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December 16: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Chicago Bulls - Preview & Game Thread

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Chicago comes to town

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City play Chicago for the first time this season after a tough loss against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night. The game against Denver just slipped away from the Thunder’s grasp and the Thunder went just 2-2 on their road-trip. The tie starts at 9:00 (EST) and it is an opportunity for the Thunder to get an easy win against struggling competition. Chicago comes into this game after winning a tight game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Bulls have not played well this season so far due to the team being young and inexperienced. The game against the Clippers is probably the best that the Bulls have played all season and they will come to Oklahoma with plenty of confidence.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Steven Adams’ strong night - Steven Adams did well against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night as he feasted inside. Adams’ footwork and physicality meant that Jokic struggled to stop Adams finishing at the rim consistently, Adams could have had a twenty point night if he scored two bunnies that he missed at the start of the game. Adams had his way with the Nuggets’ big men on both ends of the floor as he scored efficiently and played really good defence. Adams’ two blocks were indicative of his effect on defence as he locked down the painted area. Steve has a chance to have an even better game against the Chicago Bulls who are currently starting Wendell Carter Jr who is a talented young big but he is still inexperienced. Carter Jr averages 3.5 fouls per game as he bites on every post move as most young big men do, Adams can take advantage of this. It would be wise for Adams to get WCJ in foul trouble early so that he can get an even more favourable match-up in the form of Markkanen who does not have the size to guard Adams.
  2. Rebounding - OKC were out-rebounded by the Nuggets on Saturday night which gave the Nuggets plenty of opportunities to extend possession of the ball and get second chance opportunities. The Thunder lost the rebounding battle 44-37 and it meant that the Nuggets could continue to extend the clock in terms of offence. Oklahoma City needs to secure possession of the ball on both offence and defence in order to stop the other team from having a chance to create with the ball. Chicago are a team that does not rebound particularly well and the Thunder have a chance to work on their rebounding against a team which is not good at this aspect of the game. Adams will be able to feast on second chance opportunities and Billy Donovan should look to take advantage of this flaw of the Bulls.
  3. Hand-Off Set - Oklahoma City have used dribble hand-offs as a key part of their offence this season which is a departure from previous season. In the past, the Thunder would limit their playbook to pick and roll offence and isolation-based offence. The Thunder have embraced the hand-off in order to space the floor and create motion within the offence. Placing Steven Adams at the top of key where he can dish the ball creates space where guards can cut into. This action has been successful for the Thunder as Oklahoma have guards who are more willing to work off-ball and go to the rim. However, this particular action can be refined further especially in terms of timing. The Thunder’s guards are occasionally slow to make the cuts to the rim which means that Adams waits with the ball for a few seconds too long. OKC have struggled with the shot clock this season and getting into the meat of this set faster would go some away to mitigating this issue. The responsibility for getting the ball moving quicker does not reside with Steven Adams, it resides with the players not moving fast enough off-ball. I would like to see Shai Gilgeous Alexander cut more aggressively as it will challenge the defence and create open looks for him.

Bulls’ Bullet-Points:

  1. Otto Porter Jr - Otto Porter Jr is out with a foot injury which has presented serious issues in terms of managing minutes for Jim Boylan. Porter Jr was the starting small forward for the Bulls before he went down with a foot injury. Porter Jr will be out for another four weeks and the Bulls have missed him. Chicago does not have another player who can play the three effectively, Denzel Valentine is too small and slow to keep up with the NBA game. Porter’s all-around abilities also provided a level of connectivity and fluidity for the Bulls’ offence when the team was scuffling.
  2. Rebuilding - Chicago have gone 10-18 to start the season and the team is currently going through an extended rebuilding project. The Bulls embraced the tank in the summer of 2017 when the team traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and Chicago has not recovered as of yet. Chicago has a crew of players who are not good enough to win in the present but the core of players could be very good in the future. The Bulls also have a coach who is still learning his trade. Jim Boylan is in his second season as a head coach and has already faced serious criticisms regarding his offensive scheming.

Random Side-Note:

Hamidou Diallo is back in the gym after being injured due to his elbow injury. Diallo suffered a right elbow injury and it is still not fully healed but Hami has been at the practice facility working on his off-hand. From the footage available from the Thunder beat, Diallo looks to be developing his comfort level with dribbling the ball using his left hand. Providing that Diallo continues to develop this aspect of his game, this could be a valuable tool for the Thunder down the line.

Stats Watch:

Chris Paul's active hands against Denver meant that he moved in the 8th position on the NBA All-Time Steals List. Paul’s four steals allowed him to pass Hakeem Olajuwon in terms of total steals over an NBA career. Paul can pass Clyde Drexler for 7th providing that he stays healthy for the season.