The three scrimmages have concluded, and the revamped NBA season inside of Disney World’s bubble is here. It has been the most unusual season in NBA history, and for some teams, it has benefitted them. One of those teams is the Oklahoma City Thunder, but there are still a couple of things that could be polished.
The positives are pretty easy to point out, but they were clear in OKC’s final scrimmage against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Chris Paul and a few other key Thunder players didn’t play, so that allowed other guys to step up and take leadership roles. For others, it was an opportunity to display how hard they worked during the quarantine. Basketball experts predicted Darius Bazley would turn into a highly productive professional, but very few predicted he’d grow this much during his first NBA season. What happened? No one but he and his teammates know for sure, but to the naked eye, it looks like he’s starting to realize how good he is, and has built the confidence to start putting it on display.
There was a period in the last scrimmage where Bazley went on an 8-0 run of his own, where he sunk two triples and a driving layup. He’s fundamental, he’s athletic, and he’s precise with his every move. You can see where he’s putting that all together, which could be very beneficial come playoff time for the Thunder.
Shai is one of the prime up-and-coming talents in the NBA, and everyone is figuring that out. It’s easy to notice that he’s headed more decisively in that direction after three scrimmages. Like Bazley, SGA worked hard during the quarantine and is noticeably better, quicker, stronger, and more confident than he looked in March.
In Tuesday’s scrimmage, Shai got the opportunity to return to his true position of point guard with Chris Paul resting his 35-year-old legs for the real season. With that opportunity, Shai stepped up to the occasion and shifted back to his natural state of trying to get his teammates involved. He did well doing so, scoring 10 points and adding seven assists, although four potential assists were taken away from him because of missed attempts early in the game by his teammates.
I don’t think this warrants a conversation, but Steven Adams looks fresh because he’s well-rested. I’m hoping this can last a couple of months because he looks loose, he looks comfortable.
As for the obvious, Andre Roberson, who looks uncharacteristically good on both ends of the floor. A surprise, I know. He’s known to be an elite defender, not a viable 3-point option, but he has a new and improved form that’s more fluid and confident. He also looks about 85% of his former self, which is what we all prayed for. Whether he ends up starting again or ends up on the second unit, he’ll provide great value.
The only player I’m hung up on is Danilo Gallinari, who looks a little sloppy, sluggish and out of rhythm. I’m not sure what it is, but he’s not been the same. Along with sloppy passes, he hasn’t been as sharp as usual, shooting a combined 8-of-25 (32%) from the field.
The Thunder have been committing too many turnovers. In three games, they are averaging 16.6, but then again, these are scrimmages, and the team is rusty. In their last scrimmage, they committed 4 turnovers in four minutes and five alone in the first quarter. After that, the Thunder tightened their ship up.
The season’s restart is exciting, and we’re all looking forward to it. OKC’s positives are only going to make them better than they previously were, and they were already one victory over the Utah Jazz away from the fourth seed in the West. The next eight games will be quick, and they’ll be worth tremendously more than an 82-game season, but Billy Donovan and the Thunder are seemingly always prepared and perform well under pressure.
Addam Francisco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot him a DM on Twitter @SuaveFrancisco_.