6 min read

Friday Bolts: 12.7.18

Friday Bolts: 12.7.18

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game against the Bulls: “Against the Bulls, the Thunder will have to deal with the impressive, productive scoring prowess of Zach Lavine, who already has 20 games of 20-or-more points this season for the 5-20 Bulls. Ascending forward Lauri Markkanen will launch from behind the arc, where he is averaging 9.5 attempts per game and got up 13 from distance against the Indiana Pacers in Chicago’s last game. Fortunately, the Thunder has veteran prowess and some bright defenders throughout the entire rotation. While Paul George and Steven Adams headline the defense in terms of individual impact, it can often start with the head of the snake in Russell Westbrook. Take, for example, the Thunder’s fourth quarter in Brooklyn when Westbrook’s recognition, IQ and confidence combined to implement a strategy of double switching, where Westbrook quarterbacked the rotations on the back side to get favorable matchups in place.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Thunder trust taking a step forward: “In the midst of George combusting into flames during the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s 114-112 win against the Nets, he was cool enough to pass to Jerami Grant for a wide-open 3-pointer. On the same play, Russell Westbrook was on task enough to slot a backdoor pass to a cutting George to set up his drive. This was not with a healthy lead. This was trailing by five with less than three minutes to go — the game in the hands of two ball-dominant All-Stars, then handed off to Grant because it was the right play. Because George trusted in Grant. The “T-word” has been thrown around as a necessary development if the Thunder will ever get back to the apex of the NBA. Even in George’s individual brilliance at the Barclays Center on Wednesday, trust was there. “Trust. Trust. Trust,” George said, cutting into the question when asked what that play said about the Thunder. “We trust each other.”

Sekou Smith (NBA.com) on the Thunder rolling behind their superstar duo: “On a night when Westbrook logged his 108th career triple-double (21 points, 17 assists and 15 rebounds) to pass Jason Kidd on the all-time list, it was George who closed the show. He scored 25 of his season-high 47 points in the fourth quarter as Westbrook went scoreless and played set-up man for George’s late-game heroics. Westbrook got the assist on the game-sealing 3-pointer George nailed in the final seconds, capping a 6-for-13 night on 3-pointers for George. George’s virtuoso performance (he also had 15 rebounds, four assists, a block and just two turnovers) — the kind Westbrook has authored so routinely over the past two seasons — served as another reminder that the Thunder once again have two of the NBA’s best two-way players. Missing this time, however, is the chatter about whose team it is and who is the real alpha on the roster.”

Rachel Nichols (ESPN) discusses Paul George’s gamble to stay in OKC — and why it is paying off:

Shlomo Sprung (Forbes) on Russell Westbrook’s poor three-point shooting: “Of the 65 players who’ve attempted at least five 3-pointers per game, Westbrook has the worst shooting percentage by a whopping 1.5 percentage points, per NBA.com. Westbrook is 17-for-76 from three, one of 126 players who has attempted at least 75 treys this season. Of those 126 players, only eight (6.3%)— Westbrook, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Kent Bazemore, Joel Embiid, Stanley Johnson, Jabari Parker and Jaylen Brown— shoot under 30% from three. Westbrook has the worst percentage of any of those players. The league average is 35.1%. Two NBA scouts, one from the Northwest Division and one from the Pacific Division discussed Westbrook’s struggles from deep. “I’ve always felt like his mechanics weren’t great,” the Northwest scout said. “It’s not broken,” but not great either.” The Northwest scout’s preferred strategy against OKC is to deny everyone on the Thunder the ball and make Westbrook do all the work, where Paul George won’t see the ball for several possessions in a close game, the scout said.”

Zach Lowe (ESPN) on Westbrook’s threes: “Umm … so … Westbrook is shooting 22 percent from deep on five attempts per game after hitting just 29.8 percent last season — and then vowing to spend all summer honing his 3-point shot. Knee surgery cost him some of that offseason; he’ll soon nudge that percentage up toward his career mark of 30.9 percent. Even so: That puts him on pace to be the worst high-volume 3-point shooter in league history. Only 59 guys have attempted at least 1,000 career triples and hit 33 percent or fewer; Westbrook already ranks 12th on that list in attempts. (Kobe Bryant — of course — has by far the most attempts on this list, having hit 32.9 percent of 5,546 career regular-season 3-point tries.)”

Erik Horne on Billy Donovan’s comments about Westbrook ‘still getting his legs under him’: “The Thunder is 11-4 in games Westbrook has played this season. “I think one of the things is for him when you have two different stints where you miss training camp and then you come back and play a couple of games and you miss again another several games because of an ankle injury, it’s hard to get into any kind of rhythm,” Donovan said. “He’s still getting his legs under him and he’s still getting back to where he was, but he’s had a lot he’s had to overcome and endure since training camp started. “The way he plays and the way he continues to progress, I think those numbers will go back to where he’s been throughout his career.”

Bryan Kalbrosky (Hoops Hype) on the efficiency of Nerlens Noel: “Noel has averaged 15.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.6 steals per 36 minutes since signing with Oklahoma City. After inking a one-year deal with the team for the veteran minimum, his play thus far has shown nothing but a strong value for the organization. “He’s actually done a pretty good job,” Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan told HoopsHype. “His role in the minutes he’s played, he’s been efficient. We’ve been really pleased with him.” On the defensive end of the glass, his block percentage ranks Top 15 overall (minimum: 300 minutes) this year. His defensive real plus-minus ranks No. 7 overall among power forwards, per ESPN. Noel has played a pivotal role to help the Thunder have the best defensive rating in the NBA.”

Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder fourth in his latest power rankings: “Oklahoma City has become the team it probably should have been ever since the post-Durant era began. An offense led by Russell Westbrook may always be inconsistent and dependent on transition chances for scoring. That’s not a makeup that screams playoff threat. But when you pair it with an athletic, intelligent, physically overwhelming defense, you’ve got something intriguing. It also helps when Paul George can chip in with 47 points and a game-winning three, which he did against Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Thunder have won six of their last seven games and have a clear identity now—one that truly suits their personnel. There might not be a team in the league that’s less fun to play against.”

A look at the new Thunder alternate jersey:


Justin Peabody (OKC Tracker) with more details on the new “Earned Edition” alternates: “As for the on-court debut, Oklahoma City will wear their Earned Edition uniforms for the first time on December 30th in Dallas against the Mavericks. The initial plan was for teams to debut the Earned uniforms on Christmas day, but because the Houston Rockets Earned edition uniform is red, the Thunder will instead be wearing their Statement uniforms on December 25. In total, the Thunder will wear their Sunset uniforms eight times this season; four at home, and four on the road.”

Around the League: The Rockets appear to be in a whole mess of trouble…. LeBron is rumored to want Melo on the Lakers…. The Western Conference is overpowering the East…. Donovan Mitchell received a jury duty summons in the middle of the NBA season…. Grant Hill’s progression to team ownership…. Derek Fisher has been hired to coach in the WNBA…. Early returns from a quarter of the NBA season.