With the scrimmages now behind us, the Thunder prepare to resume their season this Saturday against the same team they were supposed to play before the season suspension — the Utah Jazz.
With nearly five months in between games, Oklahoma City went undefeated in their three scrimmages but the results don’t count toward anything. It’s all about how the starters and rotation players looked in live-game action. Let’s get into it.
Chris Paul: In the two games he played, Paul looked a bit rusty — which was to be expected. He did not really look to score and played the games passively, also having a bit of an issue with ball control as he finished with nearly the same amount of total turnovers as assists. These two games were more of a tune-up for the 35-year-old as he used them to get some game action in and it never appeared he was taking things too seriously.
It was interesting to see how teams would treat their star players during these scrimmages as the Thunder took the cautious approach of limiting Paul’s minutes and not playing him too much. The argument for this is that it will decrease the chances of a soft tissue injury and slowly get their star back in game shape — but the other side of the coin is that it could lead to Paul taking more time to get into a rhythm, and in just eight seeding games, that could hurt the Thunder’s chances to climb up the standings.
However, seeding is irrelevant in the bubble as it is all about matchups — as long as OKC avoids the LA teams they will have a chance to advance past the First Round.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: With all that in mind, it seems the Thunder took the opposite approach with their leading-scorer. Shai played over 20 minutes in two of the scrimmages and looked fantastic in all three. With Paul not playing much, Shai was given the chance to play as the point guard for the offense and handled the ball masterfully.
Shai’s scoring ability was always his strength and he reminded us of that as he scored the ball very efficiently. Shai was a maestro as the P&R handler, knowing to make the right decisions of choosing when to take the ball to the cup or pass it out to either his roll man or an open perimeter player. Nerlens Noel mentioned how the game has slowed down for Shai in the bubble and you can really see that in these games as he just looked so comfortable and controlling out there. Shai’s three-point shot looked excellent in the Portland game as he showed off his range by taking deep stepback threes that would make James Harden blush.
Shai’s passing also looks a lot better, showing his capability of making any type of pass when he starts driving to the basket after receiving his screen. The swing passes were on point and accurate, his dump-offs and bounce passes to his roller were crisp and quick and his full-court passes were on target.
My only complaints would be that Shai would sometimes miss the open guy on the perimeter, such as Danillo Gallinari in the Philly game on a few possessions. But I’m sure that will improve as Shai is given more chances to run the offense. I am very excited to see Shai run his own offense for the rest of the season whenever Paul is off the floor.
Dennis Schroder: Schroder played at least 17 minutes in all three games and had one really good game, one meh game and one rusty game. But in general, Schroder looked like the same player he was before the break as a Sixth Man of the Year favorite. His best game was against Portland as he finished with 17 points and seven assists and was hitting his signature P&R post-screen pull up jumper. Schroder playing well in these scrimmages is bittersweet as he will eventually depart the bubble and his scoring and playmaking will be dearly missed.
Steven Adams: Adams looks really good and refreshed, which is a nice change of pace for him as it seems like he has been going into the playoffs held up by gum and duct tape for the past few seasons now. He looked slim and energetic in the scrimmages — staying aggressive on offense as he demanded the ball and took more shots than his usual passive self does. Adams averaged 12.3 points a game in the three scrimmages, higher than his regular-season average of 10.9 PPG, his lowest since the 2016 season.
The Thunder are going to need to make up for the loss of Schroder’s scoring when he leaves to attend the birth of his second child, and I think Adams can be the biggest beneficiary when it comes to distributing those shots. He can also open things up with his passing outside of the paint — he looked good playing the distributor role with his simple bounce passes to guys that roll to the basket.
My biggest concern with Adams will be his role against stretch bigs as the Sixers game saw Al Horford negate Adams’ impact on defense by making him leave the paint. Adams was always late to cover Horford’s threes that game and that led to Horford killing OKC from deep.
Danilo Gallinari: Gallinari looked rusty in the scrimmages, getting picked apart on defense and making just 4-of-12 attempts from long range. Hopefully, this was just a 31-year-old getting his legs back and working his way back into game shape. Gallinari has a history of soft tissue injuries and with that being one of the biggest concerns in the league with this restart, it will be interesting to see what happens in the event of an injury. Would he try to come back or take it slow as he tries to get one final payday in the offseason?
Lu Dort: Dort is another young player who looked really good in the scrimmages. His outside shot was better as he made multiple threes in two of the contests. His shot looked more natural and I never realized just how high the arc on his shot was until I saw the ball leave the screen of my TV.
Lu’s defense was as good as I remembered and he looked much more comfortable on his drives to the basket, when before it would sometimes look like he was attacking with no plan besides outmuscling his way to the rim. Dort was also perfect from the line, making all nine of his free throws. If he improved as a free throw shooter that could lead to more opportunities for him to attack the basket and get to the line. Dort is shooting 77.8% from the line this season.
Andre Roberson: Probably the biggest Thunder-related story from the bubble is the long-anticipated return of Roberson. Against the Celtics, Roberson understandably looked rusty and hid on defense by guarding Boston’s backup bigs. The Philly scrimmage was his official I’m Back moment, as he hit two clutch threes in the final minute to complete the 24 point comeback win.
Roberson also looked a lot more comfortable on the floor against the Sixers, fighting over screens and guiding his teammates to their spots on defense.
Roberson entered the starting lineup against Portland and built on the previous two contests. He did a great job hounding Carmelo Anthony, fighting over screens, and forcing the Blazers into taking tough shots. His cutting to the basket also looked effortless and his three-point shot overall looks more natural and less methodical.
I think the bubble could really benefit Roberson and prove to the league that he can still be an NBA quality player despite his athleticism and speed taking a decline. If Andre can come in and play rotation minutes against the elite perimeter players of the Western Conference, that will play a huge role in the Thunder’s playoff success.
Darius Bazley: Bazley is another young player that looked good in these scrimmages. Bazley had big scoring numbers in all three games, averaging 14 points per contest. Darius looked for his shot every game and had no issue attacking the basket or shooting from three.
Bazley’s best game was against Portland as he finished with 20 points that included hitting 3-of-5 from long range. His three-point shot looks sustainable and if he continues to take and convert them at a decent clip that will provide valuable spacing for the Thunder overall.
Bazley looks like he can stick in the playoff rotations and can be a scoring punch off the bench as a backup wing. On defense, Bazely does a good job of staying in front of his guy and has the length and size to improve. If he takes that next step as a player, that should excite Thunder fans for their playoff chances and the future of the franchise.
Hamidou Diallo: One of the more surprising developments from the scrimmages was Diallo seemingly jumping Terrance Ferguson in the rotation. Diallo is a real energy boost type of player who uses his elite speed and athleticism to create scoring opportunities. His shot still looks questionable and that will ultimately lower his ceiling as a player. But in terms of fast-break scenarios, Diallo is a real weapon as his speed helps him tremendously with his rim running and his vertical expands his radius of catching lob passes.
The Portland game was his best as he finished with 16 points. Hami’s scoring will come in drives to the basket, in transition, and in putback opportunities. But when it comes to off the ball, Diallo will need to find ways to not become a negative.
Abdel Nader: Nader suffered a concussion in the first scrimmage but when looked good when he was on the court. Nader continued to show an ability to shoot and create his own shot by scoring 22 total points on 17 field goal attempts — including a 3-of-6 from three against the Trail Blazers.
Nader’s willingness to take shots has never been an issue, what is stopping him from getting regular minutes is his poor defense — despite his best efforts. Nader is a fine piece as a depth option.
Terrance Ferguson: It is noteworthy to point out how little Ferguson played but I won’t overanalyze that as these are just scrimmages at the end of the day. But… man, Ferguson looks like the same player he was before the season was put on pause — a good defender who lacks confidence on offense.
In 16 minutes of floor time in the scrimmages, Ferguson took just two shots. He is a good perimeter defender but when it comes to shooting the ball and playing on offense, he becomes a passive liability. With Roberson coming back and both Dort and Bazley looking better, I just don’t see how Terrance can play regular minutes in games that matter. He also just missed the Portland game due to a leg contusion.
Nerlens Noel: Noel played 17 minutes in the 76ers game and missed the other two due to a sprained ankle and missing a mandatory COVID test. He looked good in his one game of action, grabbing six boards and blocking three shots. Noel being an above-average rim-running big is a huge luxury for the Thunder as they can now rest and monitor Adams’ minutes instead of having to run him into the ground in previous seasons.
Mike Muscala: Muscala looked decent in the minutes he got in scrimmage action, shooting 5-of-11 from three in these scrimmages and played a big role in the fourth-quarter comeback against the 76ers. Mike is a pretty good stretch big who knows his role on the team. He looked serviceable.
Devon Hall: Hall made some pretty good passes when he had the ball and was able to score on some of his possessions. Unless there are injuries or COVID cases, he will most likely sit on the bench and be a break-in-case-of-emergency backup guard.
Deonte Burton: Burton played just 20 total minutes and the scrimmages did not show anything we hadn’t already seen from him. He can shoot the ball and run the offense in small spurts. Much like Hall, Burton will not see the floor much if the team is healthy.
Kevin Hervey: The only scrimmage Hervey got minutes in was against Portland, logging 12 minutes and scoring eight points. Hervey can shoot the ball at a decent rate. Just copy and paste what I said about Hall and Burton, though. Things will have to go terribly wrong for Hervey to see meaningful minutes moving forward.