1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+3)
Brandon Rahbar: Shai was the most disappointing Thunder player in Game 1. He was the best player on the court for either team in Game 2. SGA played the part of ascending star, scoring 31 points, and the Thunder was a +7 in his 37 minutes and a -20 when he was on the bench. Proving that last year’s postseason play against the Warriors was no fluke, Shai was the only OKC guard able to break down the Rockets’ swarming, paint packing defense.
2. Danilo Gallinari (+0)
Cray Allred: Gallinari is playing better than he ever has in the playoffs, pouring in 23 per night on .483/.375/1.000 shooting. A theme–the Thunder need to cave and go small–is gaining legs in part because Gallo has held up against the micro Rockets, and can remain one of the anchors on a micro’d Thunder rotation.
3. Chris Paul (-2)
Rahbar: Nothing that happens in this series should take away from the truly remarkable turnaround CP3 had this season. He was a leader off the court and an All Star on it, and he will be All NBA and Top 5 MVP finalist. But man, it’s been rough. Playing against the small ball Rockets has thus far neutralized Paul’s wizardry. CP3 was an unbelievably team worst -36. I still have faith if the Thunder inserts Gallo, Muscala or Bazley at the 5, it’ll unlock Paul’s offensive prowess. Or maybe he just needs to snap into a Slim Jim.
4. Luguentz Dort (+2)
Rahbar: I don’t know which is the most impressive thing about Lu Dort’s defensive playoff debut. Is it that he was the primary reason OKC outscored Houston while Harden was on the floor? Or maybe ESPN gushing about his clamps to the point of calling an undrafted rookie an elite defender? Nope. It’s that Rockets podcasts, social media and fans are calling Dort the best Harden stopper in the league. At 21 years old. With about a Seinfeld’s episode worth of practice time this season.
5. Dennis Schröder (+0)
Rahbar: The eye test and the box score tell two very different tales about Schroder in Game 2. The stats say he scored 13 points on 5-12 shooting, 2-4 from 3, had 5 assists, 5 rebounds and was a neutral in plus minus. My eyes told me that he was the biggest culprit in the 17-0 Rockets run that cost the Thunder the game. Schroder had 4 turnovers and 7 missed shots and without going back to confirm, I’m gonna guess every single one of them happened in that costly stretch.
6. Billy Donovan (+1)
Allred: Billy began tweaking in Game 2, but it’s time to coach desperate. Houston’s standard team is better than Oklahoma City’s. Being married to a big on the court at all times has not paid off, especially since Steven Adams appears to be wearing concrete sneakers. Per the rankings below, it’s time to give (a lot) more frontcourt minutes to smaller, floor-spacing shooters. And while the United Nations lineup has been under-utilized (+17.6 NRTG in 16 minutes), it could be better to use a Nerlens Noel version at this stage. Going small would still allow him to play other units with the three-guard trio more. That group has not been amazing (see #3 & 5 above), but has only played 22 minutes in Round 1, less than eight other groupings including four Adams combos ranging between -8.7 and -33.8 in NRTG.
So far the only sacred cows for Donovan in the playoffs have been Carmelo Anthony’s ego (not benched against Utah in 2018 until it was too late) and, in a delayed effect, Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign (when Donovan’s refusal to give Victor Oladipo backup point guard run all season came to roost in the 2017 Rockets matchup). I have a feeling Donovan’s rotation from here on out won’t be the horse he rode in on.