Time: 2:00 PM CST
TV: NBA TV
Radio:WWLS (98.1 FM OKC / 97.1 FM Tulsa)
My most anticipated game of the Thunder pre-season is finally here. The pride of Norman, OK and the 5th pick in the 2018 draft, Trae Young, returns to Oklahoma for the first time as an NBA player. Additionally, newly minted Thunder guard, Dennis Schröder, will face off against his former team for the first time since being traded for Carmelo Anthony and a 2022 protected first-round pick.
Emotions will run high for both teams, but let’s not forget it’s still preseason and ironing out the kinks before the regular season opener on October 16th is the top priority.
- Russell Westbrook: Out — Knee
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Abdel Nader: Out — Knee
- Taurean Prince: Probable – Illness
- Daniel Hamilton: Out – Shoulder
- Dewayne Dedmon: Out – Ankle
- Justin Anderson: Out – Leg
Atlanta: Trae Young, John Collins, Tyler Dorsey, Kent Bazemore, Alex Len
What to Watch For
Rookie on the Rise. In Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, rookie Hamidou Diallo did just enough to make me wonder if he could be an actual contributor for the Thunder this season. He’s just as athletic as expected and can somehow jump even higher than promised. He finished with 8 points and an impressive defensive effort with six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes. Expect Diallo to get significant minutes today and slowly, but steadily, improve offensively. That being said, it’s honestly fine with me if Diallo’s only job is in-game windmill dunks.
Sunday Shootout. With the addition of sharpshooting rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter (Maryland) in the 2018 draft, it looks like Atlanta’s season strategy is to rely heavily on 3-point shooting to carry this team. It hasn’t quite worked out that way for the Hawks so far. Young is 2-11 from three in the Hawks first two preseason games and Huerter is 1-5. I don’t expect that Young will shoot that poorly in front of an Oklahoma crowd and he might even go full Buddy Hield return to OKC (score 13 points in the 4th quarter and *almost* single-handedly win the game).
The Thunder struggled on numerous occasions last season to defend the arc against opponents who had a hot hand from three. If Trae Young breaks out today, this game could be great defensive practice for next week’s game against the Warriors.
Double Trouble. Rotating Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel under the basket has the potential to be an absolutely relentless defensive presence. Noel was slow to start in the Thunder’s first preseason game, but he stepped up in a big way in Friday’s game. He finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks on top of Adam’s 14 points and 13 rebounds. Today, Noel needs come out with that same level of defensive energy, but work on taking care of the basketball. He committed 2 turnovers in Friday’s game.
Young Guns. Friday’s game saw increased fourth-quarter minutes for many of the Thunder’s young guys including Deonte Burton, who did not play in the preseason opener. Burton’s performance wasn’t particularly remarkable one way or the other, but it was good to see Coach Billy Donovan giving him some playing time. However, playing the young guys came at the expense of Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, who did not see any playing time on Friday. TLC will likely see minutes in today’s game and could be a significant part the Thunder second unit going forward. Terrance Ferguson looks to have secured the starting 2-guard spot in the wake of Roberson’s prolonged recovery, but that could change if TLC or Diallo improve significantly in the coming months.
To Do List. With opening day fast approaching, the Thunder still have a few areas they need to tighten up. The first priority should be limiting turnovers. The Thunder committed 15 turnovers in Friday’s game with 5 of those coming from Schröder. Second, the Thunder need to move the ball more– especially off the bench. This will hopefully improve when Schröder moves down to the second unit when Russell Westbrook returns; but in the meantime, Felton needs to distribute the ball more instead of looking for shots for himself. Finally, it’s time to pick up the pace. Understandably, preseason games are lower energy, but I’d like to see the offense moving at a faster clip today.