Start time: 7 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
Five days ago, the Thunder played the Bucks at the ‘Peake’ and Oklahoma City were able to secure a close victory. Justin Jackson and Al Horford had strong performances that carried the Thunder over the line. Since that victory, the Thunder have lost twice. OKC are now starting to sink to the bottom of the Western Conference.
This game will be the second night of a back to back for the Milwaukee. On Thursday night, the Bucks were handily beaten by the Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee are currently missing Jrue Holiday but it was not a good performance by Coach Bud’s men. The Bucks looked listless on offense and are a far cry from the winning machine that cut through the Eastern Conference last season.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
For a long stretch of the season, Darius Bazley seemed to be in a slump. Bazley was over-thinking the game and that indecision was reflected in his play. Bazley would often go for odd layups when a dunk would have been a better finish. This season has been hard for Bazley; Darius’ role is very different when compared to last season.
He has been more aggressive over the last week or so and it has benefitted his play. Bazley has started to score with improved efficiency and his pace of play has meant that he has become more productive as a passer as well. Although, Bazley took 16 shots against the Blazers and only made four of these looks; this is a positive sign for the Thunder.
I was worried about Bazley when he was dragging himself through the dog days of his slump. His body language just did not look good and he would often fade into the background while SGA and Luguentz Dort ran the offense. This willingness to take shots and take on responsibility suggests that Bazley has faith in his game.
A Fake Trade:
A few days ago, it was announced that Blake Griffin would not be playing games for the Pistons for the foreseeable future. Detroit are looking to move Griffin and start a new era of Pistons’ basketball. In a sense, Griffin represents the last vestiges of the inconsistent Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit.
Blake’s athleticism is limited and he has struggled during the first half of the season. However, I think there is value in trading for Blake Griffin. A transaction to take on Griffin’s salary will net an asset; a Pistons’ second rounder in 2021 would be a good return.
A second round pick in a very good draft for two years of paying Griffin’s contract is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity. In the last few years, the Thunder have shown an ability to find decent players in the second round. Hamidou Diallo has matured into a microwave scorer in his third season in the NBA. Theo Maledon already looks to be a steady, reliable point guard.
Moreover, the Thunder’s coaching staff have shown an ability to rehabilitate players and turn them into assets. Chris Paul was viewed as a washed-up star, one year in Oklahoma City proved that Chris Paul is still one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Al Horford came with a similar sort of reputation after a difficult stint in Philadelphia. In half a season, Horford has shown his value as an NBA player. Al has provided reliable outside shooting, strong interior defense and leadership for the Thunder. You could easily see a team like the Celtics making a trade for Horford at the deadline.
I am confident in the Thunder coaching staff and believe that they could achieve the same sort of results with Griffin. Blake Griffin is one of the most skilled bigs in the NBA. Griffin can create shots at an elite level and he can score from all three levels efficiently. He could be pretty good as a stretch-5.
The Thunder have put on an emphasis on taking outside shots this season. At the start of the season, Oklahoma City were taking every single outside look that the team could find. The reliance on outside shooting meant the Thunder were able to win unexpected games but it is a high variance strategy, a bad night from the field would mean that the Thunder lost by double digits.
The Thunder are currently averaging 37 3PA per game for the season but in the last ten games, the shooting has calmed down. The Thunder have taken 34.5 3PA per game and have made 35.1% of these looks. This slight adjustment in the offense has meant that the Thunder have become a lot more consistent over the last few weeks.
Oklahoma City are still losing games but recent games have been competitive losses for the Thunder. OKC are pushing good teams really hard every single night and the Thunder are getting good developmental minutes for the young guys. There are less blowout losses.
Lack of Depth:
After two disappointing playoff performances, the Bucks changed their team-building approach in the offseason. In recent years, Milwaukee’s approach centered around building a deep, versatile roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo. This approach meant that the Bucks were incredibly strong but Milwaukee often lacked the star power needed to make a deep playoff run.
The trade for Jrue Holiday meant that the Bucks acquired a stout, reliable point guard for the postseason but it cost the Bucks in terms of depth. Eric Bledsoe and George Hill were both sent to New Orleans in that trade. The team was also weakened when Wesley Matthews opted for LA and Robin Lopez left for DC.
These subtractions in the offseason mean that the Bucks are a weak regular season team when they do not have their Big Three together. Milwaukee have struggled with Holiday absent and the Thunder have the opportunity to pile on the misery.
Brook Lopez experienced a career renaissance when he embraced the 3-point shot. Lopez faced a crossroads in 2018 after he was discarded by the Los Angeles Lakers. The market for dominant post players at the center spot has dried up. His revival in Milwaukee has been impressive and Brook has developed into being one of the most valuable bigs in the NBA.
Lopez received a lot of praise for his strong interior defense last season but it seems that his defense has slipped this season. Lopez’s on-off rating is -1.1 and his fall in effectiveness on defense is visible. Brook looks slow and he has struggled to contain faster guards at the rim.
When Andre Roberson last wore a Thunder jersey in Game 1 of the first round against the Houston Rockets, it did feel like the end of his career. Roberson did not look to be same player that he previously was as he struggled to stay in front of Harden. However, I am really happy to report that Andre is back in the league. Roberson has signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Roberson will join Kevin Durant and James Harden on their quest to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The addition of Roberson now means that Brooklyn have five former Thunder players.