Grading the OKC Thunder starters vs the Chicago Bulls
The OKC Thunder have a superstar on their hands. An MVP level player, and in their opening night contest, it was on full display. Each Summer, it seems like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander comes back better than the past season, and surprisingly, this year is no different.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has widely improved as a playmaker, chalking up ten assists due to the attention he commands from the opposing defenses. From his vision to his patience and drive-and-kick ability, it is impossible to contain Gilgeous-Alexander.
The max contract guard was a walking bucket against the Bulls, going for 31 points, and he hurt Chicago in a multitude of ways.
With his elite ability to get to his spots around the ring, his otherworldly stop-on-a-dime mid-range jumpers, the step-backs to create space, and even some catch-and-shoot looks from beyond the arc, SGA buried the Bulls.
Josh Giddey posted 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists on 50 percent shooting from the floor and going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. If I told you nothing else, you would see why Giddey deserves to ace this opening night test.
However, that does not even take into account how aggressive he was charging at the rim, which allowed him to exploit smaller matchups and caused the defense to shade over to cut him off at the ring. When defenses bring any attention to Giddey, his elite playmaking chops allow the Thunder to find a wide-open scoring threat from a Giddey drive.
While this game was not perfect for Giddey, it is certainly a great night that OKC fans would sign up for 81 more times. The third-year guard accounted for three of the 15 turnovers, though it seemed easy to clean up.
He lost his dribble on the last turnover, could not absorb contact on his second turnover, and on the first turnover of the game, an in-decisive read on a pick-and-roll with Olivier Sarr cost the Thunder the possession.
Josh Giddey had DeMar DeRozan sealed off in a crab dribble. Still, with Nikola Vucevic positioned perfectly in front of the rim, Giddey tried to dump it off to Sarr late, with Vucevic reading it and deflecting the pass to Colby White.
Lu Dort was sensational on the defense end, a big reason for the Bulls laying Bricks for most of the final three frames. Dort swatted a shot and swiped a pair of steals on that end of the floor, which helped the Thunder push the ball in transition. A style of play conducive to this OKC Thunder roster.
Offensively, there was noticeable improvement, though still not a perfect game for Dort. He still had a battery ram drive of the game into four Bulls, elected not to swing the ball to Isaiah Joe in the deep corner to take a contested three instead, and botched a possession late in the shot clock that was negated by a Bulls foul with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
But his decision-making, while not perfect, was ultimately more improved than in previous seasons. You can tell Dort is trying to embrace this new rule, and nothing shows that more than his shot chart. With the most talent around him he has had since his rookie season, Dort conformed to a more modern shot chart of just shooting threes or attempting shots at the rim.
Outside of that rookie season, Dort has never shot below 40 percent on corner triples. With any improvement at the rim and his defensive chops, this is how the Arizona State product becomes a more efficient player. He is well on his way to that goal after night one.
Sure, there will still be blemishes, but there were enough positives to remain optimistic about how Dort will fit in with this new-look OKC Thunder team.
Jalen Williams just looks different scoring at the rim. That should be a scary statement to the rest of the NBA for a forward who shot the ball at a 70 percent clip at the rim a year ago. With his added strength, Williams is able to bump defenders off their spots or straight-up finish through them at the cup.
That added muscle does not take away from his insane length, allowing him to be a crafty finisher at the ring. Mix that with his improved shot creation and exceptionally high ceiling as a complementary off-ball scorer, and you get the scoring profile of a top-end player.
Those it was not just the offense that looked impressive, as Jalen Williams posted the first seven points of the Thunder season.
Defensively, Jalen Williams earned a steal and disrupted many Bulls possessions with his switchability and length. For the second-year wing, a 16-point, five-rebound, three-assist night is nothing to turn your nose up at.
A debut over a year in the making for the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, who spent all of last season on the shelf with a Lisfranc fracture, was ultimately an exciting one. Not only did the OKC Thunder win by 20 points, but you saw glimpses of why Holmgren was discussed as a franchise-altering prospect.
Sure, Andre Drummond dunked on Holmgren, and the Gonzaga product did fall on a Drummond coast-to-coast layup after poking the ball free from Holmgren, but outside of that sequence, the seven-footer had a really good night.
His stat line was not as eye-popping as it might have been in your wildest dreams, but 11 points, four rebounds, three assists, and a steal is a good starting point. While Holmgren did not come up with a block in this game, he was able to deter a ton of shots at the ring.
Chet Holmgren showed his activity on offense that will change the way the OKC Thunder play. Not only can he dominate in the dunker spot or as a roll man in the pick-and-roll, but his ability to shoot beyond the arc makes him a pop threat out of the pick-and-roll and a catch-and-shoot option for the Thunder.
An area that the OKC Thunder have to exploit more is when they use Holmgren to set a slip screen; he often times darts for the rim before flatting out to the baseline or corner three, where his matchup gets lost and leaves Holmgren wide open. As the season goes on, the laundry list of Thunder playmakers will find Holmgren in those instances more often than not.