On Ball or Off Ball, It’s About Being in the Right Spots – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at CHA

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

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

CHARLOTTE -- It all happens in the blink of an eye, but there’s a coordination that’s happening within the Thunder defense from the moment the opposing point guard crosses half court.

The man on the ball loads up to force the attacking guard to his weak hand. If a screener comes, the Thunder big man shades the driver aggressively, with hands up into the passing lanes. All three defenders, depending on their assignment’s location, make a move towards the middle of the floor to wall off any attempts to slash to the bucket.

The ballhandler is up against the sideline along the wing, perhaps even pinned into the corner, with five long, limber Thunder defenders itching for him to make the tiniest of mistakes with the ball. It’s a synchronized dance, and when the Thunder has it working, it can produce majestic results.

“Everybody has gotta be on point because when you do that,” said Head coach Billy Donovan, in reference to trapping the ball on the wing. “Your back side has to come across. You have to be in really good positioning when that happens.”

“If the ball is pushed and your weakside is spread out or spaced out, you’re leaving wide open cutting, driving lanes to the basket,” Donovan warned. “Defense is all five people.”

As the Thunder hits the road to commence an Eastern Conference back-to-back, with the first stop coming in Charlotte in a battle with the Hornets, that defensive cohesion will need to be a top priority. At point guard for Charlotte is Kemba Walker, who in the early going of the 2018-19 campaign is averaging an incredible 30.1 points per game, second most in the NBA.

“He’s quick, he’s able to score the basketball at a high level and he’s playing a high level of basketball at the moment,” said Russell Westbrook. “Our job is to make sure we come out and defend like we’re supposed to and take care of business.”

That’s not it for the Hornets backcourt, however, as youngsters Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb are both shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point stripe, while the second unit is graced with an NBA legend – Tony Parker. The long-time San Antonio Spurs point guard is in his first season in a different jersey, but still remains a productive and potent threat as a playmaker. On Tuesday against the Miami Heat, Parker notched game-highs with 24 points and 11 assists in just 25 minutes.

“He was a fixture with San Antonio and obviously had an incredible run and an incredible year with the championships and the teams they had there,” said Donovan. “He’s obviously had a remarkable career.”

Under new head coach James Borrego, the Hornets have been productive scoring the ball so far this year, ranking ninth in the NBA in points per game and also three-point percentage. With that bevy of guards popping the ball around the perimeter, the Thunder must be ready to handle all types of actions and dribble drives. Falling a step behind and playing catch up will not be an option as the Thunder looks to extend its win streak to three.

“There’s going to be movement. There’s going to be cutting. There’s going to be driving, transition, three-point shooting,” Donovan listed. “It’s a matter of how consistent you can be doing all the things you need to do possession by possession.”

“When you are more consistent, more disciplined and build better habits, you’re going to be able to do that over the course of 48 minutes,” Donovan concluded. “Games quickly change. It doesn’t mean your team is inconsistent. You’re fighting for more and more consistency.”

Watch: OU Medicine Game Day Preview at Hornets

Shootaround Notes

- Besides Andre Roberson, everyone on the Thunder was healthy and participated in shootaround this morning in Charlotte.

- The Hornets come into this game attempting 34.5 three-pointers per night, making 37.7 percent of them. The Thunder, however, has allowed the fewest three-point attempts per game in the league at just 25.5. The key is contesting them, particularly the ones in the corner. Last game, the Thunder held the Clippers to just two corner three-point attempts the whole night. Without flying past and being reckless, the Thunder has to confidently close out to the corner tonight against Charlotte, without fouling.

  • “I don’t think you can take away a team’s willingness to want to shoot the three but you can make a difference on the contestedness,” said Donovan. “You have to be able to get out there and disrupt some rhythm.”
  • “League-wide the free throws are up, but we have to do a better job adjusting,” Donovan noted. “We have too many non-shooting fouls that maybe at the time don’t look like a big deal but they move the other team closer to the bonus.”

News & Notes

-        More and more, Thunder fans are seeing an offensive evolution taking place in Oklahoma City. One way in which that is occurring is through Russell Westbrook’s movement and cutting off the ball. In years past, Westbrook has been the lead ballhandler at all times, required by circumstances to make plays for himself and others. With Paul George and Dennis Schröder in the mix, Westbrook’s been able to rely on a little Team USA experience to find open seams in transition and the halfcourt to catch and go while on the run.

  • “Because of Russell’s size and his flexibility and his intelligence, he can play multiple positions,” Donovan explained. “He has great speed. He’s smart. He sees angles. He’s a very good cutter with pace and speed when he does that. It gets the defense to shift.”
  • “That gives us great flexibility where we can have either one of those three guys with the ball in their hands in terms of initiating offense,” Donovan added. “It puts their defenders in different situations as well.”

-        Another emerging development for the Thunder is the continual improvement on defense from third-year guard Alex Abrines. The Spaniard made four steals in just 15 minutes against the Clippers, in addition to blocking a shot. Abrines’ ability to defend without fouling gives the Thunder a crucial weapon – the chance to keep extra shooting on the floor without sacrificing defensively.

  • “Being six-foot-seven, if you can move your feet and get your hands up and make people shoot over him, you’ve done your job,” Donovan noted. “For us, it’s his ability to use his length, his size, get his hands back, not foul and try to make people play over top of him.”

-        Another Thunder player who was an absolute menace on defense on Tuesday night was second-year guard Terrance Ferguson, who spent all game harassing Avery Bradley, Lou Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Ferguson’s box score wasn’t gaudy, showing just one assist, one block and two points, but his effort and disruptiveness popped off the court.

  • “He maybe doesn’t stand out, but I think the thing I really respect about him, you know how hard it is to play 25 minutes and take one shot and keep that kind of focus and concentration?” Donovan asked rhetorically. “He doesn’t hunt shots. He plays the right way, and I thought he was terrific tonight.”

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