Reset, Get Back on Track – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at ORL

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

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

ORLANDO – After a stretch of three games in four nights, one that went its way and two that didn’t, the Thunder had a chance to catch its breath. A full day off and two practices have prepared the team for an ensuing stretch where it plays in that nice, every-other-day rhythm for the next nine games.

That stretch starts with Wednesday night in Orlando, but the Thunder is more concerned about how it goes out and performs rather than its opponent at the moment. Developing a baseline performance level on both sides of the ball is the most important thing right now. The defense has been one of the best in the league, but the offense hasn’t been effective enough thus far.

Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony

“Anytime you have a couple days between games to get back on the court and tighten things up and communicate and talk and go through the things we need to go through and fix, it’s always good,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “There’s obviously a positive effect to that, so now it’s about turning that over into the games.”

“We would have thought the offense would be ahead of the defense due to the type of caliber players that we have on this team, but that just goes to show you that these things take time and you have to work at it,” Anthony continued. “It doesn’t just happen by stepping out there on the basketball court.”

Of course there are still matchup issues to worry about with any opponent, and the Magic present some different challenges. Nikola Vucevic is a stretch center who can shoot from three-point range, Evan Fournier is leading the team in scoring, and can both play off the dribble and shoot it from deep.

“Those two guys (Vucevic and Fournier) seem to have a really good connection the way they play together,” Donovan noted.

Under Magic coach Frank Vogel youngsters like Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton have gotten more playing time and improved their shooting, while the additions of Jonathan Simmons and Terrance Ross have bolstered the wings. As a result, Orlando jumped out to a nice start, but have dropped nine straight games. Still, this athletic group is a dangerous one, especially with the Thunder having to get a win on the road.

“Those guys have all improved. They’ve gotten a lot of playing time earlier in their careers,” Donovan said. “You’re starting to see some of that, really the experience, show itself with the way they’ve performed and they’ve played.”

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan

On defense the most important thing for the Thunder is being able to control the ball and where it goes. The Thunder can’t control whether an opponent is going to try to attack off the dribble, but the five man defensive unit can control where the ball goes. Defense is a choreographed effort, and that’s why the Thunder drills it every day, to ensure that players know when and where they’re supposed to be to sunk into the lane and fill in gaps to assist their teammates.

“The biggest thing for our deflections is there’s an awareness on our team by the players of where the ball is supposed to be directed to,” Donovan explained. “And when it gets directed into those spots, it’s getting directed into areas that we know where help is coming from.”

The Thunder can really help out its defense against the Magic by not only getting some shots to fall, but also by generating more driving lanes to the rim by moving the ball crisply on the perimeter. When the ball sticks, defenses can load up and clog off the paint. If the Thunder swings it to the other side of the floor and players attack quickly, there’s a chance to draw fouls, get layups or create drive and kick opportunities.

It’s an unselfish group that wants to make the right play, but one that needs to rid itself of playmaking paralysis. Sometimes catching and putting it on the deck right immediately or quickly making the next pass leads to even better opportunities later in the possession.

“Those split-second reads, you’ve got to be able to make reads, because guys are generally only open for a second or two and then they’re not open anymore,” Donovan said. “That pass is maybe not as effective as it would have been if it would have been thrown a little bit earlier. I think that’s the feel of playing with one another.”

Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook

Nick's Notebook

- Paul George missed Monday’s practice due to an illness, but was back in action on Tuesday before the Thunder took off for Orlando. Donovan talked about George’s unique approach to the game. For a superstar scorer who can create a basket whenever he wants, it was surprising to hear that the way he gets going is actually through his defense.

  • “He just wants to play the game. And he wants to play the game the right way,” Donovan said. “For him, he himself feels like he’s much more engaged when he’s really engaged defensively. That’s the uniqueness about him and probably one of the reasons, what makes him such a great, great player is that kind of mentality.”

- One of the players who is learning from George and his habits every day has been Terrance Ferguson, the rookie guard who has been a sparkplug of sorts in practice and on the court. He’s thin right now as just a 19-year old, but Ferguson has a confidence and swagger that is required to play in the NBA. His time in the rough and tumble NBL, where American players are targeted for a little extra rough stuff, taught him how to take a hit and keep on ticking.

  • “I might be the skinniest guy on the court, but I feel like I’m the strongest, honestly,” Ferguson said of his required mental approach. “It might not be the truth, but I feel like that.”
  • “He’s got a fire about him you don’t really see. He doesn’t back down at all,” center Steven Adams reviewed. “I tested him a couple of times in practice. Not Perk level, but I tested him a little bit, give him bumps and stuff like that,” Adams recalled. “He holds himself. He doesn’t back down from anything, and that’s all you want. He’s got that fire in him, which is awesome, so he’s always coming out ready to play.”

- After practice Adams also discussed the Thunder’s defense, and where he thinks it can continue to elevate. All season long the Thunder has focused on its defensive rebounding, because of how devastating second chances can be for the opposition.

  • “What sucks defending, is you play defense for 20 seconds and you do everything right, and then they still get a rebound, and you have to play 20 more seconds of defense,” Adams said. “It’s really tough to be mentally locked in, reactive-wise. The advantage is with the player with the ball. You have to react to them. It’s a bit more taxing on the body because you have to react to them.”

- One of the Thunder’s best rebounders is actually one of its guards, Andre Roberson. In this early season adjustment process, the Thunder has worked to try to incorporate Roberson in a way to maximize his strengths. Donovan and company know that with time, he’ll develop chemistry with George and Anthony. Anthony explained that there are ways to manipulate the floor to highlight the hustle plays that Roberson can make, and that sometimes in the flow of the offense, Roberson must take certain shots in order to maintain proper floor balance. For now, Roberson has found scoring chances through his connection with Russell Westbrook.

  • “(Roberson) really has a great feel of how to play off Russell because they’ve played together for so long in terms of back cutting, getting into certain areas, spots on the floor, having an idea when Russell starts to put the ball on the floor and drive what areas or spots on the floor are gonna be open where he can cut and move.”

- Roberson is one of the Thunder’s defensive specialists, but he and George have gotten help from Anthony. He’s had the opportunity to play safety on defense a little bit, thanks to the ball and passing lane pressure applied by the Thunder’s backcourt and the rim protection ability of Adams. So far this season, Anthony is averaging 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes. Many of his deflections and rejections have come on dramatic swipes that seem to come out of nowhere. Anthony said his experience in the NBA helps him know how to time those feats of dexterity.

  • “It’s just being instinctive, playing with my instincts,” Anthony explained. “Watching film, knowing when guys get ready to go up to take the layup, get ready to take a shot. The timing on that is key. It’s something that the more I’ve done it the better timing I’ve gotten. It’s been effective for me.”

Thunder Minute: Nov. 28