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March 6: Oklahoma City @ New York Knicks - Preview & Game Thread

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OKC look to win in New York before heading to Beantown

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City were not perfect in Detroit by any means, the defence was fairly inconsistent and it did feel like the Thunder went into iso actions too much rather than sticking with the motion offence that has been incredibly successful for the Thunder this year. Despite the little faults, the Thunder got a win in Detroit which is the only thing that matters as the team chases home-court for the play-offs. As an organisation, the Knicks have continued to be bad as they have done so for the last six or seven years. A win against the Knicks is a layup for Oklahoma City before they play one of the toughest teams in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. The game starts at 7:30 (EST)

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. SGA - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander killed the Pistons on Wednesday night and he did especially well from the mid-range area. Gilgeous-Alexander is such a different player compared to other guards in the league when it comes to scoring the ball, his finishing on looks at the rim is unusual. It is rare to see SGA use force to finish at the rim unlike other more athletic guards in the league, SGA prefers to use his delicate touch at the rim to convert looks. One of the more off-beat looks that Gilgeous-Alexander has in his bag is the ‘English’ left-hand layup, not many guards finish from below the rim when they have elevated. A lot of players get themselves above the rim and pick their spot when getting the ball into the hoop. SGA uses plenty of spin and the backboard to kiss the ball into the hoop. The other interesting feature of SGA’s game is his floater from the mid-range area. A lot of players use a high-arc on the floater so that it will get the second bounce on the bucket if the shot is not all net. Shai knuckleballs the floater and catches the defence by surprise. The knuckleball floater’s element of surprise creates a slither of separation from the defence which is more than enough for SGA to get buckets.
  2. Rebounding - The Knicks have not been a good side this year but the team has been surprisingly strong in terms of rebounding. New York ranks 7th in the league in terms of rebounds per game and the team gets efficient offence out of these looks. Mitchell Robinson is a springy, athletic finisher who can rise above other players and slam the ball home. These physical attributes mean that he is very good at finishing second chance opportunities. It will be important for the Thunder to do the little things well in terms of securing the board. Every player needs to box out to secure short rebounds and there needs to be a guard in position to secure long rebounds. A team like the Knicks do not shoot well from the field but if they keep getting second chance opportunities, the Thunder will be punished.
  3. Defence of the Pick and Pop - The pick and pop jumper is a common tool in the arsenal of most NBA teams if they have a big who can really shoot the ball. Oklahoma City used to run a variant of the pick and pop with Serge Ibaka dropping into the mid-range area and knocking down eighteen foot jumpers for days. Against the Pistons, the Thunder really struggled defending the pick and pop, Christian Wood kept on stepping out from three-pointers and knocking down these looks. Wood went five from five attempts from downtown on looks that has very little defensive coverage. As a team, the Thunder do not have two mobile bigs who can sprint out to the three-point line and force the shooter to make difficult decisions. When this action is ran in the future by opposing teams, the guard needs to switch onto the big and force the big man to hesitate. The guard cannot hope to block the shot but forcing the hesitation is key, the opponent’s thought train needs to be disrupted so that he is not making decisions in rhythm.

New York News:

Spike vs Dolan - The Knicks have become known for embarrassing, public incidents over the last few years and the team had another very public issue this past week. James Dolan is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and the stance towards any Dolan dissenters is that the person it tossed out of his kingdom, Madison Square Garden. Charles Oakley, a Knick great, was ejected out of the arena for merely sitting a few rows away from James Dolan. Oakley’s unceremonious removal was due to Charles Oakley being a vocal critic of the Knicks’ continual mismanagement. Dolan chose to pursue a new target, Spike Lee. Lee has been a lifelong Knicks fan and has been a season ticket-holder for twenty eight years. It is estimated that Lee has spent millions of dollars on court-side seats to watch a team that has been trash for the last twenty years. In most organisations, loyal fans like Spike or Jack Nicholson in Los Angeles are rewarded and treated right. Dolan obviously does not look at his team like this and chose to start a fight with Lee.

All of these incidents and the Knicks being generally terrible for best part of two decades does raise questions about the Knicks’ value to the league. Adam Silver has done a brilliant job in growing the game but the New York Knicks remain one of the black spots in the league, what will the commissioner do in terms of addressing the issue? The Commish has been pro-active in dealing with teams that do not necessarily fit the league's interest, Silver forced the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer and pressured the Sixers to hire Jerry Colangelo as he stopped The Process.

Leon Rose - Leon Rose was appointed as President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks in the last few days. Rose will have the final say on basketball matters and will shape the team in a way that will eventually lead the Knicks back to a winning track. There has been previous examples of agents going into team management, the most notable example would be Bob Myers joining the Warriors as an assistant general manager under Larry Riley’s direction. It feels like a good hire but the issue for Rose will be dealing with upper management. James Dolan has been known to interfere with basketball operations and make colossally bad decisions that set the team back years. Dolan interfered in the Bargnani trade and was fleeced by Masai Ujiri. Providing that Rose can keep Dolan away from interfering, I think he will be able to rebuild in earnest.

Random Side-Note:

The Bulls have targeted Sam Presti as a replacement for John Paxson and Gar Forman as per the news coming out of the Chicago basketball media. GarPax have been on thin ice for years due to mistakes in coaching hires, roster construction and return on players traded. The Bulls fans have wanted GarPax gone for years and it now finally seems that the tight-fisted Jerry Reinsdorf is ready to make a change. Sam is a blue-chip GM, the type of general manager who is coveted by the majority of teams in the league. I do not think that Presti will leave the Thunder in this state. He is starting a project at ground zero with plenty of assets and a blank slate, it is the perfect situations for all GMs.