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Thursday Bolts: 9.27.18

Erik Horne on the Thunder sticking with 14 players for now: “The Thunder entered training camp this week with an open roster spot. Don’t expect it to be filled before the end of camp. “Right now we’re going with what we have,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “If something changes, I’ve always said this with Sam (Presti) and Troy (Weaver), they’re always looking to improve, make our team better all the time. That would be something that if Sam decided to do that, we’d probably talk about that.” If the Thunder is going to eventually add another player to reach the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts, he’d better be worth it. The Thunder already cleared close to $20 million in luxury tax savings by waiving Kyle Singler and using the stretch provision in August. Adding another player at even the minimum salary would equate to major luxury tax implications.”

Nick Gallo on the Thunder’s defensive length: “No matter what defensive system a team is running, there are a handful of areas in which the team must stay vigilant. First is getting back in transition and matching up to keep the ball away from the rim. Then it’s defending without fouling and eliminating easy opportunities for opponents to knock down free throws. With the way the league is trending, every team must also defend the three-point line, minimizing wide open opportunities to knock down the most potent shots in the game. The Thunder and Head Coach Billy Donovan have a plan for all that, and it stems from the personnel that exists on the roster. The versatility, athleticism and quickness of the group is only outdone by one crucial factor – length. It’s a coveted attribute in today’s NBA because it gives players a mulligan for many potential defensive mistakes. Being able to fly out to the perimeter to contest a shot or deter one from even being taken in the lane are crucial ways where the Thunder can use its team’s profile to its advantage.”

Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on the Thunder preparing for officiating changes: “On the second day of Oklahoma City Thunder training camp, officials were brought into the gym. Coach Billy Donovan said the Thunder got to more five-on-five basketball and want to get to even more of it. Yet, by the sound of it, that was less the reason to have officials present than it was to underline and begin getting used to some NBA rules changes and officiating protocols that could end up benefitting Oklahoma City. “We started right away today with officials,” Donovan said. It’s all about the NBA trying to create a more open game, and with the Thunder trying to play with more speed and tempo, as well as trying to create a defensive identity every bit as profound as what it’s doing offensively, the professional whistlers were brought in. “The fast break, the freedom of movement … the two-handed grabbing, the holding,” Donovan said, “There’s going to be an emphasis on allowing guys to move.”

Adam Fromal (B/R) has the Thunder frontcourt as 11th-best in the NBA: “11. Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams (20). 2017-18 results together: 8.7 net rating in 389 minutes. Speaking of dynamic duos… Paul George remains one of the Association’s most impactful presences, capable of performing like an All-NBA candidate on either end of the floor. A deflection magnet, he may well be the league’s preeminent three-and-D force, although he’s so much more. Steven Adams doesn’t have nearly as glamorous of a game, but that’s partially because he’s ceded touches to the bigger names surrounding him on the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s content to remain an uber-efficient option who specializes in setting hard screens to free his running mates while locking down opponents on every possession.  Together, they helped OKC earn a 5.9 net rating. Even without Russell Westbrook on the floor, that number stood at 2.2.”

Erik Horne on Nerlens Noel and TLC following the Jerami Grant blueprint: “But Noel said he’s comfortable where he is. Grant became a better player in Oklahoma City. Why can’t he? “I know my career hasn’t gone ideally as it should, but everybody has their highs and their lows and I’m going to work through it,” Noel said. “Jerami has come here I think after his second or third year, and you’ve seen the progression he’s made. He’s a completely different player. He’s been molded into the system, to be that player that he naturally is and naturally wants to be. So, he hasn’t had any restrictions and it’s really helped his game a lot, and I’m really looking for the same.”

TJ Berka (ESPN) ranks Thunder fans as the 24th most miserable fan base in the NBA: “Where they’re especially miserable: In finishing the job. Despite having an array of All-Star players that most fan bases would kill for, the Thunder haven’t won the ultimate prize. Their only NBA Finals appearance was a five-game loss to the Heat in 2012, and OKC blew a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals, then lost Kevin Durant to them in free agency. Rays of hope: Despite the lack of a championship, Oklahoma City fans are spoiled. The Thunder have made the playoffs eight of their 10 seasons in OKC, getting as far as the conference finals four times. Also, Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have helped give the Thunder one of the league’s most star-studded rosters. Trend: As long as you have Westbrook and George, like the Thunder do, great things are a possibility. However, OKC hasn’t won a playoff series since 2016, so its championship window might be closing.”

John Morgan Francis (Sea of Blue) breaks down Hamidou Diallo’s rookie contract: “Per Spotrac, Diallo has two fully guaranteed years on his deal with the first year at $838,464 and the second at $1,416,852. The third year of his deal is a team option of $1,663,861, and the fourth year is a qualifying offer of $2,145,192. If Diallo can’t come to a contract extension before then, he’ll hit restricted free agency in 2021. The Thunder have Diallo listed as the fourth shooting guard on their depth chart behind starter Andre Roberson, sixth man Alex Abrines and then Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. With Roberson coming off a major injury and Abrines limited defensively, Diallo could work his way into seeing some playing time during the regular season.”

Brett Dawson penned a letter to mark his beginning at The Athletic: “Three years ago, I walked away from a good job covering Kentucky — the NBA’s 31st team, a friend used to say — to chase a dream of chronicling one of the proper 30. I took a freelance gig covering the Pelicans, a career reset button that I pressed with a thrill and more than a little angst. Ultimately that gamble led me back to full-time work, this time on the Thunder beat. And in three years of covering the NBA, I like to think I’ve found ways to give readers something below the surface. In New Orleans, I didn’t just listen to Alvin Gentry saying he’d call in a voodoo doctor to cure the Pelicans’ injury woes. I went out and found some and asked if it was possible. In Oklahoma City, I didn’t just write that the Thunder would have an expensive 2018-19 roster. I explained the ways the franchise had been preparing for it, for years. Those are my favorite stories to write. Now, finding them is at the core of my job description.”

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