Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder come into the game against the Dallas Mavericks in good form. Oklahoma City have won 6 out of their last 9 games with the latest victory coming against the New York Knicks.
The Knicks were held to just 80 points and Oklahoma City played excellent, disciplined defense throughout the game. Kenrich Williams and Luguentz Dort constantly fought over screens as they chased their assignment and did not allow their man to earn any separation. They harried Miles McBride and Evan Fournier all night long.
The Thunder’s defense has improved slowly over the course of the season and those small gains have started to amalgamate into tangible results. There is very little in the way of defensive breakdowns or second chance points allowed. Oklahoma City are playing organised, synchronised defense for all 24 seconds of the clock.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was again excellent but he will not be available for the game against the Mavericks. Gilgeous-Alexander has entered Covid protocols and will be absent for the next fortnight. Oklahoma City have not won a game this season when Shai has not played.
However, Josh Giddey will return for the Thunder and we will finally get an opportunity to see how Giddey functions as the main creator for the starting lineup. Giddey has been great this season when it comes to facilitating play and stabilising the reserve unit; I am interested to see if he can replicate the same results with the starters.
Josh has elite passing vision and those skills will be tested in a half-court setting. Giddey will be required to lay the table without any other real playmaking support for all four quarters. It is a challenge for Josh and I do wonder whether Coach Wilks will adjust the lineups to give Giddey more support.
It may be a wise idea to bring Favors into the starting five and deploy Isaiah Roby at the 4. Paul Watson Jr has been serviceable so far but I think Giddey’s play will benefit if he has a big who can finish inside efficiently and space out to the mid-range.
Aaron Wiggins again performed strongly for the Thunder and is making a real case for being in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. From what we have seen so far, Wiggins can play off-ball effectively with his cutting and attacks closeouts very well with his hard drives. Moreover, Aaron Wiggins is a capable and confident shooter who is unafraid of taking shots.
Wiggins does not usually play with much flash but he had a highlight moment against the Knicks.
Aaron Wiggins gets the defender to bite on the fake pass & is able to take it to the rack.— ⚡️ (@ThunderFilmRoom) January 1, 2022
He’s not your typical 55th pick. pic.twitter.com/2wWDI3pClC
At a surface level, the pass fake into a driving finish at the rim is a smooth and smart play. Wiggins get his defender out of the way and creates the breathing room needed to finish effectively around the basket. The little details are what impresses me the most.
Wiggins does not simply dummy the pass; he shifts his bodyweight towards Lu Dort and sells the fake before eventually snapping his feet back towards the rim. It is beautiful misdirection and it is made possible by sound, fundamental footwork.
Dallas are a team who has suffered with Covid protocols over the last few weeks. Luka Doncic has been unavailable but should be able to play against the Thunder. Recent signee, Isaiah Thomas, played one game before entering protocols. The Mavericks are struggling for bodies and have leaned heavily on Porzingis to carry the load.
Doncic being back is huge for the Mavericks as they push for a playoff berth in Jason Kidd’s first year coaching the team. Luka is one of the best playmakers in the NBA and is the offensive force driving the Mavericks forward. Jalen Brunson has deputised ably but Doncic simply takes Dallas to another level.
A win for the Thunder puts them half a game back from the play-in tournament. It is difficult to say whether this is the ideal result for the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s long-term future would greatly benefit from a top-five pick. A player like Jabari Smith Jr would round out the Thunder’s core.
However, Oklahoma City are winning these games through strong performances from young players. These players are receiving real opportunities for development while playing meaningful basketball. I struggle to see the point of artificially being bad and disrupting the growth curve that the whole roster seems to be on.