Usually Opening Night springs optimism and warm feelings for 30 NBA fanbases across the league. For the Oklahoma City Thunder and its fans, this meant a second season of being excited over player development and not caring about the final score in games.
Well, tonight was a good preview as to what fans can expect for the next six months. The final score was ugly. After leading 54-42 at the half, the Utah Jazz would blow this one open in the third quarter, leading by as much as 26 points.
Much like the case last season, the Thunder offense played fundamentally sound in the first half, but the lack of talent and shooting did not reward them as they still struggled to put up points. As the Jazz began to mount a significant lead, the team offense melted away, and the second half was filled with a lot of isolation shots and no ball movement.
The Thunder also struggled to defend the paint, giving up 50 points. This is expected, considering the roster makeup. The only actual big this team has is Derrick Favors, who will play limited minutes and isn’t known for his rim protection at this stage of his career.
Overall, getting blown out by a Western Conference contender like the Jazz should not be discouraging. It should be expected. But how the Thunder got to that point tonight is disappointing. The first half looked like a team on the same page, while the second half saw the team stray away from their identity of position-less basketball players who can move the ball around. But even with that said, there were still some bright spots from tonight’s contest.
It was nice to see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander make his return to the court after being out the last seven months dealing with plantar fasciitis, scoring 18 points. There were plenty of moments that made fans realize why SGA was given the max extension, such as finishing around the rim with Rudy Gobert in the area code.
Darius Bazley finished with a good game with 15 points and seven rebounds. This is even more impressive considering his slow start to the game. Bazley could have easily called it a night and played conservatively on the court. Instead, he continued to attack and was able to turn his night around.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl also had an excellent NBA debut, finishing with 10 points.
With that said, a big question mark the Thunder has to answer is why Josh Giddey did not initiate the offense more often tonight. I know it’s just one game, and this will likely change as Giddey gets used to playing in the NBA, but it is a bit odd that the Thunder’s top draft pick played a lot of off-ball while Theo Maledon brought the ball up the court.
Maledon is great and an excellent player, but it is obvious who among the two the team should prioritize in terms of playmaking development and responsibilities. But as mentioned, this is just the first game of many. How this unfolds in the coming games will be something to watch for.
So, in conclusion, unlike last season, don’t expect this squad to outperform its peripherals. The Thunder get blown out by the best teams in the league should be expected. But that does not mean these games are just a waste of time. There are plenty of other things fans can look forward to that don’t involve the scoreboard. Tonight was a good gut check test for the fans on what to expect for the remaining 81 games this season.
Next Game: The Thunder travel to Houston to play the Rockets on Friday, Oct. 22.