(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The Drive and Dish | Feb. 1, 2024

Wiggins & JWill Bringing the Juice

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

Rotation Players Providing a Spark, Shai Kicking Back for 3’s and more!  

The Drive and Dish is here to answer the questions that might be going through your head during a Thunder game by providing experienced insight, highlighting aspects of the game you might have missed and pulling you behind the curtain with anecdotes, analysis, and stats.   

Here’s what you need to know as the Thunder finally returns for a homestand after a very road heavy January. 

OKC Wills its Way to a Win vs. DEN

Two shot clock violations, a five-second violation and more dives on the floor and loose balls than you can count. It wasn’t just shot-making or shot blocks that were the only difference makers on Wednesday night in the Thunder’s gritty 105-100 win over the Denver Nuggets, it was the Thunder winning more possessions than the defending champs with will power. 

After trailing by as many as 13 in the first half, the Thunder used a tenacious but meticulous 20-2 run spanning the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to take control of the game flow. Vasilije Micić, who scored a career-best 12 points to go with five assists as he orchestrated offense during stretches of the game to help OKC build a 13-point lead of its own. 

Down the stretch the Nuggets made a late charge and cut the Thunder advantage to just one, but a pair of offensive rebounds by Josh Giddey on the same possession resulted in a kickout to Chet Holmgren, who nailed a left wing three-pointer that sent Paycom Center into a frenzy and secured a well-earned win to close out a challenging month. 

The Thunder went 11-6 in 17 January games, the most contests NBA teams are allowed to play in a month. January featured league-highs for a month with five back-to-backs and 11 road games, yet the Thunder not only played with energy throughout but wrestled away a tough win to close it out on a high note.

Shai Kicking Back for 3

The Thunder has faced exotic defenses all season long, all of which are primarily focused on one thing – preventing drives and trying to keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the rest of the Thunder out of the lane. Last week against San Antonio, the Thunder faced a 3-2 defense at the top of the key, and some savvy off ball movement by Kenrich Williams and an eyes in the back of his head pass by Gilgeous-Alexander resulted in a wide-open 3. 

Shai found Isaiah Joe on a similar shot later in that quarter and given the way Gilgeous-Alexander attracts attention from multiple defenders, don’t be surprised to see him twist and kick back to shooters up at the top of the key or at the angle moving forward. As he brings defenders over on those drives, his teammates are going to fill open space behind him for catch-and-shoot looks. 

Wiggins on the Spot – 22 on 11 points at SAS

On the thought of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, there’s hardly anyone better on the Thunder at knocking those shots down this season than Aaron Wiggins, who is hitting over 50 percent on those shots this season. Over the last couple of weeks, Wiggins has been demonstrating a master class in playing his role. Mark Daigneault called him a “complete system player” and referred to his incredibly efficient offensive role as “The Wiggins Diet”, a plan that in NBA circles could end up being more popular than Atkins or Keto.  

Over his last eight games, Wiggins is averaging eight points per night on over 65-percent shooting and over 50 percent from the 3-point line. A week after making some crucial late-game defensive plays to seal a win in Utah, it was Wiggins’ offense that stood out in San Antonio, where he scored 22 points on just 11 shot attempts and was the center of a brewing postgame tradition – having a cohort of teammates providing a chorus of barks in the background. 

JWill’s Extra Effort

After shootaround a couple of weeks ago in Salt Lake City, Thunder center Jaylin Williams was sitting courtside untying his shoes when assistant coach, and former Thunder player, Eric Maynor cruised past and hyped him up.

“Shot-blocker!” Maynor said. “Rim protector!” 

Known for his uncanny knack to draw charges, which he does at one of the top rates per 36 minutes in the NBA, Jaylin Williams has his own way of preventing easy looks in the paint. He hadn’t been a prolific shot blocker to this point in his career but over the last eight contests Williams has nearly one block per game in addition to more than a dozen deflections, steals and loose balls recovered combined. 

As a second unit big man in the NBA, being ready for any range of minutes each night is essential. There are some games where Jaylin Williams crashes into the action for six minutes and others where he’s needed for 18-plus, but either way he’s always ready to compete with tenacity. In New Orleans Williams saved a ball out off of fellow hustler Herb Jones to create a Pelicans turnover, he grabbed an offensive rebound and took a charge. 

At home against Minnesota, with a buzzing Paycom Center crowd whipping him into even more of a frenzy of activity, Williams swatted a shot into the first row, then sat back in drop coverage and absolutely ripped the ball right away from Anthony Edwards. 

Extra Strength from the Guards

The Thunder’s advantage on both ends of the floor is speed and quickness, and heading into the season the team’s focus was combining those gifts with a mentality of physicality. In Oklahoma City, playing strong isn’t based on your size or weight, it’s a choice made by each player within what they’re asked to do each night. 

A leading example of that would be Isaiah Joe keeping a possession alive not once, but twice in a relentless battle against division rival Minnesota on Monday. Even on the second night of a back-to-back and in the fifth game in seven nights, one of the smallest Thunder players on the floor chose the physicality that included ripping the ball away from Troy Brown Jr. then going and grabbing another long board. 

In New Orleans, it was another guard using his grown man strength – at age 30 – to power through a hard foul and score on an and-one layup. With the Thunder looking to close out one of its most physical and defensive-minded wins on the season against the Pelicans, Vasilije Micić attacked left then brought the ball back through the middle of the floor before muscling up through a grab on the arm and scoring at the cup to complete the three-point play. 

Looking Ahead 

After facing two of the top teams in the Western Conference, the Thunder will square off with two rebuilding teams from the Eastern Conference – the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors. Both teams are led by no-nonsense coaches in Steve Clifford and Darko Rajaković and will be competitive challenges for the Thunder as it looks to keep stringing together good performances on top of one another. 

Friday night’s game against Charlotte starts at 7 p.m. CT. One of 7 remaining Thunder Friday nights on Griffin media stations, the game will be aired locally for free on KSBI channel 52 in OKC and channel 6.3 in Tulsa. The game will also be available on channel 7 on COX in Oklahoma City and Channel 53 on COX in Tulsa. Sunday’s game against the Raptors will begin at 6 pm. CT to conclude the home stand. Be sure to tune in on Bally Sports Oklahoma, follow along on our @okcthunder social accounts and stay here on the Thunder App or okcthunder.com.

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