- Tip-off: 6 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The timing, the rhythm, the flow, the chemistry. Whatever you want to call it, the Thunder is working at it, as hard as they possibly can to make it come together as quickly as they can. But it’s not always linear, and it’s definitely a process that is going to be ongoing throughout the entire season.
What the Thunder can do for certain on a nightly basis, like tonight in the second night of a back to back against the Minnesota Timberwolves, is put all of its energy and focus into staying disciplined. Working through the team’s offensive concepts, trusting one another and exerting energy into defensive rotations and relying on the coaching staff’s use of all of the weapons at their disposal will give the Thunder a chance to bounce back from a tough loss in Utah on Saturday.
They’ll have to contend with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and more, but the Thunder knows that if it plays the right way it’ll have a good chance to win at home.
“It’s still about us continuing to grow and evolve as a team,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s more information that we can look at things that we have to get better at. It’s another opportunity for us to be better.”
On Saturday night in Utah, however, the Thunder really struggled to shoot the ball, knocking down just 41 percent of its field goal attempts, including just 33 percent of its three-pointers and only 40 percent of its shots in the paint. Oddly enough, Donovan’s group was at its best against Utah when shooting non-paint two point jumpers, as it knocked down 11-of-20 attempts, good for 55 percent. Typically long two-pointers aren’t an efficient NBA shot, but the Thunder has players who can hit them at such a percentage that it distorts the math.
“I want those guys to have freedom shooting the basketball when they’re open,” Donovan said. “If we’re generating good looks, we need to take those.”
“For every player, there’s a good shot and a bad shot. Analytically, when you look at non-paint two’s, for most of the league, it’s not a great shot,” Donovan further explained. “There are players like Carmelo (Anthony) who at non-paint two range, is really good. If he has clear looks or he’s in his space, he needs to take those because he’s going to out-shoot or out-perform what the league average is on non-paint two’s.”
Against the Timberwolves, the Thunder will face another tough Northwest Division defense, which is no surprise given that they’re led by Tom Thibodeau. The Minnesota head man is known around the NBA as one of the best defensive minds in the game, and one of the most hard-nosed coaches out there.
That style of defense will be a great test for the Thunder as they continue to get adjusted to new roles. For players like Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George who are used to being in situations where they have to create their own shots, there’s going to be an acclimation period as they learn how to play off of the catch, rather than off the dribble. Scoring off of catch-and-shoots is much easier than having to manufacture a shot on your own, but naturally, it’ll take time to become the new normal.
“It’s different when you’re accustomed to being a rhythm guy and having to create offense off the bounce and get yourself in a rhythm off the dribble. Whereas the other night, I was getting a lot of catch and shoots,” George explained. “That rhythm is going to be a little different now.”
That change, while challenging in the early stages, will make the Thunder’s offense more dynamic once it’s rolling.
“That’s a really good problem,” George quipped.
– Westbrook struggled to score on Saturday night, as did the entire Thunder team, but Donovan and the coaching staff have been raving about Westbrook’s leadership and willingness to put the team’s needs first. During this discovery process early in the season, Westbrook has thrown himself in headfirst to devoting his talents in productive ways.
- “(Westbrook) can do different things to impact the game in different ways,” Donovan said. “He’s one of those guys who can be on a team with different personnel and can try to figure out ways to make an impact to help the team. I’ve always admired that about him. Every year that I’ve been around him, he finds ways to get better individually and he finds ways to help our team.”
– In the season opener against New York, Alex Abrines played 24 minutes, then backed it up with 29-minutes against the Jazz. Clearly he’ll be a fixture in the Thunder rotation this season because of his shooting, but the reason he’s due for more minutes is that he bulked up over the summer physically and can contribute more defensively.
- “He’s much better defensively this year than a year ago,” Donovan said of Abrines. “He’s going to be quicker because he can see things develop before they’re happening… He’s able to hold his ground, he has good length and he’s more of a physical player than he was a year ago.”
– Another player whose presence has been felt is Steven Adams, who had to wrestle with Rudy Gobert in Utah last night and will have to turn around and face the dynamic Towns tonight. Adams is such a versatile and helpful defender because of his ability to bang in the post but also switch out onto the perimeter. His play has earned kudos from new teammates like George:
- “Steven is a strong force down there. At his age, he’s really good at controlling that paint,” George said. “I feel like that defensive anchor mindset comes around when you’re later in your career and you understand defense and personnel. He’s locked in at an early stage.”
- “He wants the physicality down there. He wants the contact down there,” George continued. “When you have a physical big like that who can eat up that much space down there, it makes it easier for us to play this small style and not give up so much.”