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January 2: Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs - Preview & Game Thread

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OKC start a four game road trip in Texas

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City head to San Antonio to start the new decade against an old rival.

The Spurs have been thorns in the Thunder’s side since the start of the last decade especially when the Spurs had the Big Three against Westbrook/Durant. At the moment, both teams are scrapping for play-off positioning. The Spurs are just one spot behind the Thunder in the race for play-offs and this will be an important game for both teams. The Thunder come into this game off a big win against Dallas and are looking to carry forward their December momentum into the new year.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Three-Point Shooting - Oklahoma City have struggled to shoot from deep over the last few games. The team’s shooting has fallen off a cliff compared to the norm and Oklahoma City has received anaemic production from this area of the floor. Although, OKC have won a lot of games recently, it has been done in spite of the poor shooting from beyond the arc. The Mavericks’ game is one of the ugliest examples of the Thunder’s bad shooting from deep, at one point during the game Oklahoma City were just 2-18 from three. The Thunder finished the game with six makes on twenty seven attempts which is simply not good enough on a regular basis in terms of creating space on offence, Oklahoma need defenders to respect the threat of an outside shot otherwise defenders can clog the paint and suffocate the Thunder’s offence. Darius Bazley and Terrance Ferguson have both really struggled in terms of spacing the floor over the last five games, Bazley is shooting just 27.2% on 4.4 3PA while Ferguson is even worse from deep. Over the last five games, Terrance Ferguson is shooting 9.5% on 4.2 3PA. Providing that this poor shooting becomes more than an anomaly, defenders will sag off both Bazley and Ferguson and double a Thunder player who can actually create their own shot.
  2. Wing Minutes - The wing position has not been at full strength for the last few weeks due to injuries to Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo. Diallo being out for an extended stretch of time has meant that other players like Abdel Nader and Luguentz Dort to get serious rotation minutes. In that time period, we have seen what these players are capable of and have gone some way in working out how each player fits on the Thunder. Oklahoma City now have a full complement of wings which meant that minutes were crunched for Nader while Dort was sent back to the Blue. Nader got just eight minutes on the night in order to accommodate the return of Hamidou. I do not understand why Billy Donovan made such a drastic cut to Nader’s minutes as he has been effective for the Thunder as a rotation forward. Nader is a serviceable floor-spacer (37.7%) and his defence has improved to the point where he is league average. At this point in time, I would argue that Nader is more valuable to the Thunder than Terrance Ferguson as Nader is comfortable moving the ball and creating off the drive. Ferguson cannot buy a bucket and has not displayed any ability as a shot-creator for the Thunder. Nader’s ability to space the floor cannot be underestimated, it makes the offence flow more effectively compared to Ferguson’s passivity on offence.
  3. Paul Time - Chris Paul turned back the years again and went full beast mode against the Mavericks in the fourth quarter. Paul had just four points before the fourth and he had played an average game by his standards, Paul had done well in creating for others and but did not knock looks that he would usually make. Chris Paul dropped thirteen points in the final stanza as he got Oklahoma City over the line in a calm, controlled manner. His ability to remain calm in pressure situations has been good in making sure than the Thunder have won close games instead of dropping these games in devastating fashion. I genuinely think that Chris Paul could be an All-Star this season based off him being a key component in the Thunder over-achieving compared to pre-season expectations. Most people expected Oklahoma City to be tanking at this point in the season instead of being in the play-off chase.

San Antonio Answers:

  1. LMA Threes - LaMarcus Aldridge has been an efficient shooter from deep over the last few years but he has rarely shot the ball with any volume from this range. Aldridge is a reluctant shooter from this distance as he prefers to settle for the buttery soft mid-ranger that he has perfected since he came into the league in 2006. The mid-range has been his bread and butter for an eternity and therefore he trusts that shot implicitly. The three-ball has been used with greater frequency recently as the Spurs need his spacing to run an efficient, potent offence. The Spurs’ marksman corp was effective last season as Pop could turn to a player off the bench and get a barrage of threes which would instantly create some offence. The departure of Davis Bertans and Marco Bellinelli’s regression has meant that the marksman corp is much weaker than last season and the three-point production has dropped off big time. Aldridge has taken it upon himself to space the floor recently, he has shot 44.8% on three point attempts over the last ten games. The volume is also there on these shots, LaMarcus is now taking more than three threes per game.
  2. Dejounte Murray - Dejounte Murray is still on the way back from a devastating ACL injury but he has continued to be a defensive force at guard positions. Murray is an All-Defensive type player for his ability to disrupt offence by stealing the ball or getting ball deflections in the passing lanes. Dejounte has worked out how to use his length effectively at the NBA level to be a nightmare for other teams. Murray will be a good test for SGA as both players are lengthy, lanky guards who match up pretty physically. Alexander will not be able to use those long legs to create a huge first step and beat a defender as Murray has the lateral quickness to keep up with him.

Random Side-Note:

Oklahoma City started the season 6-11 and generally looked like a team which would fight for the play-offs before eventually fading away towards the end of the season. Since that date, Oklahoma City have gone 12-4 which is pretty impressive as the Thunder have played quality teams during this span and have won hard-fought games against good opposition. The Thunder’s momentum will be tested on this upcoming road-trip as OKC go on a four game away stretch.

Formal Note:

It was sadly reported that the former NBA Commissioner, David Stern, passed away from a brain haemorrhage today. Stern was a true basketball heavy-weight as he was responsible for growing the league from being on tape delay to being an extremely profitable entity. Beyond that, David Stern was a passionate basketball fan and had an opinion on everything Knicks related going back to the 1950s. Stern will be greatly missed by most fans of the sport.