Start time: 7:00 PM (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Thunder come into this game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the back of a strong win against the Houston Rockets. Oklahoma City defeated Houston by playing sound defense. The defensive effort was a marked difference to the Thunder’s recent form, this sort of intensity has to be carried into tonight’s game against the Timberwolves.
Minnesota have struggled this season with injuries and chemistry. The Timberwolves had not really had the opportunity to establish a stable, settled lineup due to Towns and Russell both missing a lot of games. The Timberwolves are 5-16 on the season so far.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Next Man Up:
Over the course of the last week, the Thunder have lost three players to injury. At the start of the week, George Hill was ruled out for four weeks due to thumb surgery. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander picked up a knock in the first game against Houston and he has yet to return from his knee sprain.
In Wednesday’s game, Luguentz Dort played only 10 minutes before sitting for the rest of the game. Dort has soreness in his left knee and he will not play against the Timberwolves tonight. These injuries have left the Thunder rotation looking thin.
Coach Mark will need to go deep into his bench to make up the minutes that are usually played by Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It would not be surprising to see Justin Jackson and Darius Miller play extended minutes in tonight's game.
Kenrich Williams had an excellent game against the Houston Rockets as he notched 19 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists on highly efficient shooting. Williams was a difference maker for the Thunder and he brought a jolt of energy to the bench unit. There was a worry that the bench could suffer without Hamidou Diallo and Theo Maledon but Williams assuaged those concerns.
Williams came to the Thunder with the reputation of being a gritty, intense defender at the forward spot. Kenny was beloved by Pelicans’ fans for his commitment to that end of the floor; Williams simply played like every single game could be his last in the NBA.
Kenrich has surpassed expectations and a lot of his overachievement has come on the offensive end. I would not say that Kenrich is elite at any one skill on offense; he is a decent ball-handler and shooter but his strength is his decision-making. He understands his limitations and does not attempt to do things that he is not comfortable with.
Kenny is an all-round player who maximises his ability on the court by being decisive whenever he is on the ball. Williams’ instinctive play catches the defense off guard and this speed usually makes up for his limitations.
When the Thunder initially acquired Kenrich, I did not expect anything at all. However, his play in recent weeks suggests that he could be a useful bench piece for the Thunder to have going forward. The acquisition of Williams now looks to be astute, shrewd move by Sam Presti. Kenny Hustle has been brilliant in OKC.
Next Step for Diallo:
Hamidou Diallo is another player who has taken a leap this season. Diallo went from being a fringe rotation piece to a valuable microwave scorer off the bench. Hamidou has carved out a role for himself on the Thunder this season and I have been hugely impressed by his development.
Diallo is now an effective scorer for the Thunder but defenses will soon adjust to the threat that he represents. Defenses will sit off him and encourage outside shots safe in the knowledge that Diallo is not a good shooter. While Diallo’s athleticism works most of the time, it will not work against the truly elite interior defenders in the NBA. He needs to find a counter and force defenses to play him honestly.
I will be honest, I do not expect Diallo’s shot to come around anytime soon; there are simply too many inconsistencies in his form for me to be confident in Diallo’s shooting. However, I believe that Hamidou Diallo has the potential to be an effective playmaker for the Thunder.
Hamidou has shown an ability to accurately pass the ball and make simple reads when defenses are focusing closely on him. In the game against Houston, Diallo had a couple of really nice passes when he attacked off the drive. The next step for him is developing the ability to pass his teammates into good scoring opportunities.
I would like to see Diallo operating in the two-man game as a ball-handler more often. The pick and roll is a perfect method of development as it encourages the ball-handler to learn how to recognise good looks and to build a sense of timing into their passing.
Minnesota have really struggled with injuries this season so far; Towns, Russell and Okogie have all missed significant periods of time. It will be no different for the T-Wolves coming into tonight’s game.
Karl Anthony Towns and Jarrett Culver are both ruled out and will not be available to play. D’Angelo Russell is questionable for tonight’s game. Russell has been playing through a quad bruise over the last week or so and he has not looked fully fit.
At the start of the season, there was a degree of optimism around the Timberwolves’ prospects in the Western Conference. Towns is a transcendent star but for the first time in a long time, the T-Wolves have built a roster that complements Towns’ talent. Gersson Rosas added a very good point guard in the form of D’Angelo Russell and a corp of 3&D wings. In theory, the Timberwolves have a roster that could make the play-in.
However, the reality has been totally different to expectations for the Timberwolves. Minnesota are 5-16 and are sitting bottom of the Western Conference. It is already shaping up to be a lost season for Minnesota and another year of Karl Anthony Towns’ career wasted.
Minnesota currently have the joint worst record in the league and the Timberwolves are leading the race for the No.1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Thunder are going to need to lose a lot during the second half of the season to even get close to a top-five pick in the Draft.