Grading Thunder Players After Wednesday’s Victory Over the Spurs

Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

Things looked bleak on Wednesday evening as the Thunder headed towards the locker room for halftime. Already playing without Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (who missed the game with a hip contusion from a hard fall in New Orleans on Monday), the Thunder faced a 17-point deficit after surrendering 77 first-half points to the San Antonio Spurs. It’s worth mentioning that the Spurs came into the game with the 29th-ranked offense in the league and recent losers of eight straight games.

Few people – if any – could have expected the second half to turn out the way it did.

After scoring a season-high 77 points in the first half, the Spurs were held to a season-low 34 points after halftime. The Thunder outscored the Spurs by 25 points in the second half on their way to a 119-111 victory. The Thunder are the fifth team in the NBA this season to come back from a 20-point deficit to secure a win. They also lead the league with four 15-point comebacks. They may be young and inexperienced – but nobody can argue how hard they fight.

You have to wonder what Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said to the team during his halftime speech. The Spurs shot 64 percent from the field during the first two quarters and assisted on 20 of their 27 made baskets. Their field goal percentage dropped to 28 in the second half, and they shot only 2-19 from three-point range after going 8-18 in the first half. As Josh Giddey said in his post-game press conference, the Thunder may have won by 20 if they had maintained this level of play for the entire game.

119. 149. Final. 111. 29

Let’s get into the individual performances of Thunder starters during Wednesday’s game. There were a few impressive showings that are certainly worth our attention.

Thunder Starting Lineup Grades

A. . SG. Oklahoma City Thunder. LU DORT

Wednesday night was Lu Dort’s sixth game of the season where he scored 20 or more points. He shot 3-7 from behind the three-point line and made all six of his free throws while dishing out four assists. Dort also registered two blocks in Wednesday’s contest, including impressive second-quarter stuff on former Thunder player Isaiah Roby who was playing his first game back at the Paycom Center after being waived by the Thunder the last offseason. You could question a few of Dort’s shot choices during the first half if you wanted, but the entire Thunder team was trying to develop their offensive feel and gameplay with their main shot creator (SGA) inactive.

Oklahoma City Thunder. JOSH GIDDEY. A. . PG

Josh Giddey could have easily scored 20 points if he would have figured out how to make a few more of his hook shots. Regardless, he was effective during Wednesday’s game as the team’s primary creator and ball-handler. He finished with 14 points (albeit on 7-18 shooting) to go with five assists. He was once again a force on the boards, grabbing fourteen total rebounds (including five on the offensive end). This was Giddey’s sixth game this season with at least ten rebounds and his second game with five offensive rebounds.

D+. . F. Oklahoma City Thunder. ALEKSEJ POKUSEVSKI

Poku played the least minutes (18) of any Thunder starter during Wednesday’s game. Three Thunder bench players – Tre Mann, Kenrich Williams, and Ousmane Dieng – saw more time on the court. Coach Daigneault opted to start the second half with Kenrich Williams rather than Poku, who only saw three minutes of total game action after halftime. Poku finished the game with only five points on 2-9 shooting, including three missed shots on one early first-quarter possession where he was unable to score from point-blank range after two offensive rebounds. On a positive note, it was encouraging to see him block Romeo Langford’s layup attempt late in the third quarter. After a ten-game stretch between October 29th and November 23rd where he averaged over two and a half blocks per game, Poku only has two total blocks in his last four contests. Hopefully, he can get things going again in December.

. F/C. Oklahoma City Thunder. JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL. B

JRE was fairly quiet during Wednesday’s game, but he has played well recently. In this contest, he played 26 minutes and scored seven points to go with five rebounds, one assist, and one block. He made both of his free-throw attempts and shot 1-3 from downtown. Through 21 games, Robinson-Earl is shooting 49 percent from the field and 40 percent from three on three attempts per game. His minutes can vary from night to night based on matchups, but that’s true of nearly every player in Mark Daigneault’s rotation.

A+. . G/F. Oklahoma City Thunder. JALEN WILLIAMS

We saved the best for last. Thunder fans may look back on this game as a statement game from Jalen Williams. He scored a season and career-high 27 points in an efficient manner, going 11-15 from the field and 2-3 from three-point range. He showed off his athleticism with multiple dunks that brought the home crowd at the Paycom Center to their feet. He didn’t just contribute on the offensive end either. As Josh Giddey reminded everyone after the game, J-Dub often guards one of the best players on the opposing team. Jalen Williams plays with a level of intensity and confidence that you don’t often see from first-year players. Expect this game to be just one of many standout performances from the rookie guard.

Best Thunder Bench Performance

. G. Oklahoma City Thunder. TRE MANN. A

You could make the case for multiple Thunder players to receive this honor. Ousmane Dieng had arguably the best performance of his young career. Kenrich Williams was solid as usual, torching the Spurs from the mid-range in the second half. Even though Darius Bazley was the only Thunder player who didn’t appear in the first half, he played 14 minutes in the second half and made an obvious impact on the defensive end of the floor (he also had the highest plus/minus of any Thunder player in Wednesday’s game). All that said, Tre Mann badly needed this type of performance. Coming into the game, Tre Mann was shooting 38 percent from the field and 28 percent from three through his first 18 games of the season. He didn’t look like he was in a shooting slump Wednesday night, leading the Thunder bench in scoring and making multiple key baskets down the stretch. Mann scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter while playing nearly the entire frame. Hopefully, this is exactly the kind of performance he needs to get going.

Best Opponent Performance

B+. . G/F. San Antonio Spurs. DEVIN VASSELL

Devin Vassell was a force for the Spurs in Wednesday’s game. The third-year wing scored 25 points on 7-13 shooting while adding seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Vassell made three of his six three-point attempts and shot a nearly perfect 8-9 from the free-throw line. He helped keep the Spurs in the game during the second half while Keldon Johnson shot 1-14 and Tre Jones went 2-10. Ultimately his effort wasn’t enough to slow down Jalen Williams, Tre Mann, and company.

Wrapping Up

The Thunder begins a five-game road trip in Minnesota on Saturday night. The Thunder are 0-2 against the Wolves so far this year, but they should have an easier time in this matchup with Karl-Anthony Townes expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a right calf strain suffered earlier this week. Right now it’s unclear whether or not SGA will be able to play in the game.

Jaylin Williams is flashing his potential in the G-League. dark. Next