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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OKC Thunder
OKC Thunder. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

A. . PG. Oklahoma City Thunder. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER

Gilgeous-Alexander has eagerly embraced his leadership and primary scorer role and as such faced double teams at times in the match.

While the Thunder won’t be happy they coughed up a 13-point lead Shai’s calm demeanor to run the clock down from 10.7 seconds to 2.0 before draining the mid-range game-winner highlighted he’s ready for the challenge.

His 24 points were the game-high while he filled up the stat sheet with seven rebounds, nine assists, and a block. The five turnovers were concerning but perhaps expected given the extra attention he’s drawing.

Most impressively, his aggressiveness was rewarded as he got to the line 10 times (connecting on seven).

. G. Oklahoma City Thunder. GEORGE HILL. A+

The veteran demonstrated his high I.Q playing within the framework of the Thunder systems. Feast your eyes on this stat line: 21 points, four rebounds (on offensive board), three assists, and a steal.

What made his performance special were his shooting efficiencies: 8 of 9 from the field and 4 of 4 from deep. The latter was made all the more impressive because of the timely nature of those 3-point shots.

If Hill wants to use his time in OKC to draw offers from opposing franchises that’s fine by the fan base and the franchise. To that end, he sure did a great job of putting the spotlight on his abilities in game one of the season.

A. . G. Oklahoma City Thunder. LUGUENTZ DORT

Okay- okay – – I can hear some in the stands saying an A! What?

Well, let’s put this in perspective. Lu’s offense was stellar with 15 points, five rebounds (two offensive boards), two assists, a steal, and a block. His perimeter shot is still a work in progress but he took the open opportunities and made some sweet drives to the basket using his size and strength to score under the rim.

He led all players in plus/minus with a plus +16. Dort is no longer a secret to the NBA given how well he defended James Harden last season but if anything there were hints he’s improved on that side of the floor.

The most experienced player (and arguably their best) is Gordon Hayward who has four inches on Lu and years of experience. Yet Dort who spent a lot of time guarding him held Hayward to 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting. At times Daigneault switched up the coverages and often it was Dort who switched over to the hot hand.

A. . F. Oklahoma City Thunder. DARIUS BAZELY

Full disclosure — I’ve been hyping up Darius Bazley and his potential throughout the offseason and in truth I expect him to ascend to a very high level this season.

Prior to the final two minutes of the game, he was due to receive an “A+” but he lost the “plus” because it was his man (see best opponent) that was the entire reason the Thunder had to scramble to win the game.

Still, it doesn’t change my expectations for his breakout season that got off to a brilliant start with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Baz also chipped in an assist, steal, and two blocks.

His perimeter shot wasn’t falling but his form is sound and those will eventually drop. It’s better he’s shooting them and not shying away from the moment.

Now about those final two minutes Baz!

B. . C. Oklahoma City Thunder. AL HORFORD

This is the quality Al Horford will bring to the Thunder team. Sure he only scored three points and didn’t have an exceptional night shooting (1 of 5).

However, unlike many younger players who would curl up and disappear the big man embraced other aspects of the game. His 13 boards represented a quarter of the Thunder total (54) and he pitched in with three assists.

Perhaps more noteworthy was how he helped the youngsters on defense often having chats with them regarding the previous play. His screen setting and help defense is highly underrated and it will be interesting to see how his “albatross” narrative changes as the season progresses.