4 min read

Suns vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Suns vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Suns (8-18, 4-10 road) vs. Thunder (15-11, 10-5 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 4:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 102.3 (21st), Suns – 101.5 (23rd)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.8 (9th), Suns – 106.3 (23rd)

One of the fears in this season of Russell Westbrook was when would he reach the point of exhaustion? Heap whatever accolades you want at Westbrook for his intensity and non-stop engine. Those are all very well deserved. But also remember, that he has abide by the laws of Earthly physics and physiology. Even though his genetic make-up may provide him with a couple more mitochondria in his cells than the average man, there still comes the realization where you see Westbrook for what he is: a man, and not as a god-like figure.

While Westbrook is having to log 35-38 minutes a night on a poorly constructed team, the rest of NBA’s elite usually gets one or two nights every ten games where they get to play less than 30 minutes in a game, if they even play at all. Why? Because most of those players are on well-constructed teams that can either win a game by the end of the third quarter or afford to rest their star players several games a season in preparation for the bigger picture: the playoffs.

There’s been a lot of debate in the new collective bargaining agreement about finding ways to prevent teams from resting their players throughout the season. To the NBA, the best players are usually on the best teams. So it would behoove them to find a way to keep those players on the court as much as possible, regardless of whether it’s a primetime match-up in December or a Tuesday night tussle late in the season against a struggling lottery-bound team. Less back to backs. More days to rest during the All-Star break. Smarter scheduling. So on and so forth.

Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder would definitely benefit from more rest. But some respite may come soon in the form of returning players. Victor Oladipo and Cameron Payne likely won’t be back for Saturday’s game. But they should come back sometime in December. The return of both those players would be an absolute boon for Westbrook and the team as they head into the difficult part of the season in January.

Season Series Recap

This will be the 2nd of four meeting this season between the Thunder and Suns. The Thunder won the first meeting 113-110 in overtime, in a game that featured a monster triple-double by Westbrook (51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists). The Thunder struggled through most of that game and needed everyone of those statistics from Westbrook to pull the game out in overtime.

The Opponent

The Suns come into this game with an 8-18 record, having lost 7 of their last 10. The Suns are a weird mixture of high-priced, injury-prone veterans and developing young players with tons of potential. They remind of the Utah Jazz from about 5 seasons ago that featured Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Deron Williams. It was around that point in time that the Jazz front office decided the ceiling for that trio was too low, at which point they put the wheels in motion for a slow rebuild. They traded that trio off piece by piece, while acquiring assets and developing their young players.

The future for the Suns rests on players like Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and TJ Warren. While those players are developing, though, players like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Tyson Chandler stand in their way, hopefully showing the young prospects the correct way to comport themselves in the NBA. Negative veteran can be a detriment in the development of young players. Until the day that those veterans are traded from the team, the Suns will be a team with an identity crisis (win now or develop now/win later).


  • Cameron Payne (foot)
  • Victor Oladipo (wrist)

3 Big Things

1. Disciplined Defense

There’s always a difficulty in guarding a team with a bunch of young players with potential and no clear cut identity. When you play the Warriors, you know you better key in on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and, yes, Kevin Durant. When you play the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. But when you play the Suns, it’s a guess who their player of the game could be that evening. It could be any one of Bledsoe, Booker, Knight, Chriss, or Warren. Or maybe Bender goes off for a career game. That’s the thing with young teams. They have so many guys that want to prove themselves, that it sometimes makes it difficult to defend them properly.

2. Ball-handling

Whew….it definitely slim pickings out there for the Thunder once you get past Westbrook. I think I saw Andre Roberson take it upon himself in the Portland game to handle the ball when Westbrook was out of the game at one point in the second half. When that starts to even be a thought, you know you are in trouble. Semaj Christon is what he is. I’d almost rather he attack the rim every time he has the ball than try to play point guard. You can tell a player like Enes Kanter is getting frustrated at not being able to play to one of his strengths (pick and roll) at certain points in the game when Christon is in there with him. At this point, I’d like to see if Alex Abrines can play-make a little. Just try something else, Billy.

3. Protect home court

With the lack of trips to the ‘Peake for the Thunder in the next month and a half (7 home games in the next 23 games), the Thunder have to take advantage of the games they do play in Oklahoma City. And that starts with today’s game against the Suns.