Start time: 7 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
On Monday night, Oklahoma City returned from their Eastern Conference swing and lost against the Miami Heat. The Thunder put together a strong first half against Miami but the Heat dug deep and pulled away in the second half.
San Antonio have played very well this season and have quietly gone about securing a playoff berth. The Spurs have gone 16-11 due to the efforts of DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson and Dejounte Murray. However, San Antonio have not played a game since the 15th of February due to a COVID outbreak.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the All-Star reserves yesterday and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was absent from the list.
Sources: 2021 NBA All-Star reserves:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 23, 2021
West: Chris Paul, Paul George, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis
East: James Harden, Julius Randle, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine, Ben Simmons, Nikola Vucevic
There is no shame in Gilgeous-Alexander missing the All-Star game; I truly believe that Gilgeous-Alexander will make it in the next few years. However, it does feel like a player who averaged 22/6/5 on 62% TS was brushed aside with very little consideration. Shai’s output warranted a real discussion about an All-Star reserve spot.
The only knock on Shai’s candidacy was the Thunder’s win-loss record. Oklahoma City have lost a lot of games this year and the Thunder are towards the bottom of the Western Conference. This same criticism applies to Zion Williamson, NOLA are 13-17, and Nikola Vucevic, Orlando are 13-19. However, both of these players were voted into the All-Star game.
Theo Maledon has impressed during his rookie season with the Thunder. His calm and control has been very useful for Oklahoma City and he has slotted nicely into a starting role. In the last few games, his offense seems to have developed.
Maledon is a traditional point guard and as such he approaches the game with his teammates in mind. Theo is an unselfish passer and he will pass up good looks for himself to create a better shot for the team. The Thunder’s need for a starting shooting guard has pushed Theo Maledon into a new role where he plays off-ball more.
Shifts in role can be difficult for young players to deal with; there have been times this season when Darius Bazley has found it tough to contribute to the team’s success as the starting power forward. However, Theo is flourishing playing off Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s drives.
The downward pressure created by Shai is collapsing defenses and opening up the court for his teammates. Gilgeous-Alexander has been very good at kicking the ball out and finding the right pass. On a lot of these occasions, Theo Maledon has been in the right spot.
Maledon is shooting 45.5% on 4.4 3PA over the last five games. He is at 38% from downtown for the season. The volume of 3-point shots taken suggests that his accuracy from outside is sustainable.
His shot chart is encouraging, the chart shows that Maledon’s hot shooting is not solely down to him finding one zone where he is comfortable. The next step for Theo is learning how to leverage the gravity that he presents. An effective deep ball will open up driving lanes to the hoop and good passing opportunities for Maledon.
Sticky Starting Lineup:
The Thunder have committed to a motion offense this season, Coach Daigneault’s system has focused on using player movement to create high-quality looks on offense. Coach Daigneault’s scheme has been very effective but in recent games I have noticed that the ball is starting to stick more.
At the moment, Oklahoma City are not touching the paint early enough in the shot clock and the ball is being cycled around the perimeter without any real benefit on offense. The Thunder have been too hesitant at times to put the ball on the floor and strain the defense. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is really the only player who will attack off the dribble without even thinking.
Darius Bazley likes to drive to the hoop but he is lacking confidence right now and that lack of confidence is showing in his play. Bazley is not playing on instinct and is trying to think his way through possessions. This has led to a lot of possessions where Bazley is stopping the ball at the top of the arc instead of attacking his match-up.
When the bench subs in, it is a different story. Hamidou Diallo and Kenrich Williams are decisive on the court and play with real swagger. Diallo likes to hunt his own shot but he is quick to recognise when a teammate is in a better spot. The bench plays with pace and a sense of abandon which is something that the starters are currently lacking.
Coach Mark has to spend practice time getting the starting unit playing faster. The Thunder will find better looks on offense by moving the ball quickly and attacking the rim.
San Antonio Singles:
DeMar DeRozan has been, quite frankly, outstanding this season. DeRozan is averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists per game on efficient shooting. He has evolved into being a primary playmaker on offense and his ability as a point forward has spurred the Spurs on this season.
When DeRozan came to San Antonio in the Kawhi Leonard trade, he was predominantly used as a 2 which did not always maximise his value. DeMar’s defensive issues hurt San Antonio quite a bit when he played in the backcourt. The possibility of DeRozan leaving the Spurs felt very real but somehow, Coach Pop has pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
An injury to LaMarcus Aldridge before the Bubble last season prompted Coach Popovich to run DeRozan at the power forward position. The previously stodgy offense looked lively and incisive with DeMar running the offense from the 4. The change of position created space for the Spurs to run Murray, White and Lonnie Walker IV together. DeMar has been brilliant for the Spurs this season and deserves a lot of credit for being open-minded.
Everybody here at ‘WTLC’ would like to pass on our condolences to the DeRozan family during this tough time.
Lamarcus Aldrige - Hip (Questionable)
Devin Vassell - Health and Safety protocols (Out)
Keldon Johnson - Health and Safety protocols (Out)
Rudy Gay - Health and Safety protocols (Out)
Derrick White - Health and Safety protocols (Out)
DeMar DeRozan - Personal reasons (Out)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a special player, folks.