Here are a few observations I had from the Thunder’s scrimmage on Sunday.
- The atmosphere was great. Again. The Thunder has done a tremendous job over these last five years with going out into the community, making appearances and giving back. And when the organization shows up to these area high schools each year for its annual Blue-White Scrimmage you can feel how connected the community is to the team. “I think it’s special,” said Bryan Woodward, a 28-year-old OKC resident in attendance Sunday. “To be honest, I think it’s a unique relationship. I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of teams that really invest that much.”
- After holding the inaugural open scrimmage at the arena formerly known as the Ford Center, the Thunder has held the scrimmage at Midwest City High, Putnam City West, the Spirit Bank Event Center in Bixby, Yukon High and Westmoore High. The smaller venues provide an intimate setting and a rare opportunity to see NBA stars up close and personal. It’s pretty cool, especially when fans that might not generally be able to afford to attend games get the opportunity to see them in their communities.
- With that said, a part of me would like to see the Thunder just return to Chesapeake Energy Arena each year. Open it up and let 18,000 file in. While the intimate setting would be eliminated, holding it at the arena would allow many more fans the opportunity to see the team. From what I’m told, however, that’s highly unlikely to happen. The organization wants to make the rounds at local schools throughout the area, and the players and coaches love the feel of being back inside high school gymnasiums.
- As for the scrimmage itself, the Thunder played three 10-minute quarters. It was scheduled to be four quarters, but the final period was scraped for reasons that were not explained. To me, that sort of characterized the scrimmage. While the Thunder certainly wanted to use the time wisely and not just put on a show, I’m not sure how much the team really accomplished. It was sloppy and at times chaotic, with miscommunications, selfishness and showmanship replacing the ball movement and fundamentals we saw last Tuesday against Philadelphia. It was no surprise that the coaching staff called off the fourth quarter.
- The miscommunications were the most disturbing. It looked at times like it was the Thunder’s first practice. Most troubling was a lack of chemistry between Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson. Without Russell Westbrook around for the start of the regular season, these are going to be the two guys who will carry the offense. But they seemed to never be on the same page Sunday and spent much of the scrimmage trying to figure it out. Durant took exceptions to a few of Jackson’s drives. And Jackson, well, he’s not in a position to say much to Durant at this point so he just kept quiet. I wouldn’t read too much into their interactions, though. They looked great playing off each other against Philly. We’ll see how it evolves as the preseason schedule continues.
- On the White team was Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka, Hasheem Thabeet, Rodney McGruder and Ryan Gomes.
- On the Blue team was Derek Fisher, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, Nick Collison, Steven Adams, Perry Jones III and Diante Garrett.
- Kendrick Perkins did not play because of his dislocated left ring finger.
- Two minutes into the scrimmage, Sefolosha made Fisher fall with a behind-the-back crossover, and Collison hoisted a 3 from straight away. That speaks to my earlier point about the raggedness and kind of summed up the scrimmage.
- Collison later jacked another 3 from the right corner. Made me wonder if he’s trying to move out there this season.
- Before the scrimmage began, the Thunder did all kinds of drills to warm up. A passing drill. A 3-on-2 break. Standard stuff. Ibaka ran the left baseline on one break and instead of cutting to the hoop drifted to the corner 3-point line. As the ball was coming up the court, Ibaka even looked down to make sure his feet were behind the line. Not a good sign if you ask me. Kind of speaks to where his mindset is.
- Ibaka later nailed a 3 from the same spot during the scrimmage.
- Durant showed off his hook shot that he said he’s been developing this summer. He started from the left block against Roberson, backed him in a bit before turning and smoothly tossing up the running hook. It rattled in and looked pretty good. Not sure how anyone will stop that this year if he gets it down pat.
- KD’s confidence is off the charts. He’s carrying himself on the court like he knows he’s one of the best players on the planet. Like he no longer has any doubt. He’s taking difficult shots that for most other guys would be considered flat-out bad. He’s bickering with officials (even in a scrimmage). And he’s as vocal as he’s ever been, barking orders to teammates trying to get them in the right places.
- Durant took a beating in that scrimmage. He hit the deck, got hacked and ran into multiple bodies whenever he drove the lane. It was probably a good thing that the fourth quarter was called off.
- A funny moment happened after KD hit the floor hard. Gomes was sent to replace him but after reporting to the scorer’s table and being announced, Durant waived him off. Gomes asked “You all right?” Durant waived him off again. Gomes slowly made his way from halfcourt to the free throw line, looking back and forth between KD and the coaching staff on the bench every step of the way. Sort of like “What do I do?” Eventually, Gomes made his way back to the bench. Everybody on the bench just shrugged their shoulders, kind of like “He’s Kevin Durant. What he says goes.”
- PJ3 looks awesome dunking in warm-ups.
- As for his performance, Jones was solid. Still not great. Definitely not what you think he could be based solely on his athleticism. He knocked down a few shots and was decent on defense. But he didn’t stand out by any means.
- Westbrook was in attendance and addressed the crowd before the start of the scrimmage. He received a huge ovation when he walked across the court by himself to meet the team in the locker room. As he made his way across the court, Westbrook walked with a noticeable limp. It was considerable, so much so that I’m including it here. He still has a band-aid on his right knee, presumably from the most recent surgery he had performed. But the limp was not something I expected to see at this point.
- Roberson continued to impress. He doesn’t step on a basketball court without giving his team a rebounding presence. On one possession, Roberson wowed the crowd when he flew in and threw down a two-handed putback dunk. On another, Jackson got lackadaisical with a defensive rebound and allowed Roberson to again fly in and knock away the ball from Jackson’s hands, disrupting the break.
- At the other end, Roberson needs a lot of work. He appears to have little to no confidence in his shot. He once air-balled a corner 3, over-shooting it by about two feet. At other times, he’s presence on the wing is solely to make the extra pass to the guy standing in the corner.
- Garrett was the day’s big surprise. He is a good ball-handler who can really stroke it from long distance. He showed a knack for getting into the paint and knocking down 3s on kick-outs. He also played under control and looked in command of the offense when he gave Fish a rest. I’m starting to think he has a real shot to make this team. The Thunder desperately needs help at the lead guard spot while Westbrook is out.
- When Jackson was on the bench for the Blue team, Durant and Sefolosha ran point guard. I have doubts about how sustainable that will be in the regular season.
- Before the scrimmage began the Thunder announced that it is rebuilding three basketball courts at Moore elementary schools that were damaged in the May tornadoes.
- Adams wasn’t as good as he was overseas. But he wasn’t bad either. He had a really nice block on a dunk attempt by Ibaka, which was the highlight of his day. Ibaka later took out whatever frustration he might have had from that play on Roberson, posterizing him with a filthy one-handed slam.
- Thabeet finished relatively well around the rim. If Perk can’t got Tuesday against the Nuggets, it’ll be interesting to see whether Adams or Thabeet starts.
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