After a thrilling 22-point comeback against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in Oklahoma City, the Thunder conclude their homestand with a Sunday evening battle with the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers will be without big man and current MVP candidate Joel Embiid. However, Philly will get a boost to their second unit as Furkan Korkmaz will be active today. The Sharpshooter provides much-needed scoring to the 76ers bench unit.
The OKC Thunder will also be shorthanded not only are they down Trevor Ariza who has never reported to the team and Ty Jerome who has yet to make his Thunder debut due to a nagging Ankle Sprain, but Oklahoma City will be without former-Sixer Al Horford due to personal reasons. On Al Horford, Mark Daigneault told us yesterday that there is “No timeline” for his return.
This should signal Isaiah Roby starting in his place, as Roby has each time Horford has been inactive. The 22-year-old has filled in nicely, never scoring below double-digits in any of his starts. Even at just 6’8, Roby plays competitive defense down-low as he is being asked to play the center position.
Watching for Isaiah Roby to continue his stellar contributions will not be the only thing to pay attention to tonight.
Thunder fans should keep an eye on Kenrich Williams. Kenny Hustle, as many call him, earned that nickname in a big way throughout his basketball career. His defense, heart, and hustle are the only reason he is even in the league. He would be the first to tell you that. Coming over in the Steven Adams trade from New Orleans, Williams has played phenomenal defense so far this season. Including a standout performance on Friday. K-Rich, many of many nicknames, has not only been one of the best Thunder defenders (a team that hosts Lu Dort) but one of the best NBA defenders in his limited action. Williams on Friday was a huge part of the Thunder win. When Mark Daigneault needed to keep Lu Dort and the OKC starters on the floor in the third quarter longer than their normal rotational patterns, that led to critical Kenny Hustle 4th quarter minutes. He played so well, OKC went back to him in overtime over Darius Bazley.
Hamidou Diallo is another young player to watch for. After setting the world on fire in New York, and stringing a few good games together, Diallo fell back into some old habits on Friday. That led to just 13 minutes off the pine for the Thunder. Diallo has to get back to cutting down the jump shots, making better reads, and playing relaxed.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game will be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, though that will be the case every game. However, I made the case that the contest against the Chicago Bulls was his coming out party. It was the game in which SGA realizes this is his franchise now and becomes more and more aggressive as he was on Friday night. Something Thunder fans have longed to see.
For Locked on Thunder listeners: The Bet of the day is OKC +3, and the money ball pick is Mike Muscala.