The Oklahoma City Thunder wrapped up the 2017-2018 preseason with a solid win in Denver against the Nuggets on Tuesday night. The final record counts three wins, one loss, and many indications on what this team could become.
While keeping in mind that it’s only preseason, let’s have a look at five of the most important takeaways.
The new big three are facing the high expectations of the whole NBA crowd and will be entering a season being observed like under a microscope. From what we saw in these first few games the chemistry is still not there yet (which is not surprising at all) but it’s growing game after game. Each player is not the lone focus anymore when on the court with the other two stars. This gave them already more possibilities and space to operate (i.e. pick and rolls, one on ones).
Paul George seems to be the one picked to run most of the time with the second unit. He is moving a lot without the ball on offense and he is not shy to shoot. Even though his jumper has not been super efficient, George is able to compensate this on the defensive end of the floor.
Carmelo Anthony showed how deadly he still is from behind the arc (43.5% on a bit less than six shots per game), he is a strong rebounder and most of all, he looks like he is having fun again on the court.
Russell Westbrook didn’t play many minutes in the preseason but we had a few glimpses of what his abilities can generate when mixed with two other superstars.
Work in progress. I guess this is the best way to describe the Thunder’s offense so far. There are ideas and plays, but the timing is still a bit off. The ball is moving, but pick and rolls and iso were still the most effective solutions. Transition offense is the one that worked better. This is definitely a starting point.
One thing that needs to be addressed it’s how Andre Roberson is used on offense. He can’t stand anymore in the corner 3. This will kill all the space created by the others. It’s up to coach Donovan to start using Roberson in a more effective way (I.e. slasher and screener) for the team.
As mentioned above, George is moving a lot without the ball while Adams has been used in the high post not only as a screener and roller but also as a passer. The idea is intriguing because Adams showed already that he can be a good passer with a good court vision.
One of the main questions going into the season is if the Thunder will be a good defensive team. In the first four games played they gave up an average of 91.5 points per game. This is definitely good. Sustainable? Probably not. Promising? Definitely yes. Everyone on the court seems to be engaged in every aspect of the defensive end. George, Adams, and Roberson confirmed their reputation, showing what kind of good defenders they are. Anthony didn’t look as bad as he was advertised and we saw strong performances from Felton, Ferguson, and Huestis.
One concern is the short bench that the Thunder supposedly have. On paper, this might be true but on the court, so far, the bench performed well while still missing the two most important players: Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines (played only 13 minutes in the last preseason game). Felton as a backup point guard is definitely an upgrade compared to last year, Grant has been used effectively as a five while Josh Huestis and the rookie Terrence Ferguson surprised with encouraging performances. It’s important to take in consideration that at least one of the big threes will be always on the court with the second unit, therefore, the Thunder will be always in a position to take advantage of opposite second units.
Huestis and Ferguson.
These two players deserve a special mention.
Terrence Ferguson’s style of play was unknown because after high school he went directly to play pro basketball in Australia. He is skinny and looked not ready. Well, in the first four preseason games he showed that he can stay on the court. He is a willing defender, not afraid to shoot (his shot form is not bad at all) and he can jump very high. Physically, he will struggle some nights but if he can get few minutes per game (plus good playing time in G-League) he could be a nice addition for the Thunder.
Josh Huestis is not new for Thunder fans. He was drafted back in 2014 by Oklahoma City but he never had a real chance to play in the NBA. He spent most of the time playing in the D-League (now G-League) with the Oklahoma City Blue. During this preseason Huestis showed that he is now able to help the team and it feels like he finally deserves a chance. An athletic, strong defender, good rim protector, can put the ball on the floor, and he can shoot from behind the arc (41% on a bit more than 4 shots per game). All qualities that a team like the Oklahoma City needs.
The Thunder will kick off the 2017-2018 season on Thursday, October 19th in Oklahoma City against the New York Knicks.