. Steven Adams is still not cleared to play and Nerlens Noel is doubtful. It should be noted that both players completed practice the other day but it is not clear what route the Thunder will take with their recoveries. If neither player plays, it will be interesting to see who the Thunder starts at the centre position. Common logic would dictate Mike Muscala but his lack of physicality will mean that the Thunder will be dominated inside against Vucevic's relentless post-play. One potential option could be to move Gallinari to the centre spot and start Bazley at the four spot. The Thunder would still be terribly on defence but it would present a tough challenge for Orlando when the Thunder go on offensive. Vucevic is not particularly mobile and he would be forced to guard Gallinari on the outside if the Thunder went five-out. The offensive production might just be enough to cover the defensive liabilities.
WAR THUNDER LADS.