Thunder Aims For Better in All Facets Against T-Wolves – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. MIN

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

Each night, the Thunder has to address areas of concern from the previous game and its past matchups with the newest opponent without losing sight of the other core areas of its identity.

There are dozens of tiny fires that have to be extinguished in every NBA game. A long rebound pops loose on one possession. A screen takes out a trailing defender and a guard gets free for a three-pointer. A surprise double-team happens with the ball in the post and the ball gets turned over. In each of those situations, the Thunder has to be able to react not just in that moment by moving on to the next play, but also to adjusting in-game to douse any sparks in problem spots.

Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, the Thunder will have to not only address an area where it got hurt pretty badly on Sunday against the Washington Wizards (the offensive glass), but also the ways in which Minnesota bested Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club back on Dec. 23. In that game, the Timberwolves made 10 second half three-pointers and went to the free throw line 27 times, numbers that can’t be upheld again in order for the Thunder to win the rematch.

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“We’re at our best when we rebound because then obviously it allows us to get out in transition and get out on the fast break. It’s the same thing with fouling,” said Donovan. “If we’re fouling, it’s obviously slowing the game, it’s having teams shoot free throws and it’s taking away our strength of being able to play out in transition.”

“With their size, their length and how physical they are across the frontcourt, their ability to offensive rebound and their ability to generate free throws are going to be important,” Donovan continued.

What the Thunder’s general on the sideline means is that with a frontcourt quartet of Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Dario Saric and Gorgui Dieng, the Timberwolves can put a ton of pressure on the backboard. Towns particularly is a problem, with averages of 22.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.

On the perimeter, one of Minnesota’s major threats from behind the arc will not be on the floor. Despite Robert Covington’s ankle injury, the Timberwolves have an all-around scorer in Andrew Wiggins along with shooters like Saric and Anthony Tolliver coming off the bench that must be tracked constantly as trailers in transition and in the corners for catch-and-shoots.

“We have to defend the three well. It’s important not that you’re going to necessarily take teams away from shooting threes, but I think you can impact the contestedness,” said Donovan.

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder will have to be careful and efficient with the basketball. Against the Wizards, Donovan’s club only turned the ball over 15 times, but many of them came in transition. What typically would be high-percentage opportunities to come away with two points turned into zero, and that type of math doesn’t suit the Thunder’s calculus as a ball-club very well. On the season, the Thunder has relied on getting more field goal attempts than its opponents as a strategy towards victory.

“When we start putting up 17-18 turnovers,” Donovan began, “teams start shooting more attempts at the basket than we do. We’ve got to be a team that tries to get more field goals up each game.”

Fortunately the Thunder has a trio of extremely dynamic ballhandlers that are capable of playing minutes with or without one another on the floor. Between Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Dennis Schröder, there are playmaking options for Donovan to toggle between in order to take advantage of matchups and keep the defense on its toes. All three players can bring the ball up the floor, and all three are able to start out possessions in different roles to maximize the effect of the offensive concept.

“Sometimes there’s play calls that have different guys in different spots,” Donovan explained. “There’s times at the free throw line they’ll move things around and have Dennis bring it up, Paul bring it up. They do some of that on their own, and there’s things we can do to do that through play calling.”

Practice Report - Jan. 7

NEWS & NOTES

-       Over the course of the season but particularly the last few games, Thunder shooting guard Terrance Ferguson has exhibited his value on the defensive end of the floor by guarding the opposition’s best scorer. While Paul George is capable and has taken on that burden this season, having Ferguson as an option and one that did the primary job of holding Bradley Beal to 25 points on 27 field goal attempts and CJ McCollum to 10 points on 15 shot attempts has been a huge boost for the Thunder.

  • “Paul exerts a lot of energy on both ends of the floor. He’s obviously an elite defender,” said Donovan. “But the flexibility of the roster and the team enables us to do (put Ferguson on top guards). That’s always helpful.”
  • “(Terrance) was inexperienced last year. He’s become a more experienced defender this year. He just continues to get better and it’s been a great, reliable resource for us,” Donovan continued. “He has the ability to be extremely elite defensively because he has length and size, he has great feet.”
  • “The most important thing is you can’t be a great defender without being physical, because you have to get over screens, you have to get over stagger screens on the baseline, you have to guard in the low post,” Donovan concluded. “There’s all different areas of the floor you have to guard and require physicality. Terrance hasn’t ever been a guy that’s shied away from contact. He’ll put his body in there. Even last year he did that. I figured once he got more experience with his overall talent that he could do what he’s doing right now for us.”

-       The Thunder’s bench unit was fantastic in wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers on the west coast road trip to start the new year, but against the Wizards it didn’t quite have the same punch. While all 10 guys in the rotation and all 16 currently on the roster are vital, there’s a certain lift that the Thunder’s second unit can provide to this group that elevates it to the next level.

  • “We need them, because when they do play well it certainly helps our team,” Donovan said of the reserves. “For most teams the margin of error is not great and when we don’t play well as a whole team – starters, bench – there’s not a lot of margin for error that we can deal with in those situations.”

-        With his ascension into All-Star caliber status, Steven Adams is continuing to see more, and varied defensive coverages thrown his way. The Wizards tried to trap him. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic played Adams one-on-one, but other teams will dig down with a guard to prevent Adams from passing or bring a defender all the way down to both deny his catches and take up his air space. Adams, whose primary efficiency has come in the first quarter of games (40 percent of his field goal attempts come in the first period), is continuing to learn and adjust to teams scheming against him.