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December 27: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Charlotte Hornets - Preview & Game Thread

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Oklahoma City look to bounce back from a bad loss

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder play against Charlotte on the second night of a back to back, Oklahoma City lost the first game against Memphis as the team played sluggishly over forty eight minutes. The game starts at 7:00 (EST) and Oklahoma City head to North Carolina for the only time this season. Charlotte come into this game on a three-game losing streak where the Hornets have struggled to score the ball. OKC will be without the services of Danilo Gallinari on this trip as he is currently struggling with ankle soreness, it will be up to the rest of the roster to make up the difference.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Shot Selection - The Thunder’s shot selection against the Grizzlies would normally be considered pretty good. Oklahoma took thirty fives threes but only made ten of these looks which is poor for a team that has been generally pretty good at knocking down deep looks. The main issue for the Thunder was that these looks were good but not great, OKC did not move the ball effectively and create great looks. The key principle behind the Thunder’s offence this season has been moving the ball and probing the defence for openings. Oklahoma City did not get into this flow against the Grizzlies and the team rarely strung together more than three passes. The offence stagnated as the ball went to Adams before he passed out to a player in the corner whose shot was a little off. The offence lacked dynamism and pace which is uncharacteristic for the Thunder, the offence has been built off making the extra pass and finding great looks. This has meant that the Thunder have been efficient during the season and these concepts need to be leaned into on this road-trip with Gallinari being out. The Thunder do not have that release valve shooter who can rescue points from a broken possession therefore it is imperative that the actions are ran as smoothly as possible.
  2. Mike Muscala - Mike Muscala played twelve minutes last night and was ineffectual during the minutes that he played. I will not knock Muscala’s effort as he works hard on both ends of the floor but it does feel that his energy is detrimental at times to the Thunder’s overall play. Muscala runs through the progressions of an action really fast which often throws off the timing off the play, the guard cannot find the accurate pass into the roll-man as Muscala’s movement is hard to predict. It often means that the ball-handler has to take a moment and think on offence instead of the set being second nature. Muscala is not doing well at the moment and just does not look comfortable within the Thunder’s scheming for whatever reason and it could be good idea to give Justin Patton a trial. Patton came to the Thunder during the off-season on a non-guaranteed deal and with a chequered injury history. He is still somewhat of an unknown as he has barely played for the Thunder this season, Oklahoma City might as well give him minutes to see whether he can play at the NBA level and identify growth areas in his game.
  3. Steve Adams - Steven Adams had another productive game last night but it was his passing that stood out to me. Adams had four dimes and no turnovers in possession of the ball, he was economical with the ball. Steve got the ball to good spots on the floor without making careless or reckless mistakes, it was nice to see good execution on a night where the Thunder were sloppy with the ball. Steven’s passing is reflected in the numbers as he averages 2.8 assists per game which would rank 17th among all starting centres in the league. This production got me thinking and I believe that the Thunder should test out a few actions where Adams is in the post as an offensive hub. Adams is an efficient scorer from 0-3ft which often draws a help defender towards the post as one man cannot defend the size of Steven. The help defender comes from the strong-side corner which can leave a perimeter shooter open. Adams would need to work on leveraging his scoring to draw defensive attention in order to create passing opportunities but I am comfortable believing that he can do this. From that point onwards, the Thunder have a 2v1 mismatch in the strong-side corner where an efficient look can be created.

Hornets’ Stingers:

  1. Devonte Graham - Devonte Graham is a name that not many NBA fans knew before the start of the season, I am fairly certain that only a few diehard Hornets fans knew who he was. Graham has been a revelation this season, an exponential improvement on a poor rookie year. In his rookie season, Graham did not look comfortable with the pace and athleticism at this level of basketball which is one of the reasons why his break-out season is so impressive. Devonte is a marginal athlete, he is slight and lacks an explosive leap and yet he has been really important for the Hornets. Graham is averaging 19.3 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game, this type of production is border-line All Star from the second year man out of Kansas. Graham is a not a great inside finisher so the majority of his looks comes from the outside where he is a deadeye. Devonte Graham is shooting 40.5% from deep but his volume of looks is unreal, he is taking 9.4 threes a game. The only person who takes more threes than Graham would be James Harden. He has stepped into the void left by Kemba and will be a player to watch during the season.
  2. Injuries - PJ Washington will be out with a finger injury and will not play against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington has been important in his rookie season for Charlotte as they move on with their rebuilding process in haste.

Random Sidenote:

Chris Paul returns to North Carolina for the first time this season. Paul hails from Winston-Salem and is active in the local community in terms of carrying out charity work. Usually, Paul’s family turns out in droves for his games in his home state and I would expect this to be the case on Friday night.