Two preseason games are in the books, and the second time out for the Thunder was a much better showing than the first.
Oklahoma City took a 103-99 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday in Manchester, England, improving to 2-0 this preseason while showing some signs of growth. Here are the things that stood out most.
NEW STARTING FIVE: Thunder coach Scott Brooks trotted out a different starting unit Tuesday, inserting Jeremy Lamb for Thabo Sefolosha and rookie center Steven Adams for Kendrick Perkins. Before you get too excited, remember, it’s only the preseason. But the change brought better balance, replacing two defensive-minded role players with two bigger offensive threats. Though the starting unit isn’t likely to change when the games count, utilizing more balanced units for longer stretches could be a strategy Brooks might be forced to employ with Russell Westbrook sidelined. The drawback is whatever the Thunder gains in balance it could lose in experience with some lineups.
LENGTH AND ATHLETICISM: The change to the starting five revealed a longer, more athletic unit. From the opening tip, the starters kept more possessions alive with offensive rebounds, while patrolling the paint at the other end with swarming defense and blocked shots.
BALL MOVEMENT: The Thunder dished 10 assists on its first 10 field goals, 15 on its first 17 and finished with 30 assists on 40 made baskets. Nine players had at least one assist. It was perhaps a glimpse of the blueprint for success for the Thunder without Westbrook. Everyone on the floor was a threat at all times with such sharp ball movement.
DURANT DISHING DIMES: Kevin Durant recorded a game-high 12 assists, one more than his career-high. He had four assists in the first quarter and five in the third, routinely setting up shooters on the perimeter and big men diving to the basket out of pick and rolls. It was only a preseason game, and one against potentially the worst team in basketball, but Durant showed that his playmaking could be every bit as lethal as his scoring. If he can carry that over into the regular season, any defense thinking about loading up on Durant will have to think again. Of course, his teammates need to make shots, something they struggled with Tuesday despite Durant’s 12 assists reflecting otherwise.
REGGIE JACKSON: Soon, performances like we witnessed from him Tuesday no longer will come as a shock. Jackson scored a game-high 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, with six rebounds and eight assists. He turned it over only once, underlining how in control he was throughout the game. Jackson made great decisions in the pick and roll and found the perfect balance between facilitating and calling his own number. His 3-point shot still looks inconsistent (1-for-6), but he’s now taking them with confidence.
STEVEN ADAMS: The rookie continues to impress. His energy, athleticism and activity on both ends are what fans have been craving from the center position. Against the Sixers, he showed an ability to be an effective offensive rebounder and again proved he can finish at the rim. On one possession, he caught a pinpoint drop-off from Durant on the baseline and finished with a powerful dunk. At the other end, Adams has a tendency to bite on pump fakes, which leads to foul trouble, but he should gain discipline in time.
SERGE IBAKA ISN’T SHY: He took five jumpers in the first 4 1/2 minutes and eight shots in nine first-quarter minutes. But, hey, they all looked good. Ibaka finished with 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting, most of them mid-range jumpers. He looks as confident as he ever has shooting the ball. With that said, the wait continues for his post-up game to appear.
JEREMY LAMB: It wasn’t a pretty performance for the second-year guard. He played a game-high 40 minutes and missed 10 of 12 shots, including all eight of his 3-point tries. He forced shots, missed open looks and turned it over (a game-high five). Ironically, it was his defense that was again solid. He pressured his man and was a pest in help defense, collecting three steals and two blocked shots. Perhaps a return home will help Lamb find his shooting stroke.
3-POINT SHOOTING: Make that two duds for the Thunder. OKC started 3-for-16 from 3-point range and finished 6-for-27. In two games, OKC is now 8-for-41 from downtown (19.5 percent). Durant has hit half of them. Worse, the Thunder watched Philadelphia shoot 12-for-30 on 3-pointers and has now yielded 22 3-pointers in two games.
DNP-CDs: Perkins, Derek Fisher, Ryan Gomes, Rodney McGruder and Hasheem Thabeet all got the night off. Gomes and McGruder have yet to make their preseason debuts.