Players Step Up, Coaches Keep Evaluating – Game Day Report: OKC vs. MIL

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT on Tuesday
  • Television: Livestream on the Thunder Mobile App and okcthunder.com
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. It is also essential to building a productive NBA preseason schedule.

Through the first three games of the exhibition season, the Thunder has been tested by the bruising physicality and rebounding prowess of a three-point gunning Detroit Pistons club. It has seen the prodigious talents of a new-wave franchise player in Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, surrounded by veterans. On Sunday, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group battled against one of the youngest teams in the NBA in the Atlanta Hawks, with a dynamic point guard boasting unlimited range.

On Tuesday, in the Thunder’s final preseason tilt, the Milwaukee Bucks will come to Chesapeake Energy Arena with one of the longest, most athletic groups in the league, headlined by star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. As a fourth test for the Thunder this week, the Bucks will round out a group of opponents that have pushed and prodded the Thunder in different ways.

Watch: Patrick Patterson on Tonight's Game

“Giannis is a unique guy. They’re playing him a lot at the power forward spot but he has point guard skills,” Donovan reported. “They can move (Ersan) Ilyasova there at the five and play really small and have five three-point shooters on the floor. It’s another opportunity to play against a different style.”

“You want to play like you’re going to play a regular game,” said guard Ray Felton. “Considering we have a whole week off before we play another game, we need to take this game serious no matter who they play tonight. No matter if they sit guys or play their whole roster. We have to treat this like it’s our first game of the season and just come out, play our principles, play hard and try to gain something from this.”

The Thunder will certainly scout the Bucks and practice its normal game-planning habits to stay sharp while continuing the tutelage for the newcomers and youngsters on the roster. However, at this time of year for the Thunder it is much more essential to hone in on their own system, and trying to smooth out the miscues, missed connections and miscommunications that can happen during a game.

“What’s going to be important is just focusing on what we’re trying to build. Sticking to our values, keep creating the foundation,” said center Steven Adams. “Of course we want to do scouting and whatnot, but just working on our stuff, even if they end up scoring off of it. Whatever it may be, we still have to keep building off that because that’s what’s going to pay off down the road.”

That process has been going well, despite the fact that the Thunder has had more than its share of injuries during U.S. Cellular Training Camp. Two starters in Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson and Abdel Nader have missed every preseason game, Paul George missed one game due to a personal matter and Terrance Ferguson has had to leave early from two contests. Despite the adversity, the Thunder’s next-man-up mentality has served the group well, and the team has been able to press on in its growth as a unit.

“Guys have to understand that they could be called upon in different situations and it may even require moving to a different position,” Donovan said. “What you try to do is project what could be possible movements and shifts for guy… When you’re doing your drill work, running your offense, you can kind of move guys around to different spots to get them some reps and awareness of playing a different position.”

“All the boys here mate, they’re professional,” Adams added. “Everyone is ready to come up and step up and fill in, in whatever way they can. That’s all you can ask for really.”

Donovan is a fan of the preseason slate the Thunder has this season, for more than just the assortment of flavors that the opposition has thrown at his team. To have four games in three different cities in a seven-day period is a fairly typical NBA week, and with another full week in between the final preseason game and the Thunder’s season-opener against the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder has an opportunity to dig into what worked and what must be improved before the games start to count.

“We can take these four games and use that week to really look and evaluate the things we have to continue to grow in and get better in,” Donovan said.

“Guys are able to step in right away and play and not lose a beat,” Felton added. “I like the way we look in preseason and I feel like we got better each and every game.”


Game Day Report

News & Notes

-        The Thunder announced at practice today that second year guard Terrance Ferguson sustained a concussion on Sunday in the Thunder’s win in Tulsa. He will undergo the NBA’s Concussion Protocol and will miss the Milwaukee game. Russell Westbrook has been seen going through shooting drills at the end of Thunder practices, and completing some pregame work at the arena on game days. While he’s still on schedule for the original timetable to be re-evaluated four weeks after his arthroscopic knee surgery, Westbrook has been able to do some limited, controlled contact at practice.

  • “Every day he’s progressing and he’ll be able to do a little bit more,” Donovan said.

-        A phrase that has been used around the Thunder frequently this preseason is playing “random” basketball, specifically on the offensive end. If the Thunder can avoid calling out plays, full of a specific sequence of actions, and rather call out a base set or concept and then freelance, the opposition will have much greater difficulty scouting and anticipating what’s coming next.

  • “You have to have things in where guys can read how the defense is playing and they can move and cut and play freely based on what the defense is doing,” Donovan explained.