OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from preseason win at Spurs
The Thunder, playing outside of the bubble for the first time since March, beat the Spurs 121-108 Saturday night in the first preseason game for both teams.
Saturday marked the unofficial Thunder debut for several players, and the head coaching debut for Mark Daigneault.
Here are five takeaways from the Thunder’s win in San Antonio:
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Theo Maledon dazzled in his Thunder debut.
Yes, it was a one-game preseason sample, but Maledon flashed advanced feel, vision and pace for a 19-year-old rookie guard who couldn’t report to training camp until Thursday.
“Coach told me to be aggressive,” Maledon said. “I really had a lot of confidence coming in. I know my strengths and what I can bring to the team. I feel like that’s what I did tonight.”
The Thunder’s second-round pick (34th overall) scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first half. He knifed his way to the rim and converted a couple of tough finishes.
The 6-foot-5 guard was even more impressive early in the third quarter.
All of this came in one short sequence starting at the 9:47 mark:
- Maledon fires a two-handed pass off the dribble to Frank Jackson, who is waiting in the corner for an open 3-pointer.
- Maledon shuffles his feet and draws an offensive foul against Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan.
- Maledon scores on a free-throw line runner.
- Maledon slings a three-quarter court pass to forward Kenrich Williams, who is sprinting to the rim. The pass is on target, but Williams can't handle it.
“I thought his pace was tremendous,” Jackson said. “It’s something that will make him be successful in this league. He gets people into the right spots.”
“I think he’s gonna be a special player,” center Mike Muscala said.
Maledon finished with 20 points, five rebounds and two assists on 7-of-14 shooting (2-of-4 3-pointers). He committed one turnover in 29 minutes.
“We can’t take any credit for it,” Daigneault said. “This is his starting point. But we also need to remember that with all these guys that are younger players especially, there’s gonna be ups and downs, and so we’re not gonna overreact to a good game by Theo the same way we’re not going to overreact to a bad game. It’s just one game.”
Patience with Pokusevski
Fellow rookie Aleksej Pokusevski was as raw as expected. He struggled for three quarters, turning the ball over three times and dribbling himself into wild, contested shots. He shot 2-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-4 from 3-point range.
But he caught fire in 10 fourth-quarter minutes, draining 3-of-4 3-pointers.
His overall line: 5-of-12 (4-of-8 3-pointers), 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, four turnovers.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Daigneault said. “He’s 18 years old. That’s one of the most important things to remember. He’s probably one of the youngest players in the NBA, if not the youngest.
“He’s a good, intriguing young player that’s just gonna keep learning and growing.”
The 7-foot forward primarily played on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively.
It'll be interesting to see how Daigneault and the Thunder handle the development of their first-round pick. Will he be thrown into steady minutes, even though he's likely not ready, or will he be brought along slowly?
The Thunder was down eight players against the Spurs, which made for an interesting starting lineup: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Roby and Muscala.
Gilgeous-Alexander was a team-high plus-19 in his 20 minutes. He had 12 points, four assists and three rebounds.
Roby was the biggest surprise in the starting lineup, playing ahead of Williams and T.J. Leaf at power forward. Darius Bazley will almost certainly occupy that starting spot in the regular season.
First half offense
The Thunder scored 73 points in the first half.
Oklahoma City shot 63% from the floor and 60% (9-of-15) from 3-point range. It went 14-of-15 from the free throw line.
“I thought we spaced the floor well,” Daigneault said. “I thought we played pretty fast in the halfcourt with our pace.”
Muscala (18), Gilgeous-Alexander (12), Hill (11) and Maledon (11) all had double-digit scoring performances in the first half. Muscala was a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the field.
Muscala, Gilgeous-Alexander and Hill rested for the entire second half.
The potent three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has dissolved, but Daigneault turned to new three-guard lineups in the preseason opener.
Three-guard combinations of Gilgeous-Alexander, Hill, Maledon and Jackson regularly shared the court in the first half. All four of them scored at least 11 points.
“I think from the beginning we already feel comfortable getting out and running,” Jackson said. “It’s what we do best.”
Maledon said he can play point guard or shooting guard, but he prefers point guard.
“Being able to play multiple positions, It’s really needed now more than ever in the NBA,” Maledon said.