It is bizarre to think it’s been more than 130 days since we’ve been able to watch a live NBA game. However, that’s all about to change as the Thunder will retake the court this week — albeit in scrimmage form.
Before the hiatus, the Thunder were becoming one of the most steady teams in the league. They were tied with the Lakers for the second-most wins since Christmas (25) and were only one game worse than the NBA-best Bucks at 26.
Has this lay-off helped the young guys develop? Who benefits the most from the pause in action? There are many unknowns about the restart in the bubble, but here are some of the most essential Thunder-related questions.
Is Andre Roberson Returning?
It seems like so long ago that Dre was out on the court becoming one of the league’s elite wing defenders. Over 900 calendar days and multiple surgeries/setbacks later, it appears he is ready to return. Dre has been practicing in all facets of practice over the past week, including contact work. According to his coach and teammates, he looks locked and loaded.
“He looked really good. It’s inspiring to see him out there.”-Billy Donovan
The Sixth Man of the Year shared similar sentiments:
“He’s still got it. He can help us a lot.”-Dennis Schroder
The fact that the guys on the team are so encouraged about his return should immensely excite Thunder fans. If Dre can come back and provide the team with even 5-10 minutes of play, this will help the rotation tremendously for the playoffs. I can’t help but daydream over a defensive unit of CP3, Dort, SGA, Roberson, and Adams.
Will Dennis Miss an Extended Amount of Time?
Schroder revealed this week that his wife is expecting the birth of their second child in 3-4 weeks. As he absolutely should, he has decided that he will be removing himself from the bubble to be there with his family when it happens.
Assuming the timing will be as close to that as expected, he would be leaving Orlando anywhere from August 4- 11. With the Thunder’s first of eight regular-season games scheduled for August 1, it is safe to assume OKC will be without Dennis the Menace for a few games. With as competitive of a player as he is, it is fully expected he will return to the bubble at some point. When will that be is one of a few unknown variables.
If Schroder gets tested for COVID-19 every day while out of the bubble, and all tests come back negative, he would be required to quarantine for just four days once he returns. If all tests come back negative, he would then be deemed able to return to the team. While he is out, expect some minute-staggering from Billy Donovan to ensure that one of CP3 and SGA runs the point at all times.
How Much Have the Young Guys Improved?
One positive in the COVID-19 lay-off has been an extended amount of time for players to heal from injury (Bazley, Roberson, Adams) and grow their individual games. It is already apparent the young guns on the team spent their time getting work in the weight room. Heck, even Adams was boxing out cows in New Zealand for a few months!
This time off was more than a typical offseason, so I am excited to see what on-court improvements the players have made. I am intrigued explicitly by SGA, Bazley, and Lu Dort.
It seems every year Shai has been able to take his game to an even higher ceiling. Going to Kentucky and not starting to becoming a lottery pick in the next year’s draft. The kid is a sponge of the game. I can only imagine him improving significantly again during this break, especially spending so much time under the tutelage of CP3.
Bazley’s development will be crucial for this squad now and in the future. An untimely knee injury took him out of the rotation at the beginning of the season and really made Billy get creative with his frontcourt lineups. With him coming back, he can provide the second unit with energy, underrated ball-handling/passing capabilities, and crazy athleticism.
Donovan had some interesting comments concerning Baz’s versatility going forward:
“If he puts on size and strength and continues to get better physically, then I think he could be a guy that could be so unique that I think he could play the small forward, power forward, and if you went to a small lineup, play at the center spot.”Billy Donovan
Lastly, I am excited to see how Dort has improved. Being under contract as a two-way player most of this season, he has been limited in his time with the Thunder. It had been well reported that he was spending no practice time with the team, but instead focusing his time watching film with coaches/teammates and subsequently starting at the shooting guard position for games.
The Thunder went 16-5 with Dort in the starting lineup and look to have found a hidden gem in the undrafted rookie out of Arizona State. With him now having a long-term deal in place, I am super excited to see what full-time Dort looks like for OKC.
I can’t begin to express how excited I am for the NBA to return. With so much anxiety and uncertainty over the last few months, it will be a great stress relief to take our minds off the current state of affairs in the world. My fingers are crossed the NBA can make it through this bubble experiment and crown a champion.