Start time: 7:30 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
In the last Thunder game, the Denver Nuggets handed a beating to Oklahoma City. The Nuggets went up early in the game and the Thunder were never able to recover. The Thunder looked pretty tired in that game but fatigue should not be an issue against the Mavericks. Oklahoma City have had a few days rest for the first time in a long while.
Dallas’ form has picked up in the last few weeks despite the rumours swirling around Kristaps Porzingis. Luka Doncic’s level of play has improved and the same can be said for the Mavericks’ offensive efficiency. Dallas were fifth in the league in offensive rating for the month of February.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Isaiah Roby has consistently performed well during his first season in Oklahoma City and his game against the Denver Nuggets was arguably his strongest performance of the season. Roby notched 15 points, 9 boards and 7 assists with 2 steals. He was able to make an impact on both ends of the floor and he was one of the few Thunder players to finish with a positive plus-minus, +2.
Isaiah was comfortable with the ball in his hands and he made plays off the drive during the game. There were a few occasions when Roby beat Nikola Jokic off the drive and finished at the rim. Isaiah showed a good understanding of his match-up; Roby recognised that Jokic is flat-footed and use that lack of speed to his advantage.
Roby’s handle is tight and fundamentally sound. Isaiah does not have a package of dribble moves that he can use to stretch defenses in isolation but he can be relied upon to put the ball of the floor and create his own shot. Roby’s ball-handling is not flashy but it is effective.
He has played well this season and his consistency has led to a lot of thought about his fit on the Thunder down the line. Isaiah Roby has played a lot of 5 this season with a decent degree of success. Roby has been effective playing center but I do not think that he fits the profile of a modern day NBA center.
The majority of centers in the league are capable rim protectors who can be relied on to provide sturdy interior defense. Roby is undersized for the 5 and he has struggled to contain taller, stronger players. Bam Adebayo feasted on offense the other night whenever Isaiah was in the game.
We have seen undersized centers such as Draymond Green and PJ Tucker flourish in the era of pace and space. However, these two players are exceptions to the norm. Green and Tucker are two of the smartest minds in the game on defense and they can make up for their physical limitations through their anticipation of offense.
For all of Isaiah’s strengths, he just does not have that feel for the game on defense yet. However, Roby’s handle and his ability to knock down jumpers will make him a very effective power forward. Playmaking bigs are in vogue right now and Roby can slot into that sort of role. For me, Roby is a 4 who can play small-ball 5 in the right sort of lineups.
Ty Jerome did not have the most auspicious of starts to his Thunder career. Jerome picked up a bad ankle sprain during his first practice with the team and he spent a lot of time sitting on the sidelines. Jerome has suffered two sizeable lower body injuries during his time in the NBA and there were concerns about his health going forward.
Hamidou Diallo’s groin soreness led to Jerome being called up from the G-League. The Thunder needed guard depth and Jerome had performed relatively well for the Blue; it made a lot of sense to give him a chance on the main roster. During his first two games with the Thunder, Jerome has done really well. He followed up a strong first game with a solid, consistent second performance.
Jerome notched 15 points and 2 assists while draining three makes from outside. Ty’s passing was smart and considered. However, it was his shooting that really stood out to me.
Jerome is quick to shoot and he is not afraid to let it fly from deep. During his first two NBA games this season, Jerome has made 4 deep looks on 11 3PA. His willingness to shoot and his fluid shooting motion allows him to get a shot off with very little space. I have no issue with Jerome’s desire to shoot the ball, he shot 39.2% from downtown during his career at Virginia.
Jerome’s skill as a sharpshooter will allow Coach Mark to get more creative with his offensive system. The Thunder’s motion offense has involved a lot of hand-offs, cutting and weaving but very little in the way of movement-based shooting. In a lot of the Thunder’s actions, the shooter is pretty static and they rarely move away from the corner.
Coach Mark did not really have the personnel for the first half of the season to have a shooter flying off screens into jumpers. However, Jerome’s emergence provides more scope for Coach Mark on this front.
The Thunder really struggled defensively in the first half of the season. The roster turnover and lack of continuity meant that the Thunder were prone to make simple errors such as missed rotations. Defense and communication can be very difficult for young teams to master but the Thunder have bucked this trend in February.
Oklahoma City ranked 6th in the league in defensive rating in the month of February. The Thunder notched a DefRTG of 108.9 last month. The eye test corroborates those numbers, Oklahoma City have been very good at grinding out possessions and stifling the other team.
The defense has gradually improved behind the leadership of Al Horford and surprisingly Kenrich Williams. The Thunder used to struggle when Horford sat, you could visibly see the level of communication drop. Williams has become a leader on defense for the bench unit, he is always talking on that end of the floor. That communication has led to rotations being a lot sharper.
Luka’s Shot Profile
Luka Doncic’s numbers are largely the same as last season; he is averaging an absurd 28/8/9 on efficient shooting. The raw numbers suggest that Doncic is the same player that he was last year. However, a deeper dive into the stats provides an interesting revelation; Luka has completely re-profiled his shot diet.
In his first two seasons, Luka Doncic’s shot selection was Hardenesque. Doncic focused on getting looks at the rim or from behind the arc. His shot selection this season has trended towards the mid-range, Luka has started to take more pull-ups in this zone of the floor. His percentage of looks from outside and within 3ft have dropped with increases in the long two range. Doncic’s change in his shot diet creates variety for him on offense and it will make him much more difficult to guard.
Justin Jackson Trade Revisited:
In the offseason, the Thunder sent James Johnson to Dallas for Trevor Ariza, Justin Jackson and two second round picks. This move was a part of the blur of transactions involving the Thunder. At the time, there was a sense that the Mavericks had won the trade.
Justin Jackson had not looked good during his first three seasons in the league and it did not seem that there would be any opportunity to get value for Justin. The same could be said for Ariza, a lot of people expected the Thunder to just buy Trevor out.
That expectation has changed halfway into the season. Jackson has grown into being a solid, serviceable role player and will likely net a second round pick if he is traded. Trevor Ariza’s value has grown as a result of the arms race that exists between teams competing for the NBA title this season.
After the Thunder play Dallas and San Antonio, the team will have a week off due to the All-Star break. Coach Mark will have plenty of time to refine and fine-tune aspects of the offense. The ball movement is still sticky with the starters and the lack of movement has stunted the Thunder’s offense at times this season.