OKC Thunder: SGA channels clutch gene to win season opener – player grades

OKC Thunder. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /
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The OKC Thunder opened the season needing to channel their clutch gene to net victory vs. the Hornets. Player grades provide the highlights.

Last season the OKC Thunder had the most coveted identity in the league as the Clutch Time Killers. In the opening match of their season, the reconstructed team needed to draw upon that prior experience. Entering the final two minutes of the match OKC was up 13 and then suddenly the game was tied.

Fortunately, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander happily embraced his leadership role channeling his clutch time gene to hit the game-winning bucket with under 2.0 seconds remaining.

This was the season opener for the OKC Thunder who had the originally scheduled game in Houston postponed because the Rockets couldn’t dress the minimum required eight players.

Instead, OKC opened facing a team very likely to be challenging them for the top draft pick at season end.

109. 149. 107. 170. Final

Speaking of rookies …

It was a bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly for the youngsters in this contest. Charlotte selected LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in this past draft and he’s struggled shooting throughout the preseason as well as in his season opener when he was held scoreless.

In this outing, LaMelo got off to a much better start scoring nine of his 13 total points in the opening frame. However, the Thunder played him tougher in the second half, and perhaps the more noteworthy achievement was holding Ball to a single assist.

As for the Thunder rooks, Theo Maledon played which wasn’t a certainty. Maledon will want to forget about his team-worst minus -16 plus/minus and those four turnovers. However, in 20 minutes he managed to score four points adding two assists and two steals.

Aleksej Pokusevski had a very tough night at the office missing all six of his shot attempts and was second only to Maledon with a minus -13 performance. The positive takeaway is Poku doesn’t shy away from taking his shots and contributes in other ways such as his four rebounds, steal and block.

For all rookies, transitioning to the NBA game takes time and will require patience as they learn the nuances.

In terms of the starting unit – it turned out Mark Daigneault went with our expected rotation featuring returning starters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort as well as inserting Darius Bazley into the mix plus veterans George Hill and Al Horford.

Aside from SGA’s game-winning bucket, the Thunder demonstrated the defensive culture remains a priority as they keyed in on the Hornets backcourt. OKC held Rozier to 19 points and 2 of 9 from deep after he scored 42 augmented by ten 3-pointers in the Hornets opening match.

Another clear change from last season is the Thunder won both the opening and third quarters which was a problem that plagued them throughout 2019-20.

Perhaps the biggest change with Daigneault’s group is ball movement which was highlighted by the club’s 25 assists.

There probably won’t be a ton of games like this opening match but this was a feel-good way to start the season.

Let’s take a look at our player grades for the night: