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Thunder vs. Hawks: Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Hawks: Pregame Primer



Thunder (13-8, 4-4 road) vs. Hawks (10-11, 6-3 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:30 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 103.3 (15th), Hawks – 99.1 (27th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.9 (9th), Hawks – 100.5 (2nd)

A lot of Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent success in their last 5 games will be heaped upon Russell Westbrook, and deservedly so. The Thunder point guard has triple-doubled five games in a row and the Thunder have come out on the high side in every one of those contests. He now has 10 triple-doubles in total for the season and is in the top-10 for each one of the triple-double categories. Yes, a 6’3″ point guard is No. 9 in the league in rebound average at 10.8 per game.

While Westbrook has been amazing for the entire season, a major reason for the Thunder’s recent winning ways has been the bench. The five man group of Enes Kanter, Anthony Morrow, Joffrey Lauvergne, Jerami Grant, and Semaj Christon has done a great job of either chipping away at deficits or maintaining leads. In the Thunder first 16 games, that bench quintet had a net rating of -11.2. During their current win streak, the Thunder reserves have a net rating of +7.7.

It’s a group that is filling in different roles at different times. Grant has been good as a stretch defender at the 4 position. His long limbs allow him to contest shots on the interior, while also having the ability to guard the perimeter. He has closed out several games this season and did a great job on Anthony Davis last night. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has done a good job of using Kanter in the right spots throughout the season. To his credit, Kanter has gotten a little better defensively and is usually in the right spot to make the defensive play. Morrow has come along nicely in the last 5 games as the missing perimeter spark the Thunder have needed off the bench.

Season Series Preview

This is the first meeting of the year between the Thunder and Hawks. These two teams split their season series last year with each team winning on it’s home floor.

The Opponent

The Hawks come into this game with a 10-11 record, having lost 9 of their last 10 games. After starting the season 9-2 and looking like one of the East’s elite, the Hawks have 180’ed to fall out of the top 8 in the East. A lot of their issues reside on the defensive end of the floor where they have allowed their opponent to score over 100 points in 8 of their last 9 losses. With the departures of Al Horford and Jeff Teague in the offseason, the Hawks no longer have the offensive ability to go back and forth with high-scoring teams. If the Hawks are going to win, they are going to have to do it on the defensive end of the floor. And unfortunately for them, they haven’t been getting that done over the last 10 games.

Paul Millsap has been the Hawks’ best player, but has missed the last 3 games with a hip injury. He is questionable for tonight’s game. Joining him in the front court is center Dwight Howard, who still has the ability to take over games with his rebounding and interior defense. He’s currently averaging 13.7 points and 12.8 boards. In the backcourt, Dennis Schröder has done a good job in taking over the starting point guard duties from the departed Jeff Teague. In his first year as a full-time starter, Schröder is averaging 15.5 points and 6 assists. Outside of Kyle Korver and Mike Muscala, the Hawks are a poor 3-point shooting team. Former Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha is still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and leads the Hawks in steals at 2 per game.


  • Cameron Payne (foot)
  • Steven Adams (ankle) – Questionable

3 Big Things

1. Get out in transition

The Hawks are one of the worst teams in terms of getting back on defense. They rank 29th in Opponent Points off Turnovers at 19.8 per game. They also allow the 8th most points on the fast break at 14 points per game. Transition is a main staple of the Thunder’s offense. If Westbrook can get the team running, the Hawks may be at the mercy of Number 0.

2. Points in the Paint

This may be where the game is won. Points in the paint accounts for 47.3% of the Thunder’s offense. When Russell Westbrook gets into the paint, he usually either scores or threads it into someone for an easier score. On the other hand, the Hawks are the 12th best team at defending the paint, allowing just 41 points per game. Whoever wins this battle, will likely win the game.

3. Protect the ball

For as much as transition is a part of the Thunder’s offense, it is also a staple of the Hawks’ offense. Their penchant for getting steals (9.1 per game) and forcing turnovers (16.1 per game) allows them to get in transition quite often. In fact, points off turnovers accounts for 18.1% of the Hawks’ offense (3rd highest in the league). If the Thunder can protect the ball, they can shut off this source of offense for the Hawks.