The Thunder’s game against the Timberwolves did not go completely to plan. Oklahoma City raced out to an early lead but Minnesota poured on the points in the third quarter to make the game interesting. The T-Wolves scored 44 points with the majority of those points coming inside the painted area.
Again, the Thunder’s lack of size played havoc with the team’s chances of winning the game. Coach Daigneault needs to address this issue, the back-line of the defense is getting very little help from the perimeter and the Thunder are leaking points in this shooting zone. This is a different story for a different day though, I had wanted to focus on Daigneault’s rotations late in the game.
He made a decision to put Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey all on the floor together at the same time. So far, we have seen a J-Dub and Giddey pairing but never all three players on the court together.
It was a wise decision and the Thunder became harder to guard. Oklahoma City scored 38 points and held the Timberwolves to 27 as they won at the Target Center. Daigneault’s choice of lineup was interesting in terms of how it changed the Thunder’s style of play.
One of the Thunder’s biggest weaknesses is that there are few drivers on the roster who can get into the painted area and force a defense to collapse. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey can fill this role on the team but outside of them, the Thunder’s options are thin on the ground.
Tre Mann is comfortable with the ball in his hands but Mann prefers to use his handle to carve out space and drain jumpers.
Luguentz Dort is aggressive attacking the basket but his driving game can be a little wild and his game is not wholly fleshed out. When Dort gets deep into the paint, he will shoot regardless of defensive pressure and does not always think about the passing options available to him.
Darius Bazley has off the dribble bounce but he is ponderous on the ball. Bazley may end up scoring a basket inside which in isolation is a decent result for the offense but he tanks the the team’s rhythm.
Jalen Williams is the only option of this list who can drive to the basket with reasonable polish and make plays for others. Williams’ eye for a pass and proficiency as a ball-handler in the pick and roll has led to Coach Daigneault placing increased faith in the Santa Clara wing. J-Dub now frequently initiates offense for the Thunder’s bench unit.
Playing Williams, Shai and Giddey allowed the Thunder to tap into secondary playmaking and take advantage of the Timberwolves’ collapsed defense. It was the sort of play-calling that we saw a lot in the ‘Three Amigos’ year when the likes of Dennis Schröder feasted off defenses who were out of position.
Minnesota were forced to make difficult decisions in the fourth quarter and they did not have the luxury of Rudy Gobert mopping up defensive breakdowns. The T-Wolves could not simply double Shai, as a fair few teams have done this season, because the presence of another playmaker meant that the Thunder could maximise 4v3 half-court situations comfortably.
I will admit that the sample size was very small and it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions off just a matter of minutes but I thought the defense looked quite good as well. Oklahoma City had three steals and turned the T-Wolves over seven times in the final stanza.
Playing four, lengthy wings meant that Daigneault had a lineup on the floor that accumulated deflections and mitigated against the Thunder’s lack of size inside. It also meant that OKC could switch assignments on defense with more regularity without glaring mismatches being created.
On the whole, the lineup with three playmakers, Dort and Robinson-Earl performed well and it looked to be something that Daigneault can rely upon in the clutch, in close games. I would be curious to see if the Thunder experiment using Williams with the starters more often, just as a relief valve for OKC’s offense.
With the Thunder’s back against the wall, the coaching staff might have stumbled on a reliable unit for when time starts to run out.