Against the Spurs on Tuesday night, the Thunder were pretty awful. The team seemed flat coming into the game and the flatness carried over into the offensive performance, Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder could not buy a bucket on Tuesday which was a huge part of OKC losing against San Antonio. Teams will have off nights but it is important for players to stay committed to the game-plan and not become passive. Oklahoma City over-passed the ball a lot which created turnovers and stifled the offensive flow. New Orleans are doing really going into All-Star weekend, the team has won three straight despite losing Brandon Ingram. The Pelicans are a totally different team to the one that the Thunder played at the start of the season, New Orleans seemed to have gelled as a team and are now playing good basketball. The game starts at 8:00 (EST).
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Thunder Hesitancy - Oklahoma City were reticent to shoot the ball and the ball often moved around on the perimeter without any penetration of the defence. I could understand if the Thunder were not generating good looks but OKC managed to find good looks consistently before passing these shots up in favour of another look. Every player was guilty of over-passing the ball against the Spurs and running possessions that stalled out the offence. One of the worst looks to create in basketball is the late shot-clock situation where an action has to be rushed in order to beat the twenty four second timer, Oklahoma were in this situation a lot against San Antonio. Willingness to pass the ball is a good thing but it can be detrimental to a team’s offence, there has to be a balance between passing the ball and taking open shots. Against New Orleans, Oklahoma City have to put emphasis on taking good looks.
- Three-Point Defence - New Orleans are a team which will happily take a lot of shots from deep. The Pelicans are a team that likes to run and get quick shots which is where the barrage of outside shooting comes from. David Griffin has constructed a team of deadeye shooters who will bomb away efficiently from deep. The Pelicans are hugely productive from this area of the floor, New Orleans sit fifth in the league in terms of three point attempts and fourth in the league in three point efficiency. A lot of the Pelicans’ shot diet comes from personnel but some of it comes from Alvin Gentry’s coaching style. Gentry’s play-book uses a lot of Pistol action and spread pick and rolls, it is a style that is friendly to generate space for outside shooters. This is an area where the Thunder need to be strong defensively, the backcourt need to communicate effectively and rotate onto shooters quickly. A player like JJ Redick or Brandon Ingram have a hair trigger, they cannot get a shooting slot where the look is easy. This will be a game where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander needs to step up on defence, he needs to use his frame and loping strides to force shooters off the three-point line.
- Turnovers - Oklahoma City were turnover happy against the San Antonio Spurs with thirteen turnovers being committed by the Thunder. There has to be a distinction between the type of turnovers which a team will usually commit during games. Generally speaking, ‘good turnovers’ come out of the team trying to hit a good pass against great defence. ‘Bad turnovers’ come out of throwing misplaced passes or losing control of the basketball. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s turnover against the Celtics where Marcus Smart stole the ball was a ‘bad turnover’ because he did not shield the ball effectively and did not understand his assignment. Smart is a dog who will get in another player’s jersey, loose dribbles will be exploited. The remedy for controlling turnovers is fairly simple, the team has to run offence through its progressions and not force aspects of the play.
- Zion - Zion Williamson came into the league with a lot of hype, he is arguably the most publicised rookie since LeBron James. I have to admit that I did not believe the hype, I saw a few Williamson games at the college level and I thought he had the potential to be a very good player in the future but I did not see an immediate impact at the NBA level. I was wrong about Zion, he has been impressive since his debut for New Orleans. Williamson has averaged 19.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on efficient shooting. Zion has managed to fill the scoring role that is usually filled by Brandon Ingram in the Pelicans’ offence, it is entirely feasible that Williamson could slide into the Pelicans’ future as a consistent scoring option who can support Ingram’s production. The aspect of his play which has stood out to me is Williamson’s feel for the game. He is not perfect technically and commits rookie errors but his feel for the game covers a lot of errors.
- Pelicans’ Defensive Rating - At the start of the season, New Orleans were terrible defensively. As a whole, the Pelicans did not rotate effectively and struggled to keep the opposition in front of them. The defensive issues stemmed from New Orleans having a lot of roster turnovers and players working out their fit on the team. That chemistry does not come instantly and it can take an extended period of time for a team to click defensively. Over the last ten games, New Orleans has been stingy defensively and ranks fourth in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. This ranking is wildly different to their season ranking of 23rd. The stout defence has correlated to wins for New Orleans, the team is 12-8 since the start of the year. Derrick Favors’ has been really important in terms of shoring up the interior for New Orleans. Favors’ is such a talented rim protector in terms of nullifying shot attempts by using his intelligence and angles to stop scoring at the rim. A strong rim protector is a valuable tool to have for a team because they erase any defensive mistakes made by the players in front of them.
Mike Muscala played minutes for the first time since January due to Darius Bazley’s injury. There will be a lot more responsibility placed on Muscala as he will likely soak up the minutes which Bazley previously occupied. I thought that Mike played pretty well, he was solid defensively and knocked perimeter shots when required. The only point which I would make about Muscala is that I want him to take more shots from deep. Mike has shot 47.8% on three-point looks over his last fifteen games which is a hugely impressive mark. Muscala has to back himself to take more shots in the offence.