Start time: 7:00 PM (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The game against Brooklyn did not go well for the Thunder. The Nets started hot and were able to keep up their ruthless offensive execution for the full 48 minutes. Oklahoma City were good offensively but the defense was atrocious; the Nets got too many good looks.
Quietly, the Rockets have put together a good run of form. Houston no longer have the top-end talent that they did during the James Harden but stingy, gritty defense has allowed the Rockets to compete on a nightly basis. The Rockets still have a roster that can make the playoffs.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Theo’s 3-point explosion:
Theo Maledon has started the last few games for the Thunder while George Hill has been out with a thumb sprain. Maledon had the best performance of his fledgling career against the Nets on Friday night. Maledon had 24 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 6-for-6 from deep. His marksmanship set a new record for the Thunder, he is the first rookie to have 6 makes from outside for the Thunder.
Theo was excellent against Brooklyn and did not look out of place on a court that was laden with star players. I thought that Theo played with a poise that you do not usually see from rookies in the NBA. Most rookie guards are frantic; they are prone to unforced errors.
There was none of that with Maledon, he played like a veteran as he played the off-guard role that Hill usually occupies. His movement and the positions that he took up on offense was a sign of his intelligence as a player. Maledon kept on dropping into pockets of space and finding good open looks.
Maledon could be a very good point guard in the future if he continues to play with confidence and calm. His court vision certainly suggests that Theo would be capable of running an offense. I am very interested to see what a lineup with him and Shai looks like after they have played a few more games together.
Maledon starting means that the bench unit has been weakened, at this moment in time the bench unit lacks playmaking. In the games against Portland and Phoenix, this was not really an issue. The Thunder were able to win despite the bench’s anaemic production. However, the bench really struggle against Brooklyn.
Hamidou Diallo has shown an ability to find a good pass but his ability to move the defense around and pass his teammates into good scoring opportunities still needs refinement. The same can be said for Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku profiles to be a point forward but he needs time to get comfortable at the NBA level. In the Brooklyn game, the Thunder leaned heavily on these two players to create shots.
The reserve unit’s offense was slow and sideways more often than not. The ball circulated around the perimeter and the timing of dribble penetration was a little off. The offense was half a second out of sync. Staggering Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Theo Maledon would go some way to mitigate this issue.
Staggering would ensure that the Thunder would have one playmaker on the floor at all times; the dearth in shot creation would quickly go away if Shai or Theo were on the floor with Diallo, Muscala and Poku.
Coach Mark’s substitution patterns will need some adjustment; Maledon would need to come out of the game around six or seven minutes into the quarter and take his rest in those minutes. When Shai eventually sits after his twelve minute burst, Theo would sub back in and run the bench unit.
In the Brooklyn game, Coach Steve Nash ran a play for Kyrie Irving that was so simple but it was incredibly effective. Coach Nash cleared out all of the space on the strong-side of the floor. The strong-side corner was vacated and Brooklyn overloaded the weak-side of the floor.
This set created so much space for Kyrie to operate and he was able to play without facing a help defender. The Nets got a great look out of this play as a result of Kyrie being able to play Shai one on one. All of the help defense was located on the weak-side and no Thunder player could make a rotation in a timely manner that could help Shai.
Removing the strong-side corner shooter does affect floor-spacing greatly but it creates such a great look. This sort of action could be very useful in late game situations especially when the Thunder need to find a good look on the floor. The Thunder’s motion offense does bog down slightly when the opposing team cranks up the defense.
The Nets’ ran this action as an isolation for Kyrie Irving but the concept of play could also be applied to a pick and pop set. The Thunder could have Al Horford set a screen and force a defensive switch before stepping out to the 3-point arc. Gilgeous-Alexander would then have a big on him and no help defense to play against; Shai would find a very good look.
When the Rockets chose to acquire Victor Oladipo, I was puzzled. Vic was a very good player before his injuries but he is an expiring contract and can walk at the end of the season. It seemed like an odd return especially with Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert being on the table.
However, Oladipo has been really solid for the Rockets so far and he has integral in the Rockets’ shoring up their defense. Houston are playing hard on defense and the combination of Oladipo and Wall have elevated the Rockets into being an elite team on the less glamorous end of the floor. The Rockets’ defensive rating is just 99.8 over the last five games.
The Rockets have been prone to turn the ball over; Houston are averaging 15.6 turnovers per game through the first 17 games of the season. Oladipo has struggled facing pressure in live dribble situations and he has coughed the ball up 2.8 times per game.
Transition points can win the game against Houston. The Thunder have been active on defense and they cannot allow Houston to settle into an offensive rhythm. It will be important to put bodies in front of Vic and force mistakes. Dort and Shai will need to try and pick off Wall’s passes.
I don't know what it means but the Thunder are 8-9 and have 7 road wins. Pretty sure that's tied for second most in the league right now.— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 28, 2021
Steve Jones put this tweet out after the Thunder beat the Suns and it is startling. Oklahoma City have been a force on the road but for some reason that performance level has not been matched at home. The Thunder are 1-6 at home which is simply not good enough. OKC need to bring the same edge that they have on the road to the ‘Peake’.