Unlike the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first preseason game where their offense was affluent, their preseason home debut against the Chicago Bulls brought us back down to earth, giving us a more accurate depiction of what this season will likely be.
OKC shot a horrendous 38.1 percent from the field as a team and allowed Chicago to score half of their buckets in the paint, losing 124-103. There were still a couple of bright spots that the Thunder showed on Saturday that rolled into their game on Wednesday night, but the overall product was on-brand for this season’s expectations. Those bright spots were Thèo Maledon and his potential, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley’s progression over a short offseason.
When the Thunder acquired Maledon on draft night from the Philadelphia 76ers early in the second round, I’m not sure if they had intentions of him having an immediate impact on the team. After watching two games (which is a minuscule sample size), Maledon could be the best pure point guard on the roster, and he plays with the confidence and flair of a seasoned veteran. Not a 19-year-old second-round pick that’s not only new to the NBA but new to the entire continent. He plays as if his mentor is Tony Parker or something (sarcasm, he’s indeed Maledon’s mentor).
In his first NBA action, he scored 20 points against Parker’s former Spurs, and to ensure that wasn’t a fluke, he scored 11 against the Bulls. Those 11 points weren’t very efficient, though. He played 30 minutes and shot 3 of 9, but showed that he could make an impact in other areas of the game. He recorded four rebounds and three assists, and on the defensive end had two steals.
One of SGA and Bazley’s glaring issues from last season was their inability to finish after contact. They were well aware of that weakness too. They both would shy away from being physical on offense, which is more of an issue for Bazley, who will play in the post at times. Both mentioned that they need to work on that this offseason and both clearly did.
Bazley only got up five attempts in 19 minutes, but in those five attempts, he was decisive in every decision he made. There were times last season where he looked unsure of what he wanted to do with the ball in his hand, which was understandable for a rookie.
It’s important to remember that this is the preseason. It’s nothing guaranteed in these games, and no one, except the players who are trying to make the main roster are playing to their full potential in these games, so will this translate into the regular season against real stars, playing at an elite level? Who knows, but Thunder fans need to be grateful for the little things this season because the wins will be sparse.