Practice Report: Leveraging Lineups

Paris Lawson

By Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter |

If 14 players could be on the floor at one time, the Thunder’s identity would have been set from the start. A mixture of three point guards, four wings, a quartet of small forwards and a trio of centers taking on the most optimal lineup going into every game. Alas, reality offers no such mercies and the Thunder is left to decipher which five among their wide array of talented players should be on the floor at the same time.

The preseason stretch gave the Thunder an opportunity to test and utilize several of these player combinations in game situations. Beyond using three point guards on the floor at once, head coach Billy Donovan also looked at various duos within the forward position as well. With each duo, a different opportunity arose on the floor.

Using valuable practice time leading up to the regular season opener on Wednesday, the team has been focusing on which combination will work best and Coach Donovan mentioned that it might vary game to game.

“A lot of it is going to be on personnel,” said Donovan. “Who you’re playing against, who’s playing at those spots, matchups. I think we have some flexibility to look at some different options there. We can also play four guards a little bit.”

“Even our guard size is big,” said Terrance Ferguson, “There’s going to be a lot of switching and our bigs can move. They’re very versatile so it’ll be good to watch.”

Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Mike Muscala

Veterans, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari proved solid in the frontcourt for the Thunder during preseason averaging 16 and 14 points per contest respectively. Terrance Ferguson, Mike Muscala and Darius Bazley also saw action in the in the forward position and each proved, in their own way, what they bring to the table.

For instance, Bazley with his athleticism and ball handling skills proved he could get to the rim and make plays for his teammates. He averaged eight points and six rebounds during preseason and on Wednesday against Memphis he tallied six assists. On the other hand, Muscala offers size with a typical forward physique, but has also proven his shooting abilities during preseason averaging 8 points per contest and shooting 46.7% from three-point land. Against Memphis on Wednesday, he racked up 17 points shooting 4-6 from three.

“There may be certain games where you say this may be a better combination of big men to work with but they’re all still kind of in the rotation,” said Donovan after their game on Wednesday against Memphis.

“You look at games and the best situations of utilizing guys and I think in some ways that kind of enhances or lengthens the roster instead of just saying, 'hey let’s go with this hard list of nine players and we’re going to stay with these nine players’ because certain teams present certain problems.”

The forwards aren’t the only position with multiple weapons ready to be utilized. The same puzzle applies to the Thunder backcourt. In the first preseason exhibition against Dallas, Coach Donovan started the game with three point guards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schröder. In the same vein as the forwards, each guard offered different advantages to the lineup and what’s needed for one game might change for the next.

“Those guys are used to having the ball but if we can get to a place where we’re getting it from one side to the next, it gets more people involved,” said Donovan. “When you have multiple guards like that, you want to get the possession to be where there’s multiple guys getting a chance to be involved. If you can do that, then all the sudden they’re all playing to their strengths.”

What might present as a big undertaking in analyzing the best player combinations, also has its advantages. Rather than having a set lineup going into each game, the Thunder has the option to switch players up depending on the matchup at hand and take advantage of the versatility that each player brings. The multitude of options provides flexibility in lineups and ultimately creates a tough team to anticipate for opponents.

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