Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder return home tonight and face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second leg of a home and home series. Wednesday’s game did not go the Thunder’s way and OKC will be looking to get back into the win column against a very game Timberwolves side.
Despite the loss in the last game, I feel positive about how the Thunder are playing. There are serious issues when it comes to scoring the ball but the Thunder’s defense has been nothing short of excellent over the last five games. Oklahoma City have held the opposing team to under 100 points for three consecutive games.
We are seeing Thunder players working together to limit scoring opportunities and drag opposing teams deep into the shot clock. It is quite amazing what the coaching staff have done schematically to develop good defensive performances out of a roster that does not have a proper rim protector.
The coaching staff have effectively set three lines of defense whenever the Thunder defend in a half-court setting. The wings are positioned high up on the arc and their role is to keep the assignment in front of them for as long as possible. Luguentz Dort and Kenrich Williams have been very good at draining precious seconds off the clock and buying time for their teammates to rotate effectively.
The second line has two different roles. The player on the weak-side of the floor, usually Darius Bazley, squeezes the floor and limits the space available to the opposing team. Bazley will step all the way to the painted area and crowd the driving lane. Bazley’s positioning makes it very difficult for the opposing team to switch play to the weak-side.
The player on the strong-side, usually Shai or Giddey, is tasked with rotating middle and deflecting shots whenever the opposing team try to attack the basket. Both players have been active in this area of the floor, accumulating blocks and deflections comfortably over the last five games.
The last line of engagement is the center. The Thunder’s roster is lacking in ability at the center spot. Oklahoma City lack mobility and cannot easily run a hedge or switch coverage in pick and roll situations. The coaching staff have chosen to drop the center back all season long but the positioning is quite interesting.
Most teams have their center a few paces away the rim so that they can look physically imposing and dissuade any drives to the rim. Oklahoma City place their centers alongside or below the rim. It is a marginal change but it provides the anchor with a split-second to think and make the right decision.
The effect of the positional change is most notable in Mike Muscala’s game. Muscala is averaging 1.6 blocks per game over his last five games. He does not need to worry about out-leaping his opponent, all he needs to focus on is staying vertical and touching the ball.
The net effect of these little decisions is startling. Oklahoma City are 13th in Defensive Rating despite being a young, inexperienced side. The coaching staff is doing a brilliant job at getting the most out of the roster.
The game against the Timberwolves should be close. I know that Minnesota jumped out to a huge lead early on Wednesday but the Thunder battled their way back into the game and created anxiety in the arena. The third quarter led by Shai and Giddey brought the Thunder back from the dead and made the game competitive again.
Minnesota rose to the challenge and were able to win the game but I would say that they are a beatable opponent. The key to victory will be controlling turnovers and limiting transition scoring opportunities. Oklahoma City were sloppy with the ball on Wednesday and it cost the team badly. I would like to see some more precision in the team’s attacking play.