2016-17 Preseason

Thunder 112, Wolves 94: It’s just preseason, but thank goodness this isn’t the starting lineup

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 15: Kris Dunn #3 of the Minnesota Timberwolves handles the ball against the Miami Heat during a preseason game on October 15, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images)

After last night’s preseason win in Miami, the Wolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder in their fifth preseason battle this October.

Despite the internet marketing that tonight’s game, streamed on nba.com/thunder, would only be available to residents within 75 miles of Oklahoma City, I was somehow able to get access to this game at my Uptown apartment.

The Wolves, being on the back end of a back-to-back (which, who schedules a preseason back-to-back, really??), decided to sit out the team’s starters, along with Shabazz Muhammad and roll with the second unit. It went about as you’d expect.

To be fair, the Thunder were not on the back end of a back-to-back. In fact, they were getting several of their best players back for the first time this season. This includes Steven Adams, who clearly enjoyed the lack of Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng, putting up a 20 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in just 22 minutes of action.

Russell Westbrook did the same thing, pretending that tonight’s game was the NBA playoffs and Kris Dunn was actually Kevin Durant. As usual, Westbrook got mean on the Wolves, and its rookie got the brunt of the damage.

The Thunder starters taking down the Wolves’ bench shouldn’t shock anyone, and I don’t think it will. But let’s start by looking at those who will be in the rotation, and how they fared tonight.

The Wolves’ best player tonight, though, was none of the regulars. Training camp invitee John Lucas III had 18 points and shot 4-7 from the three-point line, looking like the 10-year vet that he is. Reminder: John Lucas III made the Wolves’ preseason squad one other time; his rookie year of 2005 back in the tragic KG/Ricky Davis/Marko Jaric era. Props to him for sticking around this long, but man, that was a bad team. Despite Ricky and his buckets.

MINNEAPOLIS - OCTOBER 12: John Lucas III #15 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on the court during the preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 12, 2005 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Bucks won 92-89. NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and /or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement: Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo By David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** John Lucas III
Photo By David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Nemanja Bjelica started the game off with a high level of aggressiveness, but didn’t really withstand it. Getting the chance to potentially beat up on rookie Domantas Sabonis (who I love as a prospect, for whatever it’s worth (not much, I know)), Bjelica saw his advantage but couldn’t capitalize. It’s clear that Tom Thibodeau likes Belly handling a good chunk of the offense, but tonight was not great on that front. He shot 2-7 from the three-point line (and 3-12 overall), had 4 turnovers, struggled to protect the rim to any degree. There will certainly be better nights for Bjelica, who was probably Thibs’ main shot creation option tonight. That is not his role. In a situation where he is a complimentary player, his opportunities will be more available.

The other was Kris Dunn. Poor, sweet Kris Dunn. The young pup tried his best to take on the perpetually angry Russell Westbrook, and nothing surprising ensued. Dunn showed some nice handles, hit a long 2 on a nice stepback crossover, and showed good footwork on the offensive end. But Russell Westbrook is Russell Westbrook. Efficiency-wise, Dunn did his job; he had 17 points on 21 shots (and 8 shots at the line), but eye test said it all. There’s no shame in getting eaten alive by the league’s most intimidating point man in your first month as a pro. It’s part of the growing pains.

While not putting up anything incredible in the numbers department, Cole Aldrich had a very efficient game as the team’s temporary starting center. He scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, had 6 boards and 3 blocks. Defensively, Steven Adams did lots of damage on Cole, especially in the second half, but Aldrich’s size and presence were apparent throughout the game.

It was the first time, for me, that I was able to fully appreciate the sheer size Aldrich possesses. He’s the human embodiment of a tree trunk, and has some low-key leaping ability (not that you’ll necessarily see him throw down any cool dunks, just that he can get up for rebounds, etc). While his limitations, especially athletically, were clear, it was also clear how he was a lottery pick once upon a time. He’ll make life easier for KAT and Gorgui this season off the bench.

Brandon Rush did his job. He only shot 3-9 in his unusual starter role (though he did start a few games for Golden State last year), but shot 2-4 from deep. That’s what the Wolves need from him, and he delivered.

Finally, after 5 games on the road, and a full preseason in Minneapolis, it’s finally time for Wolves fans to see some basketball at the Target Center. The Wolves will take on the Memphis Grizzlies next Wednesday at home, likely with their starting 5 back intact. The second unit did what they could tonight, but even they would likely admit how nice it’ll be to have KAT, Ricky, Andrew, and Zach, at their side.

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3 thoughts on “Thunder 112, Wolves 94: It’s just preseason, but thank goodness this isn’t the starting lineup

  1. Thibs totally Popoviched that game.

    That’s fine. I like it. It is beyond silly to have back-to-backs in the preseason and they should be cut down on more in the regular season. And we do need to get a bit of practice for our lower priority players.

    I don’t know about Sabonis. I want to like him, but is an NBA son more of a millenial version of his father? Not old-school. A bit soft, a lot smaller. If you judge him simply on his own merits, he has some good things going for him, but a lot of weaknesses. His teammate at Gonzaga, Wiltjer looks as good as a pro so far… Still, a good pick for a team like OKC, who didn’t get a very high pick due to good record.

    The box score I looked at (?) said Dunn shot 2-9 for 6 points (in 27 mins). He had a tough assignment today starting opposite Westbrook. In expanded minutes and up against starters he played the same as he has most of the preseason–not very impressive. One bright spot is his consistent ability to get assists. It bodes well, although I have a feeling that when I watch games I will find they aren’t very impressive assists that put pressure on the defense, for the most part. Dunn has had turnover issues, although he did not in this game. He’s also been getting steals, but missed out today (again, this is according to a box score I read). His ability to get steals show a germ of a good defender taking root. His most glaring weakness has been his shooting. Tonight seems to be no different. His shooting has been consistently bad, and not offset by his approach (he plays like he wants to be a scorer) or ability to draw fouls. I’m not able to watch these games, but I have to think that shot selection is playing a role in this trouble, although it is clear that Dunn is not a gifted natural shooter. He also has not apparently figured out how to drive to the hole consistently in the NBA yet, but with good athletic ability, length and speed everyone always talks about, this should be something he starts to figure out eventually. If he could get to the rim on demand, that would do so much to jump start the rest of his shooting and give him better decision making.

    Lucas had a good scoring game, but I think there is a lot more to the position than scoring and I’m not sure he does it. He’s a hardworking vet, but not a guy who would have the talent level to take a spot on the bench.

    A surprise is even in a game where Thibs was committed to play only the bench and ‘3rd unit’ Tyus only got 19 min, some of which was pretty late. Thibs was clearly not really trying to win this game. Yet from a developmental perspective Lucas’ minutes were basically junk minutes. This suggests the low level of respect Thibs feels for Tyus and doesn’t bode particularly well for him.

  2. Oh, forgot to mention that Payne scored 16 points (7-12) and even made a 3. Thibs played him 19 minutes in this situation (same amount as Tyus). I think Thibs likes Payne and thinks he can ‘fix’ him. That’s my crazy new theory. I don’t think he’s going anywhere for a while…

  3. Tibbs has picked his top 6 – Bazz perhaps the biggest surprise there – with the addition of Rush and Dunn both having the ability to compete for some minutes at wing. Tibbs knows the veterans he has invited to camp – and knows what to expect from Aldrich/Rush/Hill. Jones showed his skills in Vegas – with Dunn injured there Tibbs has given him lots of floor time early – and Payne is going to get another opportunity. We have nothing to lose giving him another opportunity. He still fits the profile of a C/PF who has size/athleticism/energy, and can be at times a hot shooter, both from the 3 and the rim. Bjelica didn’t show the skills which made him a Euro-league MVP – but 20 minutes a game has given him some confidence once again. I hated to see Sam. M relieved of his duties – but Tibbs seems to be doing all the right things. He is being careful not to blow up the team talent already in place – but I’m sure that by mid-season trade deadline Tibbs will begin to make this his team PEK likely replaced – draft picks/free agents/trades – they will all be used to make this “his team”.

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