Oklahoma City Thunder Game Previews: October 24 - October 30


Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, the Oklahoma City Thunder are back!

After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, the Thunder look to rumble back into the playoffs after losing former-MVP Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in the off-season. The Thunder open up their season away from home in Philadelphia against the 76ers and face Joel "The Process" Embiid on October 26. Two days after that they open up at home against 19-year-old phenom Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on October 28. Finally, they wrap up their first NBA week against a Los Angeles Lakers squad lead by new head coach Luke Walton.

Philadelphia 76ers

Wednesday, 26 October 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Away

After a long summer of watching the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to Cleveland (after blowing a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals to Golden State) and losing Kevin Durant to the team they blew it against, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to move forward in their regular season at Wells Fargo Center against the Philadelphia 76ers. After scraping the bottom of the barrel for a few seasons, the process for Philadelphia is finally starting to show with acquisitions of rookies Ben Simmons via the draft, Dario Saric finally coming to the United States, and Joel Embiid finally being healthy enough to play NBA basketball. Along with Simmons, Saric, and Embiid the Sixers also have Robert Covington in the starting unit and big man Jahlil Okafor coming off the bench. While things are looking up for fans in the City of Brotherly Love they do have to wait for first overall pick Ben Simmons, who was sidelined until January 2017 after suffering a Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot on September 30.

On offense, the Thunder will look to MVP-candidate Russell Westbrook to lead the point of attack as the 76ers are weak perimeter defenders and will be able to gauge the defensive prowess of rookie Joel Embiid. Also look for rookie Domantas Sabonis to get involved in the offense as he battles against fellow rookie Dario Saric who has been questionable at times on the defensive side of the ball. Victor Oladipo will be making his Thunder debut as well so look for Westbrook to get him involved with his new back court playmate.

On defense, the Thunder bigs will have a true test against the trio of Saric, Embiid and Okafor. Most of this will fall on Steven Adams as his fellow mustachioed brother Enes Kanter is not a solid rim protector at all. Also look for Domantas Sabonis to learn how to defend the perimeter as quickly as possible as Saric is a three-point threat and will shoot if left open. While Westbrook and Oladipo will be exploiting the 76ers on the offensive side of the ball, Adams, Kanter and Sabonis will have their hands full on the defensive side of the ball against Philadelphia.

What to Watch For:

  1. The Beginning of Life After Durant - The most talked about thing surrounded the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason has been the departure of Kevin Durant to the Oklahoma City Thunder. While Durant has paper as thin as skin and any criticism lobbed towards him will upset him, his former teammate Russell Westbrook has continually gotten a bigger and bigger chip on his shoulder. Westbrook is going to be an MVP candidate this season, especially if he leads the Thunder to the playoffs. This campaign starts tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers so look for the star guard to have a huge game against them.
  2. The Beginning of Sabonis's Rookie of the Year Campaign - In his first week of NBA regular season action, Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis will have a major test in staking his claim for the Rookie of the Year award. In his first game he will face Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, in his second he faces Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss and in his third, he has to deal with Brandon Ingram. While Sabonis is not as flashy a name as the guys listed before him he is a legitimate NBA talent and will be able to cement his status a serious candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year in his regular season debut.
  3. The Process Finally Paying Off - While 76ers and NBA fans both will have to wait a little bit for Ben Simmons's debut, there are still other rookies on Philadelphia's roster making their NBA debut. The biggest name to watch though is Joel Embiid, who has asked to be introduced as Joel "The Process" Embiid by Philadelphia's stadium announcer. Embiid was a sensation at his time at Kansas, easily drawing comparisons to ?Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. Especially showing moves like this:

If Embiid lives up to the fraction of untapped potential that has been seen in pre-season, then Thunder big man Steven Adams will have his hands full. 

Projected Starting Lineups:

Oklahoma City Thunder:
  • PG - Russell Westbrook
  • SG - Victor Oladipo
  • SF - Andre Roberson
  • PF - Domantas Sabonis
  • C - Steven Adams
  • Injuries - Cameron Payne (Right Foot Fracture, Out Indefinitely), Alex Abrines (Bruised Right Hip, Questionable), Mitch McGary (Suspension, 15 games)

Philadelphia 76ers:

  • PG - T.J. McConnel
  • SG - Gerald Henderson
  • SF - Robert Covington
  • PF - Dario Saric
  • C - Joel Embiid
  • Injuries -  Robert Covington (Ankle, Probable)?, Hollis Thompson (Illness, Day-to-Day), Brandon Paul (Abdomen, Day-to-Day), Nerlens Noel (Knee Surgery, Out Indefinitely), Nik Stauskas (Hamstring, Day-to-Day), Ben Simmons (Foot, Out Indefinitely), Jerryd Bayless (Wrist, Out Indefinitely)

Phoenix Suns

Friday, 28 October 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Home

On Friday, October 28, the Thunder are welcomed home by Loud City in a matchup against a young and talented Phoenix Suns squad. After firing head coach Jeff Hornacek a little past the midway point last season, the Suns decided to keep interim head coach Earl Watson as the full-time head coach after receiving unanimous backing by the Suns players. The Suns also made some moves during this summer's NBA draft and acquired two talented power forwards in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. The Suns also went out and got some veteran talent to help guide these players in Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. While the Suns are still in serious rebuilding at some positions they are solid at others with Eric Bledsoe at point guard, Devin Booker at shooting guard and Alex Len at center.

On offense look for the Thunder to attack the young Suns who ranked as one of the worst defensive teams last season at 28th, only ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings. Expect the mustachioed duo of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter to also have a big game as he battles against Alex Len and Tyson Chandler, both who were less than stellar on the defensive end last season. The Suns also lost a multitude of players last season to injuries so they still need time to grow and adapt to head coach Earl Watson's defensive schemes as well.

On defense things will be tricky on the perimeter for both Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson as they try to contain phenom Devin Booker. In this preseason alone Booker lit up the Portland Trailblazers:

Along with Booker the Thunder will also have their hands full with point guard Eric Bledsoe. The oft-injured point guard will attack the rim and give Steven Adams all he can handle and if big man Enes Kanter is on the floor Bledsoe will feast on his poor rim protection. The offensive the Phoenix Suns will produce will be a good early test for the Oklahoma City Thunder defensively.

What to Watch For:

  1. ?Athletic Guard Contest - While the Phoenix Suns have an athletic guard who attacks the rim with reckless abandon in Eric Bledsoe, the Thunder have two athletic freaks of their own in Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook. Look for the Thunder back court pairing to attack the soft rim defense of the Suns and feed off one another in fast break scenarios. Oladipo will have his hands full on the defensive end if he has to guard Booker, but if Billy Donovan slides Andre Roberson over to defend Booker Oladipo will have even more energy to operate on the offensive end.
  2. Devin Booker, The Rising Sun - ?LeBron James himself said it best recently by saying Devin Booker is one of the rising stars in the NBA. The Thunder fans who were able to get tickets to the home opener will be for a treat of an offensive battle between the Thunder and Suns, lead in part by Booker. The craziest thing of all is the kid is only 19 years old and will only be two days away from being 20 in his game against Oklahoma City. After already receiving praise from Kobe Bryant, Klay Thompson and Dwyane Wade last season the Thunder will be one of the first teams to see if Booker really is the real deal.
  3. Battle of Rookie Big Men - As mentioned before, the Suns were able to land both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss this summer but the Oklahoma City Thunder also landed rookie big man Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka deal with the Orlando Magic. Sabonis's first week of regular season action will be a huge test for him against fellow rookie big men in Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Dario Saric and Phoenix's Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss as all five players will battle for the Rookie of the Year trophy as Philadelphia 76ers point-forward Ben Simmons recovers from injury.

Projected Depth Charts:

Oklahoma City Thunder:

  • PG - Russell Westbrook
  • SG - Victor Oladipo
  • SF - Andre Roberson
  • PF - Domantas Sabonis
  • C - Steven Adams
  • Injuries - Cameron Payne (Right Foot Fracture, Out Indefinitely), Alex Abrines (Bruised Right Hip, Questionable), Mitch McGary (Suspension, 15 games)

Phoenix Suns:

  • PG - Eric Bledsoe
  • SG - Devin Booker
  • SF - T.J. Warren
  • PF - Jared Dudley
  • C - Alex Len
  • Injuries - Devin Booker (Ankle Sprain, Day-to-Day), John Jenkins (Abdomen, Day-to-Day), Tyson Chandler (Hamstring, Day-to-Day), P.J. Tucker (Back, Day-to-Day)

Los Angeles Lakers

Sunday, 30 October 2016 at 07:00 PM ET Home

The Oklahoma City Thunder round out their first week of NBA regular season action against a young Los Angeles Lakers squad. After going through franchise great Kobe Bryant's farewell tour and former head coach Byron Scott's ineptitude last season, the Lakers future is bright with a serious collection of young talent with D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson and former Lakers player and new head coach Luke Walton. The Lakers also have a collection of veteran talent as well with Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Nick Young (yes, that Nick Young) and Metta World Peace to help guide this young team and fresh-faced head coach through a rebuilding process in Hollywood. 

On offense for Oklahoma City look for Russell Westbrook to attack Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell who ranked as one of the worst defensive point guards last season with a plus-minus of -6.8 per game. While at the rim big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter will be able to attack Lakers starting center Timofey Mozgov, who is a shell of himself from his one year flourish with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Thunder's overall experience should also overwhelm this young Lakers squad and the Thunder should coast to an easy win at home.

On defense for the Thunder the central point of attack for Los Angeles is D'Angelo Russell and look for him to battle against Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. The former Ohio State Buckeye has averaged a solid 16.8 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds in his last five preseason games and will look to continue to grow against Oklahoma City. Second overall pick in last summer's draft Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson will be leading the Lakers bench unit, so Oklahoma City will have their hands full with them as well.

What to Watch For:

  1. Battle of Los Angeles Guards Both Named Russell- Current Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell and former UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook will have a sensational battle on the offensive side of the ball in this Sunday evening matchup in Oklahoma City. With Byron Scott gone, Russell can finally breathe under head coach Luke Walton who coached the Golden State Warriors to 39-4 before Steve Kerr returned and also was major in helping Stephen Curry become the first unanimous NBA MVP. Walton has another young star in Russell and will build a system around him that will let him flourish. With Westbrook all eyes will be on him this season after the Thunder lost Kevin Durant and a huge game against his hometown team will further solidify his legitimacy as an MVP candidate.
  2. Containing the Lakers Bench - As said before, the Lakers have a bevy of depth both in the starting unit and the bench. The bench unit is lead by rookie Brandon Ingram and point guard Jordan Clarkson. Unfortunately for the Thunder, these are two spots where depth is a point of concern. With Cameron Payne still recovering from his right foot fracture and the Thunder's first option at small forward off the bench being Kyle Singler, the Thunder will have to have Andre Roberson play extra minutes along with Russell Westbrook as they look to contain both Ingram and Clarkson.
  3. Rookie of the Year Previews - Speaking of rookies, the Oklahoma City Thunder are starting one with Domantas Sabonis. With Ben Simmons possibly being out for the foreseeable future, ?the Rookie of the Year award is open for almost any player. Thunder big man Domantas Sabonis has been a pleasant surprise for the Thunder this season showing off an ability to space the floor and willingly passing the ball. On the other side of things, the Lakers have rookie Brandon Ingram who has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant. While the Lakers will bring along Ingram slowly, he may have a big game against the Thunder due to the lack of bench depth at small forward for Oklahoma City.

Projected Starters:

Oklahoma City Thunder:

  • PG - Russell Westbrook
  • SG - Victor Oladipo
  • SF - Andre Roberson
  • PF - Domantas Sabonis
  • C - Steven Adams
  • Injuries - Cameron Payne (Right Foot Fracture, Out Indefinitely), Alex Abrines (Bruised Right Hip, Questionable), Mitch McGary (Suspension, 15 games)

Los Angeles Lakers:

  • PG - D'Angelo Russell
  • SG - Lou Williams
  • SF - Luol Deng
  • PF - Julius Randle
  • C - Timofey Mozgov
  • Injuries - Jose Calderon (Calf, Questionable)
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