Oklahoma City will play the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night and Domantas Sabonis will return to the state where he started his career. The Thunder will play two games at home before they go on a four game road trip which could indicate OKC’s status in the Western Conference. Oklahoma will play two legitimate title contenders on the road in Denver and Utah during this away stint. The game starts at 8:00 (EST) and the Thunder will be looking to extend their win-streak against the Indiana Pacers. The Indiana Pacers have been superb to start the season as Indiana has motored out to a 13-7 record despite having injuries plaguing their roster.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Terrance Ferguson’s Confidence - Terrance Ferguson has been out of sorts to start the season. The actual numerical difference between this season and last season is very little but his play has looked unsteady. Last season, Ferguson would take open corner shots when he received the ball but this season has been a little different. Against the Pelicans, T-Ferg passed up corner three opportunities in favour of moving the ball to a team-mate. This unselfishness is not a bad thing as it can be conducive in terms of running an offence but it can be detriment to the Thunder. Oklahoma City need Ferguson shooting corner threes as passing out of these good looks only over-complicates the offence and it allows the defence to ignore Terrance. Providing that the defence is confident that Ferguson will not shoot the ball from deep, they can afford to sag off. The direct consequence of sagging off Ferguson is that there is a spare defender who can rotate over and double Steven Adams when he is getting hot down low. It is difficult to work out why Ferguson has slumped but I believe it is down to the fact that Ferguson is unsure of his role in the offence. With Westbrook, Terrance was certain that he would get a certain amount of perimeter looks per game. The offence being ran by committee does not provide the same certainty as none of the current starters except for Steven Adams have developed long-term chemistry with Ferguson.
- Adams’ Post-Work - Steven Adams has not looked healthy to start the season and while I do believe that he needs a rest, Adams went to work and delivered for the Thunder. Steve had a double-double against the Pelicans but it was shooting that was valuable to the Thunder. Adams took just seven shots but he scored seventeen points off his shot attempts, his field goals made were supplemented by work from the line. For the first time in a long time, Adams was efficient from the stripe (5-6 FT) and did not look uncomfortable shooting free throws. The key takeaway is that Adams can be a valuable offensive piece and it would be wise for the coaching staff to involve Adams more in the offence as he is an efficient option. Adams is currently ranked 33rd out of 56 starting centres who has played at least ten games in terms of true shooting percentage. Adams’ TS of 57.7% means that he consistently scores efficiently and it makes logical sense to use this efficiency to the Thunder’s advantage. Adams getting a deep post-touch is a great look and Billy D should look to create this type of look. Adams can be a shot creator from the centre spot whether that being scoring down low or finding people in hand-off situations. It is also important that a motion offence needs an inside scoring presence so that there is an outlet instead of continuous passing side to side.
- Chris Paul’s active hands - Chris Paul leads the Thunder in steals and has been big in terms of creating turnovers. This has been key in disrupting offensive rhythm and stopping opponent’s from working their actions to get a good look. However, Chris Paul’s activity on defence has not translated into transition opportunities. Oklahoma City is last in the league in terms of points scored in transition and when the Thunder gets a transition look, the team only converts on this type of possession 46.9% of the time. This is likely due to the Thunder moving away from the fast-breaking transition game which was a hallmark of the Westbrook Era. The Thunder used to get down the floor as fast as possible during transition situations so that quick looks could be taken. The logic behind this specific shot is that quick looks are taken before the defence can fully set-up and transition opportunities often have offensive mismatches. A score is more likely in a 2v1 situations than in a half-court set. Oklahoma now generates the majority of its looks through the half-court offence as the Thunder have a ton of talented ball-movers who can break a defence when running sets. However, the Thunder should not totally abandon the transition game as it is easy, quick points.
- Pacers’ Offensive Efficiency - The Pacers have struggled with injuries to start the season. Victor Oladipo is still rehabbing a quad injury while other key pieces such as Jeremy Lamb and Myles Turner have missed time. It would be expected that a team like the Pacers who do not have a top-level offensive juggernaut would struggle. The opposite has been true, Indiana has overcome these losses and currently rank 15th in terms of offensive net rating. 15th is middle of the road but the defence has been stingy which has meant that Nate McMillan’s team has been successful. McMillan has been effective in designing a balanced offence where there is no dominant option, the ball is fed to the player who is hot on the night. The scoring load is evenly distributed which means that missing players can be masked as there are other players who are ready to step up.
- Domantas Sabonis - Domantas Sabonis has flourished in his time in Indiana since being traded from Oklahoma City. Sabonis, who signed a contract extension prior to the season start, has been exceptional to start the season. Sabonis has averaged 18/13/4 and his impact has been big for the Pacers when Myles Turner has missed time. The defence and offence has not slipped because Domas stepped up in Turner’s absence. This type of statistical production is All-Star level and it will be interesting to see if Domas can play at this level for the rest of the season.
The Thunder’s road record has improved to 2-7 but it must be noted that Oklahoma has played two potential lottery teams. This must improve if OKC wanted to get themselves in the play-off race. The Thunder stand 10th in the Western Conference and the team is at a cross-roads. Oklahoma City is nineteen games into the season and the team’s direction is still somewhat unclear. OKC is not contending and the team has not yet tanked. The upcoming road-trip will shed light on the Thunder’s status in the Western Conference. Oklahoma will play Denver, Utah, Portland and Sacramento away from home and none of those teams are easy. Denver and Utah are both title contenders and will be a test to see if the Thunder can hang with a quality team on the road. Portland and Sacramento are two teams who are also fighting for play-off spots and the test for the Thunder will be whether they can handle business against two hungry teams.