The Thunder destroyed San Antonio the other night and the game was not even close. Oklahoma City won by 28 points and produced one of the team's finest offensive performances of the season.
The Thunder have another chance to pick up an easy victory against the Chicago Bulls, who have struggled all season long. Chicago has not performed well on the offensive side, which has made it difficult for the Bulls to beat teams who come to the United Center.
It will be important for OKC to remain focused on the task at hand and win each game as it comes by executing correctly. The standards have to remain high against bad teams — the level cannot drop purely because the Thunder expect Chicago to roll over. And OKC has itself as an example — in December, the Thunder trailed the Bulls by 26 in the 2nd quarter before pulling out a miraculous comeback behind Chris Paul’s 3-point barrage in the 4th.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder
1. Dort’s Activity
Luguentz Dort has been one of the big surprises of the Thunder’s season, and the young guard produced another strong performance against San Antonio. Dort was efficient on offense but his defense was especially good, as he hounded the Spurs into mistakes and picked up steals easily. Dort had three steals on the night but it could have been more if he benefited from the luck of the game.
The Thunder have been blessed with talented wing-stoppers since the franchise’s inception, and Dort could be on that path providing that he continues to do all of the little things. His defense is not built off highlight worthy moment — such as steals leading to transition dunks or deafening blocks — rather it is built off disrupting the flow of the offense and being a nuisance.
It must be noted that Lu is not the finished product; there are a few areas where he could improve his game even further but he has been such a positive for this Thunder team. My colleague J.A Sherman noted that Dort reminded him of a raw Wes Matthews, and I would agree with this sentiment — both players are built stoutly, defend well, shoot threes, and do not dominate the offense. Both players are content to move the ball and take open shots when they arise.
2. SGA’s Rebounding
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been important for the Thunder this season and there was a lot of expectation placed upon him. He was the principal return in the Paul George trade and there was a hope that SGA could be a future All-Star. Alexander has met all expectations — he has been very good as the Thunder’s starting shooting guard, and he has been so good that pundits have wondered openly whether the Thunder got the better end of the deal.
However, Shai does have issues within his skill-set. SGA was an inconsistent rebounder at the start of the season and he did not use his length to corral the ball effectively. Gilgeous-Alexander has improved on this aspect of his game by changing his technique. He now uses his long arms to bring the ball down into his body before dribbling instead of just tipping the ball to his nearest team-mate. SGA’s improvement are reflected in the numbers, where he is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game over the last ten games which is 1.3 rebounds higher than his season average.
OKC need Shai to be a good rebounder so that the ‘Three Amigos’ Lineup is not out-rebounded by a huge margin. The young man from Canada has delivered the goods.
3. Noel’s Rim Protection
Nerlens has always been a really good defender, but he previously relied on his energy and athleticism to make a difference on that end of the floor. This mind-set worked well for Noel, but it did mean he could get caught out of position on defense which would result in good looks for the opponent.
Nerlens has adjusted his method of defending slightly, as he has become more comfortable in using his intelligence and length to create situations where he nullifies the opponent or gets an easy block. It is a marginal adjustment made by Noel, but it means that his positioning is much improved and he accumulates blocks easily. Nerlens’ control has made him one of the premier backup big man in the league and a player who can slot into the starting lineup without any hassle.
Noel’s growth as a player has been beneficial on a personal level but it has also been valuable for the Thunder, as it has allowed Steven Adams to play his lowest minutes for five years.
1. Putrid Offense
Chicago has struggled to generate offense this season as the team builds around Coby White, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. The lack of team success has not provided the Bulls with a blueprint that the team can build around going forward. Chicago’s inability to score effectively largely stems from a lack of firepower, the team has Zach LaVine who can fill it up from all three levels but it lacks complementary options who can carry load on a nightly basis. Lauri Markkanen looked like he could be that player last season, but ‘The Finnisher’ has regressed in his third year in the league. The Bulls have a few really good supplementary roles who you could easily fit onto a good team, but they lack that secondary scoring option which will make defenses think.
2. Discord in the Dressing Room
Jim Boylen was appointed as head coach of the Chicago Bulls as a result of Fred Hoiberg being fired. Boylen has caused conflict within the locker-room since his appointment. Boylen is a drill sergeant whose rigid, inflexible style of coaching expects players to do exactly what he wants. The problem with this management style is that it can pit the players against the coach and can create a situation where the coach has no authority.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had the same issue with John Beilein — the players did not respect his coaching style at all, and the Cavs had to get rid of Beilein. The Chicago Bulls’ front office, GarPax, had to consider whether the tangible improvements that Boylen has brought to the team defence is worth the hassle. A coach who has a bad reputation league wide can impact free agency prospects, there are few players who want to play for a person that constantly causes conflict.
Oklahoma City have eight players in double digits against the San Antonio Spurs. This was the first time that this statistical feat has occurred in the history of the Thunder. It was the perfect example of OKC’s balanced scoring and how it can cause havoc for a defence. Scoring by committee makes it difficult for defenders to key in on specific players in the hope of stifling the offence, it creates a ‘next man up’ mentality, the type of mentality needed to win playoff series.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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