TULSA – For years at practices and shootarounds, Thunder center Steven Adams has launched three-pointers. No matter how many attempts it takes for him make one, Adams always exclaims, “First Try!” whenever his three-ball drops. His booming voice echoes across the gym.
Tonight, it really was on the first try for Adams. After the jump ball landed in point guard Chris Paul’s hands, a quick-hitting pass zipped into the corner to none other than Adams, who didn’t hesitate to launch and bury a three-pointer, the very first make for the seven-footer in his NBA career, even if this one was just in the preseason.
“It’s always on the first try mate,” Adams smirked when asked about the three. “I just got the ‘go’, mate.”
“We had talked about it going into the game because Steven has been practicing it. We knew we wanted that to be our first play, and we told big fella to let it go,” Paul grinned.
Adams is likely to update his game this season with some skill development and modern NBA tweaks. That type of expansion and experimentation seems to be happening on a lineup level for the Thunder as well.
Throughout the offseason and into training camp, Thunder fans wondered when and how they might see all three of the team’s point guards on the floor. It was hinted at by Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan, but few would have believed that the coaching staff could not only try it out but have that trio firing on all cylinders in the starting lineup of the very first preseason game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Dallas Mavericks.
Working off of the principles of ball movement, constant motion and playing off of one another to create high quality looks, the Thunder exploded for 66 first half points on 65 percent shooting, including 8-for-13 three-point shooting and 14 assists. The guard trio of Paul, Dennis Schröder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander found big men Steven Adams (17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and Danilo Gallinari (10 points 9 rebounds) for open looks and carved out driving lanes for themselves too.
The offensive evolution Donovan is attempting to implement with this new-look Thunder group was on display from the get-go, as Paul (17 minutes), Schröder (22 minutes) and Gilgeous-Alexander (26 minutes) combined to score 43 points, grab 13 rebounds and dish out 10 assists.
“We did a real good job of sharing the ball. The spirit was right. That’s big, especially in our first organized game together,” said Paul. “The ball was moving. When you practice like that you always wonder if it’s going to translate to the game. Tonight, it did.”
“That’s one of the things we’ve been working on a lot, trying to get our flow offensively and our pace,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We played at a pretty good pace.”
In the second half, the Thunder got to see what some of the youngsters looked like for extended minutes as rookie Darius Bazley (9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists) wowed with poised finishes in the lane. The hometown kid Terrance Ferguson had a hyper-efficient showing with 12 points on 5 shot attempts in front of the Tulsa crowd. Each time one of the young guys made a nice play, everyone on the bench exploded in celebration, hyping each other up.
“Our practices have been hard. They’ve been competitive, guys cheering for one another. That doesn’t win you games but at the same time it makes it fun to come play,” Paul noted.
“Guys want to win, guys want to play together, guys have fun doing it,” Gilgeous-Alexander added. “It’s a testament to the guys we have in this locker room and the guys the organization decided to sign.”
One more notable event came with 8:07 in the fourth quarter, when Donovan tried out the NBA’s Coaches Challenge rule, which allows a head coach to call a timeout and challenge the ruling of a personal foul, an out of bounds play, goaltending or basket interference one time per game. Second year guard Hamidou Diallo was called for an offensive foul on a driving and-one layup and Donovan challenged, but after review the call was deemed correct by the NBA replay center.
There are tons of positives to take from the first outing, particularly that “spirit” Paul described, but there are also some areas to focus on moving forward for this group. In particular, preventing opposing three-point attempts will be a directive as Dallas and their four and sometimes five-guard lineups launched 50 shots from behind the arc in the game. All those deep heaves led to long rebounds, which will be another goal for the Thunder – to limit second chances and track down loose balls. Dallas racked up 14 offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points in the game.
“It’s still the foundation stage,” Adams said. “Here’s your baseline, next game we gotta see some progress.”
“The good thing for our team is we’re building,” Paul added. “We’re still trying to get our offense better, still trying to get our defense better.”
The final result was a 119-104 win over the Mavericks at the BOK Center, taking the first of two meetings between the I-35 foes in the preseason. Next up will be the New Zealand Breakers, a professional team out of Auckland who will be coming to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Oct. 10.