Thunder (6-4, 2-1 road) vs. Pistons (5-5, 4-0 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 – 100.1 (23rd), Pistons – 99.9 (24th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.6 (7th), Pistons – 100.3 (5th)
It’s a funny thing about perspective. If I would’ve gone into stasis lock on October 25th and had come out of it today, I would be impressed with the Thunder’s 6-4 record. This was a team in which 40% of the roster turned over, while at the same time losing two of its three franchise pillars in the process. And yet, somehow the Thunder are still mustering up enough gumption to be competitive in the Western Conference.
Here’s the thing, though. I didn’t go into a Kevin Durant-induced coma at the beginning of the season. Instead, I saw a team that started the season off by emulating a lot of the positive characteristics of their now unquestioned leader, Russell Westbrook. A team that fought and scrapped until the end of games while relying on its defense to give it a chance to win games. The Thunder used to hope that their offense could get them out of holes. Now they were relying on their defense to keep them in games. Those characteristics started to forge the identity of what would become the new Thunder.
That’s the good thing about playing hard at the beginning of the season. Scouting reports are scarce, so teams usually win based on talent and effort in the first few games of the season. Outside of “defend Russell Westbrook by packing the paint and prevent Steven Adams from catching alley-oops,” teams didn’t really know how to defend against the Thunder and their new look team. Likely because of that, the Thunder were able to reel off 6 wins in their first 7 games, and looked like the surprise belle of the ball in the NBA.
But much like the story of Cinderella, the clock is beginning to strike 12 and the ugly warts are starting to show themselves in regards to the Thunder’s play and their roster. Outside of Enes Kanter, the bench is lacking in consistent performers. That may have something to do with Cameron Payne’s injury, but he was rumored to be in trade talks at the beginning of the season anyways. Secondly, Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams have not been as impactful as they’ve needed to be. Yes, they may put up stats, but they have failed in doing that game in and game out. Thirdly, this roster, as currently constructed, is in a weird place. It’s a bunch of young, inexperienced players alongside Westbrook, Adams, Kanter, and Roberson. They kind of remind of the pre-Big 3 Boston Celtics of Paul Pierce and a whole bunch of young pieces. Those young pieces eventually turned into Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The question becomes: Is there a team out there willing to trade an All-Star level player for a bunch of potential?
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and Pistons. These two teams split their season series last year with each team winning on its home floor.
The Pistons currently find themselves with a 5-5 record, but are perfect at home. They’ve done this without the services of Reggie Jackson, who is out after receiving a PRPT procedure on his knee and wrist. He will not play in this game. They’ll also be without services of center Andre Drummond, who is out with a right ankle sprain.
The Pistons play a style similar to the Thunder’s, with a lightning quick point guard that likes to get into the lane and cause damage from there. With Drummond and Jackson out, their best two players are their forwards. Tobias Harris leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game and power forward Marcus Morris is second on the team at 15.2 points per game. Aside from scoring, they do little else to affect the game, each offering about 4 rebounds per game and a little under 2 assists per game. In Jackson’s absence, Ish Smith has continued his surprising ascendance from NBA scrap heap to quality point guard. He’s averaging 9.6 points and 6.7 assists for Detroit. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has become more consistent from deep this season, shooting a career high 37% from the 3-point line. Free agent acquisition Jon Leuer gives the Pistons a versatile big off the bench.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Must-win game?
I can’t really gauge the current psyche of this team. Westbrook is the pulse of the team, but as a veteran, he does a good job of saying all the right things to the media in regards to the team. But privately, you can tell he’s getting frustrated. The problem with greatness at times is that you want others to follow in your lead, but most players just aren’t equipped to follow your lead. It’s something most great players have to learn as they grow into their roles.
So is this a must win game? I believe it is. The Thunder have a difficult game coming up against the Houston Rockets, so this may be an opportunity to right the ship in a sense. Detroit will be vulnerable with the absences of Jackson and Drummond, so the door is open to put together a good performance.2. Defending the forwards
Morris and Harris are the Piston’s only source of consistent offense. They are both perimeter oriented big men, but luckily for the Thunder, Andre Roberson and Domantas Sabonis do a good job of defending on the perimeter.3. Alex Abrines
I really liked the minutes Abrines received against the Magic. He struggled a little with his shot when he first got in the game, but instead of trying to shoot himself out of the slump, he, instead, drove the ball to the basket and got a two-handed dunk in. He seemed to gain some confidence from that, and played a little looser from there. I would like to see him play with Westbrook more. It may open up both of their games by playing together.