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NBA Daily: Thunder are Putting the West on Notice

The Thunder are beginning to put the West on notice, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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To say the Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a rough start this season would be a bit of an understatement. Coming into the season, they were projected to be a probable title contender and Sam Presti was being lauded as the early favorite for Executive of the Year. Instead, they started off 8-12 in their first 20 games and had two small losing streaks of four and three games.

December has been a very kind month for the Thunder, however. They started off the month with three straight wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Utah Jazz, all quality opponents. The Spurs and Wolves are top four record-wise in the Western Conference and the Jazz are fighting for the eighth seed.

In total, they’ve only lost three times this month. Including their most recent win, Christmas Day against the Houston Rockets, they’re riding a five-game win streak. The win over the Rockets was arguably their biggest win of the season. It’s the type of win that could really catapult a team to a higher level.

The signs were very encouraging. Their big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony combined to score 75 points. They all shot over 50 percent from the field. Westbrook also dished out 11 assists. Andre Roberson, who has been crucified in the public this season, proved why he is so valuable to the team. He came up with the biggest play of the night, a blocked shot on James Harden to prevent a game-tying three. He then sprinted down court and received a pass from Westbrook for a layup to put the game away.

The last member of the starting lineup, Steven Adams, was his usual brilliant self. He was a force in the paint with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots. It didn’t matter that Chris Paul didn’t play for the Rockets. He missed a good chunk of the start of the season and the Rockets were still clicking on all cylinders and rolling over teams.

While they’re still a work in progress, Westbrook, George, and Anthony have all looked more comfortable with each other. They appear as if they’re all beginning to figure out their roles in the offense. Adams, and yes, Roberson, are great compliments to the Big 3. The starting lineup will work itself out, but where the Thunder could look to use some more improvement is the bench.

To compete with top teams like the Rockets, Spurs, and Golden State Warriors, the Thunder will need solid play off the bench. Each of those teams are deep and they get strong bench play night in and night out. While it was enough to hold off Houston, the Thunder really only got solid minutes from Jerami Grant in the second unit. Grant has probably been the Thunder’s most consistent bench guy.

Patrick Patterson, one of the Thunder’s prized offseason acquisitions, has been very inconsistent. He’s averaging career-lows in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage. Against the Rockets, he played only nine minutes and missed the only shot he took. However, a few games back against the New York Knicks, he had his best game of the season with 12 points, five rebounds, and 4-6 shooting from three-point range. They’ll need similar production out of him as the season goes on.

The Thunder will also need some more production out of Raymond Felton and Josh Huestis. The two of them, along with Grant and Patterson, make up the bulk of the Thunder’s second unit. During this five-game win streak, the Thunder have received strong play from this group. They’ll need more of it going forward to keep up this momentum.

This team was always going to need some time to gel. To this point, both Anthony and George have been accustomed to being the focal point of an offense. Both players are talented enough and smart enough that it was only a matter of time before they figured it out.

As it stands, the Thunder currently occupy the fifth seed in the West. They’re half a game up on the Denver Nuggets and one and a half games back of the Wolves for fourth. Barring a major collapse from one of the top three teams, it’s unlikely the Thunder catch the Rockets, Warriors, or Spurs. A top-four finish and home court in the first round is not out of the question, however. That’s a far cry from where the Thunder were one month ago.

The Wolves have also been playing well as of late. They’re 7-3 in their last ten games. The Thunder are 1-2 so far against the Wolves this season, with only one game left in the season series on Jan. 10. Although it’s still early in the season, it’s a game that might end up having major implications later on.

In any case, it appears as if the Thunder have finally begun to put it all together. They are looking more and more like the team that many expected them to be. Can they figure it all out in time to mount a serious challenge to Warriors, Rockets, or Spurs? That remains to be seen. But as it stands, they’re starting to put the rest of the West on notice.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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Headlines

#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Steve Kyler

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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