OKC Thunder can utilize preseason games versus Dallas as measuring stick

OKC Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder will face the Dallas Mavericks twice in preseason with an opportunity to use the contests as a measuring stick prior to the regular season.

With four games on the slate for preseason, the two which stand out for the OKC Thunder are matches versus another young squad –  the Dallas Mavericks. Those contests will occur on October 8 and 14. I think going up against Dallas twice offers OKC a phenomenal opportunity to see how they stack up to another restructured young team with playoff aspirations.

Heading into preseason the OKC Thunder have changed their lineup, their offense, but not their goal. The Thunder aren’t the only team that received a facelift; Dallas has made numerous changes particularly to their starting rotation.

The Dallas Mavericks made moves with a focus predominantly on length, deep range shooting, and depth. The primary goal of these two preseason games is to see how the OKC Thunder measures up to other mid-tier teams in their conference.

Currently, the Dallas Mavericks will feature a tweaked starting lineup with many shifts in that rotation.

After time spent in Toronto and Memphis Delon Wright has shown enough improvement to secure a starting point guard role. Reigning Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic will step up at the shooting guard position and look to take another step. The young and explosive Justin Jackson will be playing small forward. And making his debut this season in Dallas emerging star Kristaps Porzingis will be starting at power forward. Porzingis is returning from missing an entire season recovering from a torn ACL. Finally, the ever developing Dwight Powell will be the big man in the middle.

Aside from the young rising talents of Doncic and Porzingis Dallas’ lineup isn’t laced with star power. Still, they present some matchup issues for head coach Billy Donovan. Maverick’s head coach Rick Carlisle is not afraid to flip the script and throw a zone at the opposing offense, so the OKC Thunder will have to make sure their perimeter shooting is reliable.

Both teams will use the first game to feel each other out, but I suspect by their second game, the gloves will come off. I see these games coming down to 3-point shooting and handling the transition. Similarly, both teams have a number of players that can get out and run once the possession changes.

Matchups to watch

Chris Paul versus Luka Doncic is obviously the marquee matchup that will be heavily promoted. However, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is more likely who Doncic will be lined up with. Both are similarly dynamic guards who are excellent playmakers. Look for Alexander to use the first game as a statement to demonstrate his growth.

Another intriguing matchup will be Danilo Gallinari taking on Kristaps Porzingis. Both can be offensive weapons but the Mavs big man may be limited to a shorter minute tally as he works his way back into rhythm on the floor. Likewise, with Gallo playing in the FIBA World Cup, the Thunder may elect to keep his minutes under check.

Mike Muscala received a lot of flack for how his short time with the Lakers ended, but now suiting up for OKC, he is reinvigorated. The expectation is Muscala will come off the bench and provide scoring from the perimeter. Already capable of knocking down 3-point shots with the best of other stretch bigs his performance in other areas of the court may well determine his playing time and which lineup he is best suited for.

Another subtle matchup I think will play an important role is the backup point guard position. Being preseason, it is likely that the starters will see a lot of minutes, so I expect Dennis Schroder and Seth Curry to have a duel of their own.

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In all honesty, I don’t think either team made any offseason moves that tipped the scales for themselves to win a championship, but I do think each team did create lineups that can be competitive mid-tier NBA teams.

Perhaps the big test will be which of the Thunder youngsters will step up to showcase they deserve consistently playing time this season. Among those who’ll be looking to claim additional minutes and secure a regular rotational spot are Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Abdel Nader, Deonte Burton, and rookie Darius Bazley. Watch for the Kevin Hervey who may also be added to the team to fill in forward minutes after showing out in Summer League.

These two meetings will help to determine which of the youngsters Donovan will utilize this season and more specifically help gauge how the lineups are comprised.

Preseason is an opportunity to see how developed the chemistry is in terms of how the offense flows and determine how much additional work is required to shore up the defense. With the changes to the Thunder rotation presumably fans will also witness system tweaks on both sides of the court.

Next. How Thunder backcourt duo Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can thrive together. dark

Be sure to stay tuned to Thunderous Intentions to read more thunderous opinions from yours truly.