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Lineup Adjustments for the Thunder

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The absence of Schroder means that Coach Donovan needs to get creative

Denver Nuggets v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images

Dennis Schroder left the bubble to attend the birth of his child. I am happy to report that Dennis Schroder’s wife, Ellen, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. I think that everybody here at WTLC would like to congratulate the Schroder family on their new addition.

Schroder’s absence is a difficult thing for the Thunder to manage. Dennis was the ‘Third Amigo’ in the ‘Three Amigos’ lineup. His scoring and playmaking stretched defences out and made the Thunder hugely efficient in closing time. He will be missed greatly by Coach Donovan.

However, the Thunder have players who are capable of assuming more responsibility. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari are the two players who I feel can step up and carry a heavier load.

Shai

The first thing that the Thunder should do is stagger minutes between Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander so that Gilgeous-Alexander spends more time running the second unit. Oklahoma City do not have a traditional shot creator on the bench without Dennis Schroder unless Billy looks at Devon Hall as a viable option.

There is no lineup data which provides a sufficient sample size to prove that Gilgeous-Alexander can operate as a floor leader effectively. In all of his time with the Thunder, Billy Donovan has deployed Shai in lineups that always had two playmaking guards.

Staggering lineups and putting Shai in situations where he has to run the offense is a shot in the dark. We do not know how it will work but I am confident that Shai has the skills to operate within this role. In recent games, Gilgeous-Alexander has displayed an ability to run the offense and generate good looks for his teammates. The key question is whether Gilgeous-Alexander can take on more responsibility and create at an efficient rate.

Coach Donovan can make the acclimatisation easier for Shai by surrounding him with the right combination of talent in the bench unit. In the last game against Denver, Coach Donovan relied on Hamidou Diallo and Luguentz Dort to create shots. These guys are capable of keeping an offense flowing but I strongly believe that you need a floor general to manage the offense.

Shai will absorb a heavier load and therefore his energy on the court needs to be carefully balanced. The Thunder do not want Shai to expend a ton of energy on defense and then be gassed on offense. Oklahoma City want Shai to operate at a high level on offense and fatigue will slow him down.

Andre Roberson is a natural candidate to get more minutes in the rotation. Roberson is an exceptional defensive player who can defend multiple positions comfortably. Roberson is a strong communicator who can organise a defense so that all lapses are covered.

The Thunder have to create spacing in this reserve unit. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an athletic player but he is not an uber athlete in the mould of Russell Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander does not have the explosive first step nor vertical to beat defenders on physicality alone.

Gilgeous-Alexander relies on his footwork and feints to get to the rim. His style of play requires more space to work effectively. Oklahoma City have a few budding marksman but it is only Abdel Nader who has displayed an ability to knock down looks from deep at an efficient rate.

Nader has to play on the wings in Shai-led bench lineups. His shooting is invaluable to ensuring that the floor is properly spaced. The Thunder will be sketchy defensively if Nader has to guard an athletic wing; Abdel’s lack of lateral quickness will make it difficult for the Egyptian to contain his man. However, the offensive benefits outweigh the liabilities in my opinion.

The front court options are easier for the Thunder to work out. Darius Bazley and Nerlens Noel are the two players who make sense in a lineup with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Bazley and Noel complement each other. Bazley’s floor spacing means the paint is not crowded when Shai drives to the rim. Noel’s rim protection stops the other team from getting easy looks at the rim.

This five man unit balances defence, shooting and movement well. There is only one true playmaker on the floor but there are players on the floor who can make a play for teammates. Darius Bazley and Abdel Nader are both ‘two-dribble’ players. Both players can create in short bursts.

The scheme of the offense will need to shift slightly. The Thunder will not be able to run actions that require two ball-handlers. This will mean that quick pistol actions after the initial play will be not be possible. Oklahoma City will not be able to keep the opposing team in a constant defensive churn.

Oklahoma City will have to make a point of executing the offense well in the first action. The high spread pick and roll has to become a staple of the reserve unit’s offense. Oklahoma City have to spread the floor and give Shai options to hit on offense.

Danilo:

Gallinari is a capable ball-handler and his playmaking can be used to fill the gap left by Dennis Schroder’s absence. Gallinari has displayed an ability to run pick and roll actions proficiently over the last two seasons. In his last season with the Clippers, Gallinari was used as a tertiary ball-handler by Coach Rivers.

It was a smart decision by Doc Rivers as the action spaced the floor well and drew bigs out of their comfort zone. Gallinari performed well in these actions, he averaged 1.03 PPP. Gallinari ran this action twice a game for the Clippers.

Billy Donovan has not needed Gallinari to run pick and roll sets as much this season. Oklahoma City have benefitted from the ability to put three quality ball-handlers on the floor. Gallinari’s role has prioritised scoring with playmaking being a secondary responsibility for the Italian.

Gallinari has still performed well in the pick and roll for the Thunder. His PPP stands at 0.91 which is a solid return. It is a good return and suggests that Gallinari would be a reliable option if the Thunder ran more offense through him.

Gallinari is also a strong performer in isolation. Gallinari averages 0.98 PPP on 2.4 possessions per game. He is a consistent offensive option for the Thunder. The reason for Gallinari’s productivity on offence is clear, he is very difficult for a defence to guard.

Gallinari is a sniper from deep but he also has the ability to blow by defenders for shots in the lane. Defences have to play him honestly as Gallinari is capable of getting a look for himself or others when the opportunity presents itself.

Oklahoma City have to explore this option, Gallinari is a competent ball-handler and he should be included in the flow of the offense more. Gallinari can be a relief option on offense if Paul or Gilgeous-Alexander are fatigued.

The loss of Dennis Schroder is a problem that the Thunder need to overcome if the team wants to succeed in the playoffs. It is unknown if Dennis will be back for the first round of the playoffs. When Schroder returns, we do not know what condition he will be in.

It is important for the Thunder to work out a different strategy and find ways to compete with Dennis being on the roster. I love Lu Dort but he is not ready to step into the ‘Third Amigo’ role. The Thunder working out these adjustments now will provide plenty of minutes for the coaching staff to fine tune the approach in time for the start of the playoffs.

Oklahoma City have the personnel to fill the playmaking and scoring void left by Dennis. It is up to Billy Donovan to make changes that put the Thunder in a good position to win in the first round.