The last time that the Thunder played a game of basketball, it was against the Boston Celtics. Oklahoma City stole a victory at the TD Garden and completed a three game East Coast swing. The Thunder looked like a very good side against Boston.
The Thunder then were scheduled to play Utah at home but the game was cancelled. Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the league took the decision to suspend all games until further notice.
The NBA has worked tirelessly to ensure a safe return to basketball for players, fans and staff members. The Disney bubble has worked well so far but it is now time for actual basketball to be played between teams. Denver kicked off the show on Wednesday as teams gear up for the final eight games of the regular season.
In a strange twist of fate, Oklahoma City will play the Boston Celtics in their first scrimmage back. The game will start at 17:00 (EST) and can be watched on the Thunder Mobile app or on okcthunder.com.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
The Return of Andre Roberson
It has been a long time since Andre Roberson suited up for the Thunder. Roberson has not played a competitive game for almost 30 months. It has been a long and arduous recovery process for Andre but it finally looks like he will make his return for the Thunder.
I personally thought that all hope was lost. When we heard about the second setback and Andre rehabilitating his injury away from the Thunder organisation in Los Angeles, a return to basketball felt like a slim possibility.
We had heard from Roberson before the stoppage. He said that he felt great. He had planned to shake off the rust in the G-League before coronavirus caused the season to be stopped. I thought it was Roberson’s optimism speaking and did not expect anything.
I was wrong in so many ways. Roberson went to Orlando with the Thunder and has competed in every single practice session. Billy Donovan stated that he expects everybody to play against the Celtics on Friday. Roberson’s return looks increasingly likely.
I am incredibly happy for Andre. He has gone through a lot during the last two years and will now finally get his reward for countless hours of rehabilitation. There are a few questions attached to his return. Nobody quite knows how Roberson slots into a rotation which looks completely different to the team he last played with.
The Thunder have traditionally been cautious with players coming back from serious injuries and I do not think Roberson’s return will be any different. Andre’s body still needs time to acclimatise to the intensity and pace of NBA basketball.
Roberson will likely be on a minutes restriction as he returns to basketball. I can see the Thunder loosening the restriction as the season goes on if Roberson is able to prove that he can still compete at the NBA level.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Growth:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is well known for his growth as a basketball player. Throughout his entire career, Gilgeous-Alexander has improved at a prodigious rate of knots. Shai started his career at Kentucky as a bench guard and finished as the lead guard for Coach Calipari’s offense.
It is the same story in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander impressed the Clippers’ coaching staff with his maturity and scoring. His qualities meant that Doc Rivers trusted him against the Warriors in the playoffs last year. Doc did not need to worry about SGA’s play; he knew that Shai would be a reliable member of the team.
The growth has continued during his time with the Thunder. In the last offseason, Shai became much more proficient in hitting pull up jumpers and creating off the dribble. Every single time that Shai has had a long period of time to work on his game, he has added something new to his bag of tools.
The hiatus has lasted five months. This time period is almost as long as a normal NBA offseason. It is entirely possible that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has added new dimensions to his game.
Dennis Schroder will be leaving the bubble in a few weeks to support his wife and newly born child. Dennis’ wife, Ellen, is expected to have a second child in the first two weeks of August.
Schroder has been a huge part of the Thunder’s success this season. Dennis’ efficient scoring from all three levels and ability to make plays with the ball has contributed to the Thunder performing well as an offense.
It is one of the reasons why the ‘Three Amigos’ lineup has been so devastating. It is incredibly difficult to get stops against a lineup that has an abundance of playmaking and shooting. Oklahoma City putting three point guards on the floor during closing time stretches defenses.
Schroder will miss the remaining regular season games if the baby is delivered in early August. It is possible that Dennis will also miss the first few games of the playoffs due to the bubble’s re-entry rules.
Schroder will be a huge loss for the Thunder and Coach Donovan will need to find an adaptation that allows the Thunder to continue being a successful, winning side. There is no player on the Thunder’s roster who can replace Schroder so change is necessary for Oklahoma City.
Luckily, there are a few solutions for the Thunder. Coach Donovan could choose to stagger the minutes allocated to Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This is a stylistic departure for OKC but it would mean that there is a quality playmaker on the floor at all times.
Danilo Gallinari is a very talented player and a natural choice to absorb some of Schroder’s offensive responsibilities. Gallo is a talented shot creator and his scoring is a nightmare for a defense to guard. Gallinari can score from anywhere and with startlingly efficiency.
The Clippers ran a lot of pick and roll actions with Gallinari as the ball-handler last season. Gallinari was very productive in this type of play and it was an interesting wrinkle for the Clippers’ offense. There are very few teams who plan for 4/5 pick and roll.
It is also a very difficult action to guard. Gallinari is a triple threat at the top of the floor. Gallo can pull up for three, find a teammate or put the ball on the floor with ease. His sheer number of tools means that it is hard for defenses to identify his tendencies and force Gallo into bad situations.
Kemba Walker has been struggling with a knee injury for a long period of time now. It is believed that Walker’s extended minutes during the All-Star Game aggravated the injury and caused pain in his knee.
The Celtics’ organisation hoped the long hiatus would aid Walker’s recovery but this has not been the case. Walker walked into the bubble with the knee issue still bothering him. Boston have been careful to manage his minutes. Brad Stevens does not want to take unnecessary risks.
Walker has participated in practice sparingly and the Celtics have focused their attention on getting Kemba healthy for the postseason. Walker will not be playing against the Thunder. The Celtics’ are being cautious with his injury.
Despite the Celtics’ not having Walker’s services for the game tonight, Boston’s offense is still very strong. The Celtics have four players averaging over 17.0 points per game. The balanced scoring attack means there are players on the Celtics who are comfortable stepping up when one of their main scoring options is missing.
Oklahoma City cannot be lulled into a false sense of security. The Celtics are still a team who are capable of running up the score. It will be interesting to see what coverages Billy Donovan uses on Jayson Tatum.
Tatum is a slick scorer who has proven his ability to lead an offense this season. He is very good at beating defenses in man to man situations. Oklahoma City will have to get creative to have a chance at slowing Tatum down.
Nerlens Noel tweaked his ankle during the early days of training camp. Billy Donovan has been careful with managing Nerlens’ return to full contact basketball. Noel participated in the squad scrimmage for the first time on Tuesday. I would expect him to see some minutes against the Celtics.