Thunder vs. Spurs: Pregame Primer
Thunder (28-20, 12-14 road) vs. Spurs (36-11, 16-6 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.4 (18th), Spurs – 111.2 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.3 (7th), Spurs – 102.3 (3rd)
What we saw on Sunday is probably what we are going to see a lot of for the next two months. More minutes for Joffrey Lauvergne. More minutes with the reserves for Domantas Sabonis. And a lot more staggering to have Victor Oladipo out there with the bench unit. But what I really want to see is more dynamic point guard play from second year guard Cameron Payne. So far this season his game has been relegated to bring the ball up the court, take “late in the shot clock” threes, and occasionally drive the ball into the top of the paint for a 13-15 foot pull-up jumper. That’s basically it.
There has to be more to his game. I don’t know if he is still adjusting to life after a broken foot, but the last time he really drove the ball hard into the lane, he stepped on Josh Huestis’ foot and rebroke the thing. So far, Payne is 11 games into the season. He’s averaging 5.4 points and 1.7 assists on 30% shooting from deep and 34.3% shooting overall in 16.2 minutes of game action. If the Thunder are going to stay afloat in the next 6-8 weeks, without completing taxing Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, Payne is probably the main cog that has to step up.
He has to take ownership of that second unit now that Kanter is out. Maybe develop a rapport with either Lauvergne or Sabonis in the 2-man game. Learn how to use the space created by having Alex Abrines on the floor with him. Learn how to create off the dribble and look for his own shot. Whatever that thing is he develops, one thing is for sure: Payne has be play better.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of three meetings this season between the Thunder and Spurs. The two teams split their season series last year, before meeting in the second round of the playoffs. There, the Thunder beat the Spurs 4-2, as their post athleticism overwhelmed that of the aging Spurs.
The Spurs come into this game with a 36-11 record, having lost their last two games. Both those losses came to the lottery-bound Mavericks and Pelicans, as the Spurs learn to deal with life without their main interior threat, Pau Gasol, who had finger surgery almost 2 weeks ago. But here’s breaking news, if you haven’t heard: The Spurs are still pretty good. Kawhi Leonard continues to evolve as a player and LaMarcus Aldridge is still a threat to score 25 or more anytime he steps on the court.
For as much as he’s slowed down athletically, Tony Parker can still get to his sweet spots on the floor when he wants to. In Gasol’s absence, David Lee has ramped up his production, averaging 13.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in his last 5 games. And Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, and Danny Green continue to be efficient floor spacers that keep defenses honest enough to allow Leonard and Aldridge to continue being effective.
Enes Kanter (forearm)
3 Big Things
1. Perimeter Defense
The Spurs have 6 rotation players that shoot 39.5% or better from 3-point territory. For comparative purposes, the Thunder have one (Jerami Grant at 40.3% – I know….sustainable!). The thing with the Spurs is that they set everything up from the midrange. Most teams either use the pick and roll as a spacing measure or they dump it inside and play “inside-out”. But San Antonio is a master at holding a defense’s attention in the mid-range, and then running off the ball action on the other side of the court. If you operate in the mid-range, then the defense will be in that middle ground where they don’t know whether to leave their man on the perimeter or sink down to help on the mid-range player. It’s in that confusion that San Antonio kills you.
2. Steven Adams
One of the major advantages the Thunder still have over the Spurs is that they can trot out a 2-big line-up that can punish the Spurs on the interior. They did it to them in the playoffs last season, and the Spurs’ big man personnel didn’t really change from last season. But now, with Kanter out, that advantage becomes a bit muted. Adams is still the best true big man in this game (I don’t really qualify Aldridge as an interior big man, Because he does most of his damage in the mid-range), but he’ll have to definitely step up his production to make up for the loss of Kanter.
The Spurs are very meticulous in running their offense, and because of that meticulousness, they are one of the slower teams in the NBA in terms of pace. The Thunder, on the other hand, wants to put the defense on skates as they run down the other end of the floor after a rebound. If the Spurs keep the game in the 90’s, then the game flips more in their favor. If the score gets to 105 or higher, then the Thunder may have a chance in this game.