Well, here we are basketball fans.
There is a date.
There is a location.
Despite some recent resistance (LOOKING AT YOU KYRIE), I still believe that basketball will be played. In Orlando. Starting July 30th.
Upon thinking about the return of basketball, a thought hit me.
This Oklahoma City Thunder team is different than the team that we last saw play the Boston Celtics.
This Thunder team is different than any team we have seen in our past decade of playoff history.
So here I am, to walk you through the certain advantages that the Thunder have this time around. Additnally, some that will help them more than you may think down in Orlando. Because it’s kind of my duty.
The Thunders best kept secret has won the hearts of the Thunder fandom. His ability to lock down on perimeter players, and knock down a jump shot. The staggering thing about Dort’s success is the fact that he isn’t even on an NBA contract. That’s right, the guy who has locked up the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, and many others. It isn’t even an NBA player- by definition anyways. In the past, this would be an issue. For one, two-way contract players are only contractually able to play with the NBA team a certain amount of days. Also, while you can play with the G League affiliate as much as they want you to.
Had the season continued, Dort would’ve likely ran out of “pro days” so to speak. Thus, this would force the Thunders hand to sign him to an NBA contract. Secondly, the season didn’t finish. Technically, Lu still has “pro days” left to play. However, a two-way player cannot be a part of the playoff roster in normal circumstances. Well, these are not normal circumstances. OKC gets the benefit of bringing Lu’s doglike mentality of the defensive end to Orlando. Also, they would actuallyhave to sign him to an NBA contract. Don’t worry though Lu, that’s coming. Trust.
Darius Bazley, with an emphasis the letter D
February 9th, OKC were playing the Boston Celtics. It was a back and fourth in the first quarter. Darius Bazley scored a layup to tie it all up at 28. It wasn’t long after that he would exit the game, and not return to the floor. Baze of course is a rookie. Not only is he a rookie, he didn’t play college basketball last year. Not only did he not play college basketball last year, he didn’t play ANY competitive basketball last year. He instead was an intern for New Balance. So why is a rookie who didn’t play ball at all last year, averaging a meager 4.5 and 3.7 so important to the Thunder in Disney World? His defense.
OKC’s team defensive rating prior to the the game against the Celtics was 107.7 good for a top 10 defense. Post-Baze injury it slipped to a 110.8 for the 13th defense. They are still statistically good, but Bazley’s ability to get after it on the defensive end has proven to be something the Thunder have missed. In spite of them going 8-3 since his injury, Bazley will be a welcome addition as we look to lockdown on D in Disney World.
While this is true for most teams in the league, this is HUGE for the Thunder. It starts down low with the big Kiwi Steven Adams. Consistently putting in work on the glass, finishing through contact, roughing up opposing bigs. Over the years it’s become increasingly clear, Steven Adams is running on fumes come playoff time. With the time to rest, and rejuvenate his body and any “minor” injuries he may be facing (dude realistically might have played with a broken arm against the Utah Jazz in 2018) Steven could unleash an onslaught on anyone between him and rim.
Then you have Chris Paul, a guy who historically can’t get over the hump in the playoffs because in part due to his injuries. Most recently, and notably the hamstring that kept his then team (Rockets *gag*) from usurping the Golden State Warriors dynasty. While CP3 has been balling this season (thanks in part to his new Vegan diet/lifestyle) a little extra R&R couldn’t hurt.
Andre Roberson was one of the best defenders in the league, on the shortlist for the DPOY award, and a straw the stirred the drink for the Thunder defensively……. in 2018. Dre suffered a ruptured patellar tendon when going up for a lob against the Detroit Pistons (in which we were already up 20 plus and the starters should’ve been resting so this very type of thing doesn’t happen and now I’m screaming internally again) and came out in a stretcher. He has had a long long road to recovery, and has suffered setback after setback. He encores hope at this seasons media day when he said the words that haunt the Thunder fans everywhere “I’m full go.” and then we never saw him hit the court. Now the rumor mill is turning again in terms of Dre’s status.
The extra recovery time has helped Roberson WHO ACTUALLY PLANNED ON PLAYING GAMES AT THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON BEFORE PLAYOFFS, supposedly anyways. He is competing in drills in practice, the test will be how he does in 5on5. If Dre is able to provide a semblance of what he used to do defensively, then the Thunder have a REAL weapon off the bench. I still think Dort starts, and rightfully so. Dre has his shortcomings offensively, but if he can muster up what once made him great defensively, he could be a guy you throw at a LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or former teammate Paul George. Although it may be a long shot given how long it’s been since he was on the floor, like the kids said in Angels in the Outfield “It could happen.” And if it does…… its banner season in OKC. Just kidding….. unless?