2 main factors that will lead to Thunder winning Game 1 vs Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans / Sean Gardner/GettyImages
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Target Jonas Valanciunas’ Defense

At this stage of Jonas Valanciunas’ career, opponents look like a blur next to him. Oklahoma City needs to make Valanciunas defend in space and exploit his lackluster mobility.

Increasing Chet Holmgren’s pick-and-pop frequency is definitely a start, as Valanciunas is not quick enough to step out and contest. 

New Orleans may even prefer him to play drop coverage and allow the open triple given Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s driving talent. Holmgren shot nearly 39 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this season, so the Rookie of the Year candidate possesses the shooting chops to capitalize. 

Meanwhile, the Thunder could also increase their dribble handoff (DHO) frequency to take advantage of Valanciunas’ slow lateral movement.

For example, Isaiah Joe flying around the screen with Holmgren rolling likely catches Valanciunas in no man’s land.

There are numerous variations to run too. Holmgren could pop instead of roll one time or fake the handoff on a different possession and drive to the basket.

Head coach Mark Daigneault’s creativity knows no bounds. 

Finally, it would behoove Oklahoma City to ramp up the pace and punish the lumbering Valanciunas. A run-and-gun style will often give them the numbers advantage, especially if New Orleans is determined to crash the glass and fight for offensive rebounds.

One wrong bounce leads to an outlet pass which leads to a transition layup or three-pointer because Valanciunas cannot get back in time. Overall, the Thunder must attack Valanciunas’ flaws here.