The Thunder offense hummed at a high tempo on Sunday at the Blue & White Scrimmage, but there was plenty more to glean from the team’s first public outing of the 2018-19 season. It will be a work in progress for the whole group, but Head Coach Billy Donovan’s plan to play aggressively and with speed seems to be heading down the right track.
- One of the main storylines out of the scrimmage was the shooting displayed by Patrick Patterson, who scored 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the three-point line. The part that stands out more than the fact that he made those shots is that he took them in the first place. Often Patterson can be a deferential player, programmed to catch and immediately pass or move the ball with a purposeful dribble. Russell Westbrook and the Thunder coaches have encouraged him to fire up three-pointers when he gets an opening.
- “The only thing is I have to get passing out of my mind,” Patterson said. “There’s opportunities where I, of course, pass up open looks, opportunities where I have shots that I don’t take. So, it’s just trying to get that mentality out of my mind, and when I’m open shoot the ball. The coaching staff, Russ, every single day is just screaming in my ear, ‘shoot the ball, Pat. Shoot the ball.’ Even on the sidelines, even in practice he’s screaming shoot the ball. So, just trying to get back in that mentality of ‘unless they completely run me off the line, shoot the ball no matter what.’”
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- There’s been much discussion publicly over the starting power forward role, but Donovan and company don’t seem altogether concerned about deciding who begins the game and who finishes it at the moment. The team knows that both Patterson and Jerami Grant, the likeliest candidates for the starting spot, are going to be absolutely vital to the total Thunder product. Grant didn’t have a great shooting performance in the scrimmage, but did score eight points to go with nine rebounds and a steal.
- With Jerami and Patrick to me, both guys are very important to our team. We need both guys,” Donovan said. “It’s really not that big of a deal because after the first six or seven minutes of the quarter is over with they are going to be subbed out of the game anyways… You want to be a good starting team, and that’s where you have to at least evaluate ok, how do these guys gel and mesh with each other, what are the best combinations to put out there.”
- Another frontcourt player who was impressive in the scrimmage, if not the stat sheet, was newcomer Nerlens Noel. He knocked down a baseline jumper while shooting 4-for-6 from the field and picked up three rebounds and an assist. One thing that stood out about Noel’s game is his ability to anchor offense out of the high post and keep the ball moving about the perimeter. Donovan, who recruited Noel in high school, said that distribution is an important part of Noel’s game. That ability helped inspire Donovan’s idea to play Noel and Steven Adams together a bit during the scrimmage.
- Despite not being able to play in the scrimmage after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Russell Westbrook had a significant presence during the scrimmage. He was active on both sidelines, encouraging teammates, talking to them in huddles and egging on assistant coaches Bob Beyer and Darko Rajakovic, who were coaching the Blue and White squads respectively.
- “It’s important that Russell is leading those guys and helping those guys, because we all need each other to improve,” Donovan noted. “You want to be able to have an environment and place where guys are competing at a really significantly high level, because that’s the greatest opportunity to get better.”
- Without Westbrook on the floor, more minutes were there for veteran reserve point guard Raymond Felton to be a general for the younger guys. Returning for his second season in Oklahoma City, Felton was a favorite amongst fans and teammates in the locker room for his penchant for connecting with teammates and being a steadying force for the team. He scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting in the scrimmage, and he’ll be a essential third point guard for this team during the season, when he may play alongside Westbrook or Dennis Schröder for stretches.
- “Raymond is going to be an important component to our team,” Donovan said. “Raymond has got a great voice. He’s a great leader. He understands what goes into winning. I think Raymond is a great competitor and a great winner.”
Watch: Looking Back on Blue and White