WHO NEEDS RUSSELL WESTBROOK?
The Thunder do. That’s who.
In the end, Oklahoma City registered a 95-81 win over Fenerbahce in Istanbul, but for a good 20 minutes of the first half, the panic button looked really big, red and shiny. It was more of the same from last May when the Thunder struggled to find any kind of offensive consistency without Westbrook outside of Kevin Durant just doing things.
All you need to know about the way the Thunder played: Durant took 17 shots in the first half. There was no balance, no give-and-take, no flow. It was basically just the first option being Durant, and the second option being whoever Durant passed it to.
The Thunder took control of the game with a big second quarter, but really, that all was sparked by better defense and some missed shots by Fener. Nothing clicked in the halfcourt, but in transition the Thunder were able to just out-athlete Fener. That’s where the Thunder are at their best anyway — running off misses. When they were forced into anything halfcourt, there was confusion, there was misunderstanding, there was miscommunication.
Without Westbrook, the remedy isn’t going to be some miraculous offensive system that Scott Brooks concocted overnight or Reggie Jackson reaching his final stages of evolution three years early. It’s going to be about the defensive end. That’s how the Thunder are going to have to stay in games and then hope that the offense finally breaks open a little.
It goes without saying, but here I say it anyway: This was the first preseason game. Against a much lesser opponent, but there’s still rust, still some kinks, still some stuff to work out. There was a lot of sloppiness, especially in poor closeouts and defensive rotations early, but eventually the Thunder seemed to sort of settle in.
All that said, there were some real positives, too. A few notes I made:
- I think the Thunder might want to consider just running a post offense through Durant. Start every game sitting KD on the block and wait until the defense starts to double to then adjust out of it. Everyone can see it — KD’s bigger this season. I don’t know if he’s actually added muscle weight or if his body’s just filling out as he gets older, but he’s better built. Which means he’s more suited for the post.
- You can definitely tell Serge Ibaka has been working on his back-to-the-basket game. He posted probably seven or eight times, and where he’s really improved is he ws able to put the ball on the floor two and three times. That sounds simple, I realize. But that’s been one of the biggest challenges for Ibaka. He hasn’t been able to absorb post contact, dribble, gather and shoot. But he was putting the ball on the floor smoothly and while you could see the wheels turning in his head while he was on the block, it’s clear he’s been working.
- Was it just me or did Reggie Jackson looked a whole lot thinner?
- On Jackson: Solid performance. Nothing special, just solid. He had nine points on 4-6 and five assists in 23 minutes. Best thing: He was aggressive with his mid-range pull-up and splashed one nicely off a pick-and-roll.
- Jeremy Lamb looked… alright. Once he settled in and hit a little mid-range jumper, he got his feel going some. The kind of game he played today is exactly what the Thunder need from him (when Westbrook returns). Good shots and smart plays. He finished with nine on 4-9 shooting and played playmaker a little in the fourth quarter, picking up four assists. Lamb doesn’t need to be a guy scoring 18 points on 7-13 shooting. He just needs to take what’s given to him.
- Kendrick Perkins dislocated his finger in the first half and tried to fix it himself on the fly. He didn’t play any more in the second half.
- On Perk: More of the same, more of the same. Dropped a pass that would’ve been an easy bucket and missed a clean look at the rim. He did have six rebounds in 12 minutes, but to me, it looks like Perk’s trying too hard. Like he feels the angst about his game and is doing his best to prove everyone wrong. He just needs to play.
- Observation: The Thunder need another point guard. Badly.
- Andre Roberson is some kind of rebounding machine.
- Steven Adams: seven points, six rebounds and five fouls in 15 minutes. Honestly, I came away impressed. There are glimpses of Adams being a nice finisher around the bucket inside and he appears to have a better offensive feel than a lot of us thought (like the play he was called for a charge — good move, good touch). And he’s a really solid screener. Defensively though, he seemed to get caught up on the pick-and-roll wash a number of times. He had this same issue in Summer League, but he hangs on his hedge just a beat too long in defending the pick-and-roll. One preseason game against a bunch of 6-7 Turks, but I’m encouraged.
- Honestly, I’m not sure Durant is going to have a better dunk than that this season. That was filthy. Dirty. Disgusting.
- The difference in ball movement between the teams was almost jarring at times. Fener moved it beautifully, spreading the floor to make hockey assist after hockey assist.
Next up: Against the Sixers in Manchester on Tuesday