Start time - 6:30 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder were able to win last time out in Detroit but the game was not smooth. Oklahoma City fell into a deficit in the first half and spent two stanzas fighting their way back into the game. In the fourth quarter, we saw the Thunder play the sort of basketball that the team is capable of playing.
Thunder players were selfless in moving without the ball which challenged the Pistons’ defense and created easy scoring opportunities. Oklahoma City got out of the stagnant, slow passing and played with precision. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the star of the show as he notched 8 points and 6 assists in the fourth quarter.
It is too early to say that Shai is back but I was encouraged by how he played. Gilgeous-Alexander did not settle for 3-point field goal attempts; he was proactive in attacking the basket and creating off the drive. Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey had nothing for him as he acrobatically laid the ball into the hoop.
There were a few possessions in that game where the ball movement was just perfect. Guys were turning down good shots, shifting the ball and creating great looks for their teammates. Oklahoma City’s ball movement brought the Thunder back into the game and Shai closed the show as he usually does.
The game against the Raptors will be a different story. Toronto have been a stingy team defensively over the last three games and it finally seems that Coach Nurse has got this particular group to click. It is no surprise when you consider the personnel that the Raptors have on the roster.
Toronto boast three lengthy, versatile forwards in Siakam, Barnes and Precious Achiuwa who can reasonably defend three positions. Chris Boucher is not the biggest player at the 5 but he is active and his positioning is generally very good. The only real weak link in the starting lineup would be Fred VanVleet but even he competes hard defensively.
It is a competent group and Toronto have started to find their feet on defense. Toronto are still light on playmaking but Scottie Barnes is alleviating some of that pressure. Barnes being taken 4th in the Draft was a huge shock to many. Nearly everybody expected the Raptors to take Suggs and put him in the backcourt next to FVV.
The Raptors instead opted to take the Floridian point guard. It was a decision that confounded a lot of pundits. Barnes’ lack of shooting was a weakness that Suggs did not have. I expected Barnes to fall to 6th and for him to be a Thunder player.
So far, Scottie Barnes has started his career really brightly and we are seeing him impact every facet of the game. Barnes contributes as a passer, scorer, rebounder and across three or four different roles on defense. Scottie is capable of picking up guards, blocking the shot and then running the team’s offense in transition. That is quite the cocktail of skills.
Across the table from Barnes is the Thunder’s pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Josh Giddey. Giddey was another Draft night surprise. Giddey was expected to go in the late lottery to Golden State or Sacramento. It was a shock when the Thunder took him at 6. He has already started to fulfil his promise as a player.
Giddey’s playmaking organises and settles the Thunder’s offense down. There is no wildness whenever Josh is on the ball; you know that Giddey will massage openings in the defense and slide the ball into teammates whenever they cut to the rim.
Giddey is currently leading his Draft class in assists per game and rebounds per game. His passing means that Coach Daigneault can have an offensive leader on the floor for all 48 minutes of the game rather than relying on offense by committee. The bench mob continues to impress and produce efficiently but Josh Giddey has brought a reliability to the team.
Josh Giddey and Scottie Barnes are wildly different players in terms of playstyles but they share one commonality; both men have taken a hammer to their pre-draft expectations. Barnes’ shooting has not been a weakness, it has not even been a flaw. Giddey has been able to contribute positively for the Thunder despite the culture shock of the NBA.