Start Time: 7 p.m. CT
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Thunder come into this game against the Orlando Magic after a close loss to the Utah Jazz. Oklahoma City led against the Jazz for a large portion of the game but the Jazz were able to pull out the win. The Thunder looked like a legitimately good side against a team that expects to make the playoffs.
The Magic are currently top of the Eastern Conference and their record stands at 3-0. The club, coached by Steve Clifford, were ruthless in the way that they dispatched the Washington Wizards. Orlando will be looking to prove that their excellent first week was not just a mirage.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
The game against the Magic will be the Thunder’s third game in four days. In a congested season where players have not had a full preseason that is a heavy, fatiguing load. The fatigue is less likely to affect young guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort who are still relatively young in their NBA careers. Tiredness will affect veteran players.
The minutes of veterans such as Al Horford and George Hill have to be carefully managed in order to keep them fresh over the course of the season. It would not be surprising to see the Thunder sit Hill and Horford against the Magic.
Oklahoma City will have a gruelling, five game road trip at the start of January. The Thunder will play five games within the space of seven days against Eastern Conference teams. It would make a lot of sense to get Horford and Hill rest before a brutal portion of the schedule.
Luguentz Dort has started the season brightly and has displayed a lot of improvement in his game. Dort’s overall court awareness is much better; in his rookie season, Lu had a tendency to drive when he needed to shoot and shoot when he needed to drive. In the first two games, Dort’s decision-making is noticeably sharper.
In the game against the Jazz, Utah did not really respect his deep ball. Dort did not try to force anything inside and took the shots that were available on the perimeter. Lu eventually finished the game with five threes and he led Oklahoma City in scoring on the night.
There is a chance that Luguentz Dort could be the Thunder’s Marcus Smart. Like Smart, Dort is an excellent defensive player at the guard position. Like Smart, Dort is capable of going on these scoring binges from downtown. Al Horford had an interesting quote about the comparison between Dort and Smart.
Al Horford on comparing the defense of Lu Dort and Marcus Smart: "The one thing that people don't quite understand is how smart those guys are."— Clemente Almanza (@CAlmanza1007) December 29, 2020
Horford and Smart were teammates in Boston.
Usage of the outside shot
Over the last few years, Oklahoma City have concentrated their attention on getting inside looks. During Billy Donovan’s tenure, Oklahoma City were not a team that actively hunted good looks from deep. The focus on getting inside for looks largely stemmed from the personnel that Billy had available to him; the Thunder had few outstanding floor-spacers.
This season is different for the Thunder; Oklahoma City have four of five guys who can be relied upon to consistently knock down shots from beyond the arc. Coach Daigneault has leaned into this abundance of shooting. The Thunder are averaging 37.0 3PA per game through the first two games.
The Thunder are 9th in the league in three-point attempts per game. Last season, Oklahoma City were ranked 27th in the NBA when it comes to three-point attempts per game. The Thunder took 30.2 3PA per game last year.
Coach Mark Daigneault deserves a lot of credit for this adjustment to the offense. The embrace of the deep ball has generated easy, efficient looks from deep for guys like George Hill and Mike Muscala. The tactical change has also spaced the floor more effectively which has allowed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to get downhill without facing as much pressure from the defense.
Over the course of the last few years, the Magic have been committed to the same core of players. Orlando’s success has been determined by a combination of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross. In the first three games, Markelle Fultz has emerged as a player who could raise the Magic’s ceiling.
Fultz has grown so much during his time in Orlando; he no longer looks like the lost, fearful young player who struggled in Philadelphia. Fultz has developed into being a highly effective combo guard who can score the ball efficiently while making good reads as a shot creator.
The amazing thing about Fultz is that his true shooting percentage currently stands at 56.7% while being a poor shooter from beyond the arc. Markelle’s three-point shot is still inefficient and he is shooting 25% from deep this season. His blend of athleticism and intelligence has compensated for this weakness.
Terrence Ross has been an important component of the Magic’s last two playoff berths. Ross brings a scoring punch off the bench for Orlando that energises the team and wins games for the Magic.
Ross has traditionally been a wing that focuses on getting threes or dunks; Terrence has added a new layer to his game this season. Ross has started to put the ball on the floor more and use his dribble to create space for a pull-up jumper.
Terrence shot 35% on 7.3 three-point attempts per game last season, Ross’ barrages from outside command attention from the defense. Players tend to close out hard on Ross; the one dribble pull-up has become a way for Terrence to evade the defense and find an open look.
Oklahoma City have to be aware of this new innovation when the Thunder close out on Ross. The close out has to be sharp but the Thunder cannot be overly aggressive. Ross will punish a close out that over commits to stopping the three.
Coach Daigneault says Ty Jerome is still out, says his ankle injury is not day-to-day but is progressing.— Clemente Almanza (@CAlmanza1007) December 28, 2020
Ty Jerome will not be available for tonight’s game. Jerome is rehabilitating an ankle injury and it does not sound like Ty will return anytime soon. Jerome was one of the players who was acquired in the Chris Paul trade.