The Thunder survived a preseason scare from Melbourne United on Sunday afternoon in Oklahoma City, securing an 86-85 victory over the scrappy team out of Australia’s National Basketball League. The contest was a back-and-forth affair throughout, and Melbourne United had a chance to win the game late. Josh Huestis saved the day with back-to-blocks on potential game-winners, sealing the deal for a Thunder team that occasionally looked uninspired.
Paul George led the way with 22 points and 7 rebounds, Carmelo Anthony pitched in 19 and 8 of his own, and Russell Westbrook saw his work load increased significantly after receiving just 10 minutes in his debut on Friday night. He finished with 9 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds, furthering himself even more from the PRP injection that kept him out of training camp.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Thunder moved to 2-1 with just one preseason contest standing in the way of the October 19 season opener. Let’s get into some thoughts/notes.
Far From Perfect
As will be the case with most things, the focal point here is the Thunder’s star trio. They each had their stretches, but one would have liked to have seen the Thunder handle business a little better against Melbourne United. George (39), Anthony (31), and Westbrook (28) all logged significant minutes, but the game remained remarkably close despite a sizable talent gap between the two teams.
The offense felt awkward at times, and frequently devolved into a “your turn, my turn” approach. Westbrook, George and Anthony combined to shoot 14/43 in the game (32%), and failed to make a real connection against a team that had no business slowing any of them down. There was again an abundance of isolation plays out Anthony and George, and Westbrook looked disjointed working without the ball in his hands.
Stat lines can be deceiving, and the box score alone isn’t atrocious. The Thunder are good enough as individuals to win plenty of games, but how well/quickly they mesh will determine how far the team will ultimately go. Doesn’t look anywhere close just yet.
Billy Donovon rolled out a few interesting lineups against Melbourne United, again showing a willingness to tinker to extreme levels. Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson were the first two off the bench, which is likely to change when Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson are added back into the fold. Even still, a few of the more intriguing options seen today:
Westbrook/Ferguson/George /Grant /Adams
How Abrines and Patterson alter the approach will be interesting to watch, but expect Grant to spend a fair amount of time at center this season. It’s a step toward position-less basketball playing he and Anthony at the 4 and 5 — something Donovan did on a number of occasions today. Anthony also looks like he will get a great deal of run with Westbrook and George resting, although George looks most effective so far when operating by himself in staggered lineups.
Steven Adams was great on Sunday, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He shot 5/9 from the floor, and created several opportunities for himself with five offensive rebounds. It was by far his most effective preseason contest yet.
That being said, it’s clear he’s still trying to find his way within a rebuilt Thunder attack. There were stretches of the game that he disappeared offensively, due in large part to the ball rarely ever being fed to him in the post. He buoyed his stat line with opportunities created off the offensive glass, but the Thunder would benefit from working him into the natural flow on offense. He’s too good of a passer out of the block and high post to not diversify the attack by including him — especially when shots aren’t falling for the Thunder big three.
Terrance Ferguson Doing Things
He didn’t do much statistically with his 35 minutes, but goodness Terrance Ferguson is a lot of fun. He’s getting playing time right out of the gate, isn’t he?
- Raymond Felton left the game in the third quarter after appearing to injure his hand. He was declared out for the remainder of the contest with a sprained left wrist, but said after the game that he is fine. His availability for Tuesday’s preseason finale is something to look out for.
- Neither Semaj Christon or Isaiah Canaan had logged any minutes prior to Felton’s injury, but it was Christon that got the nod in his place. He finished with 0 points and a turnover in 13 minutes, while Canaan received a DNP.
- Andre Roberson shot 5/9 from the free throw line, but had a horrific airball from the stripe late in the game. He inexplicably held his form after watching it fall to the ground.
- Point guard Casper Ware led the way for Melbourne United with 20 points, 6 rebounds and solid defense on Russell Westbrook. Sam Presti should check and see if he can just stay in Oklahoma City.
- It wasn’t perfect today, but plays like this can make a Thunder fan salivate: