So, the Thunder might be pretty good.
Now, the necessary qualifications go here: By “pretty good” that doesn’t mean they’re a contender. That doesn’t mean they’re winning 55 games. That doesn’t mean they didn’t just lose by 26 to the Warriors (thanks for making sure I haven’t forgotten that, hundreds of Warriors fans).
But it does mean in this season of transition, they are clearly ahead of schedule of what many feared they might be. There were more than a few that not only doubted the Thunder as a playoff team, but doubted their viability as a competent group period. Instead, they’re 5-1 and have looked fairly impressive. The win over the Clippers is their current validation, but the win over the Lakers looks better than originally thought, and this beatdown of the Wolves may be as good an example as anything. Sure, maybe the Wolves just played awful. But they’re supposed to be a solid team, and regardless of if they’re not, the Thunder completely ran them tonight.
The defense is what’s eye-catching, because outside of Karl Towns, who was sensational, the Thunder eliminated every other option. Andre Roberson locked Andrew Wiggins in a car trunk, holding him to seven points on 3-13 shooting and three turnovers. Victor Oladipo was very good on Zach LaVine, who scored four points on 1-6 shooting. Kris Dunn had seven points on 2-8. It was mainly that third quarter where OKC held the Wolves to 19 points, but the length, athleticism and effort was impressive.
What makes it churn is Westbrook, and he was again excellent. Controlled the game, picked his spots to score, set up teammates, and knocked down 4-5 fro 3. He was the spark to that third quarter, just basically sending the game to blowoutsville on his own.
The Thunder have a stretch of home games coming here, so they need to take care of business if they want to actually get in the mix. To be 5-1 is way ahead of schedule, because the thought was this team would need to take time to learn how to play around Westbrook. Now, there’s still plenty of time for it to go south as well, but for now we have to go with what we know, and that’s that the Thunder might be in a pretty good spot, all things considered.
- Points in the paint: 70 for the Thunder. That’s a good formula to winning.
- The Thunder hit 7-16 from 3, which is fine. So much of how they shoot from 3 might be, sadly, about how Westbrook does. He hit 4-5 tonight, which obviously isn’t sustainable, but that’s when it can come together.
- Enes Kanter bounced back from a rough trip. He went for 20 and 10 in 21 minutes and just beasted the Wolves frontline. This is the thing with Kanter: Get him in games where it’s more traditional, and he’ll flourish. He’s just such a load, he’s so good in the pick-and-roll with Westbrook and his rebounding pads the numbers. Nights where the floor is spread, he’s not going to be as effective. He’s like a lefty specialist reliever that dominate three innings.
- Jerami Grant is such an athlete. He fits the Thunder profile so well. His frame is so impressive and he knows who to play with his athleticism. He can’t shoot, but he can guard and he can dunk.
- Westbrook tried that one pass he always threw to Durant, the over-the-top one where the defender’s not looking. Grant wasn’t ready and it went out of bounds. It was kind of sad.
- Domas Sabonis is an incredibly gifted passer. He had five assists, and could’ve had a couple more with some better finishing. For a rookie this guy is doing some really impressive things.
- Semaj Christon played a nice little game; 10 points and five assists in 20 minutes.
- A fan made a halfcourt shot for $20,000, the first one in a while. The Thunder went on a 13-0 run right after it. Asked if that helped pump him up, Westbrook said, “I’m always pumping, buddy.” I don’t know why, but I loved this quote.
- Everyone agrees the Wolves’ have a bright future. Ages of their core: 21, 20, 26, 21, 22, 26. Ages of OKC’s core: 27, 20, 24, 24, 23, 24.
Next up: Home against the Heat on Monday