Observations from Thunder-Mavericks

Before I went to bed last night, I got a chance to sit down and go through one of the four games on the schedule: the Dallas Mavericks hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder, and eventually coming away with a 114-109 victory.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

– With Wesley Matthews sitting out as a rest day, Deron Williams and J.J. Barea started and played a lot together, and both looked pretty good. Rick Carlisle was one of the early adopters of the two point guard lineup, and this was an example of how it can be a benefit to teams, with both Williams and Barea getting into the lane to either score or create on multiple occasions. Having the two of them healthy this season would help mitigate the loss of Chandler Parsons and his ability to create from the wing. That’s something the Mavericks won’t be getting a ton of from his replacement, Harrison Barnes.

– It is something, however, they could get from Andrew Bogut. The biggest takeaway from me from this game was that Bogut is going to have a big year. I know it’s only the preseason, but Bogut looked like he was in terrific shape, and was flying all over the court, including hustling back to block one layup on a fastbreak cleanly, and contest another so strongly it resulted in a miss. Meanwhile, Bogut was heavily involved offensively. A fantastic passer, he wound up with the ball repeatedly at the top of the key, leading to him making several beautiful passes for layups, but he also got the ball in the post on a few occasions (though he looked rough doing it). On the Mavs’ broadcast (which is terrific, by the way; one of the better ones in the league, for sure, for League Pass aficionados) they said multiple times how Carlisle has said he wants Bogut to be involved more offensively than he was with the Warriors; yet another reason why Bogut, who is in a contract year, looks to me like he’s going to be good this season.

– There has been plenty of talk about Barnes after he signed a max contract with the Mavericks this summer, and this game will give ammunition to his detractors. Barnes didn’t do a whole lot in his 18 minutes, making one nice post move for his only bucket and otherwise wasn’t involved in very much. Carlisle did play him some as the backup power forward, which made sense, and is something I’d expect to see plenty of this season. But the Mavericks signed Barnes because they felt he could grow into a bigger role than the one he had with the Warriors; it looks like there’s still much of that potential growth left to do.

– With Salah Mejri sidelined still by offseason knee surgery, Carlisle basically only played three big men: Dirk Nowitzki, Bogut and Dwight Powell. An athletic big who can play at either big spot, Powell is capable of playing next to either Nowitzki or Bogut, which should make him an attractive option for Carlisle this season. Powell had 16 points and seven rebounds in this one, and his athleticism is a very nice compliment to the older, slower guys next to him in Dallas’ frontcourt.

– It’s only been three preseason games, but it might be time to have some concerns about the Thunder. The biggest reason to preach patience is that Steven Adams has missed all but about one half with an ankle sprain, and he’s clearly Oklahoma City’s second-best player (and even more clearly the Thunder’s best defender). But the Thunder lost to Real Madrid, barely beat Barcelona and then were run off the court in the first half by Dallas before the Mavericks sat practically all of their rotation players. The biggest cause for concern? Not surprisingly, the defense. Enes Kanter remains a bad defensive player, especially in comparison to Adams, and it wasn’t exactly a great sign for Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo that Williams and Barea were slicing through Oklahoma City’s defense without much trouble. Now, this game was played without Adams or Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City’s two best defenders. But if the Thunder are going to be a bad defensive team, it’s going to be difficult for this team to be able to be anything more than a fringe playoff team this season.

– Kyle Singler signed a contract with the Thunder after being traded there two seasons ago and was promptly brutal last season, to the point where he barely played in the playoffs. Singler was one of the bright spots in this game for Oklahoma City, scoring 17 points and hitting four 3-pointers, and it would make things a lot more intriguing for Billy Donovan if he could use Singler as an effective bench piece this season – and potentially as a starter if he plays well enough to unseat Roberson, who remains an offensive black hole.

– Another wing player, Josh Huestis, also had an encouraging performance, scoring 11 points in 27 minutes and showing a decent aptitude for getting to the rim. Huestis was made famous a couple years ago for being a first-round pick who agreed to go to the D-League for a season, may never become a rotation player. But given the needs the Thunder have, it’s likely he’ll get a chance at carving out a rotation spot at times this season.


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