Opponent Scouting: Oklahoma City Thunder. (14-7)
Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will be hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder at the LCA. The Pistons are on one day of rest and playing their 3rd game in 4 nights following a victory over the Warriors on Saturday, while the Thunder are on two days of rest after beating the Hawks on Friday.
Oklahoma City is still finding their footing a bit this season. Russell Westbrook has missed a few games, a few cogs need to click, but they are already very good. They come into this game featuring the 16th best offense in the NBA by scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions and the best defense (by far) in the NBA by allowing just 101.4 points per 100 possessions.
The Thunder are of course led by Russell Westbrook. He’s still as good as ever, 23 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists per game. His rampaging drives to the rim one of the scariest things in the NBA, and he knows how to make use of them. He is joined by Paul George, who’s also incredible and a great fit next to Westbrook. George is scoring 23.5 points, grabbing 7.7 rebounds, and dishing 4.3 assists per game and he has not shot all that well from deep so far this season.
Beyond the top two, Steven Adams is a rock at center, literally and figuratively. He sets awesome screens, is a good defender and rebounder, and one of the strongest players in the NBA. He lives in a great environment playing next to Westbrook and George, but he thrives in it as a role player.
Jerami Grant has found a 3-point shot and if that keeps up he will be another awesome role-player. He’s a bouncy offensive player who rebounds and dunks and can switch across all positions on defense. The combination of George, him, and Adams is the main reason why the Thunder have the best defense in basketball, and they don’t even have Andre Robinson back yet.
Alex Abrines is a pretty good shooter on the wing, not sure how good he really is but he at least makes pretty good use of the open shots he gets. Dennis Schroder is proving to be a valuable pick-up for the Thunder, he’s not an efficient scorer and his defensive focus is often poor, but he is a suitable engine when Westbrook isn’t on the floor and has hit enough 3-pointers to even share the floor with him some.
Patrick Patterson has been in a funk all season but is theoretically still a useful 3 and D guy at power forward. Nerlens Noel is here but he’s not as good as his gaudy defensive number suggest.
This team is very good. Westbrook and George seem to have really found a good cohesion between them and if Jerami Grant can keep up his play they have an awesome top 4 guys who fit together well. They could still use another shooter, but they defend like crazy and scrape out points on the other end.
Matchups to watch:
Andre Drummond vs. Steven Adams: Two behemoths. Drummond is better, but Adams has less to worry about and is one of the few guys in the league who is outright stronger than Drummond. Both guys operate in the same areas and will challenge each other.
Pistons vs. Russell Westbrook: I guess we will see some Bruce Brown here, which will be interesting. But the Pistons don’t have a good long-term option for the former MVP. It will take a team effort to contain him.
Blake Griffin vs. The Thunder defense: Jerami Grant is a very good defender, Steven Adams is tough and smart, and the swiping Paul George will be lurking. The Thunder are as well prepared to guard Griffin as any team in the league on paper. Will be a test for the Pistons super-star.
Reggie Jackson vs. Keeping it up: Jackson has really started to find his stride in the last 5 games. Part of that is his shooting catching up, and part of it is him being allowed to operate in better spaces. Regardless, the Pistons need Jackson playing at a high level to be a complete team.
Pistons vs. Paul George: George has killed the Pistons in the past. Stanley Johnson will likely get plenty of time on him, but Glenn Robinson (or Reggie Bullock) will get him to start. The Pistons have better individual options against George than Westbrook, but will need a team effort to make him a jump-shooter. Even then, he’s such a good shooter that he can still roast you.
So in conclusion…
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
The Pistons are forcing the Thunder stars to take mid-range jumpers a lot.
Stanley Johnson really is going to win 6th man of the year.
Blake Griffin remains effective despite the tough defense.
Run for the hills if:
Westbrook is getting to the rim at will.
Paul George hits 3 straight jumpers.
The Thunder have Griffin bottled up.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Blake Griffin has to fight hard, but still has a good game.
One of Westbrook/George goes off, the other is quiet.
Reggie Jackson has his best game of the season.
It’s a defensive battle from start to finish. Jackson and Griffin grind out enough points to get the Pistons a close victory.
Pistons 101 - Thunder 98.