(Photo by Michael Kinney)
By Michael Kinney
After an offseason of upheaval and major roster changes, the Oklahoma City Thunder will tip-off its season this week. They will travel to Utah for its season opener Wednesday before returning home for their first home game Friday against Washington (7 p.m.).
There are a few key traits the Thunder will look for in the first few games.
“Transition and communication. That’s basically the biggest influences. Just like any other team,” Steven Adams said. “And you will probably get 50 positions in a game, you know, where it’s transition. You know, even like consider a transition. So obviously that will be our main focus for that, and then you will get into more of the smaller things, timing stuff, scouting sort of stuff. For the most part, yeah, transition and communication.”
Fans who were used to seeing Russell Westbrook for the past decade will now need to start to learn new names and faces. One of those is second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who says the 2019-20 version of the Thunder will be feisty.
“We play really unselfishly. We are going to have to be a grit team, a grind team that can defend,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We are obviously at our best when we can get in the fullcourt and can play fast. That’s our identity.”
Gilgeous-Alexander is expected to start in the backcourt along with veteran Chris Paul. Terrance Ferguson and Adams are also expected to be in the starting lineup.
The fifth starter could be anyone from Danilo Gallinari to Dennis Schroder to Andre Roberson, when he returns from an injury that has kept him off the floor for almost two years.
Regardless of who it is, Roberson says the squad is nowhere near where they need to be to compete in the Western Conference. But they have the making of one that can.
“We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of competitors. Our inexperience shows at times. I know it’s just preseason, but it’s good to see ourselves go against somebody else, which is different,” Roberson said. “We come back here every day, watch our film and kind of nitpick ourselves and see where we can get better. Granted we’re still trying to figure out who works together, what guys work together, what plays work for certain guys. It’s a learning process. It’s not going to be perfect right away. We’ve got time and we’re willing to use it.”
The Thunder won’t be able to just ease into the season. They have one of if not the hardest schedule in the opening two months of the season.
After they face the Wizards, they host Golden State on Sunday (7 p.m.) before facing Westbrook, James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Monday.
They will end their first week of competition next Wednesday with the Portland Trail Blazers (7 p.m.), who essentially broke up the Thunder when they knocked Oklahoma City out of the playoffs last season.
“I’m excited about our team,” Paul said. “We’re going to go out to win every single night. It’s just building that camaraderie, just building that togetherness and making sure everyone understands that it doesn’t matter what everyone says on the outside, it matters what we do.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider