Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder suffered a bruising loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday night. There is not much to say except for the fact that the Thunder did not play as a collective. There were too many defensive errors and poor shots which ruled out any chance of OKC winning the game.
I do believe that performances will improve over the course of the season and these losses are teething issues. Coach Mark Daigneault has not yet settled on a reliable nightly rotation and the team is still gelling. The addition of Giddey and Mann has changed the calculus for the Thunder.
Coach Daigneault now needs to find even more playmaking opportunities for the team to ensure that every ball-handler on the roster receives real development time. So far, that task has been difficult.
Once Coach finds a rotation that makes sense, he can start to address the issues that have been afflicting the Thunder so far. The biggest issue is a lack of togetherness. Last season, the Thunder were able to do reasonably well for the first half of the season because the starting five worked in harmony. Nobody was monopolising the offense for their own gain.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the Thunder’s offensive engine but he was always quick to give the ball to a teammate if they were in a good position to score. Luguentz Dort and Al Horford feasted off feeds from Shai.
This season feels different so far, we are not seeing the Thunder move the ball east-west and try to massage cracks in the opposing defense with their passing. In the first two games, we have seen the Thunder run a three man weave before immediately diving into an isolation action.
Giddey has been great so far and he has played selflessly. It was clear that Giddey was invested in his teammates scoring on Friday. It is difficult to say the same for other members of the starting five. Shai was a little score-first for my liking but he gets a pass as he is working his way back from a serious injury.
I actually thought that Dort played relatively well against the Rockets. He made Jalen Green work really hard for his points and did not allow the prodigious young guard to establish a nice rhythm.
The last two members of the starting five did not cover themselves in glory. Roby was poor defensively and did not anchor the Thunder’s defense at all. A center has the advantage of being able to see the entire floor whenever they play in a drop coverage. That court vision allows them to access information that a guard or wing cannot see.
It is incredibly difficult to see the entire floor for someone like Dort when he is constantly chasing Jalen Green around the court. Roby needs to talk to his teammates and provide the sort of information that turns poor defense into passable defense.
Darius Bazley should be primed for a big season; he has no real responsibilities other than rebounding and scoring. He can maximise his on court value by competing on the glass and taking good, high-quality shots.
We simply did not see that from Darius on Friday night. He went into isolation basketball quite a lot and seem to rush through the progressions of the game. His defense was not much better to be brutally honest. Bazley tried hard but his efforts were in vain.
The game against the Sixers is the Thunder’s toughest challenge yet. Joel Embiid is an otherworldly talent who will dominate on the low block. Embiid runs the Sixers’ offense from the low post and it is not hard to see why.
Embiid is a patient, polished scorer who has a bag of well-crafted tools. His elevation into being one of the best players in the league has come about due to his improved court vision. Joel is very good at spotting double teams and kicking the ball out to an open shooter on the wing.
His ability on the block poses an interesting question for the Thunder. How in the world does Coach Daigneault try to stop Embiid? The Thunder do not necessarily have the personnel to physically match up with Joel. Oklahoma City also lack a savvy veteran like Al Horford or Marc Gasol who can bait Joel into taking mid-range jumpers.
It is a difficult question to answer but I think the Thunder can have some success by going small and playing another perimeter player at the 5. Oklahoma City will not be able to stop him but perhaps the Thunder can make Embiid work on defense. Regardless, it might be another blowout loss for the Thunder if Philly start well and control the game.