Communicate and Stay Disciplined – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at GSW

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OAKLAND -- Paul George has the sure footing of a leader, a man who is secure in his future. Newcomer Dennis Schröder has a new gold and Thunder-blue streak in his hair. Head Coach Billy Donovan has the confidence of a man with experience under his belt and a hard-working group in his huddle.

The Thunder may not have a totally healthy roster or clarity on who will be in the lineup or rotation for opening night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, but it has equal parts joy and determination to start the 2018-19 campaign on Tuesday night. Possibly without a pair of starters in Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson, the Thunder could be shorthanded in the backcourt against one of the NBA’s most potent shooting groups, but Donovan’s club will compete at a high level and learn more about itself.

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“With their shooting and their offensive firepower and then their overall skill level, everything certainly gets heightened,” Donovan said. “(Against) a team like them - having discipline, having communication, not having breakdowns, those things are critical.”

“We’ve got to come out ready, we’ve got to compete and we’ve got to have each other’s back,” said Schröder. “If we’re doing that, we’ve got a good chance to win.”

The focal point for Golden State is Stephen Curry, the lithe point guard who flits through the lane on cuts and flares back outside, then stutter-steps on the perimeter to find a crease for a delicate floating layup or a bomb from behind the arc. If Westbrook is in the lineup, Curry will be his primary assignment, and if not, Schröder will likely get that task. Making Curry work for what he gets, particularly before he gets the ball as he runs through screens and being physical without fouling will be crucial.

“That’s what they do pretty well, just moving without the ball, setting screens, slip out,” said Schröder. “You’ve just got to be aware of it, communicate.”

“Number one, guard the three-point line. They’re exceptionally good at shooting three-pointers whether it’s in half court or transition,” said forward Patrick Patterson, identifying the Thunder’s primary areas of focus tonight. “Number two, getting back in transition. They put up a lot of points in transition. So it’s just making sure we talk and communicate on shots and just making sure we have bodies back in front of them.”

Not fouling will be easier said than done, particularly given the NBA referee’s new point of emphasis on holding, grabbing and pushing on both sides of the ball. The Thunder will face it each night, but the Warriors’ penchant for running two high-level shooters like Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant off of screens for one another off the ball is a challenge for a pair of defenders to defend without being handsy. It’ll be up to the Thunder to find a way to rise above it all, get around screens and contest shots.

“You’re always trying to make sure you’re technically trying to defend those situations where you’re not wrapping and grabbing and holding,” Donovan said. “We’re trying to call them tightly in practice to get them adjusted to getting their hands back and away from people.”

“We still gotta pressure up. We still gotta be aggressive.  We still gotta be physical, but we gotta be smart,” George added. “That comes down to just attention to detail and having awareness of where those guys are at.”

1-on-1: Jerami Grant

In order to keep pace with the Warriors’ explosive attack, the Thunder will have to play with speed of its own. Forcing Golden State to pull the ball out of the net and set up half-court offense is a weapon in and of itself. Any amount the Thunder’s offense can aid the defense will be a boon, and the way to make that happen is to play downhill, carving out openings in the paint by drawing two defenders on the ball then moving it quickly across the perimeter. With rolling big men putting pressure on the rim, Thunder playmakers must be decisive and accurate in their reads to create for themselves and others.

“You want to be able to move the basketball and get into situations where the ball and the movement can generate open shots,” said Donovan.

Shootaround Update

- Russell Westbrook will be out for tonight’s game against the Warriors. As he did in preseason, it’s highly likely that Schröder will get the start at point guard.  

  • “He’s been a great leader. He’s done a great job,” Patterson said of the German point guard. “He’s someone I can rely and depend on. He’s someone I can look up to whenever I need something.”

- Steven Adams (back) will be a game time decision. If Adams cannot go tonight, Nerlens Noel will assume much larger duties at the center spot.  

  • “Overall, I think he’s done a really good job,” Donovan said of Noel. “He’s worked hard. He’s trying to get better. Obviously he has great hands. He’s athletic. He has good vision. He adds a different dimension to our team.”
  • Another option the Thunder will have at the center spot as either a starter or a reserve will be Jerami Grant, who thrived in that role as the 5-man last season for the Thunder, as Donovan noted Tuesday morning: “He has a lot of flexibility and certain situations will present for us to do that,” Donovan said. “I feel comfortable with him there just because he brings a unique skill set to that position.”

News & Notes

-        Russell Westbrook is continuing to do more and more each day in practice, but Donovan and the coaching staff are preparing for Tuesday’s contest with two scenarios in mind – one where the Thunder All-Star point guard participates, and one when he sits. Meanwhile, Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader have been completely cleared and are available for the Warriors game. Donovan did not disclose whether Ferguson would start, noting Westbrook’s status impacts lineup decisions.  

-        Nader is an intriguing player for the Thunder, but one the team still is trying to integrate into its system. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward has only had two full days of practice with the team, but Donovan and George both gave their scouting report.

  • “He plays very hard, and he’s very aggressive, which I really like,” said Donovan. “He can shoot it. He can put the ball on the floor. He’s a physical driver. He’s deceptive around the basket athletically.”
  • “Abdel is one of our better shooters,” George reported. “He can really spread the floor, doesn’t need much time to get it off. So that’s a huge weapon, especially playing around me, playing around Russ. A guy who can stretch and spread the floor is crucial. “