Start time: 8 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Bally Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
As the season comes to a close, there is just one more game for the Thunder to play. Serge Ibaka will return to the Chesapeake Energy Arena and will aim to get a win for his current team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
As seasons go, this one has been unusual for the Thunder. For the last ten years, the Thunder have always tried to win and make the playoffs. In 2014-15, the Thunder missed the playoffs but barely, the Thunder still finished with a record of 45-37. The last time that Oklahoma City lost more than 50 games was 12 years ago.
The Thunder are currently on a nine game losing streak and would seriously benefit from another loss against the Clippers tonight. Losing against LA would mean that the Thunder would retain the third worst record in the league.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
In the Thunder’s last game against the Utah Jazz, Gabriel Deck was the stand-out player. Deck finished the game with 18 points and 6 rebounds in what was a strong game off the bench. Deck is not really an aggressive scorer but he took his chances adeptly against a very good Jazz team.
Gabriel usually likes to run the game from the low post. His touch and size means that he is difficult to guard whenever he gets a deep post touch. However, his scoring did not come from this zone against Utah; Deck relied more on his jumper to get buckets.
It was a pragmatic decision from Deck; he did not have the size advantage on Joe Ingles and the presence of Gobert as a help defender would have made a low-post score a poor option. Deck opted to play in the mid-range and in the corners much more.
Deck’s jumper is unorthodox; he is flat-footed whenever he shoots but his mechanics generally look clean. Gabriel’s release point is pretty solid and he seems to get a good amount of thrust on the jumper. I would prefer Deck’s shot to be faster but that is something that will come with development time. Deck's shot was certainly quick enough to beat the buzzer on an off the dribble long two that he drained effortlessly.
He also displayed good court awareness whenever he was able to isolate a defender in the mid-range area. Coach Daigneault deserves a lot of credit for getting Deck into situations where he had plenty of space to operate. The Thunder have switched the ball well against Utah with strong-side to weak-side passing and Deck benefitted greatly.
He was able to face up and use his jab step to move the defence out of position without being pressured by help defense. It was encouraging to see Gabriel create a good, clean look for himself in isolation for himself. It is another tool in his bag and something for Coach Mark to think about when he is designing actions for the Thunder.
Charlie Brown Jr:
Yesterday, it was reported that Charlie Brown Jr has signed a multi-year deal with the Thunder. The contract’s structure is currently unknown but given past precedent, I would expect Brown Jr’s contract to not have many guarantees past this season.
The Thunder have been open-minded when it comes to G League talent; Moses Brown and Luguentz Dort are two of the most notable names who were promoted from the Blue to the Thunder. Charlie Brown is another young player who is being given the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level.
Personally, I have not been all that impressed by Charlie Brown Jr. He looks to be a good young player but I feel that he needs time in the G League to develop his technical base. Brown Jr is a lengthy athlete but he does struggle to guard other wings when they are moving off the ball. He does not have enough pace to just rely on his physical attributes so he will need to learn how to position himself so that he can challenge his assignment.
Pokusevski is arguably the most surprising player of the season. At the start of the season, he really struggled with creating his own shot in a league that is levels above the Greek second division. He has grown immeasurably and you can finally start to see why Pokusevski was such a highly regarded draft prospect.
The growth is most evident in his ball-handling; Pokusevski now has all of the patience and control in the pick and roll that he needs to be effective in the NBA. Pokusevski is not perfect by any means, he can still be too wild, but he is much smoother on the ball and has worked out how to be valuable on the offensive end of the floor.
There was a pick and roll action ran against the Jazz which summed up his growth nicely. Coach Daigneault ran a double screen action to get Pokusevski a mismatch and Pokusevski took advantage. He scooted backwards and found a pocket of space where he could survey the floor. The back slide also drew the defense slightly out of position.
Poku then used his long, lanky strides to escape the defensive attention and touch the painted area where he had offensive options. Every single Jazz player was focused on Pokusevski’s dribble and Poku exploited the pressure with the right read. He tossed the ball to a wide open Gabriel Deck who calmly drained the corner three.
That possession alone summed up Pokusevski’s growth. Aleksej leveraged the defense played against him into a great shot for his teammate. I am excited to see what he does in a bench unit with Theo and Ty next season.
Best shooting team in the league:
The Clippers have torched the nets all season long as a team. Los Angeles are shooting 41.4% as a team from beyond the arc. Ty Lue’s men has just had this ability to put games away with barrages from downtown. In the first meeting between the Clippers and the Thunder on January 22nd, the Clippers tore OKC apart.
The first quarter was ugly to watch. Los Angeles’ inside-out game was brutally efficient as it generated finishes at the rim or easy corner threes for Nicolas Batum. Batum eventually finished with 14 easy points on a very productive night for him.
The Thunder have to remain disciplined in running shooters off the 3-point line and Oklahoma City cannot afford to have missed rotations. The Clippers are a group that are good at moving the ball and they will find the open man if the defense makes mistakes.
Leonard/George to play:
There was doubt about whether Ty Lue would rest Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in preparation for the postseason. Both players have significant injury histories and need to be managed carefully to ensure that they are able to perform at their peak. However, it is expected that Leonard and George will play against the Thunder.
The Thunder’s season is winding down and I would like to say thank you to every single reader who has been a part of our community this season. It’s been a tough year for the Thunder as a whole but you guys have stuck around and made the season fun.