Will the OKC Thunder's bench be a strength in NBA bubble?
Chris Paul flexed his arms and strutted down the sideline as Andre Roberson and the Thunder’s reserves completed a 24-point comeback in the team’s second scrimmage from Disney World.
Paul, the most clutch player in the NBA this season by many measures, watched from the bench in the closing minutes. It was someone else’s turn to finish a game and feel the pressure of crunch time.
“To have those guys play that hard given the situation, we’ve got one of those teams where — scrimmage, preseason or not — we’re just gonna compete,” Paul said.
Scores from the scrimmages have already been forgotten, but the three tune-up games at least served as a reminder of the Thunder’s roster makeup, specifically the young and largely unproven players Billy Donovan will rely on for depth.
Two days after the comeback against Philadelphia, the Thunder’s bench scored 85 points against Portland in the final scrimmage.
Rookie Darius Bazley led the team with 20 points. Second-year guard Hamidou Diallo scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Dennis Schröder, Mike Muscala and Abdel Nader all scored at least 10 points.
Schröder’s role as super sixth man has already been established, as has Nerlens Noel’s role as backup center, but Bazley, Diallo, Nader, Muscala and Terrance Ferguson will all be fighting for rotational minutes when the season resumes at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the Jazz.
Add Roberson to the mix. The veteran wing is expected to make his first NBA appearance in 30 months.
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Roberson, the Thunder’s longest-tenured player along with Steven Adams, is bullish about the bench.
“Just playing with them the little bit of time I have, it’s right up there with the best teams, honestly, in terms of depth one through 15,” Roberson said.
Schröder, who will likely finish first or second for Sixth Man of the Year, anchor’s the Thunder’s bench. Oklahoma City ranks ninth in the NBA in bench scoring — 39.4 points per game — and Schröder is responsible for half of that production.
While backup point guard and backup center are secured, the Thunder has several wings, who could play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, who are vying for the same minutes.
Their strength is more in numbers than proven production.
“Everybody wants to play, and everybody wants to showcase what they can do on the floor,” Diallo said. “The biggest thing about the depth is that we all understand our roles and we put the team first.”
Donovan singled out Diallo and Bazley as two young players who improved over the four-month break. Bazley just turned 20, and Diallo turns 22 Friday.
“In a sense they’ve played a season already, if you want to call it that,” Roberson said. “It almost gives them a little time to digest everything that happened, everything they’ve been through and kind of reflect on what they did wrong and what they could’ve done better.”
Roles will be solidified over the next two weeks before the playoffs begin.
“We’ve got the depth, we’ve got the experience, and we’ve got all we need to make a little run here,” Roberson said.
Thunder vs. Jazz
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla.
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37), ESPN (Cox 29)