Time: 6:00 PM CST
Radio: WWLS (98.1 FM OKC / 97.1 FM Tulsa)
The Thunder (0-2) are off to a slow start this season, as poor shooting continues to plague the entire roster. Over the first two games, OKC has created 42 open shots but only made 12. Obviously, it’s tough to see them miss those shots. However, 42 wide open looks indicate that the offense is working, but the shots just aren’t falling.
The Thunder’s shooting woes won’t last forever and tonight’s home game against a struggling Kings (0-2) team could be the confidence boost the Thunder need to get back to themselves. ESPN’s Royce Young reported that Russell Westbrook is possibly eyeing tonight’s game for his return, which would certainly help swing things in the Thunder’s favor.
Tip-off is at 6:00 PM CT on Fox Sports Oklahoma. According to OddsShark, the Thunder are 10-point favorites against the Kings.
Update: Russell Westbrook is back.
Westbrook is starting and has no minute restriction tonight.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) October 21, 2018
- Russell Westbrook: Active — Knee
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Bogdan Bogdanovic: Out — Knee
Kings: Yogi Ferrell, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica, Willie Cauley-Stein
What to Watch For
The Russ Effect. The value of Russell Westbrook for this team cannot be overstated. Without Russ, the Thunder are not only missing their biggest source of offense but also their best facilitator. Over the first two games, there have been several instances of unnecessary and mistimed passes by both George and Schröder. Schröder is a combined 9-for-34 from the field over the first two games and George committed 8 turnovers in the same short span. In their defense, Coach Donovan is asking a lot of George as he is already taking on the largest defensive role while Roberson is out and then having to create his own looks on top of that. Additionally, OKC didn’t take on Schröder with the intention that he would be taking 17 shots a game or that they would have to rely so heavily on him for offensive production. Long story short, OKC needs Russ back on the court and fast.
Shooting Hard. The Thunder’s struggles at the 2-position continue to linger, as none of the wings (Ferguson, Abrines, or Diallo) have had a huge impact in the first two games. Abrines provided a couple clutch threes in Friday’s game that looked promising, but he still ended the night 2-of-7 from three. Ferguson was basically a non-factor for the starting lineup finishing 1-for-6 from the field with only 4 points. Diallo only saw 9 minutes of playing time on Friday with not much to show for it. There are pros and cons to each player, but none have set themselves apart from the others so far. Until then, Coach Donovan will probably continue to start Ferguson.
Centers of Attention. The one unlikely bright spot in the Thunder’s subpar start has been Nerlens Noel. Over the first two games, Noel quietly posted 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 12 rebounds. However, Noel’s value early on can’t necessarily be quantified on the stat sheet. He elevates the defensive energy of the second unit, has a hand in almost every play under the basket, and appears to have a level of hustle on par with Westbrook himself. This emphatic dunk from Paul George looked as good as done, but when George botched it at the last second Noel was right there for the putback. Noel already has the energy and the athleticism; but as his skills around the rim continue to improve, the combination of Adams and Noel could be an overwhelming force. Adams put up big numbers in Friday’s game against the Clippers finishing with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Adams, who led the league in offensive rebounds last season, is stepping up on the defensive end as well averaging 4.5 more DREBs than OREBs in the first two games.
Nerlens Noel flies in.
OKC has sliced big LAC lead to 4. pic.twitter.com/UJ6VmD9PEA
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) October 20, 2018
Looking Ahead. The Thunder have a small window of opportunity to get themselves right before Thursday’s home game against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics’ roster is deep and could pose a significant challenge if OKC can’t count on Schröder and Noel to elevate the Thunder’s second unit. The Thunder will require significantly more offensive production from Patterson and Ferguson if they want even a chance to compete with the Celtics’ starters. OKC is also set for a rematch with the Clippers at home on October 30th.