Start time - 6:30 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder’s Eastern Conference road trip looks pretty miserable on paper so far. Oklahoma City have played two scrappy games against the Bucks and Celtics and lost both games. The record does not tell the full picture about the Thunder’s performance.
The Thunder have gone blow for blow with the defending NBA champions and a perennial Eastern Conference heavyweight without looking overwhelmed. Oklahoma City struggled to create efficient offense but the Thunder were able to hang tough right until the end of both games. The Thunder lost but I would argue those games are important for development.
We often talk about giving young players plenty of minutes to develop themselves but context is equally important. The Thunder’s young players are playing meaningful minutes with real consequences at the moment; they are not simply mired in a morass of losing. Unlike other teams, we are not seeing guys jack shots for the sake of themselves.
Like last season, Oklahoma City are displaying a ‘never say die’ attitude. The Thunder will play with intensity and a desire to win as team from the first whistle to the last second of the game. It is admirable and quite frankly, I believe it is beneficial to the team in the long run.
Prolonged periods of hopeless basketball can create bad habits. For example, a volume scorer may retreat into themselves and chuck every single shot that comes their way. It takes a long time to change bad habits and put the focus back on playing selflessly.
Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest players to ever play the game but he went through barren seasons before he realised that he could not do everything by himself. Trusting teammates is not a weakness, it is a strength. The Thunder seemed to have realised that very early on in the development of this cohort which can only be good for the team as a whole.
Josh Giddey has been a lightning rod of the Thunder’s pass-happy style of basketball. Giddey genuinely loves to move the ball and put his teammates in good positions to score. Josh is not just assist hunting either; he provides defense splitting hockey assists with startling regularity.
For the Thunder’s front office, they need to weigh up the benefits of the team’s relentless approach. It is entirely possible that the team wins more games than it will want to and the opportunity of getting a top-5 pick fades away. A player like Banchero or Duren has the potential to change the long-term ceiling of the Thunder.
However, playing a brand of basketball that is intentionally designed to tank games does nothing for the development of existing players. We have seen countless players waste their potential by spending years on tanking teams with no real direction. De’Aaron Fox was a young, promising point guard before Sacramento and now he has a reputation of being damaged goods.
These are all questions to be thought about; do the costs outweigh the benefits? The game against the Hawks will be a good litmus test for the Thunder. Atlanta have started poorly this season and are a little vulnerable right now. Trae Young drives the Hawks’ offense and his effectiveness has been somewhat limited by the rule changes.
Young is still incredibly productive as a passer and scorer but he is not getting as many freebies at the stripe. His overall scoring efficiency has declined slightly which has a tremendous effect on the Hawks’ offense. Atlanta are heavily reliant on Young’s shot creation to drive the starting unit. If he has an off night, the game becomes much more competitive for the Thunder.