Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
Oklahoma City bounced back fairly well against the Nuggets on Sunday night despite losing the game. It was encouraging to see the Thunder play with a lot more togetherness than we had seen in the Minnesota game.
All that being said, I am a little concerned with how the starting lineup has performed over the last few games. Shai and Lu have not played particularly well; Giddey has often been the Thunder’s driving force over the last four games.
Gilgeous-Alexander has faced double teams all season long and he has struggled to score with the same sort of hyper-efficiency that we saw out of him last season. He has found ways to mitigate the threat of a double team but defenses have again changed how they guard him.
We have started to see teams run coverages such as the box and one or even a triangle and two which are wholly designed to get the ball out of Shai’s hands. He is facing two layers of defense every single time he attempts to orchestrate play in the half-court. There is a man to man defender chasing him all over the court and another help defender just sat in the lane waiting to affect the game.
Gilgeous-Alexander is not finding those easy scoring opportunities inside and has had to work hard for his points this season. I am not concerned in the long run but it is an issue that he is currently working through.
Luguentz Dort stands at the other of the spectrum. Dort brings a lot to the Thunder with his excellent perimeter defense and his scoring but he needs to refine his shot selection. At the moment, Dort is just chucking up deep shots in the hope that he eventually finds a rhythm from downtown.
There are easier ways for Dort to find that rhythm and all of those involve attacking the basket. He is shooting 62% within three feet of the rim and yet only 23% of his field goal attempts come in this zone of the floor. Getting a bucket is the best way to stop a drought and Dort is currently going through a scoring drought.
The Thunder’s opposition tonight are currently going through their own struggles. The Washington Wizards are sitting around 0.500 and the direction of their franchise is unclear. The Westbrook trade allowed the team to re-tool but we have not seen the Wizards improve materially compared to last season.
The acquisitions outside of Kyle Kuzma have been a little underwhelming which had led Wes Unseld Jr to be an awkward position. We do not know if the players are fully bought into his methods and his job security is relatively low.
There is also the question of the Wizards’ key offensive contributors, Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie. Beal and Dinwiddie can both lead an offense and raise the level of their teammates but they have struggled to co-exist. Dinwiddie has intimated that he is capable of a larger role and does not feel entirely happy playing second fiddle to Beal.
Bradley Beal has been with the Wizards for a long time and is entrenched as being the team’s primary option. Beal is also in a contract year and we do not know what his future plans. He will not want declining numbers in a summer where he can hit free agency and earn a salary that few NBA players ever will.
There is a lot of under the surface turmoil with the Wizards which should stand the Thunder in good stead. The Beal-Dinwiddie lineups are a notable weak spot and something that Oklahoma City must exploit. The Thunder have to win these minutes and weather the storm whenever Dinwiddie or Beal are running solo.
Regardless, this is a winnable game for the Thunder and an opportunity to get OKC’s rookies meaningful development time.