Cleaning Up the Passing, and the Glass – Game Day Report: OKC at MIN

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


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7 p.m. CDT
  • Television: Thunder Mobile App and okcthunder.com
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

The first couple days of training camp, Head Coach Billy Donovan was getting all the newcomers acclimated to the Thunder’s 2018-19 playbook and identity. Since then, the team has been going at full speed.

That includes while on the court physically in addition to what is happening in their minds, and the high-tempo style was on display in the first half on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. That mojo stalled in the third quarter, giving Donovan a perfect teaching point as he aims for his squad to play true to its identity for all four quarters, every night. Fortunately, the Thunder has the personnel to do just that, with a bevy of long, athletic and flexible players spanning all five positions on the floor.

“The things we tried to focus on in training camp, the guys have done a pretty good job of. We executed at a fairly high level,” Donovan said. “There’s still things I think we can do better on both ends of the floor, but that’s what this is for, and we’ll be able to at least inject some scouting to see how much our guys can retain what we’re trying to do.”

“We have a lot of mobile guys that are very versatile and able to get up and down,” center Nerlens Noel added. “It’s about having the right pieces and this team definitely has that. It’s going to make it that much easier, especially when guys start meshing even more throughout the early parts of the season. Things are really are going to start to pick up.”

Watch: Camp Report

When playing at top speed, there are bound to be some mistakes, and the Thunder will try to clean those up as it takes on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, marking the halfway point of the four-game preseason slate. The Thunder turned the ball over 16 times in the Pistons game and shot just 17-of-47 in the paint, all of which can be cleaned up with better court vision and anticipation.  

“We can make some better decisions then we did,” Donovan said. “We had some opportunities to spread the ball to different areas of the floor that we just missed. I know these guys are making split second decisions but it’s just having the awareness of where help is coming from.”

A couple specific examples of players who did a good job in the Detroit game but Donovan believes have even another level to get to are Jerami Grant and Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot, two versatile wings who attacked off the bounce on offense and defended multiple positions defensively. Grant missed a few chip shots at the rim, while Luwawu-Cabarrot turned it over a couple times and erred on some pick and roll coverages – fixable mistakes, and ones that Donovan believes will come with time.

“The biggest thing with Jerami is always his balance,” Donovan noted. “When he gets in there and is on balance, he’s able to use his athleticism, that’s where he’s most effective.”

“(Luwawu-Cabarrot) has really good length and size, getting him back and involved from a defensive rebounding perspective is important,” Donovan said. “Offensively he was really close to having a good game, just the ball didn’t go into the basket.”

As the Thunder continues to gel, tonight’s game should be a great opportunity to shore up those areas from the Detroit game, gain valuable experience and enhance their understanding of playing with one another. Regarding the opponent, the Timberwolves will become highly familiar to the Thunder over the course of the season as these Northwest Division foes will clash four times.

“It’s really about us,” said Donovan. “There’s a combination of worrying about what we do and then you can build out and add different things to how we need to defend, different things we want to do on offense. For the most part it needs to be about us and putting players on the floor and them playing together and getting comfortable with one another.”

Minnesota boasts a lineup chock full of lottery picks. Karl-Anthony Towns is the headliner, with Andrew Wiggins, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague forming the perimeter. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive-minded coach with a roster laden with explosive offensive performers, including Towns who is quick on the glass, an area that was a concern for the Thunder coming out of the Pistons game.

“They have a good core. We have to go in there and play our game and continue to play the up-tempo style that we want,” said center Nerlens Noel. “The main point is just gonna be crashing the boards, keeping guys off the glass, securing the rebound and making sure we’re playing the right way.”

Donovan: 'It Needs to Be About Us'


News & Notes

- A Thunder spokesperson announced on Thursday evening that Andre Roberson had a setback in his recovery from a ruptured patellar tendon. The initial injury is healing well, but an irritation from a suture required another procedure. Roberson will be re-evaluated in two months.

- Paul George returned to practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday night’s game due to a personal matter, and Alex Abrines responded well after playing 15 minutes against Detroit. However, Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson and Abdel Nader still remain out for the Thunder.

- In the game against the Pistons, it was clear for both teams that after having not played a true game in over four months that the timing and rhythm was just a bit off. One example of that was for Noel, who missed three dunks that would have normally been gimmes. Noel did manage 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block off the bench, showing off his trademark athleticism and activity on the defensive side of the ball.

  • “It was crazy. I don’t miss those. It’s just coming down finishing, first game since last season. Get those jitters out, finish that, change the game.”
  • “Every time I’m out there - bring the energy, bring the defensive intensity, be the floor general on that side of the floor, communicating and trying to make things happen for the guys while staying disciplined and making sure I’m in a great position at all times to get a rebound, protect the rim and block shots,” Noel said, listing his duties on the floor.

1-on-1: Jerami Grant