How did the Thunder look after its first exhibition game? That’s just one of the question we posed to our panel of experts in the NBA roundtable. Here’s what they had to say about that and more.
1. First impressions of the Thunder's debut Wednesday night in its preseason game against Minnesota?
Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry:
They're a scrappy bunch with a lot of young talent. But it's going to take some time for that talent to develop and learn not only how to play in this league and also how to play together. There are more offensive threats on the roster than the Thunder are given credit for. Kevin Durant will undoubtedly be the leading scorer on most nights. But as Damien Wilkins showed Wednesday, this team has ample scorers who are capable of picking up the slack when Durant's shots aren't falling. I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, Desmond Mason and Joe Smith each have moments throughout the season where they go off for 25 to 30 points and steal the headlines.
Sports Editor Mike Sherman:
I've been signing the start-Russell-Westbrook chorus since watching him on streaming video in the Orlando Summer League (yes, we were desperate for a glimpse of an OKC NBA team) and nothing I saw Wednesday night changed my mind. The Thunder looked better when he was in the lineup. I know it's one game, but I'm betting on it being a trend. Earl Watson is a solid backup point guard, and there's going to be opportunities for them to play together. But if this team is building or rebuilding, Westbrook is the way to go. I also thought Johan Petro was solid in the minutes he played at center and Nick Collison was impressive for all the ways he contributes.
Columnist Jenni Carlson:
Granted, it was only one game and it was a game against the Timberwolves, but holding a team to 37 percent shooting and forcing 25 turnovers are good signs for the Thunder. This is a team that lacked defensive intensity last year. Sam Presti and Co. went out in the offseason and got guys who'd play defense. Wednesday, they did.
Columnist Berry Tramel:
I'm at a little disadvantage, since I'm already in Dallas, and for some reason, the Dallas TV market had no desire to show an OKC-Minnesota exhibition game. But reading the reports and studying the box score, what jumps out at me is this: Chris Wilcox will be the Thunder's most stable player. Kevin Durant will be the star, but Wilcox will be a standard you can count on.
2. What is the best solution for the Thunder at center?
Johan Petro seems the best option of the truly big bigs right now. Of course, he was the only option in the first exhibition game as neither of the other 7-footers were even in uniform. Is he ready to be a full-time, hold-down-the-middle guy, though? I doubt it. I suspect there's going to have to be some sharing of duties between Petro and Nick Collison at center.
Collison to start and Johan Petro as the backup. Both have their limitations but have shown a willingness to compete by playing solid defense and battling on the boards.
Short-term, Collison. Long-term, though, I wonder how he'll hold up against some of the big centers in the West. It would be better if one of the three 7-footers could play big minutes. Petro was the only one in uniform Wednesday.
The best solution at center for the Thunder is for Clay Bennett to use his influence with David Stern to get the NBA to begin playing 4-on-4. With the players getting so big and fast, sometimes the court gets too crowded. So let's play 4-on-4, open up the game and the Thunder won't have to worry about the center position. Otherwise, it's going to have to be Nick Collison.
3. Should the Thunder have played its first in-state exhibition in Tulsa instead of Oklahoma City?
I think playing in Tulsa first is fine. Heck, I would give Tulsa both exhibition games. Here's what I know and everyone else soon will find out.