Start time: 5 p.m. CT
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Thunder will conclude their East Coast swing against the Brooklyn Nets. Oklahoma City played ugly basketball during the first half of the Knicks game and scrapped out a win at the Garden. Oklahoma City showed a lot of resilience and grit as they halted the Knicks’ offense.
Brooklyn have started the season brightly and the return of Kevin Durant has elevated the Nets to contender status. Brooklyn have the sort of top-end talent that most teams can only dream of. The Nets will be looking to put the Thunder away early, the Nets have a busy portion of the schedule coming up.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Hamidou Diallo played really well in the game at Madison Square Garden. Diallo scored 23 points and had eleven rebounds on a highly productive night from the guard out of Kentucky. It is arguably the best game that Hamidou has played in a Thunder jersey so far; Diallo had a real positive impact on the game.
Hamidou’s decision-making was pretty poor during his first two seasons in the league. Diallo would rush on offense and he often played without control. Last season, Diallo was always liable to turn the ball over or take a head-scratching jumper. Coach Billy Donovan could not trust Hami with a greater role in the offense, he was simply too error-prone.
The game against New York showed maturity on Hami’s part; Diallo was much more disciplined when he had possession of the ball. He was noticeably slower in his play and that desire to attack the rim as fast as possible was reined in. Hamidou was much better at using his athleticism to get past defenders for good looks at the rim.
In the past, it seemed like Diallo did not know how to control his explosiveness. Hamidou would beat his man but he would be wildly out of control. He would often be in poor position to finish around the rim. Diallo’s explosiveness was much smoother against the Knicks; he did not seem to run out of room to complete the layup accurately.
He was not perfect, Diallo took too many contested step-back jumpers for my liking but he displayed a lot of promise as a slasher. Diallo can become a valuable bench piece for the Thunder if he keeps his head and focuses on going downhill.
The Thunder have the worst offensive rating in the league at just 100.9; Oklahoma City are a team that really struggles on offense. However, the Thunder are surprisingly good on defense. OKC are ranked 11th in the league in defensive rating. The Thunder’s stingy defense has been key in keeping the Thunder in games where the offense has been anaemic.
The Thunder were shocking during the Knicks in the first half. Oklahoma City scored just 42 points and in a normal game, the Thunder would be staring down a double-digit deficit. The Thunder’s aggressive defense held the Knicks to 42 points in the first half which meant that the win was still in play for OKC.
The intensity on the less glamorous end of the floor has been evident, the Thunder have been aggressive on help rotations and these quick rotations have not allowed gaps to form in the Thunder’s defensive coverage.. There were multiple times when the Knicks swung the ball to an open man and the Thunder were incredibly quick in shutting down any opportunity of an easy score.
The Knicks’ ball movement was able to force a lot of scrambling by the Thunder. In these sort of situations, the ball movement will eventually generate a good look. Oklahoma City played with one brain in these scrambles, the rotations were crisp and timely. The Knicks did not get any looks against a half-formed defense; they were forced to play in a half-court offense a lot.
Luguentz Dort has been outstanding at wearing down the other’s team best scorer; Dort’s physical play is energy sapping. RJ Barrett looked to be fatigued in the fourth quarter of the game on Friday and that fatigue benefitted the Thunder. Barrett struggled to score efficiently from the field and the Thunder were able to pull away with the win.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has embraced the point guard position completely; Gilgeous-Alexander has been very effective as the Thunder’s lead ball-handler. However, SGA has struggled with this adaptation. There have been times this season when Shai has been too passive with the ball.
Shai seems to figuring out the balance between his scoring and passing. It can be difficult for a player who has not played much point guard; they do not have the experience to be able to work out what the offense needs quickly. Gilgeous-Alexander’s desire to set up his teammates has meant that he has over-passed the ball at times instead of taking good looks.
His second half against the Knicks was the best I have seen him play this season and a lot of success came from his aggression. Gilgeous-Alexander focused on attacking the basket and collapsing the defense. Shai is a threat when he is creating off the drive.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s footwork means that he is able to get a good look from the mid-range fairly often. His control of pace and stride length means that SGA can glide past his man for looks at the basket. Gilgeous-Alexander was good at using his gravity as a scorer to get great looks for teammates.
New York often brought a help defender over to try and contain Shai. When faced with the second defender, Shai would dish the ball and force the Knicks to move around defensively. Shai ended the game with seven assists but it could have easily been more.
The Nets lost Spencer Dinwiddie in the last week of December due to an ACL injury. Dinwiddie will not return this season and his absence will be a huge loss for the Nets. Spencer has emerged as a highly productive point guard during his time in Brooklyn and there is now a playmaking vacuum in the Nets’ backcourt.
Brooklyn have found a lot of success this season with lineups that have three playmakers. Coach Steve Nash has rolled out Dinwiddie/Irving/Harris/Durant lineups that can cut apart a defense. Dinwiddie was the third creator in those lineups; the guy who can create once Durant or Irving had broken down the defense.
Caris LeVert can slot into that third creator role but Steve Nash has preferred to deploy LeVert in the sixth man role. Brooklyn could use another playmaker and the Thunder have a player that fits their criteria. George Hill is an experienced, versatile two-way point guard who fits neatly next to Irving.
Hill is comfortable playing off the ball; he did so ably in Milwaukee and Cleveland when playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James. Hill’s value off the ball comes from his shooting. He is a legitimate threat from downtown. Defenses cannot sag off George Hill at all, he is simply too efficient from outside.
Hill can also be relied upon as an on ball creator. George Hill was a smooth, competent lead guard in his days as a Pacer. Hill does not rely on speed or athleticism to create offense, his skill stems from his ability to find seams in a defense. He is a very good at finding angles where he can hurt the opposing team.
Hill would be a very good fit and Brooklyn have a contract to match Hill’s $9m. Taurean Prince could be used to make this deal happen. Prince is a good young player but he is surplus for the Nets; Brooklyn have quite a few good forwards. A first and Taurean Prince feels like fair return for George Hill.
DeAndre Jordan has the reputation of being a fierce, defensive presence inside the paint. Jordan was a superb interior defender during his time with the Clippers but his defense has slipped over the last three years. Jordan is relatively immobile for a modern big and that lack of mobility can play into the Thunder’s hands.
The pick and pop is a common tool in the Thunder’s offense and it is a perfect way to exploit DJ’s lack of movement. Coach Dags running this action with Horford or Muscala will generate a good look from deep for the big man consistently. OKC can make it rain from downtown if the bigs are able to knock down threes consistently against Brooklyn.
The Thunder have started the season 3-1 on the road. Oklahoma City were good away from home last season (21-14) and it seems like those strong performances have continued into this season. The Thunder’s wins have came against Charlotte, a good Orlando team and a Knicks team that looks frisky. The wins have not been flukes; OKC has looked legitimately good on the road.