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Thunder vs Rockets: Start time, TV schedule and game preview

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The Thunder look to bounce back after a bruising loss to the Hawks

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Broadcast Details:

Start time: 1:00 p.m. (CT)

Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass

Oklahoma City took a beating against the Hawks on Thursday night. The Thunder fell into a hole early on and were unable to get themselves out of trouble. Atlanta were able to maintain a steady double-digit lead for the entire game.

Coach Mark’s men will look to rebound from this loss against the insipid Houston Rockets. The Rockets have been pretty poor this season and have struggled to generate efficient, reliable offense. Christian Wood’s ankle injury meant that the Rockets’ season entered free-fall.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

High Pick and Roll:

The Thunder run a motion offense which involves a lot of cutting, hand-offs and lateral movement. Coach Mark is not averse to running pick and roll actions as a way to create downward pressure on the rim. At the moment, OKC are league average in the number of pick and roll possessions that the team run on a nightly basis.

However, I would argue that the balance between the different play-types has not been quite right this season, particularly when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is on the court. As the ball-handler, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is involved in 9.8 pick and roll possessions per game. His points per possession (1.11) is frankly ridiculous. Shai has the second highest PPP among all players who run at least 7 pick and rolls a game as the ball-handler.

Shai’s efficiency as a scorer and as a passer in these actions is unsurprising; Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to hit from all three levels means that he is a strong operator in the half-court. There is an argument for increasing the number of pick and rolls that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander runs every single game.

It is a huge stylistic shift for Coach but this adjustment will address the Thunder’s issues with penetrating the paint. Every player is happy to pass the ball but the Thunder can fall into a habit of shifting the ball around the perimeter without troubling the opposing defense. More pick and roll should create more north-south movement and make it harder for the opposing team to get stops.

In addition to this, I have noticed that whenever the Thunder run a pick and roll, the screen seems to be set at the 3-point line. The Thunder have been able to convert reasonably efficiently on these possessions but I feel that a trick is being missed here by the Thunder coaching staff.

Setting screens two or three steps higher than the arc will create additional space for the ball-handler to create. A higher screen opens up pull-up jumpers and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is excellent on pull-up 3-point attempts. Gilgeous-Alexander has converted 50.8% of these looks.

Ty-Theo-Shai:

Towards the end of the first quarter against the Hawks, Coach Mark played a three man unit of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome. Daigneault took the decision to put three playmakers on the floor at the same time and this move seemed to add a little juice to the Thunder’s offense.

In that four minute stretch, the Thunder scored 13 points and were able to chop the deficit down from 17 to just 10 points. The ball started to move around with more vigour.

Last season, the Thunder’s offense was powered by a three guard lineup. The combination of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was excellent at breaking down defenses and creating quality looks. Ty Jerome and Theo Maledon are not at the same level as CP or Dennis but they fill the same role.

It will be interesting to see if Coach Mark experiments with this lineup even further. The Thunder have not been good offensively this season; Oklahoma City are ranked 29th in OffRTG ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers. A lineup that prioritises ball movement and playmaking may breathe life into the offensive system.

Svi Mykhailiuk:

Mykhailiuk came to the Thunder in the Diallo trade and there were a lot of questions about Svi. I would not say that he is unknown commodity but he has gone under the radar in his career so far. From the numbers, Mykhailiuk profiles to be a sharpshooting forward.

Mykhailiuk’s 3-point percentage for his career is pretty poor (32.9%) but he shot 40.4% on 5 attempts per game from downtown last season. He is clearly capable of knocking down the long ball. I think the reasons for his decline were largely situational.

Last season, Svi came off the bench and spent a lot of time playing next to Derrick Rose. Rose is a very good facilitator and is adept at finding his guys with the pass. The first half of the season was very different for Svi. Dennis Smith, Killian Hayes and Saben Lee were the primary creators off the bench. Neither of them have much experience creating for others in the NBA.

Svi will benefit from playing with guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Theo Maledon who are capable of picking out the right pass when they drive to the rim. He will get higher quality shots when he shares the floor with competent point guards.

The other interesting point to note about Svi is that his efficiency from deep is dragged down by his percentages from the left break. Mykhailiuk is at just 25.5% from this location on the floor this season; he is just above league average for all of the zones behind the arc.

Hopeless Houston:

PJ Tucker Traded:

PJ Tucker was the linchpin of the Rockets’ defense during the prime years of the ‘Moreyball’ Rockets. Tucker’s versatility on his defense and his ability to organise Houston into a stifling, well-oiled unit defensively was a core component in Houston taking the Warriors to 7 in 2018.

However, Tucker was traded to Milwaukee, rather unceremoniously, earlier this week. DJ Wilson, DJ Augustin and a future first round pick were sent to Texas for Tucker. As trades go, it is a win-win for both teams. The Bucks get a tough, smart player who is very comfortable playing in a defensive scheme where switching assignments is encouraged.

Houston get another pick in the 2021 and a future first which is likely to convey. Moreover, the acquisition of DJ Augustin is a strong move by Rafa Stone. Augustin is a good mentor and could be used to mould Kevin Porter Jr’s talents.

Oladipo:

I have a lot of love for Vic, I enjoyed watching him when he played in Oklahoma City but it is clear that he is not the same player anymore. The ruptured quad tendon in his knee that occurred in Indiana have robbed him of a successful, fruitful career. Oladipo’s true shooting is just 49.9% and his BPM is -1.1.

Vic is not having a good season in Houston and I was honestly surprised when he turned down the Rockets’ offer of a contract extension earlier in the season. Oladipo being traded at the deadline would not surprise me; a team like the Knicks would really benefit from having another quality guard in their rotation.

Random Side-Note:

We do not usually cover college ball on this site but Oral Roberts University’s victory over Ohio State deserves to be mentioned. Oral Roberts, a private university from Tulsa, were able to outlast Ohio State and get past the first round of March Madness. Oral Roberts were the first team since Middle Tennessee to upset a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.